Along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shore, a leafy kingdom of high design and dreamy fun makes the perfect backdrop for your next vacation tale.

By Kristi Thom; Photographer: Kevin J. Miyazaki
Downtown Sheboygan

Once upon a time, there was a charming city of nearly 50,000 souls on the edge of a great shimmering lake. The people called this pretty place Sheboygan, and they filled it with an enchanting book-theme garden, compelling art, a bliss-inducing spa, cute shops, a dazzling theater, a very fancy resort and other wonderful things. They enjoyed some amazing bathrooms and still had time to golf. Sounds nice, right? Read on to head off on your own marvelous adventure in Sheboygan.

Downtown Sheboygan

Chapter 01: Blooming Books

Perennial favorite Bookworm Gardens botanically brings to life more than 65 children's books across 3½ lush acres, opening May 1. Kids and adults alike delight in finding their favorite titles tucked among the trees. You'll feel a little like Jack when you look up to see the Giant's castle atop a column of beanstalk-like vines. Polka-dotted rock "eggs" surround a tree complete with a mossy Horton perched on a nest. Signs identify the literary inspiration behind each scene, but it's fun to try to guess. A small chair, a medium chair and a large chair? The three bears must be around here somewhere! You can plot your route on the illustrated map, but freely wandering adds to the adventure. A $5 suggested donation for admission helps keep things growing.


Bookworm Gardens

Chapter 02: Flush with Art

Don't miss the permanent art fixtures at John Michael Kohler Arts Center: six astounding artist-created washrooms. In the atrium, The Women's Room has floor-to-ceiling candy-color custom tiles depicting women's clothing, accessories and flowers. Sheboygan Men's Room has a water theme, with intricate hand-painted cobalt patterns and murals. When you visit the arts center, definitely go to the bathroom, even if you don't have to go to the bathroom-it may be your only chance in life to find a hand-painted message inside a toilet bowl. Outside the washrooms, the center exhibits immersive installation artworks and spotlights self-taught artists in its seven galleries. Ponder, get inspired, take a class, see a performance or explore the gardens. Admission is free; donations are nice.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center
John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Chapter 03: Pipe Dreams

The reason you're seeing stylish bath fixtures around every bend: Kohler Company resides in a neighboring hamlet. A free, three-hour tour of Kohler's vast factory showcases the manufacturing process and leaves you thinking of its tubs and toilets as artisanal ceramics. Nearby, Kohler Design Center artfully combines a home-improvement showroom and high-end gallery. Wander themed rooms from designers around the world-a cleverly compact loft-style kitchen here, a castle turret-like shower space there-featuring Kohler technology, like a digital panel that remembers your bathing preferences down to lighting, temperature and pressure. Plan an afternoon, whether you're prepping for your own home project (chat up a design consultant for free) or just indulging HGTV-fueled fantasies.

Kohler Design Center; photo courtesy of Kohler Company

Chapter 04: Field of Dreams

Warriors wielding bags of clubs do battle on some of the country's top-rated public golf courses. At Kohler-owned Whistling Straits, choose from a pair of courses for a bucket-list round. The Straits, the links-style home of the 2020 Ryder Cup, skirts 2 miles of windswept Lake Michigan shoreline, with undulating greens and unparalleled views. Inland, The Irish course features a number of challenges, including a No. 2 switchback-a wicked trademark of designer Pete Dye-and a vast confetti of bunkers, including one at No. 18's green that measures more than 10 feet deep. Two more Dye courses span a glacier-carved river basin at Blackwolf Run. In Sheboygan Falls, Jack Nicklaus-designed The Bull at Pinehurst Farms offers tricky elevation changes to test distance and accuracy; study No. 9 and No. 10 from the patio at Champions restaurant.

Kohler's Whistling Straits; photo courtesy of Destination Kohler

Chapter 05: Treasure Hunt

Back in Sheboygan, peek into downtown's Eighth Street boutiques to discover vintage toys, clever cooking tools and whimsical home goods, then stop for a bite.

FreaktoyzVintage action figures from your childhood, plus comics, video games and other collectibles.

NestLovely things to make your home look and smell beautiful. Browse rugs, silverware and dishes, pillows, candles, and gifts.

Relish Kitchen StoreA food-lover's haven of stylish bakeware, cookware, knives, linens, books and gadgets.

Urban ArtiqueHome decor incorporating old and new elements, furniture, and works by Wisconsin artists.

Paradigm Coffee and MusicHouse-made baked goods and granola, plus vegan sandwiches. Check the calendar for live music.

Black PigMouthwatering twists on mac 'n' cheese, tacos and fries, plus choose from three types of bacon.

Il RitrovoBubbly, crisp-crust pizzas from a wood-fired oven in one of the few Neapolitan-certified pizzerias in the nation.

Il Ritrovo

Chapter 06: Ceiling of Stars

Step into another world in Sheboygan's fanciful Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts. With an interior designed to look like a Spanish garden beneath a darkening sky, this carefully restored historic theater hosts the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra and welcomes a variety of live shows, like the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, a cleverly named bagpipe band. The Movies
and Morsels series pairs films from the past with menus linked to each movie's theme (think French fare accompanying Moulin Rouge!).

Weill Center; photo courtesy of center

Chapter 07: Bubbles and Pillows

Head back to Kohler and find pampering fit for royalty. Kohler Waters Spa offers classic spa services with water as the star: Rivers, waterfalls and pools inspire a sea of spa choices, like therapeutic baths that feature music, sound vibrations or colored-light chromatherapy. Sink into posh slumber at five-star, 100-year-old The American Club, a former dormitory for Kohler's factory workers. Rooms feature Kohler fixtures-for maximum indulgence, the resort's Eau de Vie Suite includes a high-tech steam shower and a deep, effervescent tub for two with a continuous overflow at the edges, reminiscent of an infinity pool. Later, tuck yourself into a plush bed to dream, inevitably, of living happily ever after.

The ultraindulgent tub in The American Club's Eau de Vie Suite (it translates to "water of life") fills with a cascade from a fixture in the ceiling. Photo courtesy of Destination Kohler.
Advertisement