I’ve never really written about Wisconsin before. And by barely anything, I mean nothing. I just checked. I’ve included it in a few round-up type posts, but that’s it. So today I decided to write up a little super ultimate guide to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, my hometown.
This is the place to find where to eat, shop, hike, and cool events to attend. Eau Claire is an awesome little city with an up and coming music and arts scene with tons of awesome local shops and restaurants.
I’ve teamed up with an old friend, Measha, from home to make this the best possible guide. She’s just as passionate about supporting local businesses and local events. You can find her interviews with awesome locals and other musings over at Espy Girl.
The best thing about traveling to new places is discovering what the locals eat! I’m always down for some delicious new foods. Eau Claire has a booming restaurant scene! Eating out is a guilty pleasure of mine, especially at some of these tasty digs. We’ve got BBQ, Asian cuisine, Family restaurants, Mexican, Italian, Greek, and more! In between your time exploring our river walks, parks, and local businesses, be sure to grab a bite to eat at one of these places that’ll surely please you.
Where to eat:
Nelson Cheese Factory
I may be biased since I worked there forever, but they have the best sandwiches. You can also get dessert before lunch and have some ice cream then polish it all off with some cheese for later.
This is one of the fancier restaurants, but it’s soooo good. If they still have the hazelnut encrusted salmon, it’s wonderful. This is also down on Waterstreet.
For a rustic feeling dinner, head to The Livery downtown near Phoenix Park. It has sandwiches, soup, salad, all that stuff along with fresh drinks at the bar. In the evening they have a little bonfire on their back patio.
For a little local Mexican Fare, this is a great option. It’s a cozy little place in the general region of the mall. It’s typical Mexican food, but it’s delicious.
Milwaukee Burger Co.
This is where you go to find the biggest fried cheese curds ever. They have a few flavors and you can even get them on their famous burgers. If you’re feeling up to it, try their Big Milwaukee Burger challenge.
This is a great place for hot sandwiches and delicious soup on a cold winter day (all the time, really) if you’re downtown. On hot summer days, you can stop in for some ice cream between shopping.
Bug Eyed Betty’s
Besides delectable burgers (buy one get one free Mondays), unique pizzas (only $10 on Tuesdays), wings, and yummy apps Bug Eyed Betty’s is a wonderful part of the community! This restaurant hosts free Thanksgiving meals each year for anyone, they support other businesses during tough times, donate to many causes and more. They’re definitely one of my favorite places to go. There’s always bingo on Tuesday evenings too!
Egg Roll Plus
An Eau Claire favorite! This little hole in the wall restaurant offers delicious Hmong Asian food. A popular choice, of course, is the egg rolls, along with Pho (a type of soup), Pad Thai, and practically everything else. Be sure to call ahead if stopping by around dinner or the weekends, they’re pretty busy, and for good reason.
Huddled in ‘The Lismore Hotel’ where you can also find ‘Dive’ and ‘ECDC’, this gem of restaurant features meals created with locally sourced meats and produce. The menu is always changing, to mix it up for customers. Brunch is one of my go-to meals here, as they serve quite the creative eggs benedict.
Another hole in the wall type of restaurant, Chick-A-Dees is only open until 2pm during the week. They offer super affordable breakfast and lunch with huge portions!
Perhaps I’m biased, but ‘Sammy’s Pizza’ makes me nostalgic for my childhood. They have the best pizza around! The pizzas have perfectly thin and crisp crust with layers upon layers of toppings. Great deals for the family too!
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
If you’re looking for somewhere more upscale and I mean, upscale, ‘Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse’ is the right choice. They serve steak of course, along with many other decadent meals for you and your sweetheart to have a fancy night out.
Hanger 54 Grill
In big cities, you can often find places to eat in the airport. Eau Claire has their own itty-bitty airport and one, fairly new restaurant resides here, Hanger 54 Grill. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed with good burgers, wings, salads, and sandwiches. The chef even makes his own wing sauces!
This place doesn’t always get the credit it deserves as it resides alone on the west side of town off of the highway (Clairemont). They have one of the best fish fry’s I’ve ever had! Along with great sandwiches, rib tips, homemade salads and cheesecake desserts.
