Kenosha is about the size of Evanston and shares certain characteristics: it has a scenic and inviting lakefront, a couple of colleges, and a long and winding Sheridan Road. It's a 75-to-90-minute drive from downtown Chicago--a straight run up I-94, exiting at either highway 50 (which is 75th Street in Kenosha) or 158 (which is 52nd Street), and many come here to shop, lured by the powerful scent of real and imagined bargains. Just off I-94, about three miles apart, sit two factory outlet malls, which together house well over 100 individual manufacturers' outlet stores: major brand-name items, mostly clothing but also luggage, athletic shoes, gifts, and linen, can all be had at reasonable (and sometimes excellent) savings. It's probably foolish, and maybe impossible, to visit Kenosha and not engage (however briefly) in this form of consumer one-upmanship. The area also features a good share of antique stores, although I can't vouch for the bargains to be found within.
Kenosha's other main attraction is its park system and nature preserves. Petrifying Springs Park, located at the north end of town, includes a number of recreational facilities: golf course, volleyball court, picnic tables and grills, and a few nature trails. It also contains a nine-mile cross-country skiing trail; not far from there is the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus, where you'll find five ski trails ranging from 2 to 9.3 miles. It costs $4 per vehicle to enter Petrifying Springs; information on the park is available from the county parks department at 414-552-8500.More impressive is the labyrinth of nature trails found at Hawthorn Hollow (414-552-8196), less than a mile from Petrifying Springs at 880 Green Bay Road: a series of hike paths that wind through high forest, low woodlands, and two varieties of prairie, and past two historic buildings that date from the mid-1800s. The Hollow, 40 acres in all, also features a ten-acre arboretum, and is open every day from 8 to 5; admission is free.
At the extreme south end of Kenosha (117th Street) you'll find the Chiwaukee Prairie, touted as "the largest sweep of virgin prairie in the midwest"; it's tricky to find, but information, directions, and tour reservations for small groups can be gained by calling Gen Crema at 414-656-8026. The area also boasts a large variety of fishing venues, information on which can be obtained from the Wisconsin Tourist Office on Michigan Avenue in Chicago (332-7274).
A good way to see many of these areas is on bicycle: Kenosha's bike trails provide a scenic route, close to the lake, that traverses much of the park system. If you get tired of poking along on the trails, you can head over to 18th Avenue and highway 142 (which is Washington Road), where the Washington Bowl, the country's oldest velodrome, hosts bike races every Tuesday night throughout the summer.
A small but well-stocked arboretum is among the distinguishing features of Kemper Center (414-657-6005), parkland and a cluster of 19th-century buildings that were once the campus of an Episcopal girls' school--that and a breathtaking stretch of peaceful lakeshore interrupted only by a small fishing pier. The center, at 6501 Third Ave., belongs to the Third Avenue Historic District, where you'll find some two dozen historically noteworthy buildings, including many mansions that were built and occupied by wealthy early-20th-century Kenoshans. One of them, directly across the street from Kemper Center, is the house of James T. Wilson, two and a half stories of French Renaissance Revival architecture built in 1928 for Wilson by the chairman of the board of the Nash Motor Company (which was based in Kenosha). Painstakingly restored over the last few years, it is now known as the Manor House, a spectacular bed and breakfast with large, well-manicured grounds out back. The Manor House, at 6536 Third Ave. (414-658-0014), with its stone floors covered by tapestrylike rugs, its huge common rooms, and its spectacular materials and furnishings, is like a scaled-down San Simeon; it offers four rooms that are really closer to suites, with private baths, anterooms, cable TV, and mesmerizing views of the lake across the street. For this luxury, you pay through the nose--rooms range from $80 to $110--but you sleep like a king (or at least like a long dead industrialist).
