Kenosha is famous for the Mars Cheese Castle and the Bristol Renaissance Faire, which is held every weekend from early July through Labor Day. It’s also famous for its electric streetcar, for producing talents like filmmaker Orson Welles and actor Mark Ruffalo, and for serving as the figurative 50-yard line for a key NFL rivalry. Most Wisconsinites are diehard Packers supporters, and most Illinois natives are Bears fanatics, but since Kenosha is just across the Illinois state line, these two football rivals comingle in a way that’s virtually unheard of in any other part of the state.
Here are six fun things to do while you’re in town.
Explore downtown’s main drag
Like many small cities, Kenosha (population: about 100,000) has a dense, walkable downtown area that’s easy to explore on foot. Bounce between vintage stores, thrift shops and bookstores, then pop into gift shops, clothing boutiques and a mini plant emporium along 6th Avenue, the main drag. If you’re in need of a plaid, paisley or polka-dot suit, head to Mike Bjorn’s Clothing, which also has an impressive selection of fun socks.
When you’re done shopping, stroll over to the Kenosha Public Museum to learn about mammoths locally discovered by members of the museum’s staff, who went on to rewrite science books, and to the Civil War Museum, which focuses on the role seven Midwestern states played during the conflict.
Rather get a lift? You can also hop on the electric streetcar, which makes a two-mile loop around downtown. A ride on the restored streetcar only costs $1, and it provides a scenic tour of the Lake Michigan shoreline while also getting you close to restaurants, shops, museums, waterfront markets and historic areas. Whether you ride or go on foot, make your way over to the picture-perfect Southport Lighthouse, which you can climb during warm-weather months.
Note that many shops are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so you’ll find the most to do on the weekends, especially before 2pm, when there are more markets (both indoor and outdoor) and performances in the parks.
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Get your market on
If markets are your jam, you’re going to love Kenosha. In summer, there’s a fresh and fabulous farmers market on the harbor, appropriately named HarborMarket, where you’ll find veggies, honey, breads and gourmet oils, plus non-food goodies from craft vendors. Summer Saturdays also include live music and special events, such as puppet shows, opera performances and visits from the Bookmobile. Come wintertime, the market shrinks a bit in size and shifts indoors to the Kenosha Union Club, a few miles away.
On Saturday mornings between May and October, the Kenosha Public Market also sets up shop near the waterfront, before moving indoors to the nearby Vault Banquet Hall from November to April. In addition to locally produced microgreens and other edibles, you can peruse (and sample!) baked goods, elderberry products, coffee and handmade soaps from surrounding counties. Come hungry – you can also grab fresh food like tacos and Palestinian falafel wraps.
Union Park is the place to be on the third Sunday of the month from June through October, when the Kenosha Art Market takes over. And if you still haven’t had your fill, head to the Wilmot Flea Market, held Sundays from late April through early October at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds; just be aware that there’s a $2 charge here, unlike the others, which are free.
For a flea market find in a brick-and-mortar setting, head to Pencillarium, Kenosha’s specialty and vintage pencil shop. (Yes, this is really a thing.)
Shop the outlet mall
Kenosha County is famous for its outlet mall – anyone driving from Milwaukee to Chicago along I-94 has no doubt noticed the cluster of stores hawking discounted versions of just about anything and everything.
Kenosha is the global headquarters of Jockey, and they have two stores here, along with outlets for big-name brands like Gap, Express, Nike and Banana Republic. There’s also a handful of lesser-known and more unique outlets, like the Beef Jerky Experience, where you’ll find everything from buffalo and kangaroo jerky to alligator and ostrich.
Sample Wisconsin’s famous beer and cheese
If Wisconsin is famous for anything, it’s beer and cheese, and Kenosha has loads of both. While it’s true that you can find good cheese just about anywhere in the state, including at supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores and farm stands, Kenosha happens to be home to the famous Mars Cheese Castle. A castle-shaped cheese emporium my nephew once thought was Disneyland, it has one of the largest selections of cheese in the state. The shop also has a good selection of snacks and drinks, plus baked goods like kringle, the Danish pastry produced in neighboring Racine.
Though you certainly can pick up some amazing locally brewed beverages at Mars Cheese Castle – and also at most every supermarket and gas station in town – do yourself a favor and hit up one of the city’s bars, breweries or brewpubs. Kenosha Brewing Co., located at the site of the first brewpub in the Midwest that opened after Prohibition, is now a bar and grill that brews beer and hosts live entertainment on the weekends.
Smack dab in the middle of downtown, Public Craft Brewing serves up house-made, tempura-battered cheese curds – a must-try Wisconsin treat – alongside burgers, tacos and craveable craft beers. In addition to trivia each Thursday night, the Public also hosts comedy shows, educational lectures and other nightlife events.
Just around the corner from Public is Rustic Road Brewing Company, which produces small-batch artisan beer and enticing eats. (Try the spinach dip and the brisket sandwich.)
Pedal, paddle and perhaps get snowy
Kenosha receives most of its visitors during the warm-weather months, which offer the opportunity to kayak, paddleboard, hike, golf and visit Boundless Adventures, an outdoor aerial-adventure park. The county has five beaches along Lake Michigan, all of which are free to visit and provide free parking.
Cyclists will appreciate Kenosha County’s 130 miles of bike trails, including the Kenosha County Bike Trail, the Pike Bike Trail and a network of mountain bike trails at Silver Lake Park.
The outdoor markets may move indoors come wintertime, but the fun is just starting for adventurers who aren’t afraid of the cold. Once the snow begins falling – in some years, as early as October – a huge variety of winter activities present themselves, including snowboarding, skiing (both downhill and cross-country), snowshoeing, snow tubing, snowmobiling, ice skating and even fat-tire biking.
If you don’t bring your own equipment, you can rent skis, snowboards and snow tubes at Wilmot Mountain, snowshoes at the Pringle Nature Center and ice skates at the rink in Veterans Memorial Park.
Enjoy the nightlife
While there isn’t a lone “can’t miss” nightlife venue in Kenosha, you’ll find several theaters and plenty of bingo, open-mic, karaoke and trivia events sprinkled around at local bars and restaurants – including the breweries mentioned above. Museums and art galleries also host various classes, workshops and artist receptions, so be sure to check their event calendars during your trip.
For theater, standup comedy, gallery shows and live music performances, check out Fusion, Kenosha’s Performing Arts Center, and the Rita theater, located at the nearby University of Wisconsin – Parkside campus. The Rhode Center for the Arts puts on plays and musicals in a small historic theater downtown, and the Kenosha Comedy Club hosts 90-minute comedy shows every weekend, just a 10-minute walk from the Rhode at the Wyndham Garden Hotel.
For art lovers looking for hands-on experiences, Bellisima’s Boutique (right downtown) and Pinot’s Palette (two miles away in Pleasant Prairie), host evening art classes and paint-and-sip events on the weekend.