Milwaukee is a great place to visit, but after a few days of exploring its breweries and museums, you might find yourself wanting to take a day trip out of the city. Many of the best places to go are located on the shores of Lake Michigan or another of the area's lakes, but each and every one of them has something different to offer.
You can explore the many shipwrecks around Two Rivers, visit the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, or take your kids to one of the water parks in Lake Delton.
The capital of Wisconsin, Madison's most iconic feature is its spectacular domed Capitol building, which rests on a narrow strip of land between lakes Mendota and Monona, but this is far from being the only thing the city has to offer. Summertime is perfect for visiting the farmers' market, sailing on the area's beautiful lakes, and exploring the city's vast network of cycling trails, while winter brings the opportunity to cross-country ski, skate, and ice fish. No matter what the time of year, you can also visit the fascinating Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Henry Vilas Zoo.
Nestled on the banks of the beautiful Fox River, Appleton is a welcoming small city jam-packed with interesting attractions. Check out the original Edison lights in the 1882 Hearthstone Historic House Museum, learn about Harry Houdini at the History Museum at the Castle, or go for a walk along the trails in the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve. If you have kids, the city also boasts a wonderful children's museum with interactive exhibits. You can even watch a Broadway show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, which is widely recognized as one of the best centers of its kind in the Midwest. Things to do in Appleton
3. Aztalan State Park
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Built by an ancient culture who inhabited the area between 1000 and 1300 A.D., Aztalan State Park is the most significant archaeological site in Wisconsin. The centerpiece of the park is an ancient village composed of pyramid-shaped mounds, one of which was used for formal burials, but there are also reconstructed wooden stockades and a line of smaller rounded mounds whose function is unknown. Visitors are also welcome to canoe and fish on the river that runs through the park, and there is a picnic shelter where you can have lunch after exploring the site.
N6200 County Rd Q, Jefferson, WI 53549, Phone: 920-648-8774
One of the biggest and boldest cities in the United States, Chicago is the perfect day trip destination for anyone interested in museums, architecture, and delicious dining. Architecture enthusiasts can learn about the city's most famous buildings at the Chicago Architecture Center, or marvel at the skyline from above by heading up to the observation platforms in the Skydeck Chicago, the John Hancock Center, or the iconic Willis Tower. Next, you can browse the natural history exhibits at the Field Museum, admire the artwork in the Art Institute of Chicago, or head to Millennium Park to see the enormous reflective "Cloud Gate" sculpture.
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5. Door County
Occupying a picturesque peninsula between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, Door County boasts approximately 300 miles of shoreline and 19 vibrant communities for visitors to explore. Local wineries and breweries abound, but if you don't want to spend the day sampling beverages, you can paddle along the limestone bluffs in Potawatomi State Park, hike the trails in Newport State Park, or tour the 11 historic lighthouses that dot the shoreline. The area is also home to thousands of acres of cherry orchards, and if you like sweets, you shouldn't leave the county without sampling a slice of their famous cherry pie.
6. Fond du Lac
Named for its location at the base of Lake Winnebago, Fond du Lac is a scenic lakeside community known as a paradise for outdoor lovers. The lake provides endless opportunities for recreation year-round, with popular activities including windsurfing, fishing, and ice fishing in the winter, but there are plenty of things to do off the water as well. The land around the lake offers excellent hunting grounds, hiking trails, and golf courses, and in town, there's an excellent selection of art galleries, local restaurants, and eclectic boutique shops that will keep visitors entertained for as long as they choose to stay.
7. Fort Atkinson
Established in 1832, Fort Atkinson is a historic city located on the meandering Rock River. The biggest tourist attraction in town is the Fireside Dinner Theater, which combines fine dining with live theater performances, but it's worth spending the day here even if the evening show is your main reason for coming. The Hoard Historical Museum is full of exhibits about the people and events that have shaped the area's history, and there is also a replica of the fort that gave the city its name. Visitors are also encouraged to stroll along the riverwalk or spend an hour or two paddling down the river.
