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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Have You Seen Racine?

Day trips to Milwaukee's southern neighbor

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The next time you're zooming along I-94 between Milwaukee and Chicago, take the time to discover that the city of Racine is a worthy destination of its own. A beautiful harbor, a top-notch art museum, a charming downtown business district and some excellent restaurants make Racine a great place for a day trip or perhaps even a weekend getaway.

Where to Go

Racine is peppered with buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The most famous of these architectural treasures is the Johnson Wax Administration Building and Research Tower (1525 Howe St.). Tours of varying lengths and depth are all free; online reservations are recommended. The three-and-a-half-hour tour, the most in-depth experience, is a total joy for fans of Wright and his creative genius. For more information, visit www.scjohnson.com/en/company/visiting.aspx or call 262-260-2154.

Before there was a Wind Point Lighthouse (4725 Lighthouse Drive), there was a large tree on shore that sailors had to watch for to avoid a treacherous reef just off the coast. In 1880, the lighthouse—among the tallest and oldest on the Great Lakes, was completed. The “Friends of the Wind Point Lighthouse” currently operate a small museum of Great Lakes maritime history in the former Fog Horn Building. The tower is open on a limited schedule. If you plan your visit appropriately, you will be treated to an amazing view. Check www.windpoint-lighthouse.com or call 262-880-8266 for more information.

A true small-city gem, the Racine Zoo (2131 N. Main St.) is a fun way to spend a few hours. The time will fly by as you visit up-close exhibits like the “Walkabout Creek” Australian animals area. Visitors must stay on the rope-lined path; however, the animals are free to range about, even getting close enough to touch (though that is not allowed). The meerkat habitat, playgrounds and the miniature train are favorite stops for the kids, while adults will enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Visit www.racinezoo.org or call 262-636-9189 for more information.

When visiting the downtown business district, be sure to make a stop at Funky Hannah's Beads & Art (324 Main St.). This fun shop has just about every kind of bead you can imagine, plus supplies for making jewelry. Classes are available for all levels of skill. It is a great place to make some personal, wearable art. For more information, visit www.funkyhannahs.com or call 262-634-6088.

Inspire your creative side with a visit to the Racine Art Museum (441 Main St.). The Racine Art Museum (RAM) has a small collection of regionally significant works on paper dating back to a Works Progress Administration art project, as well as a large collection of folk art and contemporary crafts including ceramics, glass, metals, furniture and handmade books. Traveling exhibits and frequent class offerings expand the versatility of the museum. Visit www.ramart.org or call 262-638-8300 for more information.

Where to Eat

If you find yourself in town as early as breakfast time, sample some kringle. The O&H Danish Bakery has been turning out their light, flaky kringle—the pastry treat Racine is known for—for more than 60 years. O&H has two locations in the city (1841 Douglas Ave. and 4006 Durand Ave.).

For those looking to start the day with coffee, visit the Mocha Lisa Coffeehouse & Gallery (2825 4 ½ Mile Road). Delicious Alterra coffee and a relaxed, creative atmosphere will put your mind in the right place for exploration. Tasty bakery items will take the edge off your hunger before heading out.

When lunchtime rolls around, don't miss the Kewpee Sandwich Shop (520 Wisconsin Ave.). Known for its 1950s-style burgers, Kewpee has often topped lists of the best burger joints in Wisconsin. Round out your meal with super-crispy fries and a hand-dipped malt or homemade root beer. Kewpee is closed on Sundays.

For a healthy alternative to burgers and fries, The Soup (309 Main St.) will fit the bill. A changing menu of fresh soups, salads and sandwiches makes for a satisfying meal at midday. Whenever possible, the food is sourced locally for the freshest ingredients. Open 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. for brunch on Sundays.

A standout in a sea of good restaurants, Javier's Cuisine (2815 Durand Ave.) will not fail to please even the pickiest of eaters. The traditional Mexican food is hard to beat for authenticity and quality. The menu includes many items that have a gourmet, inspired bent and showcase chef Javier Ortega's ability to bring out the best in food. Closed on Sundays.

No visit to Racine can be deemed complete without a taste of the local pizza. DeRango's Pizza Palace (3840 Douglas Ave.), DeRango's Pizza King (4621 6-Mile Road), Infusino's Pizzeria (3225 Rapids Drive) and Wells Brothers Restaurant (2148 Mead St.) top the list of favorite pizza places to score classic Wisconsin cracker-thin-crust pies. These restaurants all offer dinners too, but the real star is always the pizza. Ask a Racine resident for a recommendation, and they will certainly mention one of these places.

Susan Harpt Grimes is a freelance writer working in the Milwaukee area. She has been contributing to the
Shepherd Express since 2010.