Home / Columns / Traveling Shepherd / You’ll Love Kohler— Even If You’re on a Budget
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

You’ll Love Kohler— Even If You’re on a Budget

This upscale destination doesn’t have to be expensive

Google+ Pinterest Print

In a state packed from top to bottom with great vacation destinations, there are several that rank with the finest in the region, if not the entire country. Surprisingly, many Wisconsin travelers don’t make the trip to these must-visit places. Door County and the Lake Geneva area fall into that group, as does the one destination that sits at the top of many “best of” lists: Kohler.

The reputations of Door County and Lake Geneva for being “full of the Illinois crowd” have kept away a good many Wisconsinites who dislike crowds and who feel intimidated by the rather assertive personalities who flee the big city in search of peace, beauty and tranquility at the lake. These visitors also are perceived as big spenders who drive up prices, and no self-respecting Wisconsinite cares to pay summer prices for anything.

And that as much as anything explains why so many Wisconsin folks have not yet experienced the extraordinary destination called Kohler. Wisconsin travelers hear it described as “upscale” (and it is), “a corporate favorite” (it is) and ranked with the best by New York types (yes, again), so they decide to head someplace with 10-cent tap beers or an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.

But Kohler is an exceptional getaway that is worth every penny. A couple of nights at the American Club and Kohler Waters Spa is great, and lunch or dinner at Blackwolf Run, Cucina or Whistling Straits is, too. What’s more, there are lots of things in Kohler that cost little or nothing to enjoy. Here are a few suggestions:

Tour the Gardens: The village of Kohler has been certified by the American Public Gardens Association for its outstanding plant displays, landscape design and natural areas open for public enjoyment. There are more than 1,000 acres on display in the village. Contact the Kohler Gardener at (920) 458-5570 for more information about special events, guided walks or opportunities to tour the gardens.

Tour the Waelderhaus: The Waelderhaus was built to commemorate the ethnic ancestral roots of the Kohler family. The building is constructed in the architectural style of the Bregenzerwald region of Austria, where relatives of the modern Kohler family lived for generations. Called the “house in the woods,” it is the work of Kaspar Albrecht, a noted Austrian sculptor and architect. Inside you’ll see fine carvings, woodcuts, iron and pewter work. It’s like stepping back into the Old World. There is no charge to tour the house; guided tours are conducted daily at 2, 3 and 4 p.m., except holidays. Go to the south entrance.

Bring Your Bicycle: One of Wisconsin’s fine off-road bicycle runs is a 17-mile jaunt that stretches from the Lake Michigan shore in Sheboygan through Kohler and Plymouth to the Kettle Moraine area and Ice Age Trail in Greenbush. The Old Plank Road Trail follows parts of a historic log road that was an early stagecoach route. In Greenbush, visit the 1860s-era Wade House and Herrling Sawmill, a state historic site.

Tour the Kohler Factory: This three-hour tour is one of the best and most in-depth factory tours offered anywhere in the state, and it’s free. Called “Industry in Action,” this tour goes behind the scenes to show you how Kohler bathtubs and faucets are made. You’ll get a good look at the company history and visit many parts of the plant, including the pottery, brass building and foundry. You’ll see how Kohler makes vitreous china, bathroom sinks and even the huge 6-foot cast-iron tubs. Art lovers will learn about and appreciate the work Kohler is doing with its highly acclaimed Arts/Industry Program. Tours take place weekdays at 8:30 a.m.; advance reservations are required, participants must be at least 14 years old and closed-toe footwear is required. Safety goggles and headsets are provided. Call (920) 457-3699 for information and reservations.

Check Out the Design Center: The Kohler Design Center is a stunning Baked Alaska composed of parts of the Museum of Modern Art, the Home & Garden channel and an Acme Plumbing supply truck mixed together by a Disney World Imagineer. You’ll find three layers of Kohler products, design and technology creatively displayed in various bath and living spaces ranging from practical to dreamscapes. Don’t miss the historical displays downstairs. Visitors range from young couples looking for ideas for their new home to New York artists and designers on a field trip to golfers killing time between rounds at Blackwolf Run or Whistling Straits. Watching their reactions to the art and whimsy is almost as entertaining as wandering through the awesome displays. Admission is free.

Visit the John Michael Kohler Arts Center: Just a few miles out of Kohler, in downtown Sheboygan, is one of the finest “little” contemporary art centers in the Midwest. With 11 galleries, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center presents “contemporary American art with [an] emphasis on craft-related forms, folk traditions, new genres and the work of self-taught artists.” Work by artists in the Arts/Industry Program of the Kohler Co. studios is on display, along with various changing exhibitions. Don’t leave without visiting the restrooms named by the Travel Channel as “some of the best in the world.”

Go Shopping: The Shops at Woodlake are Wisconsin’s answer to Rodeo Drive, so lock your charge cards in the safe if you don’t want to buy anything. Ranging from art, jewelry, Wisconsin crafts and fine furniture to clothiers, chocolatiers and garden outfitters, these stores are fun whether you make a purchase or not.

For a Few Dollars More: Spend a weekend (caution: It’s cruel to be here just one night!) at the American Club or maybe the Carriage House and Kohler Waters Spa. Dine at the formal and top-rated Immigrant Room or do dinner at the great Irish clubhouse at Whistling Straits. Check out a variety of packages starting at $195 and up.

Photos by Gary Knowles