In a land where the cheese is squeaky and the corn grows for miles, you will find the town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Situated about 85 miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, this Midwestern town is home to roughly 65,000 Wisconsonians. Thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, beautiful rivers, outdoor activities, a budding music scene (and festivals to match), creative culture and enthusiastic locals, Eau Claire is earning its place on the map. For those in the Southeast, a trip to Northwestern Wisconsin is a bit of a haul that would merit more than a weekend trip, but if you are already heading to the Land of Lakes be sure to add Eau Claire to your list.
When you visit, follow our itinerary for a perfectly planned good time.
1 p.m. — Check in to The Oxbow Hotel
Hang your hat in the heart of Eau Claire with a stay at The Oxbow Hotel. The building was originally home to the Edwards Hotel, which was constructed in 1947. Thanks to local visionaries, the property was purchased and converted into the “destination boutique hotel” it is today. Since The Oxbow opened in 2016, owners Nick Meyer, Justin Vernon (better known as Bon Iver) and Zach Halmstad have been welcoming Eau Claire guests and residents to come and stay while. “We wanted to create a sense of place,” Nick tells us during our stay. “Across Eau Claire, people have taken leadership and we have seen success in their efforts. For us, it is important to just keep telling our story.” The most well-told story of The Oxbow is the collection of vinyl picked by Justin Vernon. You can browse the selection of records and take one back to your room to play on the record player. Select what speaks to you and set down your bags — the weekend has only just begun!
2 p.m. — Tour Eau Claire’s Sculptures
It is easy to familiarize yourself with downtown while seeing a part of the town’s art scene, thanks to the Sculpture Tour Eau Claire. Stretch your legs and explore the public art that comes in a variety of styles, materials and sizes. The tour is separated into three areas: Mayo Health, Water Street Area and Downtown Eau Claire. Today, we are sticking to the downtown tour. From East Lake Street to East Madison Street, along North Barstow Street, you will find 24 sculptures, each of which are owned by the artist and are on loan to Eau Claire for 11 months. The exhibit changes each spring and the winner of the People’s Choice award finds a permanent location in the city.
3:30 p.m. — Explore Eau Claire’s Shops
Continue your stroll around the heart of Eau Claire by visiting some downtown shops. Five, in particular, stood out to us: Revival Record, Tangled Up In Hue, Silver Feather, The Local Store and Red’s Mercantile. During our visit to Revival Records, we were greeted by the sounds of local band The Rattle Necks playing in the background. This record shop, owned by Billy Siegel, houses 25,000 records, with a focus on classic and pop rock. Tangled Up In Hue is an artist collective and hands-on art gallery. Silver Feather focuses on American Indian jewelry, craft and pottery. The Local Store was opened by Volume One in 2010 and moved downtown two years later. The store features gifts, food, art, apparel and more that are either designed in-store or made by local makers. Red’s Mercantile features home goods, gifts and apparel made in the United States, with a large majority of the inventory coming from the Midwest. Not only is Red’s selling some of the cutest wares in town, it is also set out to connect women to the community in an authentic way, namely through their grant that helps women start businesses.
6:30 p.m. — Drinks at The Dive Bar (at The Lismore)
After heading back to the hotel and changing into your evening wear (no ball gowns necessary), it’s time for a drink. Atop another hotel in town, The Dive Bar is a rooftop bar serving house-made craft cocktails, beers and wines. The space was formerly The Lismore’s swimming pool, hence the bar’s name. Overlook downtown while sipping a cocktail and settling into life in Eau Claire.
7:15 p.m. — Dinner and Jazz Music at The Lakely
Speaking of settling in, head back to the hotel and find a comfortable spot at the hotel restaurant — it’s likely you will be here for awhile. Start your stay at The Lakely with a dinner of modern Midwest comfort food. The menu changes regularly so Chef Nathan Berg can make the most of local and seasonal ingredients. A requirement is the Koldtbord, a sharable selection of meats, cheese, vegetables and accoutrements that will take you on a quick culinary tour of the area. Other regionally inspired and shareable dishes might come in the form of a meatloaf sandwich, flatbread with local veggies and fresh fish. If you would like to put your fate in the hands of Chef Berg, order the six-course tasting menu, which promises “a one-of-a-kind culinary exploration of the best our region has to offer.”
Chances are you have been so focused on the food you have barely had a moment to acknowledge the talent on the restaurant’s stage. It is safe to assume your dinner will be accompanied by a live performance of jazz music by local or regional talent. Typically the acts switch up around 8 p.m., at which point you can be treated to anything from more jazz to vinyl records played by local tastemakers.
