Day Trip: Historic Downtown Waukesha
Waukesha is a Red-Hot Art Spot
Your tour guide: Melissa McGraw, Carroll University
Historic Downtown Waukesha is a hub for creators and appreciators of the arts. Peruse the visual art galleries at one of several Art Crawls offered throughout the year and hosted by the Waukesha West End Artists Group, or during Waukesha Art Fest in September. Or explore the strip on your own schedule. Free parking is available for two hours on the street or in eight municipal lots scattered around downtown.
Waukesha's galleries line both sides of Main Street. On the west end you'll see River’s End Gallery (380 W. Main St.), defined by work from more than 100 artists and an abundance of jewelry. Artavina Gallery (378 W. Main St.) is an eclectic gallery showcasing Lake Country-area artists. Ashton Arts Gallery (346 W. Main St.), both gallery and working studio, specializes in abstract art. Right next door is Almont Gallery (342 W. Main St.), which boasts corner window space that displays the work of local artisans who create in nearly every medium.
As you work your way east, you'll pass The Clinton St. Gallery, actually located at 336 W. Main St. This is an airy space for co-op artists specializing in pottery, photography, painting and more. Across the street is The Potter’s Shop (335 W. Main. St.). Home to the Clay Art Guild, the shop features a studio, classes for all ages, as well as functional and decorative ceramic art. Need a frame for your latest piece? Stop in Art & Framing 1-2-3 (311 W. Main St.) and view original art by De while you wait.
For a break from all that art, consider Martha Merrell’s Books (231 W. Main St.) for the latest best-seller or other literary delights. And while browsing the offerings of downtown's many boutiques, be sure to visit Plowshare Gifts (219 W. Main St.), the city's fair trade shop with handcrafted items from more than 30 developing nations.
When hunger strikes, it's a short walk to cuisine ranging from sushi (Sakura, 332 W. Broadway), gelato (Divino Gelato Café, 227 W. Main St.), tapas (Generations at 5 Points, 294 W. Main St.) or sandwiches (The Steaming Cup, 340 W. Main St.). Many of downtown's eateries double as gallery spaces, such as Sprizzo Gallery Caffé (363 W. Main St.) and People's Park (337 W. Main St.). As you digest, wander the Waukesha Riverwalk along the Fox River.
You'll also find live cultural entertainment in Waukesha--so with careful planning, you can build your day trip around a concert or play. Waukesha Civic Theatre (264 W. Main St.) has held performances continuously for more than 50 years. Of the 7,000 community theaters in the United States, only about 100 can claim 50 years of continuous operation. In addition to its main stage season, the theater offers A.C.T. classes, a popular holiday show and Random Acts of Entertainment.
Another historic arts organization is the Wisconsin Philharmonic (formerly Waukesha Symphony Orchestra), which has operated for more than 60 years. Based at 234 W. Main St., the Philharmonic has performances around the county and a summer pops concert at the Country Springs Hotel (2810 Golf Rd., Waukesha). For more live entertainment, consider a concert by the Waukesha Area Symphonic Band or Waukesha Choral Union, both which perform around the community and in Shattuck Music Center at Carroll University (100 N. East Ave.).
Formerly Carroll College, the university is just up the hill from downtown. Go east on Main Street to East Avenue and proceed south to the corner of East and College avenues. Free parking is available in several campus lots and on the surrounding streets for two hours.
You'll find Shattuck Music Center at 218 N. East Ave. In addition to community performances, students give choral and orchestral concerts from September through May. Carroll also welcomes professional musicians from around the world and visiting creative writers, from playwrights to poets. Those events often occur in the intimate Dorothy Goff Frisch Recital Hall of the music center. While visiting the historic campus--more than 160 years old--stop in the Humphrey Art Center (238 N. East Ave.). Student and professional art is on display in the Rowe Art Gallery and Marceil Pultorak Atrium Gallery, free and open to the public seven days a week. Adjacent to the art center is Otteson Theatre, home of the Carroll Players, Wisconsin's oldest student theater organization. Their main stage season includes three annual performances: in November, February and April.
One day in historic downtown Waukesha will give you a taste of its rich cultural aesthetic--a taste that will hopefully whet your appetite for more. For ideas for your next visit, contact the Waukesha & Pewaukee Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.