Traveling to the middle of Wisconsin from the Alexandria area seems like a long distance for a lake trip, but a late morning direct flight from Reagan National into Milwaukee and an easy — and scenic — one-hour drive north to the lake had me sitting waterside by 3 p.m. It was also a lot less stressful than driving to many of the local beaches we are accustomed to in this area.
There’s plenty to do in the region, satisfying the wishes of fishing enthusiasts and boaters, car racing fans and those who just want to relax.
From 1950-1952, the streets of Elkhart Lake were transformed into a unique open road raceway, with thousands of cheering fans lining the roads, complete with hay bales and wooden fences for safety. After the realization that this might not be the safest activity for the 100,000 spectators, the race circuit was closed. However, you can still tour the path these Jaguars and Cunninghams raced upon, with many historic markers designating the famous turns taken by drivers such as the great Phil Hill.
Despite the safety concerns, the area had fallen in love with the racing. The lay of the land naturally lent itself to spirited racing with its hills and curves. So, in 1955, 525 acres of farmland became the home for Road America, a 4 mile, 14-turn racecourse.
Today 800,000 visitors a year come to the track, three miles from Elkhart Lake, for the over 400 events hosted there including nine major race weekends with SCCA, INDYCAR, and NASCAR racing.
For those of us not quite up to INDYCAR racing shape, the track also hosts driving classes, go kart racing, as well as an offroad ATV course.
To entertain those that just aren’t into the racing at all, the track offers an 18-hole disc golf course, geocaching, and a 1,200-foot zipline.
While there, I was lucky enough to see a Porsche club gathering to run the track for the weekend, as well as a Mercedes and Lamborghini doing track testing…leading me to reevaluate my own personal hobbies and financial status!
For a village of just over 900 permanent residents, Elkhart Lake has no shortage of fantastic accomodations for its temporary visitors. Since the late 1800s, thousands have poured into town for summer vacations, with many families staying the entire summer while the father returned to Chicago or Milwaukee during the week to work. While that type of family trip and dynamic might have changed, the availability of quality resorts has not.
The Osthoff Resort – www.osthoff.com Voted #3 among the best resort hotels in Travel and Leisure’s 2017 World’s Best awards, this AAA four diamond waterfront resort with 245 large suites has a lot going for it. Each suite has a fireplace and private balcony, as well as a kitchen or kitchenette. Two lakeside restaurants, a top notch spa, cooking school, multiple pools, watersports and live music at the Lake Deck round out the offerings.
Siebkens Resort – www.siebkens.com This early 1900s resort is updated with modern conveniences including the new Lakeview Condominium Hotel building with one, two or three-bedroom deluxe hotel rooms with private balconies and a private sandy beach. Two dining options include the Stop-Inn Tavern, known as one of the best bars on the racing circuit, and the main dining room (serving their famous Siebkens sandwich. The seriously delicious rye bread shouldn’t be missed!).
Victorian Village Resort – www.vicvill.com For more than a century, this resort has welcomed guests to it’s Grand Victorian Lady accommodations as well as its Lakeside Suites. Six-hundred feet of sandy beachfront is available for play and relaxation, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, lakeside dining at the Back Porch Bistro and a century-old theater featuring productions year round. Personally, the lakefront Tiki Bar gets my vote for top hangout spot!
Beers and beverages
Ordering an Old Fashioned in most any Alexandria area bar will get you the same result, a few ounces of Bourbon or Rye whiskey, sugar, a few dashes of Angostura bitters, two cherries and a little bit of water with an orange twist. Sure, there are variations to be found such as pineapple syrup, or candied pecan syrup (looking at you Magnolia’s on King) but for the most part, its a standard order. Wisconsin threw me by offering up Brandy variations on this at most every establishment I visited. One theory is that the largely German population prefered Brandy to Whiskey, and thus the sweet vs. sour debate was born. This being the unofficial state cocktail it seems, most Elkhart Lake bars have premixed simple syrup, muddle the fruit with that syrup, add Brandy, a bit of 7-Up, and have garnishes such as an olive or even a mushroom! Not one to pass up local culture, I gave it a whirl and despite my Germanic heritage….I think I’ll stick to the Bourbon.
Another Village gem is the craft beer being brewed at Switchgear Brewing Company – https://www.switchgearbrewing.com/. Located in downtown Elkhart Lake, it’s the perfect spot to grab a beer before or after dinner or a day on the lake. After speaking with brewer Nick Kullmann, it’s clear he has a serious love for the beer and what he’s doing. He also showed a mastery of the science behind brewing, and the engineering that went into their surprisingly high-tech system! The taproom has a great vintage feel with a nod to the history of Elkhart Lake. The Bloody IPA (IIPA, ABV 10.5%) was a favorite!
Lake Street Cafe – http://www.lakestreetcafe.com/ A split-personality bistro, the cafe features a hopping bar area serving lunch and dinner, and a white linen and candles sophisticated side with the third-largest wine list in the state. Try the Tenderloin Shiraz with garlic herb boursin cheese, shiraz wine sauce and fingerling potatoes.
Paddock Club – http://www.paddockclubelkhartlake.com/ This beautiful brick building is located downtown, and features great cocktails, hanger steaks and a small-plate menu that changes weekly. The vegetables were cooked so well, I forgot I don’t like vegetables. Loved the Korean cauliflower, charred with gochujang sauce, avocado crema, crispy shallots, cilantro.
Lola’s on the Lake Restaurant at The Osthoff Resort – https://www.lolasonthelake.com/ A casual but fine dining restaurant is located on the waterfront with a great view of the lake. A new summer menu has an amazing lobster bisque, delicious seared sea scallops and a spiced rubbed ribeye. My favorite though was the thick-cut Nueske slab bacon with fried potatoes, pickled jalapeno, creme fraiche, Hooks 7 year cheddar, quail egg and a dried cherry sauce!
Back Porch Bistro at Victorian Village Resort – http://www.vicvill.com/ This place had me at Pork Wienerschnitzel with creamed spinach spaetzle. Mix in a great view of the lake and it’s all over. Upscale casual with comfort foods, craft cocktails and local beers.
Other things to do
Aspira Spa – https://www.aspiraspa.com/ Located at the Osthoff Resort, this world-class spa has all the services needed to recover from kayaking on the lake, or to relax and enjoy some quiet away from the racetrack. Check out the SpaSuites™ featuring a fireplace, whirlpool and shower.
Throttlestop Car and Cycle Concierge – https://throttlestop.com/ Auto showroom/motorcycle museum/detailing facility…. I think I’m still grinning from the cars and bikes on display here, from an original Shelby GT350, to a $300k Lamborghini, this place has something for everyone.
Guided fishing – http://www.jaysguideservice.com/ With 40 years of fishing, Elkhart Lake and 20 years as a guide, Jay went over and above to get us on the fish, with a first-timer leading the boat in catches.
Henning’s Cheese – http://www.henningscheese.com/ Because come on, it’s Wisconsin! And this fourth-generation cheese maker has amazing products, and there is nothing like getting your curds fresh and squeaky. The Hatch Pepper cheddar is a winner!