La Misma Luna Market
Authentic Mexican cuisine in the back of a grocery store, who knew?! ‘La Misma’ is a Mexican grocery store with a hidden restaurant. Here you can get some of the best tacos around and the most delicious salsa. They’re super friendly and even willing to create a twist on vegetarian style tacos.
Wagner’s Bowling Alley
This is another surprising place to grab a bite. You may think it’s all just burgers and fry’s at a bowling alley, but ‘Wagner’s’ offers even more! The chef is all about creating a unique and taste bud tingling menu. They have super nachos, fish dinners, and even ribs. Now, what other bowling alley serves fish and ribs? The family can even enjoy a game of bowling before or after.
Altoona Family Restaurant
You can never go wrong with a family restaurant. One of the longest standing places around, Altoona Family restaurant is just on the edge of Eau Claire. They offer all the home cooked classics you could ask for and at a good price to boot.
A hip, artsy café (Racy’s) is attached to the back of Water Street’s most popular place for brunch ‘The Nucleus’. If you plan on getting here on a Sunday, expect to wait 45 minutes, or get there early. The Nucleus is worth the wait for some of the best crepes and eggs in town.
Roble is owned by the same people as Grizzly’s. They cook fresh, tender, wood-fired chicken on a spit. This chicken makes for some of the best tacos! Add a homemade margarita to your meal and you’re set!
Maybe you’re just leaving that nightlife fun on Water Street and you need some grub. Gyro King is open until bar close and offers a great replacement for all the pizza you may grab and go. Gyros and Falafel sandwiches are tasty and they seem to have the most addicting fries with lemon pepper seasoning.
Everyone loves a good burger. ‘Court-N-House’ is where you’ll find that. They look more like a bar than a restaurant but don’t let that fool you. You can get some of the best burgers in town here. You also can’t go wrong with the cheese curds.
Where to drink:
Eau Claire may seem small to some, but there’s always a lot going on into the night! In my opinion, some of the best things to do while exploring new cities are trying local eats and grabbing a cocktail afterward. Eau Claire offers places for laid-back drinks, dancing, and many venues with live music! This list is a mish-mash of anything you’d want to experience throughout the night.
Dance the night away at Eau Claire’s only gay bar. A fun place for anyone and everyone to dance, drink, sing karaoke, and if the timing is right, even catch a drag show.
A legendary bar on the Water Street side of downtown. Open since the 1970’s, many blues acts and poets performed here. Dollar beers (No Lite Beer) and even cheaper happy hour pitchers. You can’t go wrong at this Eau Claire classic. Maybe you’ll even spot Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) at the bar when he’s in town.
Looking for something away from college students and downtown culture? Look no further! Brickhouse offers bar games including pool, darts, and the rarely found SHUFFLEBOARD! Want to be competitive while getting your drink on, check out this place.
The Mousetrap Tavern
Another long-standing bar, in the Barstow area of downtown. Here you can catch locals of all ages, college students, and more jamming out/or watching music performed by some of Eau Claire’s most talented local bands. Be prepared for an intimate stage and audience setting.
It’s late into the night, and you have a craving for something other than pizza or fast food. Well, you’re in luck! Ninja, a Japanese cuisine restaurant is open in downtown until bar close on the weekends. That means you can continue sipping on cocktails while pigging out on sushi or stir-fry. Yum!
Lazy Monk Brewing
Looking for somewhere relaxed to get some authentic German-style beers and pretzels? Lazy Monk Brewing is a local German-style brewery with delicious beers. They’re more of an early night out kind of place, closing at 10pm on weekdays and 11pm weekends. You can purchase beer by the glass (16oz), a flight of four, or to-go by a growler/pack of four 16oz cans.
The Brewing Projekt
Another laid back place to spend your night. This brewery is full of flavor! They offer a variety of beers ranging from IPA’s, dark beers, sour beers, light beers, and fruity beers. The flavors seem endless. They’re always mixing up some new concoction to try.
Infinity Beverages Winery and Distillery
Maybe you’re a wine person. That’s cool too! Eau Claire has it all. Infinity Beverages makes their own wine, dessert wine, brandy, whiskey, and vodka. You can sample everything! They have live music to enjoy while sipping on wine or a cocktail, at least once a week as well.
‘The Oxbow Hotel & The Lakely’ is a new boutique hotel and restaurant in the heart of downtown. What once stood as a run down, old inn, where unmentionable things happened, now is a swanky, fun place to grab a cocktail and listen to some live Jazz. Music can be seen almost every night of the week. During the summer their patio offers guests the opportunity to play Kubb (an Eau Claire classic) and a sweet fire pit.
