By Katy Macek | Photos courtesy VisitEauClaire.com
Nestled between two rivers and hundreds of pine trees, Eau Claire is the idyllic north woods escape.
It’s a beautiful city any time of year, but, having spent the better part of eight years living there, I can say with certainty: When nature blooms again, this creative city springs to life.
Perhaps it’s because downtown, the city’s heart, is located at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. The bustling Phoenix Park is home to summer farmers’ markets, a connection of trails that lead into down- town or out of the city and a boat landing that doubles as the loading zone for tubers looking to float the Chippewa River.
And just last September, the three-story Pablo Center at the Confluence opened its doors to offer world-class, state-of-the-art entertainment to the city and its visitors, right at the heart of both rivers. With two stages, two art galleries, meeting rooms and more, there is always something going on at the center—complete with scenic views of both rivers and Phoenix Park.
Linda John, director of the city’s tourism hub Visit Eau Claire, says it’s only natural the bustling downtown is the city’s life- blood. “It provides a backdrop and inspiration for the art and creativity that really has become the vibe of Eau Claire,” John says. “The recreation and artful creation go hand in hand.”
From live music in the downtown venues nightly to a host of independent, locally-owned stores, her point is proven. Tangled up in Hue offers local artists’ work that make great gifts and goodies.
Red’s Mercantile is a women-fronted home goods and accessories store, while The Local Store offers a plethora of local musicians’ CDs, local authors’ books and local creators’ handmade soaps, jewelry and more.
“I love the entrepreneurial spirit of Eau Claire,” John says. “There are so many shops that showcase what people have been inspired by and made a business out of.”
Come evening, live music overtakes the city, with local bands as well as some bigger names taking over venues such as The Mousetrap, The Plus, The Metro and more. Volume One’s online calendar can help you find what’s going on.
If you really want to soak in the city’s rich music scene, head there for the city’s famous Jazz Fest. On that Friday, downtown Barstow Street is transformed into its own take on the famous New Orleans’ 52nd Street, filling at least a dozen venues with live music late into the night.
The three-day festival serves as a competition for student musicians but has grown to become a favorite stop for jazz aficionados.
And for nature lovers, the city has plenty. Walk or bike the Chippewa River State Trail, which spans 80 miles through Eau Claire into neighboring cities and along beautiful parks. Stay at the boutique Oxbow Hotel and rent a bike or canoe to travel the river or the nearby Half Moon Lake.
A five-minute drive north of down- town takes you to Mount Simon Park, a network of trails, a disc golf course and its namesake, Mount Simon, which offers stunning views of the city and its many bodies of water.
Whether you’re looking for an elegant night out on the town or an ad- venturous getaway, Eau Claire truly has something for everyone. At a little under three hours northwest of Madison, you can make a weekend out of it. Or two. Or three. You’ll always find something new.