Spirit on the Lake

Festival Fun

July 4th weekend
A Venetian boat parade, food trucks, bands and watersports competitions headline the town’s multi-day bash.

The Midsummer Festival of the Arts, hosted by the John Michael Kohler Art Center, lets you view and buy juried art, hear original music and test your own artistic skills.

Aug. 4-7, 2016
Brat Days, the star of Sheboygan’s summer lineup, lets you sample the bratwurst as a taco, in jambalaya, atop pizza or Sheboygan style — two brats on a round roll, topped with raw onion and brown mustard.

Labor Day Surf Weekend
The unofficial party marks the annual start of surf season. New people are welcome to come try out the sport as avid surfers gather from around the country at Deland Park.

Sept. 24, 2016
Blue Harbor Craft Beer Festival combines a Lake Michigan shoreline view with the region’s best craft beers.

Sept. 30 – Oct. 1, 2016
Al and Al’s Oktoberfest gets locals and tourists alike in German costume to celebrate heritage through food, folk dancing and keg taps.

Visit Elkhart Lake

You’re forgiven if your visit to Elkhart Lake — 20 minutes inland from Sheboygan — has you doubting you’re really in rural Wisconsin: Especially once you’ve sampled the creative small plates of chef Lynn Chisholm at the Paddock Club; tasted wine under the state’s most decorated sommelier at Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop and Tasting Bar; or made some Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin under the tutelage of a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America.

Your ability to find big-city cuisine, a high-end spa, a musical theater and art galleries can be credited to a legacy of healing waters.

Otto Osthoff visited the area in the 1880s with his wife, Pauline, when she was diagnosed with an incurable illness. A physician sent her as a last resort to try the rumored healing waters of Elkhart Lake.

Pauline was healed and the couple stayed, opening Osthoff Resort and attracting the well-to-do to the increasingly high-end vacation spot.

Book a pontoon trip with Captain Jim Benson to hear Otto’s story and that of the lake itself, particularly the secret behind its stunning bright green color.

It’s most fun to experience the healing tradition firsthand, however, through the Sacred Waters Massage at Aspira Spa — a treatment that uses lake water heated in pouches — and spend time in the intricately-designed meditation sanctuary.

Catch live music during the weekends at the Barefoot Bay Tiki Bar at Victorian Village Resort. Book afternoon tea or make your own pottery at Two Fish Gallery. Catch the second half of the region’s history of road racing — European street style — at Road America. Race go-carts or try the precision driving challenge to pick up tips like “Driving is a ballet. It’s not a brake dance.”


Spirit on the Lake

by Kim Schneider
Sheboygan boasts some of the prettiest sand beaches and dunes on Lake Michigan’s Wisconsin side, as well as a few quirky claims to fame. Eating something hot off the grill is a must in this “Bratwurst Capital of the World,” but don’t dare add ketchup or sauerkraut (here, it’s raw onion and brown mustard only, and on a round roll). Take up surfing — a popular sport here since the 1950s — after going fishing; the 26 charter companies are an indication of your likely success. And be sure to leave plenty of time to explore the vibrant arts culture, world-class golf, spas and farm-to-table cuisine.
I’ve finished most of my sampler pours of Cashmere Hammer, a nitro rye stout, and Rebel Kent the First, a tasty Belgian style amber ale, but there’s enough left that I mutter “not quite yet” when the waitress at 3 Sheeps Brewing Company starts taking the glasses away.

“Ah. One more schluck?” she asks, grinning.


“German for sip,” the guy at the next stool explains.

And so, in a factory-turned-brewery on my first evening in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I get my first taste of the way old and new coexist in this friendly town built mainly by German immigrants.

Those early settlers left their legacy on this port midway between Milwaukee and Door County through an industrial heritage and a popularity of beer; a legacy with menu items like the famed Reuben wraps at 8th Street Ale House and events like Al and Al’s Steinhaus’ Oktoberfest. The city takes brats seriously; the nickname, “Bratwurst Capital of the World,” was officially secured in 1970 after battling for the title with the city of Bucyrus, Ohio. New claims to fame have emerged as well; farm-to-table fare and trendy microbrews have made the town a culinary draw, while sandy beaches, clean water and impressive waves have created a surfing Mecca in what’s sometimes called the “Malibu of the Midwest.”

