Kohler is kind of a household name. In fact, it is hard to get away from the Kohler name since they probably manufactured your toilets, bathroom sink, bidet, bathtub, or kitchen accessories. The name Kohler is synonymous with quality plumbing and design. In fact, this morning, in the bathroom, I remembered why I wanted to write this story!
A press trip to Wisconsin was truly a revelation. I had no idea this Midwestern state had so many facets in agriculture, cuisine, innovation, automation, and more. They grow a lot of cherries and cranberries in the state and manufacture the most popular name in motorcycles worldwide, Harley-Davidson. Ninety minutes down the road by car from Milwuakee, the state’s biggest city, is the village of Kohler, Wisconsin, where I was hosted for a couple memorable nights.
Culinary staples here are cheese curds, bratwurst, and fried whitefish. The state’s football team, the Green Bay Packers, has fans who don wedges of fake cheese on their heads and are a rowdy bunch. They have some winning teams in Wisconsin and rabid fans. They are a hardy crew here, resisting rough winters and mosquito-plagued summers, but they are a proud bunch. The local beers and brandy old-fashioneds seem to help the population persevere and thrive.
If you’re after a Wisconsin vacation, here’s why you should give Kohler a chance, plus the best things to do in and around town.
1. Visit The Town Of Kohler, Wisconsin
From Milwaukee, I opted to take a side trip to Kohler and The American Club simply because there was a spa involved. I made the right choice because Kohler is more than just a resort with a world-class spa, it is a small town that revolves around a plumbing manufacturer that has managed to stay current, loyal to its employees, and innovative every step of the way.
Kohler plumbing fixtures began when the original Kohler brothers converted a stainless and enamel horse trough into a bathtub. And they just took off from there. Austrian immigrants themselves, the Kohler family, still at the helm today, offered jobs and U.S. citizenship to hundreds of other Germans since the inception of the company. In fact, because these new immigrants were hard workers and the Kohler corporations wanted to keep them close, they built a massive dormitory complex across the street from the manufacturing plants. Men were housed, fed, clothed, and educated on American ways in order to become new citizens.
A town grew up around the plant and the now-named American Club because of the number of new Americans starting life there. If this sounds industrial, it is anything but. The main factory and executive office building are constructed of old granite and, with ivy spreading over the entire complex, this factory looks more like a country lodge, albeit a huge one, than one of the world’s most cutting-edge porcelain plumbing fixture manufacturers, while the town itself is a charming family-focused hamlet much like a Norman Rockwell painting. Summer is bright and green and winter is snowy, crisp, and alive with holiday decorations.
2. Stay At The American Club: A Five-Star, Five-Diamond Resort
The Tudor-style American Club evokes country elegance and warm surroundings from the minute you pull up in front and are greeted by valets ready to unload your luggage or golf clubs and are escorted into the front rooms alive with fireplaces and people chatting in low conversations. There are many shared spaces at The American Club, both inside and out, where you can pull up a chair for a quick meeting or linger longer over a book.
Rooms and suites here are plush, and the bathrooms like mini-spas given the nature of the benefactor and Kohler’s cutting-edge plumbing fixtures. You could spend an entire weekend here between eating at Horse and Plow Tavern, having martinis at the
Immigrant Bar and Restaurant, and then dining on the restaurant’s prix fixe menu complete with foie gras and truffles. The American Club is built around a huge outdoor courtyard and sumptuous gardens perfect for walking, meditating, or even throwing a wedding.
3. Dip In The Kohler Waters Spa Designed For Wellness
If you’re staying at or visiting The American Club, walk across the parking lot and dive into the Kohler Waters Spa for a heightened luxury experience. When water is in the name of the spa, you’ve got to expect a lot of water treatments and activities. Aside from classic massages and high-tech facials, this spa has water, and a lot of it. Cold pools, warm pools, soaking showers, swimming pools, and rain features, all built around areas for lounging, reading, and relaxing.
