From Kayaks to Conferences: A Memorable Sojourn in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Nestled in the heart of Wisconsin, Eau Claire is a hidden gem that elegantly fuses the serenity of the Midwest with the pulsating rhythm of a cultural hotbed. I had the good fortune to explore this multifaceted city while attending a TBEX conference, a prominent gathering for the travel industry. As I delved deeper into the fabric of Eau Claire, I was continually charmed by its unique blend of business and leisure, nature and nightlife, and local flavors and global influences. From the hustle and bustle of the TBEX conference at the Pablo Center at the Confluence, to the serene glide of a kayak down the Chippewa River, my journey through Eau Claire was as diverse as it was memorable. So, let me take you on a virtual tour of this captivating city, showing you its allure through my eyes—from kayaks to conferences, and everything in between.

Pablo Center at the Confluence

The Pablo Center, a jewel in the heart of downtown Eau Claire, was built in 2018 at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. As its name implies, it represents the fusion of arts, culture, and community, much like the meeting of the rivers. This state-of-the-art facility showcases a multitude of arts, ranging from theater to music, literature to cinema, creating a vibrant cultural landscape. Its modern architecture, combined with its impressive technical capabilities, makes it a versatile venue for a variety of events. During the TBEX conference, the center proved to be an ideal location, fostering an atmosphere of learning and networking among attendees from around the world. The spacious interiors, well-equipped presentation rooms, and an array of amenities catered perfectly to the diverse needs of the conference. As one of the speakers, I found the facilities to be impeccable, aiding in my delivery of a well-attended session on adapting to the AI revolution in the travel sector. The Pablo Center boasts a stunning vista of the confluence, and its grounds, replete with contemporary design elements, blend seamlessly into the surrounding urban landscape, offering breathtaking views of the riverfront and city skyline.

Vibrant Public Art Scene in Eau Claire

Eau Claire’s vibrant art scene is more than just an aesthetic asset; it’s a testament to the city’s belief in the transformative power of art. The city’s rich history of supporting the arts dates back to its early development, recognizing that art is not just an accessory but a crucial ingredient in shaping a city’s identity and fostering a sense of community. Eau Claire’s numerous murals, sculptures, and installations found across parks, streets, and buildings are reflections of its local culture, history, and the creative spirit of its residents. This emphasis on public art also serves as a powerful tool for urban regeneration, enhancing the city’s appeal to both residents and visitors alike. The city’s commitment to art underscores a larger truth that art indeed serves as the catalyst for every great city. By investing in the arts, Eau Claire has managed to not only beautify its public spaces, but also create a vibrant, creative atmosphere that helps define the city as a cultural hub.

One day while I was strolling around, I ran across a future development site that had a sign that read “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual, the impulse dies without the interest of the community.” —William James (1842-1910). I think this quote really underscores the commitment leaders have in making Eau Claire a very livable city.

Kayaking in Eau Claire

Kayaking in Eau Claire Wisconsin

Kayaking down the Chippewa River was one of the highlights of my Eau Claire visit. As we slipped our kayaks into the calm waters, the cityscape gradually gave way to lush greenery on either bank. The soft chirping of birds filled the air and we spotted turtles basking lazily on the sun-kissed rocks. It was an idyllic escape from the buzz of the city, reminding us of Eau Claire’s perfect blend of urban and natural beauty. The rhythmic dip of the paddles in the water, the soft rustle of the trees and the occasional splash of a playful sturgeon created a serene symphony of nature.

After a leisurely paddle, we ended up at Loopy’s Grill & Saloon, a local hotspot with an inviting riverside setting. Here, we quenched our thirst with some refreshing local brews, allowing the tranquillity of the river experience to sink in. Our day on the water was perfectly topped off with lunch at the well-known River Inn Bar.

The Walking Trails Through Town

The walking trails and public art in Eau Claire WI - Photo by: Mike Shubic

Another element of Eau Claire that I really enjoyed were the walking paths. Immersing oneself in the intricate maze of trails reveals a harmonious blend of natural serenity and dynamic city life. These paths weave effortlessly through the cityscape, guiding you through tranquil parks, following the rhythm of the riverbanks, and leading you over pedestrian-only bridges—all offering endless paths of discovery. Whether on foot, bicycle, or a leisurely jog, the trails serve as peaceful havens, boasting spectacular vistas of the city’s twin rivers while simultaneously showcasing Eau Claire’s commendable dedication to public art. As you navigate these trails, each turn reveals another artistic surprise—from captivating sculptures to lively murals, lending an added allure to these pathways and transforming a simple walk into an artistic expedition. The thrill of discovering fresh art at each twist and turn invigorates the senses, enriching the already delightful natural surroundings.