Far more modest, in both price and accommodations, is the Library Square Bed-and-Breakfast, a few blocks away at 6003 Seventh Ave. (414-656-0207); it features two bedrooms (that share a bath), a dog and a cat, and a friendly and well-informed couple of owners. (They check with both sets of guests, agree on a time for breakfast, and then make a morning party of it, filled with delicious muffins and good conversation.) The rooms are large, neat, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Library Square is named for the municipal grounds across the street, which surround the Simmons Library, an eye-catching Jeffersonian affair in concrete; the grounds also contain a Civil War veterans' memorial obelisk that's worth a look. This may whet your interest for the Palumbo Civil War Exhibit, a collection of prints, photos, Confederate currency, and war uniforms, which is housed at Carthage College (2001 Alford Park Dr., 414-551-8500, ext. 222).
Food is not a problem in Kenosha, unless you're on a diet, or you're trying to swear off meat, or you're one of those people who considers every untried restaurant an affront to your gourmanderie. On the pricey end is the long-established Ray Radigan's (11712 Sheridan Road, 414-694-0455), a slightly stuffy place with a full-service menu; the specialty is steak, but items like rack of lamb, duck, and lobster are not to be trifled with. It's a good place to take Dad on Father's Day, but you wouldn't want to get engaged there. Local residents seem to prefer Higgins Hobnob (414-552-8008), about five miles north of town on highway 32 (the extension of Sheridan Road), which is a good deal less fancy but reportedly provides meals worth returning for. Another local favorite is the Bartley House (1212 58th St., 414-658-1966), which serves the dual functions of restaurant and watering hole. And I would recommend the Brewmasters' Pub (4017 80th St., 414-694-9050), a brewery and restaurant where a variety of beers and ales are brewed on the premises. The beers I tried were fair-to-middling, but the food--try an extremely spicy blackened chicken breast--is hearty enough to warrant a second glass in any event.
Kenosha boasts several Italian restaurants, too. I heard good things about the recently opened Mangia (5717 Sheridan Road, 414-652-4285), which serves northern Italian cuisine and pizza from a wood-burning oven; Villa D'Carlo (5410 Sixth Ave., 414-654-3932) for both its pizza and its view of Kenosha's small harbor; and the Casino Townhouse (3322 Sheridan Road, 414-658-2233). I myself tried the Fireside (2801 30th Ave., 414-551-0600), one of those darkened hangouts that's good enough for people who should be tired of it to return. The Fireside sports a full menu, but it is also "the home of the pizza turnover," so that's what I tried, and it was pretty good.
For late snacks, I would suggest the good sandwiches and bustling atmosphere of Ron's Place (3301 52nd St., 414-657-9915), while the best bratwursts in Kenosha are served at the Brat Stop, on the western edge of town (at the junction of highway 50 and I-94, 414-857-2011). The Brat Stop is one of those marvels of multifunction modernity. The woodsy, cavernous, noisy restaurant/bar area offers satellite-dish TV reception on one wall, video games on another, and local rock bands on the third; also under the same roof is a large food and souvenir store, where you can buy cheeses, frozen brats, or T-shirts, depending on your appetite of the moment.
Other nightlife spots appeal to different variations on the theme. At Polo's, located in the harborside Holiday Inn (5125 6th Ave.), the scene is "contemporary"--that is, urgent, loud, strobe-lit, and dance-mixed--and on weekend nights crowded to the gills with mostly young Kenoshans blowing off steam. In contrast, there's Pepper's on the north side (12th Street and 22nd Avenue), where the first floor presents a roadhouse restaurant setting; one floor down, in a room that resembles a mostly finished suburban basement that's lousy with sequential ceiling lights and even a mirrored ball, casually dressed couples dance to 50s and 60s music played by a live band.
And if none of those appeal to you, let me suggest the Congo River Gold & Exploration Co. (414-857-7888)--one of the most spectacular miniature-golf courses I've ever seen. Patterned in an African jungle motif, it sports several waterfalls and some interestingly designed greens that have you traipsing up and down wooden stairways and across plank bridges. Situated near the Brat Stop and the Factory Outlet Centre (I-94 and highway 50), it costs $4.50 per player and remains open till midnight. That means you can squeeze in a round or two even after watching the Kenosha Twins plod their way through a game at Simmons Stadium, Sheridan Road and 78th Street; call 414-657-7997 to check on the schedule.