8. Galena, IL
Tucked away in northwest Illinois, Galena is a tiny town that tends to make visitors feel like they've taken a step back in time; more than 85 percent of the town's buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town is famous for being the former home of Ulysses S. Grant, the country's 18th president, and visitors who are interested in this aspect of the area's history can tour Grant's beautiful Italianate home. However, there are plenty of other things to see here as well, including the historic Turner Hall, the beautifully landscaped Galena Grant Park, and the West Street Sculpture Park.
9. Green Bay
Sitting right on Lake Michigan, Green Bay is proudly the oldest settlement in the state of Wisconsin, and it has something to offer almost everyone. Sports lovers will know it as the home of the Green Bay Packers, and if this catches your interest, it's worth stopping by the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Families might prefer to explore the hands-on exhibits at the Children's Museum of Green Bay or go on the rides at the Bay Beach Amusement Park, while history lovers should be sure to make time for the Heritage Hill State Historical Park, a unique outdoor living history museum.
10. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
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Located only an hour from Milwaukee and two and a half hours from Chicago, Elkhart Lake is a 292-acre spring-fed lake in the heart of Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest, and it is one of the deepest and oldest resort lakes in the heartland. It has been attracting visitors since 1860, and some of the old resorts famous for bathing and gambling still exist to this day, though they have been appropriately updated. The lake is very popular for sailing, and there are races every Sunday. Clear and clean, the lake is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and fishing for Bluegill, Brown, Rainbow and Brook Trout, Largemouth Bass, Muskellunge, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass. There is a public boat launch maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as a small public beach. In the winter, the lake is very popular for ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
11. Harrington Beach State Park
Encompassing just over 700 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan, Harrington Beach State Park is the perfect place to come if you want to spend the day outside. The mile-long beach is the park's biggest attraction on sunny days, but there are many other things for visitors to do here as well, including seven miles of hiking trails, a dedicated horseback riding trail, and an observatory with a 20-inch telescope. Surf fishing is permitted on the lake, and fishermen can also fish from the shore of both Quarry Lake and Puckett’s Pond, which are home to bluegills, trout, and crappie.
531 Co Rd D, Belgium, WI 53004, Phone: 262-285-3015
Tucked in between Chicago and Milwaukee, Kenosha gets overlooked by travelers far too often, but those who take the time to stop here find that it's a vibrant city with plenty to offer. The local restaurants and breweries offer all sorts of tasty foods and beverages, including Wisconsin favorites like bratwurst and cheese curds, and the beautiful Bristol Woods Park features more than four miles of trails. There are also a handful of fascinating museums in town, including a Civil War Museum, a Dinosaur Discovery Museum, and the Kenosha Public Museum, which features a collection of mammoth skeletons.
Centered around the innovative Kohler Design Center, where visitors can learn about the famous plumbing company's work from past to present, Kohler is a small village that was originally created to serve as a home for the people who worked in the factory. The company still plays a major role in the community — visitors can tour the factory to see faucets and bathtubs being made — but the town now has an excellent selection of world-class golf courses and excellent restaurants as well. Visitors can also walk along the Sheboygan River, visit the nearby Kohler-Andre State Park, or tour the town's spectacular botanical gardens.
14. Lake Delton
Part of the area fondly referred to as the Dells, Lake Delton is a welcoming resort town centered around a beautiful lake that shares its name. The town is a particularly good day trip destination for families with children, as it features a surprising number of water parks and themed adventure parks, but there are many other things to do as well. Visitors can take a horse-drawn carriage tour through the majestic Lost Canyon, go out on the lake on one of the Original Wisconsin Duck boats that were designed during World War II, or explore the shops and restaurants downtown.
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15. Lake Geneva
Set on the shores of Geneva Lake, the city of Lake Geneva has primarily been a resort community since it was established just after the Civil War. The lake is still surrounded by beautiful mansions built during the late 1800s, and although they're all privately owned, there is a 21-mile path open to the public that leads around the lake and through the estates' majestic backyards. Walking along this trail is a highlight for most visitors, but the area offers a wealth of other attractions as well, including golf courses, zipline canopy tours, and endless opportunities to boat, sail, and fish on the lake.