Accommodations in Eau Claire

Oxbow Hotel in Eau Claire - Photo by: Mike Shubic

When it comes to accommodations, Eau Claire offers a variety of boutique lodging options that harmoniously blend comfort, style, and local character. Strategically located within walking distance to the Pablo Center, these boutique hotels provide convenient access to the city’s cultural heart. I had the pleasure of staying at The Oxbow Hotel, a unique establishment that prides itself on its stylish design, rooted in modern aesthetic and a commitment to local art. Each room at the Oxbow is thoughtfully decorated, each donning a vintage record player where albums can be checked out in the lobby for your listening pleasure.

A short stroll away lies The Lismore Hotel, another prominent hotel in the city. The Lismore exudes an urban sophistication, offering plush accommodations along with top-notch amenities. Its contemporary design elements, coupled with its vibrant atmosphere, make it a favorite among travelers. Whether it’s the eclectic charm of The Oxbow or the sleek elegance of The Lismore, these boutique hotels provide a wonderful place to call home during your stay.

The Eau Claire Beer Scene

Eau Claire’s brewing scene offers an impressive array of beers that cater to an assortment of palates, epitomizing the city’s flourishing craft beer culture. A standout among local breweries is Lazy Monk Brewing, a family-run business that takes pride in its traditional European lagers and ales. Their Peanut Butter Milk Stout was a revelation for me—a rich, velvety brew with a delightful undertone of peanut butter, making for a comforting end to an eventful day in the city. Not to be overlooked is the region’s relationship with the larger brewing community of Wisconsin, home to the renowned Leinenkugel Brewery. With its myriad selection of beers, Leinenkugel has earned a prominent place in the national beer arena. Despite my preferred Grapefruit Shandy from their range being unavailable during my visit, Leinenkugel’s presence underscores Wisconsin’s longstanding brewing legacy.

Eau Claire’s Culinary Offerings

While Eau Claire is a city teeming with cultural and natural attractions, my personal experience with its food scene was somewhat underwhelming. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I looked forward to exploring the local cuisine, hoping to uncover culinary treasures. Eau Claire boasts several highly rated establishments, such as the locally loved Mona Lisa’s, which serves up an impressive menu of Italian fare, and The Informalist, known for its farm-to-table ethos. Yet, my personal dining experiences did not quite meet my expectations. The meals I chose lacked the culinary flair and creativity I had anticipated. Similarly, the food served at the TBEX conference seemed to lack the finesse that could truly showcase the city’s culinary prowess. While Eau Claire is undoubtedly a city of many strengths, its culinary scene, at least based on my experience, could benefit from more innovation to match the vibrancy of its other cultural offerings.

River Prairie Park

River Prairie Park in Eau Claire Wisconsin - Photo by: Mike Shubic

The grand conclusion of the TBEX conference took place at River Prairie Park, a gem nestled by the banks of the Eau Claire River. As we gathered for the final event, the park was alive with an infectious energy. Beautifully landscaped running streams weave their way through the park, contributing to the picturesque setting. The well-maintained paths, playful fountains, and vibrant alfresco dining spots add to the park’s allure, making it a haven for relaxation and recreation. This bustling hub was the perfect backdrop for a legendary local band, who put up a semi-exclusive performance for us TBEX attendees (the public was also invited). As the riveting music filled the air, we soaked in the collective joy, with locals joining in, transforming the park into a dynamic concert venue. The combination of great music, scenic surroundings, and the community spirit truly encapsulated the essence of Eau Claire, offering a memorable ending to our journey at the conference. River Prairie Park, with its blend of natural beauty and urban amenities, served as a microcosm of the city’s appeal and left an enduring imprint on our Eau Claire experience.

Why You Should Visit Eau Claire Wisconsin

From the moment I set foot in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, it was clear this Midwestern city holds a unique charm. Where else could you find a thriving arts scene, tranquil riverside paths, and an enticing beer culture all in one place? While my personal culinary experiences left room for improvement, the potential for growth in this realm is undeniable, particularly given the region’s rich agricultural resources. Eau Claire’s blend of nature, culture, and urban vibrancy offers something for everyone, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a culture seeker, or simply in search of a fresh perspective. The city’s commitment to community and the arts, as epitomized by venues like the Pablo Center, sets it apart and contributes to its distinct identity. There is a warmth in Eau Claire, a sense of community, and a love for the city that’s palpable. Despite any shortcomings, the city’s strengths greatly outshine them, making Eau Claire a must-visit destination. Whether it’s the rhythmic paddle of a kayak down the Chippewa River, the allure of a locally crafted Peanut Butter Milk Stout, or the enchanting tunes of a local band under the starlit sky at River Prairie Park, Eau Claire beckons with its unique experiences and authentic Midwestern hospitality.

Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.