Another classy place for your night out is Eau Claire’s downtown bar ‘Dive’. Nestled inside The Lismore Hotel, the bar is located on the second floor, with Eau Claire’s first ever rooftop style bar. In the summer you can sit up the rooftop while drinking a good ol’ old fashioned. They seriously make the best old fashioned I’ve ever had. Yum!
Is live music your thing? Owner of ‘The Plus’, Benny Haas and his wife recently opened ‘The Metro’. In the past, the location has been a variety of music clubs. Recently renovated and renamed after one of the coolest venues the town has witnessed. However, they’re not open every night of the week, be sure to check their site or Facebook for upcoming shows.
Maybe you’re looking for somewhere with delicious bar food and bloodies? Ray’s Place is where it’s at! They’re known for their hot beef sandwiches. Perfect to pair with a beer or extra spicy Bloody Mary.
The Grand Illusion
Known for their delusion drinks, where if you purchase 10 of them you can get a free t-shirt. This is a water street gem. They have booths to gather with your friends, a pool table, foosball, arcade games, and darts. On Sundays, the G.I. even rolls out some paper and crayons for guests to color while sipping on beer. You can catch a bunch of good deals on drinks throughout the week up until midnight!
Known as Eau Claire’s hip-hop/dance club. The Brat offers those that like to get their groove on a place to do so. Open on Friday’s and Saturday’s only, you may be able to catch a hip-hop show too!
She-Nannigans and Luckys
Another popular place, for those that have just turned 21, this seems to be their go to. Lots of space to dance, drink, and have fun. They have a DJ most nights, lights and a dance floor that is always jam-packed with people.
Want to go out with the whole family? ‘The Plus’ is an all ages venue, restaurant, and bar. You can catch Clearwater Comedy shows every Thursday night! They bring in comedians from all over the states for our enjoyment! There are also live concerts each week and many other fun family events. Known for their pizza and located in the heart of Barstow Street.
Every Buddy’s Bar and Grill – Chippewa Falls
Here’s a bonus place for anyone willing to travel just a short 20-minute drive from Eau Claire. Every Buddy’s Bar and Grill is a fun bar featuring live music every weekend! You can catch anything from Rock and Metal to Pop and Acoustic.
BONUS: Leinenkugel’s Brewery
While Leinie’s might not be in Eau Claire, it’s just a short drive away in neighboring Chippewa Falls. You can do a tasting, tour the brewery, or both. It’s a must do if you’re in the area.
Eau Claire has tons of awesome coffee shops to just hang out and catch up with friends or spend hours slaving away at homework. I’ve done plenty of both and have favorites now.
A few double as a good place to eat, but some are focused on the coffee game. Either way, they are all worth a visit. They are all local, no chains on this list, though there are plenty of those, too. These are all cozy little places to get your caffeine fix.
Where to caffeinate:
This is one of my favorites. The coffee is delicious and so are the sandwiches. My favorite is the Peppeadew with goat cheese and hummus. SO GOOD. It’s right on Water Street, so it can be busy with students hard at work during the school year, but it’s still worth going.
This is a great place to hang out with a coffee or smoothie and some baked goods. They are also open a little later than your average coffee joint, 11 PM Friday and Saturday and 10 PM Sunday through Thursday. Warm up by the fireplace on a chilly winter day or after a show downtown.
This is part of The Nucleus, they’re connected, and open later. This is the place to relax on old furniture and maybe play a weird board game while you enjoy your cup of joe.
This is right by Phoenix Park and a great little stop for some coffee after a stop at the farmers market in the summer. They’ve also got smoothies, desserts, and local art on display.
I love going here if I’m looking for chocolate or other fun food. They have all kinds of cool flavors and other weird goodies. They also have delicious coffee and plenty of seating for you to work at.
While you can eat at Acoustic, you can also enjoy live music with a latte. I’ve spent many hours here sipping apple cider after lots of studying in high school.
The Living Room
They actually have four locations now, but the main store is on Cameron Street. It’s a cozy little place and all of the coffee is roasted right here.
