There is a way to enjoy holiday shopping rather than stressing over it, and it’s called the “shop-cation.” Wisconsin’s version of the shop-cation includes quaint small towns you’ve always wanted to visit with streets lined by charming independent shops, cozy restaurants and boutique inns. Also included are two urban neighborhoods that provide a taste of small-town charm inside the big city. Here are 10 top destinations to put on your list.
Cambridge: Originally settled by Scottish and Norwegian farmers, today this small town has a strong artistic community.
- SHOP Rowe Pottery Works, with its handcrafted bakeware and cheery shopping experience, tops the list. There’s also Cambridge Wood-Fired Pottery and Rock Eagle Pottery. Don’t miss Avid Gardener for botanical inspiration, Kaleidoscope Fibers for those who love knitting, Katy’s Corner for Scandinavian finds, and Sprout Artisan Marketplace for local artwork.
- EAT Start the day with coffee at The Daily Grind or the new Cambridge Coffee House. CamRock Café serves up a hearty, healthy lunch.
- STAY Reserve a guestroom at the Oscar H. Hanson House B&B, Cambridge House B&B, or The Victorian of Cambridge.
Mineral Point: This was the first city in Wisconsin to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The list of art studios and galleries would be impressive even for a big city.
- SHOP For unique art, there’s Howdle Studios or Brewery Pottery, which is housed in one of the oldest brewery buildings in the state. The Foundry Books has antique books, including children’s books. Phoebe’s Nest, featuring antiques, art, jewelry and home décor, is located in the city’s first firehouse built in 1900. The Pear & Salvage Home has architectural fripperies and artisan furniture. Mayday Press uses a vintage printing press to create hand-printed paper goods and cool accessories.
- EAT Try Grey Dog Deli for coffee in the morning and Red Rooster for a diner lunch.
- STAY There are some 20 guest houses here. Brewery Creek Inn doubles as a brew pub. High Street Suites also owns High Street Sweets candy store.
- SHOP Arcadia Books is an independent bookstore with a café and coffee shop. The Opal Man jewelry boutique is the only independent opal dealer in the U.S. The visual merchandising at Convivio will make you want the home décor items even more.
- EAT An espresso at Driftless Depot is a good way to start the day, and don’t pass up the scones. The General Store is a 1910 converted cheese warehouse serving old-school comfort food with a twist. Finish up with a slice of pie at Bird of Paradise Tea.
- STAY The Round Barn and The Usonian Inn were both designed by associates of FLW. The Silver Star B&B is a lodge with original fine art and photography throughout.
Baraboo: Shop fronts haven’t changed much since the city bustled with the excitement of being the winter home for the Ringling Brothers circus. Today, the historic downtown county courthouse square is a pleasing potpourri of shops and galleries.
- SHOP Bekah Kate’s will wow you with its selection of gourmet cookware. Cornerstone Gallery features jewelry work and home décor items from American artists. Lillian Verrall has an eclectic selection of accessories, gifts and consignment furniture.
- EAT Coffee Bean Connection is a nice way to start the day. For lunch, try Little Village Café, and save room for the famous chocolate mousse torte. Take a break at Con Amici Wine Bar.
- STAY Inn at Wawanissee Point is a villa-style inn with views to Lake Wisconsin. Or try the newly renovated Pinehaven B&B with the Baraboo bluffs in the background.
Washburn and Ashland: Just 15 minutes apart on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, these make for an easy pair. Washburn is a secluded community on the north shore of Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior and the nation’s first eco-municipality. Ashland is the “historic mural capital of Wisconsin.”
- SHOP Chequamegon Books in Washburn has more than 70,000 new and antiquarian books, plus specialty coffee and tea. Karlyn's Gallery features pottery and art. In Ashland, Gabriele’s German Sweets has handmade cookies and chocolates. Salmagundi is a fair trade gift shop with rotating art shows.
- EAT Start at Coco Café and Bakery in Washburn for the “really swell French toast.” Have lunch in Ashland at Second Street Bistro where the desserts are the work of the pastry chef owner.
