Just an hour’s drive outside the bustling city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a beautiful winter destination near Elkhart Lake, where a slower pace is easy to get used to. With about 1,000 local residents, the quaint resort town in December and January captures the feel of a quintessential winter wonderland, complete with horse-drawn wagon rides, plentiful shopping, and exquisite dining. It will be hard to leave this holiday respite. The Osthoff Resort, the largest of three resorts that share the area, sits at the entrance of the lovely community.
The Osthoff Resort’s story began when the wife of German entrepreneur Otto Osthoff fell ill. The then-Milwaukee resident had heard tales of the healing waters of Elkhart Lake, so he left the city to build a summer cabin where Pauline could recover. Her health did return, and the couple decided to share this serene area with others. A hotel was built near the lake, which became a popular vacation spot for affluent families for a while. Later, it operated as a theater camp before being purchased by a group of investors who intended to build upon Otto’s idea: luxury accommodations with a majestic view of the healing waters, complete with fine dining and myriad activities. Aspira Spa is a beautiful organically designed spa where whole-body healing is key. The spa services, which include facials, massage, and hydrotherapy, embrace the healing powers of the area—even the Sacred Waters Massage utilizes warm lake water.
Foodies will enjoy the L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School within The Osthoff Resort, which provides hands-on training from a classically French trained chef. Chef Scott Baker and his talented sous chefs offer support and detailed instructions as attendees prepare a wide selection of dishes—from seasonal soups to a traditional French Christmas dinner, complete with a bûche de Noël. Afterward, classmates dine on their final dishes and sample wines that pair with each recipe. During December, holiday activities are high on the list and even become yearly family traditions. Giddy children are excited to be part of Breakfast with Santa and Brunch with St. Nicholas and his reindeer. Multiple holiday workshops are sure to create lasting memories. Or grab your mittens and coat, and take a horse-drawn sleigh ride around town while singing classic holiday tunes. Then warm up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
The city center has 20 restaurants, offering abundant choices from fine dining to casual and in between. Grab a specialty coffee and homemade baked goods at Off the Rail, in the heart of Elkhart Lake. This cozy café also draws guests for lunch with hearty gourmet sandwiches. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly choice or somewhere to catch up with friends, Lake Street Café and the Paddock Club, just a few doors down from each other, are great choices. Both offer distinctive menus and ambiance suitable for all ages and tastes. Lake Street Café provides two dining styles: a separate dining room with a wonderful selection of wines and a more gourmet menu, as well as a casual side with delicious pub fare. The Paddock Club, a European-style bistro, has a gorgeous, fully stocked turn-of-the-century bar area and a sit-down dining side that offers seasonal favorites utilizing local ingredients. Try an Old-Fashioned there. The locals believe their version of the libation is the best. The Osthoff Resort’s fine-dining restaurant, Lola’s on the Lake, is the prime location for guests to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal within an elegant atmosphere. Families and couples alike revel in a night to dress up and experience a delicious dinner at this popular choice.
Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop and Tasting Bar has become a hot spot for locals, as well as returning visitors. Owned and operated by award-winning sommelier Jaclyn Stuart, the charming shop sells only wine that she hand-selects, offering unique brands. Enjoy time at the tasting bar, and then pair your glass with a scoop of tasty gelato. Take home a bottle of wine and Wisconsin-based artisanal cheeses, available at the shop, along with other locally made gourmet food products. Unique shops in the village include Nordic Accents, a quaint boutique of Scandinavian items like jewelry, glass décor, and kitchen accessories. And at Two Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden, owner Pat Robison sells his own ceramic pieces, as well as hand-selects other artists to showcase, including some fair-trade items.
A large draw to the area during the first part of December is the Old World Christmas Market, a tribute to the Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg, Germany. For 10 days, local vendors, as well as international vendors from as far away as Russia, Germany, and Sweden, sell their wares, food, and baubles to the crowds. Dine on traditional German fare like bratwurst, sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, and latkes while enjoying a German brew. The 18-year-old event draws repeat crowds from neighboring states, as well as Wisconsin residents. Market favorites include handmade glass-blown ornaments, fur hats, authentic nutcrackers, nesting dolls, and fine chocolate.
Photography by Elkhart Lake Tourism Library and LES Tension photo