Tourism is a viable industry in Kenosha County. People visit for any number of reasons, including a weekend getaway, a vacation, a sporting or other special event, to visit family or friends, or for business. Ranked by visitor spending, Kenosha County was the 18th largest county (out of 72 counties) in Wisconsin in 2016.
Leading the way to connect visitors with more than 120 attractions, restaurants, retail shops, and hotels in the Kenosha Area is the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. The KACVB is a private, not-for-profit corporation and is the official tourism promotion agency for Kenosha County. The KACVB was established in 1986 with the express purpose of increasing visitor appreciation of and spending in Kenosha County, thus improving the economy of the region. The organization promotes the Kenosha Area as a fun, friendly, refreshing and affordable overnight tourism and meeting destination to individuals, groups, and businesses throughout the world.
In Kenosha County, visitor spending has grown an average of 5.3% annually since 2012. Visitor spending continued to grow in 2016, increasing 6.3% to reach $209 million. The Kenosha Area has many activities to offer visitors – whether they are here for a day trip or an overnight stay. Many of today’s popular stops for visitors didn’t even exist 20 years ago when the KACVB first launched a website. Let’s take a look back on the past 20 years.
In 2000, the largest municipality-owned recreation facility in the country opened – RecPlex. It has since expanded several times with its Aqua Arena and Ice Arena holding numerous competitions each year. Also in 2000, Electric Streetcars returned to Downtown Kenosha. Kenosha’s fleet of seven authentic Electric Streetcars travel through Downtown Kenosha and along the Lake Michigan shore.
In 2001, the popular Jelly Belly Visitor Center opened its doors and the Kenosha Public Museum opened at its new lakefront location. Also in 2001, the Kenosha History Center moved into its current location on Simmons Island. The following year, the first triathlon was held in Pleasant Prairie. This would be just the start of large sporting events in the area!
In 2003, Uke’s Harley-Davidson (Wisconsin’s oldest Harley-Davidson dealership) opened at its new location – with its eye-catching tower of motorcycles that can be seen from Interstate 94.
The same year, Kenosha HarborMarket started. In the years since, it has grown in more ways than one. In 2008, it started operating year round with the launch of Winter HarborMarket. On the busiest summer weekends, 150+ vendors can now be found at the market. Also, as a result of being vendors, many entrepreneurs have opened storefronts for their businesses.
In 2006, the Dinosaur Discovery Museum opened, followed by the Civil War Museum two years later. Along with the Kenosha Public Museum, the three museums are Smithsonian Institution Affiliates. The Civil War Museum is one of only three venues featuring a 360-degree film experience in the country.
In 2009, Wisconsin Marathon and Taste of Wisconsin™ were both created. Just how popular are those two events? People from 40 states registered for the most recent marathon on May 6, 2017; 2,169 participants finished the race. In July 2016, more than 43,000 people attended the lakefront food festival.
In 2010, the seasonal Southport Light Station Museum opened. People can climb the 72 steps up the 1866 Southport Lighthouse tower and tour the maritime museum inside the 1867 lighthouse keeper’s house. In 2012, the Bristol Renaissance Faire celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In 2014, the Kenosha Kingfish played their inaugural season at a renovated Simmons Field. The baseball team went on to win the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series in 2015. In 2016, the Kingfish hosted the Northwoods League All-Star Game, with a Home Run Derby at the Harbor.
The community helped build the Kenosha Dream Playground - Kenosha’s first inclusive, 100% accessible playground - in 2015. In 2016, the Tall Ship Red Witch started offering sailing excursions out of the Kenosha harbor. Kenosha is now the ship’s homeport. In the same year, Wilmot Mountain underwent a $13 million makeover after being purchased by Vail Resorts.
This year, the Lakefront Trolley has resumed operating, Mars Cheese Castle is expanding, and Kenosha County Parks is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Also, the 90-year-old, newly renovated Washington Velodrome will once again be holding bicycle races, and Kenosha Creative Space is expected to open.
This list details just a few of the major milestones in Kenosha County’s tourism industry. Countless restaurants, specialty shops, art galleries, other attractions, annual events, and even hotels have opened in just the past 20 years alone. Not to mention our landmark businesses/attractions that have been here for generations. That category would have to include one of our top attractions: Lake Michigan! Each and every one of these places helps make Kenosha the fun place it is – for visitors and residents alike!
For more information about tourism in the Kenosha Area, and the many free resources the KACVB offers, log on to VisitKenosha.com. Follow the KACVB’s blog, and also follow Visit Kenosha on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube to receive updates about events, specials, and more. The KACVB serves travelers at two Visitor Information Centers: at 812-56th Street in Downtown Kenosha and at I-94 & Hwy. 165.
View a brief overview video of the Kenosha Area here.
(262) 654-7307, (800) 654-7309, VisitKenosha.com