5 reasons to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin

| July 23, 2013 More

Located midway between Chicago and Milwaukee, Kenosha might seem like nothing more than a stop along the expressway. But this city of nearly 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan is an exciting destination in itself. Diverse restaurants, craft beer, vintage streetcars, and family-friendly activities are among many reasons to visit Kenosha. 

Kenosha lighthouse

Historic Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse on Lake Michigan

1. Lake Michigan shoreline

One of Kenosha’s most appealing features is public access to Lake Michigan. You won’t find highways or industrial buildings on the lakefront. Instead, the shoreline near downtown consists of miles of beaches, parks, walking trails, bike paths, and festival grounds.

Relax with a cup of coffee at Harborside Common Grounds (5159 6th Ave) overlooking the water, or take a walk around HarborPark, a 69-acre redeveloped space featuring a promenade, historic lighthouse, sculpture park, marina, streetcar tracks, and museums.

Kenosha streetcar

Hop on a vintage streetcar for a scenic ride around downtown and lakefront

2. Diverse cuisine

The revitalized city center is a great place to try many locally-owned establishments. From European pastries at Linnea Bakery (512 56th St) to old-school diners (Franks Diner (508 58th St) is the oldest operating lunch car diner in the country) and award-winning thin-crust pizza at Kaiser’s Pizza and Pub (510 57th St), downtown Kenosha has plenty of options for any taste. And just a few miles south, Twisted Cuisine (7546 Sheridan Rd) serves casual gourmet food with a creative “twist.”

Get more Kenosha food recommendations from my post: Dining and drinking in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

3. Microbreweries

Wisconsin’s long-standing brewing tradition is strong in Kenosha, with two downtown microbreweries operating a few blocks apart:

  • Rustic Road Brewery (510 56th St) produces beer in small batches and runs brewing classes. Outdoor seating is available in season. Brews include: Motueka Extra Pale Ale (made as a single malt/single hop beer) and Southport Wheat (Bavarian-style wheat beer).
  • Public Craft Brewing Co. (716 58th St) offers tours and workshops, and the taproom has a feel of a neighborhood tavern. Among the brews are: Perception Porter, Public American Pale Ale, and the WIT (strong wheat beer).

 Find out more about Public in: Hangout: Public Craft Brewing Co. in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Kenosha restaurants

Whether you like European-style pastries, craft beer, diner food, or creative gourmet cuisine, Kenosha has it

4. Museums & historic architecture

Once an important Great Lakes shipping port and automobile manufacturer, Kenosha has a rich history. You can explore it at a number of museums and institutions in the area, including:

  • Kenosha History Center (220 51st Pl) on the harbor, located inside a 19th century lighthouse and adjacent Lighthouse Keeper’s home. Exhibits showcase Kenosha’s early settlement and industrial legacy.
  • Civil War Museum (5400 1st Ave) in HarborPark focuses on stories of the people of the Upper Midwest around the time of the war and the connections between home and the battlefield.
  • Kemper Center and Durkee Mansion (6501 3rd Ave) is a restored historic complex overlooking Lake Michigan. It consists of a Civil-War era mansion, conference center, fine art gallery, and chapel. Self-tours and tours by appointment are available.

For more 19th and 20th century architecture, take a walking tour of Kenosha’s National Register Historic Districts, which include well-preserved residences and commercial buildings.

Durkee Mansion Kenosha

Elegant interiors of Durkee Mansion, restored Civil War-era home overlooking Lake Michigan

5. Family-friendly activities

In addition to beaches, Kenosha County offers numerous attractions that can be enjoyed by families:

  • Dinosaur Discovery Museum (5608 10th Ave) features fossils, bones, life-size replica casts, family programs, and a paleontology lab. Free admission. 
  • Jelly Belly Center (10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie, WI) is a Jelly Belly® candy warehouse, store, and sample bar. Learn how the famous jelly beans are made with a free video train tour. 
  • Kenosha Harbor Market (514 56th St) near the lakefront has freshly-baked goods, snacks, samples of local produce and cheeses, chef demos, arts & crafts, and live entertainment. Pets on leashes are welcome.
  • Vintage streetcars – authentic 1951 President’s Conference Committee cars relocated from Toronto – circle downtown Kenosha on a two-mile scenic route, passing by the lakefront, HarborPark, and two historic neighborhoods. Fare: $1.00 ages 13+, $0.50 ages 5-12, children under 4 ride free.
Jelly Belly Kenosha

Jelly Belly Center has something for both little and big fans of the famous jelly beans

If you go:

  • Kenosha is accessible by train from Chicago and Milwaukee. I94 runs a few miles west of the lakefront.
  • There is plentiful free parking in the city center.
  • On the second Saturday of each month, downtown businesses offer extended hours, special discounts, family activities, and live entertainment.

 Thank you to Kenosha Area CVB and its associates for hosting me in the city. All opinions, as always, are mine.

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Category: CITIES


About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (26)

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  1. avatar Aaron says:

    Do love the shoreline and small-town atmosphere there. Beautiful and peaceful!

  2. avatar Jenn says:

    Aww, I love seeing this city featured! It really his a little gem hidden away in Wisconsin. My grandmother lives there so I have taken trips tot his town my entire life and I’ve got plenty of childhood memories of running around the parks and beaches that make up the shoreline!

    • Hi, Jenn. Such lovely memories from Kenosha! I feel like the city is under the radar (it took me a while to visit it too and I live nearby), but there’s a lot to see and do there!

  3. avatar nicole says:

    adding this to our wisconsin list, right next to Milwaukee =D

  4. avatar Francesca says:

    We already know I need a return trip to Kenosha to hit the breweries, but I just remembered I also missed out on Durkee Mansion. I’d love to see it inside. May I add another reason to your list? Tenuta’s Italian deli & grocery. Did you make it there? Huge Italian/Euro grocery store and THE BEST cannoli anywhere!

  5. avatar Anita Mac says:

    Love those kind of places…wonder if there is much kayaking on Lake Michigan…there must be! Sounds like you had a great time in Kenosha.

  6. You had me at breweries whether they are micro, macro, or even infinitesimal. I am sold on Kenosha.

  7. this looks lovely, pola! i love a bit of small town america and if i am in the area, i shall certainly visit!

  8. Okay, I have to be honest, I have never, ever in my life thought about Wisconsin as a destination I’d like to visit. That was until you started writing about it! Haha, now, I’m trying to figure out when I can squeeze it in!

    • Wisconsin is one of my favorite states – it has nice lakes, small towns with cute downtowns, roadside fruit & vegetable stands, oh and all the beer and cheese. :) I hope you get to visit, Erin! I’d be happy to show you around.

  9. you had me at microbreweries. alsooo, the jelly belly center is like the romantic’s mecca. xo!

  10. avatar lola says:

    stunning photos as always JA. really love the lighthouse. LOLA has a thing for them…

  11. avatar Karl says:

    Always enjoy your pics, especially the lighthouse. I see them all day in my job and always appreciate this storied navigational aide.

  12. avatar lorrie says:

    sounds like a great place to visit thanks for introducing it

  13. avatar Charu says:

    Wow, love the pictures of the pier and the pastries. Wisconsin does surprise–my trip to Wausau was pretty beautiful!