This small town, 40 minutes north of Milwaukee — named for being on the Milwaukee River’s westward bend — is quickly transforming into an artsy hub. Much of the renaissance lies downtown, where the Historic West Bend Theatre reopened in March after a major renovation (but had to close again due to the coronavirus). Classic-cinema films and live performances take place within a 1929 Art Deco brick building. But that’s just a slice of the city’s evolving arts and culture offerings.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art’s stark white, modern building — exhibiting works only by artists with Wisconsin connections — was further beautified this past summer with a new garden space on-site. After immersing yourself in the museum, hydrangeas and aspen trees — paired with interconnected walkways for meditative walks — beckon you to explore two sculptures dotted throughout the greenspace.

Another new outdoor space in downtown West Bend is the reimagined east side that includes the pet-friendly Riverwalk, accessed near the museum. Area artists and makers sell handmade wares at The WB Mercantile nearby, celebrating its first anniversary this spring. Among the items sold are jewelry, candles, knit and crocheted items, greeting cards, soap, repurposed housewares and furnishings, jams and honey. Its owners also organize tastings of Door County wines, plus crafting and painting workshops.

At some point during your visit, check out some of the newer cafe offerings. The Hub — open since 2018 as part of the Volunteer Center of Washington County — is a volunteer- run coffee shop (proceeds fund more than 50 local nonprofits), while the year-old Café Floriana, owned by two sisters, serves cinnamon rolls topped with a generous dollop of cream cheese icing and lunch options. You’ll thank us!

Capping off a day in West Bend, settle in for an Italian-inspired cocktail before nibbling on wood-fired pizzas (like the quirky Little Devil pizza with spicy Pomodoro sauce and Italian sausage) at Culaccino Bar + Italian Kitchen (open for lunch and dinner) — from the same owners as Bibinger’s, a local favorite.

We’re betting once you peruse West Bend, you’ll soon be plotting your return visit.

Photo courtesy Visit West Bend

This article originally appeared in the 2020 issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

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Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer who calls Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood home.

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