Kenosha, Wisconsin is perfect for a day- or overnight-trip from Chicago. It's only an hour and a half away, but seems to be far enough away that it doesn't just feel like you're driving out to a suburb (sorry, Waukegan). There seems to be about a day-and-a-half worth of stuff to do and it's an easy drive back.
This is not, by any means, an extensively researched treatise -- we did the barest amount of planning and jumped in the car. If I've missed some awesome treasure of Kenosha, don't be offended, just let us all know in the comments.
The highlight of the trip for us was a trip to Frank's Diner (508-58th Street, Kenosha). I'm not ashamed to admit that I found out about Frank's from an episode of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and that just maybe it was the impetus for the whole trip. Fortunately, Frank's lives up to the hype. The Garbage Plate is an incredible amount of food, and Erica contends that it's more than the sum of its parts. We also had the French Toast made with their homemade bread and it was both hearty and delicious. Frank's is an original 1926 diner car and current owners seem to be proud of that history without being precious about it -- it's a working diner and the primary concern seems to be feeding people large quantities of good food. Frank's closes at 2 pm and fills up pretty quick after 10 am or so on the weekends.
Kenosha is popular enough over the summer that all the hotels were booked up several weeks in advance. We decided to chance it and see if we could luck into a cancelation or something (at worst, it'd be a 90 minute drive back to sleep in our own beds). What we lucked into was the Park Ridge Inn (6121 75th St, Kenosha). On the plus side, they had a vacancy when no one else did, and it seems that room prices are somewhat negotiable, if you're a negotiator. You get what you pay for, however, and the room was a little musty and worn. And the "Free HBO" notice on the sign is a lie! We've definitely stayed in worse, though.
We had dinner our first night there at Villa de Carlo (5140 6th Ave, Kenosha). I've been assured by a former Kenoshan that they're known for their pizza. We did not have the pizza. We had bad pasta and an adequate spinach salad. Also, the decor looks like the garden section of a craft store threw up on the place.
There are lighthouses for staring at, and the lake to look out on (I know, it's the same lake we've got down here -- but up there it's a vacation lake), and ducks to throw bread crumbs. There are cozy coffee shops (with Intelligentsia coffee!) and a number of museums, if you're into that sort of thing.
On your way home, the Mars' Cheese Castle is in Kenosha, out on 94, for all of your sausages-shaped-like-beer-bottles and Wisconsin-fruit-wine needs.
It might just be a coincidence or the sections of town we were passing through, but it seemed as if almost everything business in town was named after the owner. As in, it wasn't the Something Diner, it was Frank's Diner. Carolyn's Coffee Connection. Mac's Deli. Is there some town ordinance that requires the owner's name in the business name, or people in Kenosha just really proud of their accomplishments?
(Originally published on the Chicago Metblog.)