When people think of a beach destination, they aren’t likely to imagine a trip to Wisconsin. But eastern Wisconsin, bordering Lake Michigan, is alive with beautiful waterfronts.
Groups can meander along the waterways of Wisconsin for a wide array of sights and experiences, including picturesque coastal villages, otherworldly cathedrals and charming small-town farms, all while still enjoying signature Wisconsin culture. From Door County in the north to Milwaukee in the south, these four waterfront Wisconsin destinations allow group travelers to experience it all, from relaxing beach getaways to urban meccas of entertainment and culture.
In the Delta
Flanked by Green Bay on the western side and Lake Michigan on the eastern side, Door County is an 80-mile peninsula with 300 miles of shoreline for groups to explore. It’s known for its historic lighthouses, cherry orchards and natural beauty. Each of its 19 distinct coastal communities offers a unique travel experience, providing an abundance of attractions to choose from, not to mention the county’s five state parks and 53 Lake Michigan beaches. Door County is an outdoor lover’s paradise, perfect for those who crave adventure or those who want to relax by the shore.
“Door County is really kind of this seaside experience in the heart of the Midwest,” said Laura Bradley, director of marketing and sales at Destination Door County.
One signature Door County experience for groups is a fish boil, which provides both dinner and a show. In this Scandinavian tradition, fresh-caught white fish, potatoes, onions and salt are boiled in a pot over a fire, which is then doused with kerosene. After the pot boils over, the contents are served family-style. These fish boils are a staple of Door County and can be found in many of its communities.
Another Door County classic for groups is a docent-guided tour of one of its historic lighthouses. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, located in Peninsula State Park, offers stunning views of Green Bay and the surrounding park, while Cana Island Lighthouse, perhaps the island’s most famous lighthouse, is located near Bailey’s Harbor.
In Sister Bay, Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik serves Swedish fare with an unusual aesthetic; groups will find goats grazing on the sod roof of the building, a spectacle that has become a local tradition and a must-see for travelers.
Groups can ferry to Washington Island and take a tram tour of the island. They can see the clear blue waters and smooth stones of the picturesque Schoolhouse Beach, one of the few smooth-rock beaches in the world. Those visiting in July and August can see one of the largest lavender fields in the Midwest in bloom at Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, where they can also purchase goods made from the lavender in the fields.
The host city of the Green Bay Packers is home to much more than the celebrated NFL team; this waterfront city has dozens of museums, displays of arts and culture, restaurants and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
“It’s a really beautiful waterfront with an eclectic downtown, so you can really curate your group tour,” said Nick Meisner, vice president of digital marketing and communications at Discover Green Bay.
For a tour of Green Bay from the water, groups can take a river cruise on the Foxy Paddler, a 35-foot paddle boat. The cruise allows groups to bring their own beverages as they glide along the Fox River through downtown and learn about all the city has to offer.
One of the top stops for groups in Green Bay is Lambeau Field. Here, groups can tour the stadium while learning about its history, from the player’s tunnel to the press box. Groups can also check out the Packers Hall of Fame to learn about and see memorabilia from some of the most legendary Packers.
The Neville Public Museum, a museum dedicated to preserving Wisconsin-related artifacts, features rotating exhibits about science, local history and art. Another big hit for groups is Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum, one of the largest railroad museums in the country. Here, restored historic trains are available for viewing.
Along the lines of transportation, car enthusiasts will be delighted by the Automobile Gallery, a Cadillac dealership turned automobile museum where classic and modern cars are displayed in gallery fashion. Visitors to the gallery can view more than 75 distinct automobiles at their own pace or with a guided tour.
Green Bay is also known for its prominent food and beverage scene. In addition to their signature drinks and delicious cuisine, many restaurants and breweries are famed for the atmosphere they offer guests. Titletown Brewing Company offers a rooftop tasting room promising some of the best views in the city. The Turn Restaurant Lounge offers a variety of classic American dishes, live music and an interactive golf and gaming simulator sure to wow any group. For fine dining options, groups are welcome at Republic Chophouse, a steakhouse in the heart of downtown.