9:30 a.m. — Breakfast at ECDC
Make your way to Eau Claire Downtown Coffee (ECDC) for an early morning pick-me-up. Set inside The Lismore, the design of this coffee shop is sophisticated and chic. ECDC serves fresh food and (most importantly) coffee. I suggest you start your day with a coffee and an egg sandwich, which will keep you fueled till mid-day, and grab a seat by the fire to enjoy your breakfast.
10 a.m. — Walk/Bike The Chippewa River State Trail
Today is the day to take advantage of Eau Claire’s grand outdoors. In addition to trails along the town’s two rivers — Eau Claire River and Chippewa River — there are plenty of spots to walk, bike, snowmobile, fish and hunt. When taking your pick of the litter, consider The Chippewa River State Trail. The paved 30-mile trail starts in Downtown’s Pheonix Park, at the confluence of the Chippewa River and the Eau Claire River. You will pass everything from prairies to wetlands. If you are looking to travel by bike, The Oxbow is happy to help — they will lend you a bike, free of charge.
12:30 p.m. — Autumn Harvest Winery & Orchard
There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than exploring a Wisconsin winery and orchard. Located less than 30 minutes from Downtown, Autumn Harvest Winery & Orchard is located in the heart of apple orchard country in Chippewa Valley. Between May and August, take a tour of the blooming apple trees, and at the end of the summer, pick some of your own. During the month of July, the blueberry patch is open to pickers. Year-round, you can visit the tasting room to sample wines with owners Chad and Jean (Beej) McIlquham. The Northern Lights Riesling is the best seller of the group, but all are worth trying.
During the peak season, there is often live music. Either pack a picnic with snacks from Just Local Food Co-op or grab snacks at the winery and orchard for a make-shift lunch.
3:30 p.m. — Ice Cream at Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor
Treat yourself to something sweet at this old-fashioned ice cream parlor across from the hotel. Kayla and Blayne Midthun brought this sweet spot to life and have been serving ice cream in waffle cones, sundaes, pies and malts ever since. Favorite flavors include old-fashioned vanilla, Zanzibar chocolate and strawberry. This will tide you over until dinner!
5 p.m. — Grab a Beer at Dooley’s Pub
It is time to head to the Historic Water Street Business District. Dooley’s Pub is a Water Street staple and has been since its opening in 2005. Before dinner, pop into the pub for a Finnegan’s Irish Amber and fried cheese curds.
6 p.m. — Dinner at Mona Lisa’s
Hopefully, you didn’t fill up on cheese curds, because you’ll want a healthy appetite for dinner at Mona Lisa’s. This Italian eatery opened in 1994 and features seasonal and fresh dishes, each as delicious as the next. The classic and seasonal pasta is made in-house and is the most popular section on the menu. You will also find meat and fish entrées, pizza and vegetables. If you happen to visit Mona Lisa’s on a lovely night, grab a seat on the back patio.
8 p.m. — Beer at Lazy Monk’s Brewing
If you are in need of a nightcap, make your way to Lazy Monk’s Brewing. Open until 11 p.m. on weekends, the bier hall is the place to gather for a cold beer. The breweries flagship biers, Bohemian Pilsner and Bohemian Dark Lager, are must-trys. There is also a selection of seasonal brews.
9 a.m. — Breakfast at The Lakely
Pack your bags and head downstairs for breakfast. Although there won’t be live music at this early hour, The Lakely is perfect for a quick and convenient breakfast on your last day in town. The weekend brunch menu features everything from wild rice porridge with maple syrup to an orchard omelet with apples and cheddar. If you are interested in something hearty, opt for the Norwegian Hangover — Deutsch Farm pork steak, sauerkraut, fried potato dumplings and scrambled eggs.
10 a.m. — Peruse the Farmers’ Market
Walk down to Pheonix Park for the farmers’ market, which runs from May through October. Local farmers will be on hand with local produce. Chat with the vendors to learn about the produce they are selling — you might learn a thing or two about the agricultural community in the area. In addition to baked goods and produce vendors, there are also art shops. Stroll the market to see everything they have to offer.
Noon — Lunch at The Classic Garage
If you want to fill your belly one last time before heading for home, stop by The Classic Garage, housed in the former home of Pure Oil and Buck’s Classic Auto Repair. The 1950s-style diner specializes in burgers and sandwiches. Make your selection from a list of 12 burgers and 10 sandwiches, most of which have a Texas influence.
1 p.m. — The Brewing Projekt
Before you hit the road, raise one last glass to the wonderful city of Eau Claire! Take a seat and watch the brewing take place at The Brewing Projekt’s taproom, which is in the brewery itself, which means you will get the full experience while sipping your beer. Three cheers to a great weekend in Wisconsin!
Find more things to do and discover at visiteauclaire.com.
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