From Breweries to All Forms of Boating – Racine County Overflows with Lifestyle Options
When walking through downtown Chicago or Milwaukee, it can be hard to imagine that a bucolic setting of river floats, leafy main streets and an utterly relaxed lifestyle exists less than one hour away. Add in ethnic cuisine and a thriving arts scene, and you begin to paint the picture of Wisconsin’s Racine County, a dynamic and growing set of diverse communities just 35 miles from Milwaukee and only 60 miles from Chicago.
Naturally, kayaking along the Root River or digging into the “County Chicken Dinner” at the Apple Holler feels a long way away from the harried beat of Chicago, but it couldn’t be easier to toggle back and forth via I-94 between the two. Racine County has embraced the best of urban life and marinated it in that laid-back vibe for which the Midwest is famous. Today, residents and visitors alike discover a thriving culinary scene, cultural centers and acre upon acre of Third Coast beach. Here are just a few ways you can bring Racine County into focus.
There’s a wonderful trend in smaller cities and towns across North America where well-known urban chefs choose quieter climes to craft a signature restaurant. It makes sense; few occupations carry more stressful day-to-day demands than running a restaurant. What draws them to places like Racine County is what the current chefs already know: creating dishes like Butcher & Barrel’s Gouda Bacon Mac & Cheese is as fun as eating them. The Grown Up Grilled Cheese at Rugan’s Burlington satisfies foodies as well as everyone else. Call this sandwich — with Hill Valley Dairy Cheddar, Swiss, tomato and roasted red pepper aioli on fresh sourdough — an example of appetizing alchemy.
The “Best Places to Live” articles in outdoor and lifestyle magazines always make mention of the local brewery scene. Not surprisingly, Racine County offers a full stein of suds, beginning with the Franksville Craft Beer Garden. Open from May to October, the garden features 16 rotating taps throughout the summer in a fun environment, with a playground for the kids and lots of adult games and distractions to complement live musical performances, food trucks and yes, yoga classes! The Racine Brewing Company adds another great gathering space, and Littleport Brewing Co.’s renovation of a brick warehouse signals the next phase of craft beer heaven. Live music lovers stick close by George’s Tavern, one of those cinematic lakefront bars you expect to see in an art film, preferably shot in black and white. Route 20 brings a raucous element, with a great stage to accompany a full-service restaurant and bar, the kind of establishment people usually frequent in a large city. McAuliffe’s Pub keeps the Irish music legacy alive, and Evelyn’s Club is yet another testament to Southeastern Wisconsin’s love for live music.
Main Street and Racine, in general, offers more than great live tunes; downtown is also known for its artwork, beginning with the Racine Art Museum, a series of galleries that display visiting exhibits of the contemporary craft movement. The Racine Art Museum is the largest contemporary craft collection in the United States. The astounding curatorial talents of the RAM staff have established this museum with an artistic reputation that belies its size. The Artists Gallery, a cooperative with 26 regional artists who present all media for enjoyment and purchase, is one of several art spaces that have sprung to life around the RAM’s fecund aesthetic presence.
Frank Lloyd Wright is best known for his residential projects, but when you see the SC Johnson headquarters in Racine, you’ll know instantly you’re seeing a Wright commercial design, the largest commercial commission he ever finished. Here, you can explore the legacy of arguably America’s most important architect by taking in the Johnson HQ tour as well as the Golden Rondelle Theatre and Fortaleza Hall, site of “SC Johnson Gallery: Frank Lloyd Wright at Home” and a library of his work. Wingspread, Wright’s largest and final residential commission, also hosts tours.
For many, the leisure life in Racine revolves around the Fox and Root Rivers, among the premier recreational waterways in the United States. The serpentine Root River remains a go-to salmon and trout fishing river as well as spring and summertime roost for canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards. The Brown’s Lake fishery serves as an ideal habitat for largemouth bass. A day paddle on the 14-mile Fox River Water Trail is an essential “local’s badge” as well as a tradition for seasonal visitors. A “Top 5 Best Freshwater Beach” in America, North Beach sports 50 acres of sand, with something for everyone. Any opportunity to relax far from the crowds here on Lake Michigan or in one of the dozen-plus parks is time well spent.
Every child loves the sand, and the Racine County coastline is “sand central.” Residents take their Third Coast lifestyle seriously by optimizing time on the Lake Michigan shoreline whenever possible. A freshwater mecca, Racine County is also home to the Burlington Aquatic Center, a public play space with everything from a lap pool to water slides to a lazy river. The stars come out via two telescopes at Modine-Benstead Observatory, where the public can gaze into the heavens on select evenings from May through October. No family excursion is complete without breaking Kringle, the traditional Danish pastry for which this region is internationally known. From Burlington’s Chocolate Fest (May 24–27) to the Racine County Fair (July 24–28), there’s plenty of unplugged entertainment for every family to discover.
Racine County is considered one of those rare regions in the country that is equally fun to live in or to visit on vacation. From endless beach days to camping at Cliffside, a visit here is filled with equal parts leisure and adventure. The downtown Racine boutiques, galleries and breweries satisfy our cultural bent, while exploring a Frank Lloyd Wright design or eclectic Racine Art Museum exhibit takes our aesthetic appreciation to new heights. Whether you prefer to rip into a Kringle, rent a powerboat or spend the evening among fine musicians at a local brewery, this county fills your days with wonderful memories.