Fond du Lac
Located on the foot of Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, Lake Winnebago, Fond du Lac and the surrounding region give groups a laid-back and charming travel experience. The area’s hometown feel is accentuated by the many locally owned and operated businesses and attractions for groups to check out. It’s also centrally located between Green Bay and Milwaukee, making it an easy stop on any Wisconsin travel itinerary.
“It’s a pretty wide region of a lot of different venues, and there’s a lot of agricultural businesses and a lot of family-owned businesses,” said Liz Engh, director of group tour sales at Destination Lake Winnebago Region.
Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, and there are several stops in Fond du Lac that back this fact. The LaClare Creamery focuses on all-things goat. This family-owned creamery specializes in goat cheese and milk, sourcing their products entirely from nearby farms. Groups can take guided tours of the one-of-a-kind facility, meet the goats behind the cheese and sample the creamery’s products at its café. For a sweet treat, groups can head to the Kelley Country Creamery, another family-owned creamery, whose hand-dipped ice cream was rated best in America by “Good Morning America.” Groups can sample one of the many homemade flavors while enjoying views of the ice cream being made.
Fond du Lac also has a number of distilleries, breweries and wineries in the area that make excellent stops for groups. The Ledgerock Distillery grows its own corn and wheat to distill bourbon, vodka, gin and moonshine, and offers tours and tastings for groups. At Ziegler Winery, a family-owned winery on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago just north of Fond du Lac, groups can learn about and taste the cold-hardy grape varieties.
Also on the eastern shore of the lake is Jim and Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club, which is renowned for its cocktails, prime rib and seafood. Here, groups can enjoy sunset views over the lake and a casual, friendly atmosphere with their meal.
Nature enthusiasts won’t be disappointed by a trip to the Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. The site is a national and state wildlife refuge, and visitors to the marsh can catch glimpses of hundreds of species of birds.
Lovers of art, architecture and culture will thrive in Milwaukee, where diversity and tradition come together. This metropolitan city is the largest in Wisconsin and is known for its booming beer industry and food scene, as well as the unique patchwork of architectural styles that populate the city.
“We’re an incredibly diverse city, which just means some amazing cultural attractions, and restaurants and activities that travelers just love,” said Claire Koenig, communications director at Visit Milwaukee.
One of the area’s most popular attractions for groups is the Milwaukee Art Museum, which features the largest art collection in Wisconsin. Groups can take docent-guided tours of the museum and view its vast collection of classic and contemporary art. Another one-of-a-kind Milwaukee attraction is the Harley-Davidson Museum, which also houses a group-friendly restaurant. Here, groups can sample fried cheese curds, a Milwaukee delicacy, as they learn about the history of the American motorcycle company.
For another casual dining scene, groups can head to the Milwaukee Public Market, its oldest food hall, which showcases the city’s diverse food scene and caters to any palate.
As its nickname “Brew City” suggests, Milwaukee has no shortage of breweries for groups to tour. Lakefront Brewery, the second-oldest craft brewery in the area, offers a notoriously comedic tour of its facilities, as well as a beer hall, where groups can sample some of its famous beers and Wisconsin bar food staples. The city is also home to the Pabst Mansion, an architectural wonder and former home to the founder of Pabst Brewing Company.
In addition to the mansion, groups fond of architecture and history will love the city’s many architectural marvels, such as the Frank Lloyd Wright Burnham Block of houses, two of which are available for tours. Other notable buildings for groups to spot are the Basilica of Saint Josaphat and the Joan of Arc Chapel.
Milwaukee is situated on Lake Michigan and is home to three rivers, providing plenty of waterways for groups to check out. One popular water attraction for groups is a guided river cruise on the Milwaukee River with the Milwaukee Boat Line, which offers sightseeing, historic and cocktail cruises.