Eau Claire might not be in the heart of any mountains, but there are plenty of places to escape the hustle and bustle of the sort of big city life to get some hiking in. Whether it’s the middle of summer or the heart of winter, there are trails all around the city for every activity. Strap on your snowshoes and hiking boots and get on your way!
Where to hike:
Lowes Creek is great for outdoor activities year round. There are trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing just outside of town. This is on the south side and easily accessible.
While it’s technically in Fall Creek, it’s still a great place to get outside. Rent snowshoes in the winter to explore some of its 400 acres or hike some of its 9 miles of trails in the summer. This was always an exciting field trip in school.
The bike trail
The bike trail weaves it’s way around Eau Claire, making it’s way all the way to Menomonie. There are tons of trails around the city for biking and walking and this can help you find the ones closest to you.
Archery Park river trail
I’m not sure if this is any kind of official trail, but I grew up wandering my way along it. The trail connects Archery Park and Boyd Park on the East Side Hill. It’s an easy trail and can be a nice woodsy addition to part of the bike trail near Banbury Place. It’s easy to find from Archery Park, just go down the main hill and the trail is on the left near the bottom by the treeline.
Top of the World, Mt. Simon
This one is more specific, but it offers great views over Dells Pond and downtown Eau Claire. You can find the trails past the parking lot near the frisbee golf course area. This is also a popular thing to do at Mt. Simon.
Geocaching around town
This can be done all over town as well as everywhere mentioned above. All you have to do is download the app and use your phone to help find the cache locations or do it the old school way with a handheld GPS. My favorite area to do it is near Banbury Place and the Archery Park trail.
There are tons of cute little shops around Eau Claire, mostly downtown, and they all offer cool, usually local made products. From fashion to floral and music to art, we’ve got it all. All of these are downtown and are perfect stops between coffee shops and lunch.
Where to shop:
The Local Store
This is the place to go for all things Eau Claire and Wisconsin. Everything is made by local artists. I love this store and if I had more money, I would buy so much stuff here. Home decor, apparel, jewelry, books, art, and music they’ve got it all.
Tangled Up In Hue
This is a cute little store with bohemian vibes. They’ve got art, jewelry, and apparel as well. They offer unique gifts for yourself or others made by tons of local artists. They also offer events and classes.
While they have a studio, I don’t think you can shop at it, but they do have a website and you can find some of their jewelry at The Local Store. They also have pop-up shops around the area, so keep an eye out for those. I’m obsessed with their designs and they actually make me want to wear jewelry, which I don’t do much of.
Just Local Foods
If you’re staying somewhere and need to do some cooking, Just Local is a great place to pick up your local ingredients. It’s our little co-op (sort of) near the University and just down the hill from Nelson’s. If I actually lived here, I would do a lot more shopping here.
For you music buffs, this is the place to go. They have tons of new and used records ready to be taken home by you. It’s a cool little shop in the heart of downtown. And don’t worry. If records aren’t your thing, they have CD’s, too.
While this isn’t a store in itself, there is a building with all kinds of shops in it. Stop for some wine at Infinity Beverages and peruse the shops after. You can also check out the watch swan (below) and Woo’s Pagoda (also below) here. This is a good place to park and take a walk along part of the bike trail to downtown and Phoenix Park or Boyd Park.
Cool seasonal events:
There are tons of awesome events around Eau Claire no matter what the season. Some events that stick out are Music in the Park at Phoenix Park all summer (this is where the farmers market is, too), Chalk Fest in the fall as well as the International Fall Festival. We even have a slew of music festivals in the summer; Eaux Claires, Blue Ox, Country Jam, Country Fest, and Rock Jam are all in the area.
You can go ice skating year round, at Boyd Park in the winter and Hobbs Arena in the summer. There are Kubb games played at Boyd Park in the summer and Christmas lights Galore at Phoenix Park in the winter. Take a stroll through those on a nice chilly evening and warm up with a coffee by the fire at ECDC after.
This is a good start on local events, but for all the details and even more events, check out the Volume One events calendar. They also have a magazine that comes out every two weeks that you can pick up around town to read awesome stories featuring locals, written by locals.
While I may not live in Eau Claire now, it’s always exciting to come back and visit all the places I love while seeing everything new that has popped up, especially downtown. There is so much cool stuff happening here and there is definitely something for everyone.
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Have you been to Eau Claire? What was your favorite thing about it? What is your favorite place here? Favorite thing to do?