KOHLER, Wis. – We needed a break. A break from vaccines, viruses, masks, plans for the next year, plans to go back to the office, plans to go back to normal when nothing really feels normal.
A resort was fine but we’re not ready to fly yet and while I love Branson’s Big Cedar, I wanted something new. My family (husband, two teenage boys and our dog) found exactly what we needed on a getaway to Kohler, Wisconsin – for adventure, relaxation and escape.
Maybe you know the name Kohler. You can find it on kitchen sinks, faucets, bathtubs, and even toilets. In 1900 the Kohler Co. built a factory outside of Sheboygan, Wis., A medium-sized town on Lake Michigan about 45 minutes from Milwaukee. The factory needed workers, and immigrants came from all over the place to work.
This is how the village of Köhler came into being. And more importantly for future tourists, the American Club was built in 1918 to house the workers in the factory across the street. They ate, played, and learned English at the club, all in the hope of becoming American citizens.
Today a restaurant, the Immigrant Restaurant and Winery Bar, has replaced the old laundry; luxurious hotel rooms replace dormitories; a pub is in a basement area where workers used a bowling alley; the Wisconsin Room is located in the former canteen.
In 1978 the American Club was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Herbert V. Kohler Jr. made the brilliant decision to convert the Tudor-style building into a luxury hotel. The renovation took three years to attempt to preserve the historic American spirit of the original building.
Today it pays homage to the past with its elegant light fixtures, oak-paneled walls, charming images of early workers and Wisconsinites at the American Club, which is part of the entire resort known as Destination Kohler.
Guests can play golf on one of two world-class golf courses, relax in the newly renovated spa, dine in one of the 12 restaurants or read the newspaper while sipping a coffee in the greenhouse, a beautiful conservatory with stained glass windows and views of one of the many gardens .
In fact, the whole village is a certified botanical garden. On the other side of the street, the factory rises up as a reminder of the rich history. Guided tours are possible there during non-COVID-19 times.
What to do
Kohler Waters Spa: Get there early first to enjoy a swim in the spa’s mosaic-tiled Coed relaxation pool, with a four-foot wall cascading at one end. Relax all day on an extremely comfortable chaise longue and order meals from the spa menu, which is delivered by the pool.
Take a dip in the men’s or women’s hot tubs, plunge pools, saunas, and steam rooms. There’s even a rooftop terrace with an indoor lounge with a hot tub and an outdoor relaxation area.
Sports core: In the warmer months there is beach access, kayaking, swimming, and jumping from an old-fashioned wooden platform. And in the cooler months, large windows look out over the lake for a workout with a view.
There are six indoor tennis courts, six outdoor tennis courts, two pools, fitness centers, bike rooms, group training rooms, a clothing boutique, and a juice bar. It is open to both the public and guests of Destination Kohler.
Wildlife of the river: This 500 acre nature reserve is a private club with restaurants, organized pheasant hunts, river kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding.
The land is beautiful, a mixture of forest and prairie; the river moves fast. There is also fishing (guided and solo), cross-country skiing in winter and some rustic camping sites.
Golf: In September, some of the best golfers in the US will compete against some of the best in Europe in the biennial Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits golf course in Destination Kohler. In May my family played on this very same course. Just stepping into the first hole, with Lake Michigan right next to it, is a magical feeling.
Golf there is expensive (Summer Twilight prices are $ 240 for 18 holes; 9 holes are available but call; don’t book online) but anyone can go to the restaurant or pub.
Destination Kohler also has another golf course near River Wildlife, the Blackwolf Run, also designed by Dye.
Kohler Design Center: The Kohler Design Center next to the spa, which was redesigned during the pandemic, is partly a museum, partly a shop and partly a showroom. And according to sales manager Justin Gephart, it is now also used as an event space.
Schedule a one-hour guided tour of the museum. They’re free at 11 a.m. every day.
Where shall we eat
Whistling straits: After a round of golf on Whistling Straits, grab a table in the restaurant across from the pro shop. When it’s chilly, like when we visited, ask for a table by the cozy fireplace or just with a view of Lake Michigan.
The menu, like many at the resort, is full of locally sourced ingredients. But be sure to order the potato and leek soup ($ 6), creamy and flavorful and with a mind-boggling cream sherry and chive oil on the side. Appetizers range from fried salmon ($ 30) to lamb ($ 53).
Woodlake Tavern: This restaurant is located in the middle of a mall next to the Inn on Woodlake and of course on a lake. If it’s nice, an outdoor table is fine. Or sit in a beautiful rotunda with windows facing the lake. The menu includes wood-fired pizza (prosciutto and fig, $ 16), steaks, pork chops, burgers, and more.
Horse and plow: Nestled on the lower floor of the American Club is the historic Horse and Plow tavern. It feels like a British pub with its traditional bar, leather sofas and wooden booths (with tables from the old bowling alley).
I came there with one goal: curd cheese. I read online that they were some of the best in Wisconsin and they didn’t disappoint. Baked in batter with beer and topped with local Gibbsville cheese ($ 10), they’re as thick as they sound. But I ate all of them.
Where to sleep
When the plan to get two adjoining rooms at the Inn on Woodlake (we had our dog with us and Woodlake is dog-friendly) didn’t work out, did the Kohler people offer to move us to one of their cabins in the middle of the week? stay. A secluded cabin sounded divine, though I wasn’t so sure about the 10 mile distance from the resort.
But as soon as we drove up the gravel road, parked and turned the corner on the hiking trail, I knew this was going to be something special. Special does not adequately describe the luxury cabin. Huge windows at the back reveal the piece-de-resistance: a wide porch with a swing, an open courtyard, a pond, and acres and acres of hiking trails.
Inside, a living room with a fireplace, a loft bedroom, a kitchen and a lower level with a bed and bathroom offer all the comforts of home. More actually, because these bathrooms have Kohler faucets, including a claw-foot claw-foot tub and rainfall showerheads.
Outside there was a cacophony of birds, visits from animals (turkey and deer), hiking trails – oh, and a sauna house. One night we toasted marshmallows on a fire we had built in the yard (Adirondack chairs, pit and sticks provided) and played cards as a family in the sauna house, where a round table and small fireplace beg for relaxation.
And relaxation is exactly what we begged – and got – on this trip.