- STAY In Washburn, there’s the McGrath House. In Ashland, the Inn at Timber Cove offers individual cottages, plus the owner is a gifted baker and delivers right to your cottage.
Hudson: Set on the banks of the St. Croix River, this quaint river town used to be called Buena Vista because of the beautiful views.
- SHOP Make stops at Knoke’s Chocolates & Nuts, Et Cetera home furnishings and uncommon gifts, La Rue Marche women’s apparel boutique, Dilly-Dally Gift Shop for baby gifts, Pangea jewelry shop, and SEASONS on St. Croix Gallery featuring the work of more than 160 artists.
- EAT Enjoy coffee and freshly-baked goods at Urban Olive & Vine. For lunch, try the Caribbean cuisine at San Pedro Café.
- STAY The Queen Anne Victorian Phipps Inn has three parlors and a billiards room, and is within walking distance of downtown.
- SHOP For trendy women’s apparel, stop by Violet & Co. boutique in Berlin and Dear Prudence in Ripon. In Princeton, try a quartet of stores – Twigs, Twister, Daiseye, and Teak & Soxy – for statement home décor and more. And in Green Lake, A Well Feathered Nest has embellishments for your home, while Sugar Lips has apparel and children’s toys.
- EAT Once in a Blue Moon café in Princeton serves breakfast and lunch, plus you can shop there too. In Berlin, try the Bellissimo Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria for authentic Italian fare.
- STAY In Green Lake, B&Bs include Miller’s Daughter, Angel Inn, and the Greenway House. In Markesan on Lake Puckaway is Adeline’s Casa De Cool.
Viroqua: This laid-back little community, with a downtown big on arts, sustainable goods and surprising finds, lies in the center of one of the greatest organic farming regions of the U.S.
- SHOP Design Menagerie will wow you with its carefully-curated selection of home décor, jewelry and fashion. Ewetopia Fiber Shop has hand-dyed yarns. Bramble Bookstore has a sophisticated collection of books. Viroqua Public Market showcases the work of local vendors. Viva Gallery is a wonderful artists’ cooperative.
- EAT Brewdog Coffee serves locally roasted coffee and goodies from local bakeries. At Driftless Café, the food is fresh and local and the menu is short and adapts to the seasons.
- STAY The Viroqua Heritage Inn, a 1987 English Tudor Revival B&B, is just a block off the main street. Ask the innkeepers about local Amish tours.
Madison’s Monroe Street: In the shadows of storied Camp Randall Stadium, this neighborhood exudes independent charm and a hip vibe.
- SHOP Orange Tree Imports is the “it” spot for cookware, kitchen gadgets and home entertaining finds. Velvet Button Boutique has stylish apparel and one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and handbags. Art Gecko is known for its clothing and textiles from around the world hand-sourced by the owner. Wild Child has natural fiber clothes for babies and tots and super-cute toys. Maurie’s Fine Chocolates, need we say more?
- EAT Savor every sip of the pour-over coffee at Crescendo. For lunch, Gates & Brovi is the casual restaurant project from two James Beard nominees.
- STAY HotelRED is an ultra-contemporary boutique hotel and restaurant. Arbor House B&B is a model for urban ecology.
Milwaukee’s Third Ward District: Once a warehouse district and now known as Milwaukee’s arts and fashion district, this neighborhood is bordered by the Milwaukee River, the Lake Michigan harbor and Milwaukee’s downtown.
- SHOP Stephanie Horne Boutique, Lela Boutique, and Denim Bar MKE specialize in women’s apparel. Hot Pop has quirky toys and gifts. Embelezar has an incredible mix of home pieces, plus 3rd Ward Jewelry is right next door. Wrap your gifts with paper and ribbons from Broadway Paper.
- EAT Bella Caffe has great coffee and “exquisite desserts.” Holey Moley Coffee + Doughnuts is the city’s only craft doughnut shop. Grab lunch at Milwaukee Public Market.
- STAY The Pfister Hotel is a historic icon with an expansive Victorian art collection. There’s also the Art Deco boutique property Hotel Metro with roomy suites.
How about even more shopping suggestions? Try these boutiques around the state.