A chill settles into the woods as Paradise Ranch’s two ebony Percherons effortlessly pull our wagon through a forest gaily lit with thousands of colored lights. Snuggling under a horsehair blanket, I decide this ride is just as delightful sans snow. As we near the barn, a loud, throaty “Ho, ho, HO!” greets us. It feels quite simple, but the experience proves a great way to kick off my visit to Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
Every winter, the city of 11,400 (about 20 miles north of Milwaukee) holds Five Festive Friday Eves between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The celebration features a signature event each weekend at Cedar Creek Settlement, an 1864 woolen-mill-turned-shopping center. This weekend it’s Christmas in the Country and an art fair. Smaller events—ornament making, concerts, the wagon ride I took—flesh out the festivities.
As I unpack in my cozy third-floor bedroom at the Stagecoach Inn, the floorboards creak and groan. The B&B on Washington Avenue, Cedarburg’s main drag, was built in 1853 as a stagecoach inn. I learn a few stories about its history the next morning when owner Brook Brown sits down with me over a steaming mug of coffee. The inn has been a hotel, a restaurant, a tavern, then an ice cream parlor during Prohibition. Today, it stands among six blocks of specialty shops tucked in pretty cream-color limestone buildings backed by the shimmering ribbon of Cedar Creek.
Soon, I’m heading down the street with excited shoppers. I pass an enormous gingerbread house by the community center, then a man selling fragrant popcorn from a wagon. Holly-splashed welcome mats drape over a white picket fence at From the Heart, which specializes in holiday decor. I force myself to pass, intent on getting to the art fair. But I can’t resist Floral Expressions, festooned with snowflake-laden birch trees, poinsettias and velvet ribbons. Pushing through the front door, I stop and ooh out loud. The shop is a riot of greens, reds and golds, with ornaments, swags and collectibles arranged in stunning displays.
Trolleys ring their way through town, carrying shoppers between Cedar Creek Settlement and the booths at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts. At the Settlement, I purchase locally blown glass ornaments for my kids, etched copper earrings for a friend and homemade spice rubs for my mom; at the museum, I snag an enormous ceramic serving bowl decorated with spirals for myself. But the bowl is pretty heavy, and I’m a half-mile from the inn … and there’s a complimentary wine tasting at Cedar Creek Winery. As Cedarburg’s holiday lights twinkle on, I sip wine creekside, surrounded by packages that signal a successful day.
Click ahead for our trip guide on what to do, where to eat and where to stay.