“When you come into a small, curiously-named town like Sheboygan, you expect the small town Wisconsin aspect,” notes Kevin Revolinski, author of “Backroads and Byways of Wisconsin” and “Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide.” “While the brat capital title is amusing and delicious, the certified authentic Pizza Napoletana (at downtown’s Il Ritrovo) is a surprise, and the local brewery is fast becoming notable for its specialty brews. Throw in the art museum and the beauty of the Lake Michigan dunes at the state park to the south, and Sheboygan becomes a destination.” 


The welcome starts here

Most marinas have an office. The Harbor Centre Marina also has a visitor’s center, a pool and hot tub and, on many days, an open house at which Matt Bauer, marina general manager, grills brats. The open house might feature a paddleboard demo, a Sheepshead card tournament or a trivia contest in the upstairs game room.

“We have an approach where we look at our hospitality more like a resort would,” Bauer says. “We have winter boat storage and hauling, and all the traditional services, but our main focus is to offer a vacation feel.”

The marina’s on-site store promotes the eat-local sensibility found elsewhere, stocking local Grand Champion brats from Miesfeld’s Meat Market and the popular jalapeno cheddar from Hennings Cheese. The marina also rents slips on the town’s South Beach area, anchored by Blue Harbor Resort, a popular site for weddings and the venue for the annual craft beer fest.

For those who opt to sleep off the boat, Blue Harbor Resort’s 180 guest rooms are close enough to Lake Michigan for a stunning view and a lullaby of crashing waves. The on-site spa, miniature golf course, popular indoor waterpark and lakeshore trails are offered for resort guests or visitor day use.

Harbor Centre Marina connects via boardwalks to wide beaches at the North Side Municipal Beach, the iconic Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse and Deland Park — home to frequent festivals. It’s an easy walk to shopping downtown and to repurposed fishing shanties along the Sheboygan River. A free trolley system stops at the marina toward routes around town and to the neighboring village of Kohler. 


An art and design history tied to a trough

A jaunt or two to Kohler — and to the American Club Resort restaurants, championship golf club, spa and shops — is essential to anyone who appreciates both pampering and fine design. The village itself was laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, who’s best known as the landscape architect of New York’s Central Park. He designed it as a place of functional beauty for product design and added homes for the immigrant workers who flocked by the hundreds to craft the ceramic bath and kitchen products.  

The region’s history stretches back to the ancient Hopewell tribe, the builders of the earthen mounds showcased at Sheboygan’s Indian Mound Park. The tribe later built industries like fur trading, fishing and chair making. Its fortunes turned to enamelware after John Michael Kohler (later elected mayor of Sheboygan) purchased a foundry in rural Wisconsin to make cast-iron and steel farm implements and hitching posts. A decade later, he sprinkled a horse trough with enamel powder and showcased it in a catalog as a “horse trough/hog scalder... which, when furnished with four legs will serve as a bathtub.”

A replica of the tub is now displayed as part of the history exhibit in the lower level of the Kohler Design Center. Take the factory tour to see tubs in their molten state. The Design Center’s basement showcases the history of tub and sink design, down to color and function. Or opt for the luxury of experiencing Kohler water products the five-star Kohler Waters Spa way. Treat yourself to the signature lavender rain treatment under a custom Vichy shower. 


Tour the arts

There is an intriguing art community and heritage in Sheboygan. The John Michael Kohler Art Center features multiple galleries and rotating exhibits — among them, wall designs crafted from bugs and the original coat of the Rhinestone Cowboy. The Art Center also has a quirky art tour of its six artist-designed bathrooms.

The clever Bookworm Gardens on the local campus of the University of Wisconsin, Sheboygan, offers six literature-themed gardens with related laminated books to read in each. Look for “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Charlotte’s Web,” or “Three Little Pigs,” fittingly read inside a straw or brick house.

