The biggest problem for me in writing this travel blog is that as a college student and usually a part-time employee, I’m on a limited budget. So, in the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of local exploring; most of it has been within the state. I’ve compiled a list of the top ways to experience my state, Wisconsin, so you can get an insider’s perspective on this rarely-talked-about (except in regards to recent politics) state.
Here are ten ways to get to know Wisconsin, besides listening to the news, in no particular order:
1. Milwaukee Festivals. Milwaukee hosts something like 15 festivals, mostly all over the summer. Many are held at Maier Festival Park, right on Lake Michigan. The biggest festivals include: Polish Fest, Bastille Days, German Fest, Festa Italiana, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, Indian Summer Festival, and, Summerfest, the “world’s largest music festival“. Obviously most are dedicated to heritage. Milwaukee is pretty diverse compared to the rest of the state. At the festivals people from across the state come together to celebrate their common ancestry. But anyone can attend; it’s just as much fun to experience a new culture as to celebrate your own. Also, there’s great food. And lots of it.
2. Madison’s State Street and Farmer’s Market. The Dane County Farmer’s Market on the Capitol Square is the country’s largest produce-only farmer’s market. It takes a solid hour to see everything, and it’s physically impossible to come away hungry. Every spring through fall Saturday from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. local farmers sell their products. If you go, be sure not to miss one of the highlights of the square, Stella’s Bakery’s spicy cheese bread. There is always a line, but it’s always fresh and delicious! State Street is the street leading up to Capitol Square, which is home to innumerable restaurants and bars, and is in general, a focus of University of Wisconsin campus life.
3. Door County for a weekend of cottage life. Door County is one of my very favorite places to go in Wisconsin. There are about a thousand things I’d recommend doing, but I’ll list a few of my favorites: hiking, biking and camping at Peninsula State Park, Pebble Beach, Al Johnson’s Restaurant (the roof is covered in grass, with goats on it!), watching the sunset in Ephraim, Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour, shopping in Fish Creek, picking cherries, boating in Green Bay and Lake Michigan, and going to the Skyway Drive-In movie theater. Check out the Door County website for more.
4. Boat tours. These are offered on a few inland lakes, like Lake Geneva (mentioned below), as well as on the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. Although Minnesota advertises they are the state with 10,000 lakes, Wisconsin actually has more. You can choose between day tours, sunset tours, and dinner cruises. We have beautiful views here—trust me.
5. Lake Geneva downtown over summer. My boyfriend is originally from Lake Geneva so I’ve been spending more time there now than I have in the past, with his family. Lake Geneva started out as a getaway town for wealthy Chicagoans in the summer, and it still is. Only around 6,000 people live there year-round, but in summer that number skyrockets; the amount of beautiful second homes there is incredible. Anyway, things to do in Lake Geneva: stroll along the lake (or around it. It’s 21 miles, but I did it last spring.), shop downtown (very quaint), get chocolate or ice cream at the local confectionery, Kilwin’s Chocolates, and take a tour of the lake by boat. The mansions on the lake are immense and dramatic. Especially impressive are Stone Manor and the Wrigley Estate.
6. Circus World. I just went to Circus World for the first time about a month ago. It was once the home to Wringley Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Three Ring Circus. They only host a one-ring circus today, but still, the show is worth seeing. There are acrobats, trapeze artists, and performing animals. There are also animal rides. I rode an elephant (which is incredible, I have to tell you)! But besides the shows, they also have props, costumes, carts, posters, banners, and cars from the original circus train. Actually, Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants did much of her research here when writing the novel. And after filming the movie, many of the props used were sent to Circus World, in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
7. Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are probably one of the most fun places to visit in Wisconsin. They are also probably the most tourist-y. There are innumerable mini golf courses, water parks, amusement parks, places to bungee jump, discovery centers, and restaurants. Most notably, it has Noah’s Ark, the “world’s largest waterpark”–which is incredible. It takes up 70 acres, has 49 water slides and 2 wave pools, and the best funnel cake you’ll find anywhere. My favorite nearby restaurant is Pizza Pub, across the street. Get the deep dish pizza– it’s perfect after a day playing in the water.
8. Miller Park. Miller Park, built several years ago, is one of the coolest new ballparks in the country. It has an opening and closing dome roof, and a gorgeous field. No matter who your favorite team is, it’s always fun to catch a game at Miller Park. You can hit the sports bars, tour the brewery beforehand, or you can tailgate in the parking lot.
9. Western Wisconsin. The western half of the state is much different from the rest. The further west you go, the quainter, and greener, things look. There are rolling hills, pastures for miles; fewer cities, more farms. There are a few beautiful lakes, and, of course, the Mississippi River. One gorgeous place to stop by is Wyalusing State Park. The views of the Mississippi are beautiful, and bluffs and forests are gorgeous. The Mississippi’s current is a bit strong, but if you’re feeling up to it, check out canoeing the Wisconsin River. The river is calmer, and there are even some sandbars you can camp on.
10. “Up North” woods and Lake Superior. The northern part of the state is also much different from the rest of the state. “Up north” is a Wisconsin expression, and really refers to . . . anywhere up north. I don’t know if the rest of the country uses it when they go north in their state. Anyways, there are innumerable lakes and forests, and good hunting, I hear. As you go even further north you can check out Lake Superior, which is beautiful. There are also the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Superior, which are consistently ranked some of the most beautiful places to explore. You can canoe, kayak, and camp. Just be smart if you visit—there are bears, and the water is cold.