Come to The Kohler Waters Spa for a treatment and stay for meditation, self-care, and an escape from the daily world.
4. Yoga On The Lake
Two blocks down from The American Club is the Woodlake complex of stores and restaurants that wraps around Woodlake, a small lake designed for recreation and serenity. This is where you will find an array of yoga classes, workshops, and boot camps. Inside or outdoors overlooking the lake, take the time to stretch and relax, whether you come off the golf course and need a breather or if you are traveling with family and looking for some “me” time.
Partner yoga, Thai massage yoga, and kids’ yoga are also offered in their wide array of classes.
Pro Tip: Do the sunrise classes to get a healthy start to the day, then grab coffee in the Greenhouse Cafe back at The American Club
5. Play Golf On Some Of The Country’s Finest Courses
As detailed in my recent TravelAwaits article on The American Club, once the Kohler family had a world-class resort, they decided renowned competitive golf courses were a natural next step.
Whistling Straits is a bucket-list golf course for many golfers and stretches along the shores of Lake Michigan with some harrowing holes. Yes, many golf balls sit at the bottom of the lake. Many professional tournaments have taken place at Whistling Straits including, most recently, the internationally renowned Ryder Cup.
Other courses round out the offerings, including Black Run and The Irish Course, and each course has a lively clubhouse scene with excellent restaurant offerings. Diehard golfers will be impressed that the Kohler family has taken a deep dive into the history of golf by purchasing a course at St Andrews (in Scotland!) and The Old Course Hotel.
6. Visit Sheboygan And Its Arts Scene
It becomes redundant, but the Kohler name seems to support everything in the area, from hospitality to the arts to leisure activities and shopping. In nearby, much larger Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the John Michael Kohler Arts (MKA) Foundation is centrally-located, bright, and colorful with rotating, curated exhibits expressing all facets of the arts, including performing arts.
There is also a place to learn how to create, a well-curated gift shop, and a cafe. Stop by often to catch the themed exhibits as they change frequently and highlight artists from all walks of life.
7. Be Amazed At The Kohler Arts Preserve
The Kohler Arts Preserve is a sister to the MKA collection but could not be more different. In fact, I would venture to say that the Preserve is different from almost every museum or art collection you have ever experienced. It was completely eye-opening for me to see whole studios, workshops, and art collections moved inside an interior space so that the visitor experiences the artist and their environment exactly as they did.
Imagine a shed full of primitive art to explore or a whole house that served as an artist’s canvas recreated inside a museum. Unique is an understatement. Other highlights are entire collections from one artist that concentrate on a genre, yet each piece is explicitly different.
The exterior of the Arts Preserve is as fantastic as the interiors, and this is one place I will revisit whenever I can. It is a true homage to artists at all levels and the places they call their studios — or, as the Preserve calls them, Artist-Built Environments.
8. Visit Historic Austrian Waelderhaus
Although it was closed when I visited, Waelderhaus, a magnificent nod to the Kohler family’s Alpine roots, is a tribute to the Bregenz forest and famous industrialist John Michael Kohler II. This picturesque structure holds a variety of architectural designs that are unique to the Alpine region. Built as a mountain lodge, the exterior is grand yet welcoming.
The interior is filled with beautiful carvings, stained glass, woodcuts, pewter work, Austrian tapestries, and furniture that are unique to Austrian mountain living. The arts are important to the Kohler family and they honor their history at Waelderhaus and let visitors become a part of its uniqueness.
9. Soak In The Tranquility At Kohler Arboretum
This large 20-acre park set aside for the cultivation of trees and native plants is highlighted by sculptures made of porcelain shards from the Kohler factories.
Shade and ornamental trees are designed for strolling, picnicking, and gathering, and many weddings and corporate meetings have taken place at the Kohler Arboretum. Bird and butterfly watching make the arboretum a center for families as there is something to discover for both kids and adults.
Want to check into The American Club? Here’s why the luxury Wisconsin resort is perfect for a weekend getaway.