An easy 90-minute drive from the Twin Cities, Eau Claire, Wis., offers an affordable, approachable retreat. A day trip here includes shops and restaurants with their own unique, independent flair.
Here are suggestions for where to shop fashion, home and gifts as well as where to eat and play. For a stop on your way to Eau Claire or for a second day of shopping and fun, we've added destinations in nearby Chippewa Falls, Wis.
SHOP EAU CLAIRE: BARSTOW STREET
Start on Barstow Street, where the majority of shops are located. On the east side of Barstow, you'll find Chippewa Valley Floral featuring flowers, accessories and gift items. Next door, Tangled Up in Hue art collective represents more than 100 artists and emphasizes local and handmade art in its large selection of gifts, fashion apparel and art. Affordable yet quality pieces include knits, T-shirts, kids clothing, pottery and soaps. The wide-ranging jewelry offerings are a standout. Artists' receptions and musical performances are held the first Friday each month. On the next block, look closer and you'll find the ArtBoxxSalon & Co. building houses Nik's Knacks, a shop featuring hats and accessories.
Running enthusiasts won't want to miss a stop at Blue Ox Running for gear and accessories. Continue north to the end of the block to Raggedy Man, a gift shop with a hipster vibe that offers unique, fun, affordable gifts for a variety of occasions, from weddings to baby showers and birthdays to housewarming gifts.
The Masonic Building on the corner of Barstow and Main streets is home to a store that appreciates history - the multi-level Antique Emporium. Well-preserved serving sets, home accessories, furniture, books, records and other flashback finds are among the countless offerings. Statuary and artwork are especially unique. Shop more artwork at B-Framed Galleries, spotlighting a mix of local and international artists in media such as sculpture, photography and 3-D art. Custom-framing services are also available. Down the block, Pedals Music shop is the go-to place for new and vintage music equipment and accessories.
Cross to the other side of Barstow Street where several more shops can be found. First, you'll come across Silver Feather, featuring Native American handcrafted jewelry and other items such as apparel and dreamcatchers. Silver Feather is now closed and will reopen again in the spring. Next door, Revival Records offers a sizable mix of well-curated new and used vinyl records in a variety of genres. There's also a stage for live music performances. Continue to the next block to The Calico Shoppe, a quilt and fabric store with yarn, books, fabric and patterns. Don't miss the adjoining The Purple Petunia floral and gift shop for selected jewelry, hats, serving ware and home decor from around the world.
On Barstow Street, just past Main Street, Blue Boxer Arts offers supplies such as beads and yarn for your art and crafting needs. It's all about fun, relaxation and reflection at The Hatch, where everything from stones and incense to skateboards and sundresses can be found. At the edge of downtown, Brent Douglas Flowers is a place to shop flowers and gifts.
Beyond Barstow Street, a few more shops dot downtown. Art and wine lovers find their happy place at 200 Main Art & Wine, where you can pour your own vino from one of the wine dispensers and shop fine art and handcrafted pieces in the gallery featuring local and regional artists. Not too far away, Shift Cyclery & Coffee Bar does double duty as a bike/coffeeshop. Off Gibson Street, Hello Adorn, featuring fine handmade jewelry, doesn't hold regular store hours. However, whenever the owners and artists are at work in their studio, passers-by are welcome to come in and shop the displays on hand.
SHOP EAU CLAIRE: OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Outside of downtown, a few shopping hubs are worth mentioning:
The Galloway District a few blocks away is home to some shops on North Dewey Street. Visit The Local Store, where you might be able to check everyone off your gift-giving list, thanks to the large variety carried here. Pieces include clothing, bar accessories, bath and body items, candles, home decor, posters and prints as well as kitchen pieces. A block away, Red's Mercantile is a well-curated boutique touting artisans and makers. The spot carries a range of fashion pieces - clothing, jewelry, scarves and purses - as well as gift items for babies and adults alike, home accessories and personal care items.
A few blocks away, you'll find several shops at Banbury Place in Building 13, a multi-story edifice housing several different businesses including vintage shops, artists' studios and galleries. Thursday is a great time to head here because that is when most of the studios and businesses are open. Art lovers may also want to drive over to Artisan Forge Studios, a two-story location with a shop, art gallery and studios that spotlight dozens of artists in a variety of media.
In addition to the Galloway District, consider a few unique boutiques in the Water Street District. Willow on Water is a place to score home decor, fancy gift items, fashion accessories, bath and body items, candles and a large selection of cards. Brands include Thyme, Voluspa and Lollia. On the next block, Details fashion boutique is where to head for luxe clothing from designers around the world. Next, make your way to Avalon Floral flower and gift shop. Seasonal and home decor, bath and body items, jewelry, kitchen accents, baby clothes and books are just some of the pieces at this shop offering a wide selection.
EAT EAU CLAIRE
When it's time to eat, there are several spots to dine in downtown Eau Claire. Here are 10 recommendations to get you started. Some even double as music destinations.
On the more casual side, The Acoustic Cafe has long been a hot spot for a variety of reasons. The spot roasts its own coffee beans and bakes bread daily so coffee and sandwiches are as fresh as can be. Then there's the cafe's reputation for hosting a great selection of live musical acts. Another popular spot for coffee is Shift Cyclery & Coffee Bar carrying not only java, but tea, baked goods, wraps and waffles. As mentioned earlier, the spot also houses a bike repair and accessories shop.
