Film-goers will have a new theater to enjoy during this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival Oct. 17-31 thanks to the addition of Cedarburg’s Rivoli Theater, a historical theater with a history that dates back to the 1930s.
Of course that means it’s a good excuse to spend a day (or a few) exploring the history, shopping and eateries in the area.
Cedarburg, located just 20 miles north of Milwaukee, is utterly charming. Long a destination for locals and travelers alike, its quaint downtown area boasts tree-lined streets, beautiful architecture and a business district filled to the brim with enchanting boutiques, galleries, museums and cultural attractions.
Needless to say, it’s a perfect destination for a day trip, a weekend getaway or an evening out with friends.
Cedarburg is a popular destination for shopping, which isn’t really a surprise. After all, you can easily while away the better part of a day perusing the diversity of shops along Washington Street alone.
Favorite stops for perusing unique finds include Bohemia Home Design, a source for home decor, local art, gifts and accessories created by local makers; and Lillies where shoppers can find an eclectic selection of eco-friendly, fair-trade accessories, gifts and clothing.
Visitors will also find numerous art galleries including The Pink Llama, a whimsically named art destination showcasing a variety of art including paintings, jewelry and handmade clothing.
For antiques, check out Creekside Antiques for furniture, housewares and one-of-a-kind gadgets. You’ll also find a beautiful collection of both true antique and vintage jewelry (at a variety of price points) at Nouveau Antique Jewelry.
And while clothing can be found at a variety of locations, it’s always a treat perusing the racks of fashion-forward women's clothing and footwear at Ryloo Boutique and the one-of-a-kind finds for both men and women at Cedar Creek Clothing.
And if you love to bake, be sure to check out Downtown Dough, which boasts a collection of over 2,000 cookie cutters, plus scads of baking supplies, molds and stamps.
If you’d prefer, you can also peruse about 30 unique stores under one roof at the Cedar Creek Settlement, located in the former Cedarburg Woolen Mills. Among the shops, you’ll find clothing boutiques, accessories, collectibles and gifts and one of my favorite places to peruse handmade items, Cedar Creek Pottery.
History & culture
A simple walk down Washington Avenue, declared one of the "Most Beautiful Main Streets in America" by Architectural Digest, will give you a peek at a variety of stone buildings, some of which date back to the 1840s.
Among them is the beautifully restored Rivoli Theatre which boasts a beautiful Art Deco exterior with updated modern amenities inside. Among its charms is that it's operated almost entirely by volunteers. During the Milwaukee Film Festival, the theater will screen 50 films over the two-week festival period. Check out the line-up.
But you can delve further into the area’s history at the Cedarburg History Museum, a stop which offers a glimpse into Cedarburg’s past through a combination of local photography collections and rotating exhibits. It’s also home to the Roger Christensen General Store Museum, home to an extensive collection of antique retail artifacts dating back to the turn of the century.
The museum is maintained by the Cedarburg Cultural Center, a community hub which features a free gallery with frequently changing exhibits, art classes and a performing arts space which hosts regular music, theater and educational presentations. During the month of October, you can sign up for a spooky 90-minute docent-led walking tour entitled "Death: A Grave Undertaking," which highlights some of Cedarburg's most haunted historic stops (tickets required).
If the weather is clement, you might also take the short drive to Covered Bridge Park, home to Wisconsin’s last remaining covered bridge. Constructed in 1876, the former "Red Bridge" (listed on the National Registry of Historic Places), which once provided passage for wagons and horses, is now a pedestrian-only bridge spanning Cedarburg’s namesake Cedar Creek. The picturesque park is also a perfect spot for bird watching, fishing or impromptu picnics.
If a combination of art and history is more your style, take a visit to the Cedarburg Art Museum, which features ever-changing exhibits inside a beautifully preserved historic residence which dates back to 1898. During the summer months, the museum is also home to a beer garden which features beer, featured food trucks and live music on Thursdays beginning at 5:30 p.m.
There are numerous places to stop and recharge over the course of your day, including coffee shops, specialty stores and restaurants.
For snacks on the go, head to Cedarburg Popcorn Co., where you’ll find countless variety of flavored popcorn from sweet and savory to spicy. You’re also guaranteed a smile when you treat yourself to a jumbo caramel apple from Amy’s Candy Kitchen. They come in a variety of flavors from salted caramel to Heath toffee and pecan turtle. If you’re eating your apple straight away (or sharing with a friend), be sure to have them slice it for you.
If casual eats and craft brews sound like a great plan, you'll want to walk over to Stilt House, an amiable spot with casual eats including sandwiches, burgers and entrees like seafood mac and cheese, steak and risotto and poke bowls.
You also can’t go wrong with the simple but well executed food at Anvil Pub & Grille, a Cedarburg staple located in a restored 19th century blacksmith's shop overlooking the waterfall at Cedar Creek. On a balmy day, be sure to take a seat on the Anvil's cozy patio, which overlooks the waterfall at Cedar Creek.
Give yourself a treat and make time for dinner at Brandywine, a charming restaurant headed up by Bartolotta Restaurants alum Andrew Wilson. You can’t go wrong with their flexible menu of shareable starters, housemade pasta and entrees like pan-seared branzino, roasted chicken and a signature burger. Can’t do dinner? Stop by for brunch on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Wine, beer, spirits
After a long day of shopping and sight-seeing, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a glass of wine, beer or spirits. And Cedarburg has plenty of each.
On the wine front, you’ll find two spots right on Washington Avenue. The first is the Cedar Creek Winery, N70 W6340 Bridge Road, an award-winning family-owned winery located in a former woolen mill that dates back to 1864. The winery offers tours, tastings and glass pours along with the opportunity to purchase any number of wines in their bottle shop.
Looking to discover something new? You can also visit The Chiselled Grape Winery, a local wine bar sporting its own collection of four custom-made wines, along with selections from wine-makers across the globe. Recently under new ownership, the wine bar and tasting room is a great place to enjoy a glass of wine with friends or engage in a spirited discussion with the bartender over a flight of unique reds or whites.
If it’s beer you’re looking for, The Fermentorium Brewery & Tasting Room is worth your while. Located just outside of town on Highway 60, the spacious tap room features 24 Wisconsin tap beers in a wide variety of styles, many of which are brewed on site. A menu of creatively topped hot dogs from Schwai’s Meat & Sausage, thin crust pizza and snacks is also available.
As for spirits, you’re in for a treat at Händen Distillery, a grain-to-glass micro-distillery with a well appointed tasting room. It’s a comfortable spot with tables for gathering, soft seating and a small but cheerful patio. Order up a cocktail or a glass of any of their spirits, which include vodka, award-winning gin (and a barrel aged version to boot), bourbon (single barrel, small batch and port wine barrel finished) and Mill Race, an award-winning blend of straight whiskies.
Of course, it’s never a bad idea to stop by one of the locals’ favorite joints, Ernie's Wine Bar, a hidden gem offering up hand-muddled old fashioneds, martinis and a nice selection of wine at reasonable prices. It's cozy and friendly, and you should definitely take time to chat with the owner, Ben, who's usually slinging drinks behind the antique bar.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.