Destination Kohler in Wisconsin has everything you expect from a luxury resort -- elegant rooms, a beautiful spa, golf courses challenging enough for the PGA Championship, and fine dining with local specialties. But what makes Destination Kohler special, and worth the trip, are all the things you can't find at other resorts.
First of all, it's located in a beautiful, turn-of-the-century factory town of Kohler, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famed designer of Central Park in New York City. Next, the Tudor-style red brick hotel called The American Club looks like it's been there 100 years because it's been there for 100 years, originally as housing for factory workers. And while Kohler, Wisconsin, has the feeling of an idealized American community from a bygone era, it's still a real place, with real people living in those charming houses, and a real factory where you can see tubs, toilets, kitchen sinks, faucets being made.
It's a luxury resort with an unusually strong sense of place, and history
A Home Tub From a Horse Trough
The best place to start learning the rich cultural history that makes Destination Kohler unique is in the Kohler Design Center. A small museum on the bottom floor takes you through the history of the company, founded by John Michael Kohler in 1873 (and still privately owned by the Kohler family.)
Kohler started by making cast iron implements for farmers, but was inspired one day to take a horse trough, heat it to 1700 degrees, sprinkle it with gleaming white enamel powder, and add four legs. Kohler's first bath fixture was born, and countless innovations, including color fixtures in the 1920s, were to follow. This is a fascinating exhibit for those who are interested in the history of design, labor, and American industry.
On the ground floor is one-of-everything that Kohler makes for the home market -- innovative bathtubs, a $5,000 toilet, kitchen sinks and faucets, elaborate shower heads. You simply can't see all this in one place anywhere else since most Kohler dealers carry a much smaller selection. You can't buy anything, but it's fun to get an idea of what you might like in your own home. And if your imagination fails you, top designers like Sylvia Sepielli have created their own fantasy baths and kitchens on the top floor.
Free Factory Tour
Another thing you shouldn't miss is the free, fascinating morning tour of the Kohler factory, originally built in 1900. The factory is the reason that Destination Kohler is here at all. You'll see cast iron tubs glowing red hot as a robotic arm carries them from the furnace, vitreous china urinals being assembled by one of the factory's most highly skilled laborers; sinks being emblazoned with the blue Kohler stamp; and Kohler artists-in-residence making their artworks.
All the while the Kohler workers are going about their labors, accustomed to the many visitors that traipse through the factory all morning long. I found it fascinating. One of the charms is that the public is allowed in there, in this litigious age. Wear a good set of shoes, as the tours are three-hours-long and run by enthusiastic retirees who have nothing but time.
A Trip To River Wildlife
And don't miss River Wildlife, a 500-acre wilderness preserve with more than 18 miles of trails. Only private members and guests of Destination Kohler are allowed to dine in the 19th century rustic lodge that was dismantled in Montana and reassembled here in a truly charming setting on the Sheboygan River. River Wildlife is the base for lots of outdoors activities -- hiking, birdwatching, fishing, kayaking, trap five-stand clay shooting, archery, horsebacking riding and pheasant hunting in season.
It's easy to get around Destination Kohler. The hotel, spa, design center and factory are all on the same few blocks; shopping and a yoga studio are a short walk. What you can't easily reach on foot, like the golf courses, River Wildlife and a huge fitness club, are just a trolley ride away. And the drivers are a good source of information.
I had no idea there would be so much to do at Destination Kohler -- more than I could fit in during a (leisurely) three-day visit. Not only is it well worth one trip for spa lovers. It's worth at least two, especially if you like history, golf, and luxurious bathroom design.