• Liz Lopez

Port Washington, WI - New England Charm + Midwestern Friendliness

Population: 12,081

County: Ozaukee

Distance from Milwaukee: 23 miles (31 minutes)

First Barbados friend reunion, check! Jennifer is back! As you may recall, she's from Wisconsin! She came home for summer vacation, staying with her parents, and we were able to spend a day together in Port Washington plus an overnighter at the cottage on the 4th of July.

We spent the afternoon and evening exploring downtown Port Washington, WI, a place to which I'd never been. Jennifer asked what we should do for our first get-together, and once she told me her parent's town had an adorable, walkable downtown, I was sold.

Google maps put my drive at 47 minutes from the house, right up 43. Jennifer's parents live not far off the freeway on a quiet road with side-by-side condos, nicely sized and with balconies overlooking marshy-ish lands. The drive to downtown Port Washington wasn't even five minutes or a twenty-minute walk from their house. Jennifer brings Alice to the waterfront for mama-doggy exploration time which also happens to be their downtown. She said her parents don't make it down so much which is a damn shame given how adorable it is.

With several miles of waterfront walking, there's plenty to do in the friendly, vibrant streets that make up downtown Port Washington. During our five hour date, we walked the docks, visited a highly enjoyable collectibles shop, Eclectic Avenue, did wine tasting in a whisper while a comedy show happened on the other side of the room at Vines to Cellar, enjoyed two bars/restaurants, and got in nearly 10,000 steps during our short time together.

Looking on Port Washington's TripAdvisor page doesn't immediately provide too much excitement, but there are plenty of shops and photo ops to keep anyone going. The top destination is Possibility Playground, which I hope you guessed is for children. Seeing as though Jennifer and I are both thirty-six and I thankfully was able to leave my kids home (nothing personal children), we did not check it out.

There are so many other things to do that we did get to visit. Other top items on TripAdvisor are Coal Dock Park, which we definitely enjoyed walking around, and of course Vines to Cellar. The other two in the Top Five are historical/educational visits, which also do not happen to be downtown, which is why we didn't check them out. Obviously, the reviews are still good, so do it!

There's a decent city calendar that seems to revolve around downtown festivities. The dock park is seriously awesome - you can just walk around, people watch, enjoy the calm of the water and the sound of seagulls on the water. Port Washington's hometown website brags about the breathtaking sunrises over Lake Michigan and how boating, biking, swimming, fishing, and surfing are all part of the Port Washington experience and I totally buy it! Even without the water activities, the streets are filled with shops and restaurants just waiting to be explored.

Eclectic Avenue was my favorite stop and happened to be our first. They had vintage finds along with everything else you'd expect from a specialty shop. Jennifer purchased Brewer baby socks for her friend with a toddler, and apparently, this was the perfect gift because he loves them and normally hates socks. Eclectic for the win! I purchased two different kinds of popcorn kernels and dark chocolate for us to eat later. (Sidenote, made the popcorn for movie night with Penny and Cal, it was delicious. Second sidenote, Raya and the Last Dragon was great!)

I could have spent far more time in the shop but there was much to do and, of course, never enough time. Vines and Cellar advertised wine tasting, so we obviously went in. They had even more specialty gifts to choose from, and they let us taste test our wines from the back corner even though we technically came when the wine tasting was over. (Did they maybe sense the presence of a certain travel blogger?) They asked if we were there for the stand-up show, which was enticing, but lasted for two hours and we needed to explore more. The wine list was long and even included SLUSHIES for two of the wines. Can you get more Wisconsin than that people!?

As we decided which wines to taste, we caught up on her new job prospect, my idea to start a podcast, and how we missed Barbados. It was funny hearing her reminisce about Barbados; with no kids and a private pool at her place, even with lockdown, she was living her best - and most relaxed - life. She worked poolside most days and enjoyed the beach in the morning with Alice, still more free in Barbados than her life in DC would have been due to COVID. For us, the lockdown was tough, struggling to work with the kids home and no school. It was interesting to hear the two of us reminisce so differently about the same place, the same experience while knowing how amazing the entire adventure was for both of us.

She asked if Zinfandel was still on the 'uncool' wine list, and I told her I don't even drink wine, (my preference being IPA), so she ordered it to find out. We each tried a different flavor of slushie and picked our four other wines to choose from. The price was just $8 for five tests, which is bargain central if you ask me. We tried our wines as we whispered, listening to the laughs from the other side where the comedian had started his act. We were only asked to keep it down once, which I thought was impressive. Lessons learned include: I don't really like wine, the slushies were about as expected, and Zinfandel is still on the naughty list because it really doesn't taste good.

We stopped at Singing Salmon Saloon for a drink at the bar while we waited for our table where we planned to eat dinner. The bar was crowded but we got our drinks right away and enjoyed a pre-dinner beverage.

We ate at Fork and Tap, ordering cheese curds to tide us over until our dinner was ready. Jennifer suggested perhaps *not* mentioning the deep-fried cheese we voluntarily ordered but that would be a disingenuous lie because deep-fried cheese is one of the best foods of all time, and that is not hyperbole. I ordered the mac and cheese as I'm still trying (always trying, actually) to not eat mammals and my choice was perfect because it was actually amazing! It was cheesy rotini noodles with breadcrumbs and proved that even though I just read a book where they claimed mac and cheese is not a meal, they were wrong. Jennifer ordered a sandwich and fries and was satisfied with her meal, although I was more than satisfied.

The atmosphere at Fork and Tap was vibrant and the location on the water was great too. Also, while I was pulling up the map of the area I noticed on the Fork and Tap's Google description, it lists different facts about the business, and Fork and Tap states 'LGBTQ friendly' along with 'women-led'. I didn't know Google had this info here but now that I know, I love it because making people feel included is always good, not bad.

Full and tired, we hit the docks to "de-full our bellies" (no, not Roman-style vomiting) and enjoy the sounds of summer filling the atmosphere, hearing laughter, crowds, and music coming from the spots along the water.

Port Washington has something for everyone; for kids, there's the top-rated playground along with water activities to your heart's content and for adults, there are shops, restaurants and simply enjoying the stride through downtown and the docks. If you're looking for an afternoon (or two) to enjoy a walkable, adorable waterfront spot, Port Washington has you covered.