Local coffee shops display the works of so many local artists that you could take an informal art tour with coffee, notes Amy Wilson, the city’s tourism and planning director. Or, rent a bike and explore the town’s many street-art murals that are part of The Sheboygan Project.

Boasting a vibrant red “Sheboygan” theater marquee, the historic Stefanie H. Weill Center for Performing Arts was restored to its original beauty and now hosts local performing arts groups, live performances and movies. The Weill Center is one of the few intact “atmospheric” movie theaters of the 1920s.
One block over, the Mead Public Library houses a large collection of paintings, drawings, architecture and sculptures. Don’t miss the cascading Plaza 8 water feature just outside the library’s entrance.

For natural art, visit the mystical James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden, featuring 30 whimsical concrete statues scattered throughout the forest. Former furniture factory worker, James Tellen, transformed the property at his family’s cabin into a sculpture garden.

Learn the quirky history behind this cheese-making and brat-grilling Wisconsin city at the Sheboygan County Historical Museum. Rotating exhibits include Indian, maritime, agricultural and circus history.

The great outdoors

If you wonder why the city’s film claim-to-fame is the surfing rooster in the animated film “Surf’s Up” (the rooster’s hometown is Sheboygan), look to the topography that often leads to 20-foot waves along Deland Park beach, Wilson says. Since the 1950s, locals have ridden the waves, creating a cult industry that’s made this the unofficial surfing base for the Midwest. Surfing lessons are offered for experts and beginners alike.

Cast a line on North Pier or South Pier, or hop aboard one of the many local fishing charters. You’re sure to land a fish, as Sheboygan is known for its abundant trout and salmon. The 45th Annual Sheboygan Riverfront Coho Derby (this year on August 6-7) is the longest-running fishing tournament on Lake Michigan.

Stretching along 2 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline is the Whistling Straits Golf Course, often named among the country’s top 10 golf courses. The golf course hosted the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship. Further inland, the Whistling Straits Irish course features grasslands and dunes. World Golf Hall of Fall designer Pete Dye crafted both courses.

For picturesque dune views and hiking trails, visit the Kohler-Andrae State Park, which, according to the Wisconsin DNR, is one of the last natural preserves along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

In 1894, the three-masted schooner Lottie Cooper sank just off the coast of Sheboygan. The wreck of Lottie was later discovered and reassembled at Deland Park, and is the only wreck from the Great Lakes that you can walk through. 


Downtown Sheboygan

Explore Sheboygan’s downtown, centered on historic 8th Street and in the many colorful repurposed fishing shanties along the Sheboygan River. You can craft your own lotions, soaps and perfumes at Olivu 426. Check out surf gear to ride the waves at EOS, Wisconsin’s only surf shop that offers surfboards, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.

Along the river, shanties now house bait shops, a bicycle company renting singles or tandems, and the Weather Center Café. Here, you’ll understand the obsession with weather (evident in menu items like The Twister and The Tempest) when you learn that the owner is an avid local surfer. The riverfront Duke of Devon pub offers local fish, along with curry chips and Devon mussels, inside another one-time shanty.

The Kohler company has served as an incubator for high-end chefs; stops like the upscale Italian Trattoria Stefano and sister restaurants, Field to Fork and Il Ritrovo, have become culinary draws — as has the small-town hospitality that’s served there.

Other culinary delights include Black Pig, offering “comfort food with a twist,” Urbane, a local favorite for cocktails and happy hour, and Pier 17 on the Sheboygan River.

“We have that casual resort feel and small town America feel,” says Wilson. “I hear the word quaint a lot and I shudder to use that. But I suppose it does seem we’re kind of stuck in the ’50s and ’60s — and in a good way.”


En So? If you doubt Sheboygan has a sense of humor about itself, just go to the “soundboard” at visitsheboygan.com. You can hear how to ask for a “double braaat wit da works,” ask someone to “come wit,” or say “should’na” (as in you should’na missed out on a trip to Sheboygan) in the local accent, described as part Yooper, part lazy German. 





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