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Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

Planning a Racine Get-Away?

Whether by car, bike or on foot, Racine has much to offer

Racine
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For some Milwaukeeans, Racine is simply a name on a few road signs during the drive from Milwaukee to Chicago. But the little city of about 80,000 begs to be seen, and with the arrival of First Fridays and other events, now might be the perfect time for you to go see it. I strapped my bike to my car, drove south and went exploring. From the continually growing and thriving art scene to the ease of bike tourism, mixed with great lakefront views and a revitalized Downtown, Racine offers many reasons for a visit.

At just shy of 45-minutes from Milwaukee, Racine is a convenient place for a day trip. Downtown holds many attractions, making it easy to explore without a guide. The old Downtown on the West Side has many beautifully decorated cream city brick buildings, but Main Street is more alive and plays the role of heart of the city, offering a variety of galleries, bars and restaurants all within an easily walkable range. Most or all of a day could be spent just browsing the Main Street galleries and shops. The Artists Gallery, Seebecks and Northern Lights are just a few galleries on Main.

The beautifully designed Racine Art Museum (one of the few places open Sundays) should also be included on any visitor’s itinerary. I started my bike ride at the Art Museum, hoping to concentrate on intricate brick buildings and outstanding architecture. I was delighted to be able to bike to two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s visions resting in Racine: the Thomas P. Hardy House along the lakefront and the Johnson Wax Headquarters a few blocks west of Main Street. 

Sometimes biking in Milwaukee can be a bit frightening, but with about an eighth of Milwaukee’s population and traffic, Racine makes a phenomenal place to hop on your bicycle and explore. 3rd Coast Bikes, a shop right in the heart of Downtown, offers a variety of different hourly or daily rentals. There are two main bike trail systems in Racine: the Root River Pathway, which allows bikers to conveniently follow the Root River throughout Racine and a few of its parks, and the 9.8 miles of the mostly coastal Lake Michigan Pathway. Racine’s bike path system allows an unfamiliar visitor to enjoy Racine’s attractions by bike. It would be easy to utilize the trails to get from the Johnson Wax Headquarters to the Racine Art Museum to North Beach and then all the way to O&H Bakery for some world-famous kringle.

Much like Milwaukee, Racine has Lake Michigan as an asset. North Beach seemed to be a sunny-day destination for many locals, reminiscent of Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach; it even had a microcosmic version of Northpoint Custard! If a bustling beach is not your cup of tea, the much quieter, more secluded Zoo Beach is just a bit north of North Beach. I found Zoo Beach to be a great resting point after biking for a few hours. After you’ve seen the colorful flowerbeds lining the stairway down to Zoo Beach and the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan, the affordably priced Racine Zoo is just a few steps west.

Building on the already impressive art scene, First Fridays aim to encourage people to visit and check out the art, food and fun Racine has to offer. There are local artists and bands playing and it’s definitely a family friendly atmosphere. First Fridays take place from April to December (while Third Fridays are only in for summer). Learn more at firstfridaysracine.com.