The daily lunch special of two large slices of pizza, soup or salad, breadsticks and soda is a popular draw at The Plus. Burgers, wraps, soups and salad also make up the menu. Comedy and live music nights are also featured at this restaurant and entertainment venue.
For Asian fare, Ninja Japanese and Chinese Restaurant is a popular spot for its wide-ranging menu. If it's Thai food you're craving, Rice Palace might be just the ticket. For a supper club feel, head to Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub for casual dishes like burgers and fancy meals such as steak and seafood.
Speaking of a fancier fare, The Lakely in the Oxbow Hotel is a place to enjoy craft cocktails and regional fare including burgers, steak and fish from renowned chef Nathan Berg. The trout salad is not to be missed. There's also plenty of live jazz on most evenings and the weekend during brunch. The boutique hotel is co-owned by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who has been known to make surprise appearances and perform at the restaurant and bar. Speaking of hotel restaurants, the contemporary The Informalist in the Lismore Hotel features a menu of burgers and wood-fired pizzas with a farm-to-table approach where ingredients are sourced regionally. Also downtown, there's The Rev tasting room and market, where wine and beer tastings are enjoyed with small plates.
While outside of downtown, it's worth mentioning one of the hottest restaurants around town. Mona Lisa's is a cozy eatery with a wine bar that attracts a crowd for its reliable, yet seasonally changing menu of Italian fare and primo wine list.
PLAY EAU CLAIRE
Beyond the live music scene at various restaurants and entertainment centers downtown, there are several options for spending your leisure time. We recommend Pablo Center at the Confluence for taking in performing, literary and visual arts in a top-notch facility that includes a theater, galleries and a gift shop. There's also the Children's Museum of Eau Claire to stir the creative juices of the little ones.
SHOP CHIPPEWA FALLS
While on your way to Eau Claire, a stop in Chippewa Falls is worth considering. Home of Leinenkugel Brewing Company, the town offers other hot spots to explore.
If it's shopping you're looking for, the majority of shops are dotted along Bridge Street in downtown. Start on the northern end, where you'll come across Eevy Ivy Over Floral and Vicki's Frame Shop. The store offers clothes, jewelry, scarves, purses, hair accessories, you name it - as well as framing services. Next, make your way to Valley Art Gallery for items from local artists. Shop art and gifts including jewelry, pottery and paintings here.
Bargain hunters won't want to miss Mason Outlet Store for quality and top-name brands in footwear at deep discounts. Brands such as North Face, Columbia, Keen and Born are up to 80 percent off regular retail prices.
On the next block, the expansive Country Treasures - Hallmark carries a little bit of everything, including seasonal and home decor, kitchen gadgets, women's apparel and gift items. Grab a card and wrapping paper from the store's extensive collection. Next, wander the various rooms at Foreign 5 and browse the merchandise - from women's clothing, gift items and flowers to wine, chocolates, local cheeses and sausage. Downstairs, wedding apparel and accessories can be found.
Not too far away, shop fashion apparel, gifts for a variety of occasions as well as home decor and furniture at The Bird Nest. Last but not least, the spacious 4,000-square-foot Lacey's Lingerie with its multiple themed rooms offers plenty of specialty pieces. The boutique is known for carrying mastectomy wear, including lingerie and swimwear, as well as a selection of shapewear, plus-size, bridal, maternity and everyday lingerie.
Off Bridge Street is Collective Charm, where beer enthusiasts will find brewery memorabilia and antiques lovers will find collectibles, furniture and more. The store also offers restoration services for light fixtures.
EAT AND DRINK CHIPPEWA FALLS
Whether for a bite to eat or to quench your thirst, here are 10 places in Chippewa Falls to consider:
For casual fare, Lucy's Delicatessen in the Foreign 5 building downtown offers pastries, breakfast items, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas as well as meats and cheeses. Also downtown, Casa Mexicana serves up a range of Mexican fare from tacos and enchiladas to fajitas and seafood in a festive setting. Jalisco-style dishes can be found here, too. Nearby, Mahli Thai is putting a contemporary spin on Thai cuisine that includes curries, stir-fries and noodle dishes.
For something more formal downtown, head to Wissota Chophouse, a destination for steaks, chops, seafood and more. Also on the chef-driven circuit, Max's Bistro and Bar emphasizes seasonally and locally sourced ingredients on its extensive menu. Treat yourself at Sheeley House Saloon, where burgers, pasta, steak and fish are among the menu items.
A few steps from Sheeley House Saloon, grab a drink at Chippewa River Distillery & Brewster Bros. Brewing Co., a cocktail and tap room emphasizing locally sourced ingredients. Chippewa Falls is the headquarters of Leinenkugel's, so it's no surprise a popular destination beyond the downtown is the Leinie Lodge, where you can tour the brewery and take in the rich history of the brand. Beer tastings hosted on-site are also a popular draw.
If it's a snack or something sweet you're looking for, Chippewa Candy Shop downtown should fill that craving, thanks to the selection of chocolates, retro candies and even soft-serve ice cream. Not too far away is Olson's Ice Cream, scooping up a wide selection of ice cream made in house. A deli menu of salads, wraps, sandwiches and burgers is also available.