Imagine a small, picturesque Midwestern town where relaxed living partners with – strangely enough – the roar of car racing. Welcome to Wisconsin‘s Elkhart Lake, on the shores of spring-fed Elkhart Lake (shaped like the heart of an elk) 60 miles north of Milwaukee.
The village, with its easy living, became a getaway for affluent city dwellers in 1886 when Otto and Paulina Osthoff offered luxurious accommodations, quality entertainment and fine dining away from the heat and grime of Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the town had become a gambling haven and a Prohibition-era hideaway for gangsters.
In the 1950s the Osthoff was sold and for more than 30 years operated as a drama and arts camp. In 1995, with new owners and a major renovation, the Osthoff Resort opened as a condominium resort.
Today’s Elkhart Lake, with a population of just over 1,000 residents, features resorts, galleries, boutiques and restaurants which are close to one another. In fact, you may rarely use your car here.
Be mindful of making reservations ahead of time at many sites.
Plan to arrive at the Osthoff Resort after 4 p.m. on Thursday. The resort offers hotel guests all-suite accommodations, restaurants, spa and a variety of activities all year long – deluxe pampering that’s affordable to the not-so-affluent. And very welcoming of children. Get settled in at one of the comfortable suites, perhaps spending some time overlooking the lake from your balcony or checking out the resort’s public areas. Because the village is remarkably walkable with small-town streets, take a stroll to dinner at the Padddock Club.
Grab a quick breakfast at Lola’s at the Osthoff. Then head for Road America, just three miles to the south. It’s one of the most popular race tracks in the country with not only a full season of races but also activities for everyone.
The track resulted from drama in the ‘50s which wasn’t limited to the drama and arts camp. Drama spilled onto the streets when sports car racing brought the elite here with their Porsches and BMWs. Racing was on the winding streets of the village and adjacent country roads. Crowd and traffic control problems quickly led to laws prohibiting such shenanigans – so the racing moved a couple miles away to a permanent track.
Return to Elkhart Lake for lunch at the bright, colorful casual side of the Lake Street Café for pizza.
In the afternoon, visit Siebkens Resort and/or the Victorian Village Resort for a look-see while taking in their histories. Then check local options for recreational activities: Get out on the water, or stay on land, or go it alone with a walk. There’s a lot to explore.
Dinner will be a short walk away from your lodging to the nearby Back Porch Bistro at Victorian Village.
Don’t sleep in – or you’ll miss a great morning.
Walk to the Saturday morning Elkhart Lake Farmers and Artisans Market for a quick and light bite. Be there when it opens at 8:30 a.m., or maybe just a little earlier, so you’ll know exactly what to buy when it officially opens.
That’s because your cooking lesson starts at 9 a.m. Make lunch at L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School at the Osthoff, a cooking school guaranteed to produce a marvelous meal no matter how uninitiated you and the other students might be. French cuisine Chefs work hand-in-hand with participants. Once you get beyond the size and grandeur of the kitchen, you’ll start feeling like an accomplished French chef.
While an afternoon nap might sound inviting, a walk is a better idea. Stroll downtown for browsing or buying in local shops.
As for dinner, something light is probably in order. Stop in at the Stop-Inn Tavern at Siebkens Resort.
Ease into your final morning with an en-suite breakfast, made by you or brought from room service. Then head for the Osthoff’s Aspira Spa for a superbly relaxing end to your stay.