A beautiful harbor city right on Lake Michigan, Manitowoc got its start as an important shipbuilding center, and it's still often referred to as the "Maritime Capital" of Wisconsin. In addition to being an important driver of the economy, the city's modern harbor is one of its biggest tourist attractions, and many visitors come here to charter fishing boats or luxury yachts. Off the water, visitors can learn about the city's maritime history at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, dig into a hearty fish fry at one of the local taverns, or cycle along the Mariners Trail bike and foot path.
Conveniently located at the junction of highways 10, 13, and 97, Marshfield is a small city known for its welcoming atmosphere, its eclectic selection of downtown shops, and its family-friendly attractions. One of the biggest points of interest is the Wildwood Zoo, which features drive-through areas and is home to more than 200 animals, including twin Kodiak brown bears. If you're more interested in architecture and history than wildlife, stop by the Upham Mansion for a tour or visit the World's Largest Round Barn, an impressive barn on the fairgrounds that dates all the way back to 1916.
Only 30 miles outside of Milwaukee, the village of Mukwonago is a wonderful place to go if you're looking for a relaxing, rural experience. The Mukwonago River State Natural Area is a beautiful nature preserve that offers excellent hiking, canoeing, and kayaking, while the nearby Lower Phantom Lake is known for its healthy population of fish, including walleye, bluegill, and largemouth bass. If you want to pick up some fresh produce or unique local souvenirs, you also need to stop by the Elegant Farmer, a welcoming farm market housed in a large barn surrounded by orchards and farmland.
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Hugging the shores of Lake Winnebago just under the mouth of the Fox River, Oshkosh sprung up in the mid 19th century thanks to the lumber industry. The Asylum Point Lighthouse is one of the area's most iconic sights and the park surrounding it is a lovely place to have a picnic, but there are plenty of other attractions as well, including the EAA Aviation Museum, the Menominee Park Zoo, and a year-round farmers' market. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the town is also home to a handful of locally-owned craft breweries, most of which boast tasting rooms and weekly tours of the facilities.
20. Pewaukee Lake
The largest lake in Waukesha County, Pewaukee Lake is a five-mile-long body of water that provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation no matter what the time of year. There are three public boat launches on the lake, and while the water is excellent for everything from sailing to canoeing to water skiing, it's best known for its spectacular fishing. The waters are home to large populations of fish species like walleye, bluegill, and perch, but most fishermen are drawn here by the opportunity to catch one of the lake's uncommonly large muskies, which often grow bigger than 50 inches.
Surrounded by the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, Platteville is an inviting rural community with something to offer visitors of all ages. The most iconic sight in the city is the "World's Largest M", which is carved into a hill on the outskirts of town, but other points of interest include the National Brewery Museum, the petting zoo at Digman Farms, and the weekly farmers' market. If you have an interest in history, you also need to visit the Mining and Rollo Jamison Museums, where you can tour a historic lead mine and even hop aboard an authentic 1931 mine train.
22. Port Washington
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A quaint coastal city set right on the shore of Lake Michigan, Port Washington is like a little piece of New England in Wisconsin. The downtown streets are lined with charming historic storefronts that house everything from eclectic boutique shops to old-fashioned meat markets, and after doing a bit of shopping, visitors are encouraged to stroll down to the harbor to take a look at the town's iconic art deco lighthouse. Many visitors also come here to fish and boat on the lake, but if you'd rather stay on dry land, you can walk or cycle along the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
Another inviting city on the Lake Michigan shore, Sheboygan is a great place to come if you're looking for a relaxing day trip. The city boasts plenty of sandy beaches and its luxurious spas, but it's perhaps best known for its bratwursts, which come flavored with everything from jalapeno to fennel seeds. Lovers of the arts should also stop by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center or the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden. It's easy to spend an entire day taking it easy here, but if you want to do something more active, the lake is perfect for fishing, sailing, and surfing.
24. Two Rivers
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Known as the "cool city" because of the breeze that blows through it off Lake Michigan, Two Rivers is a vibrant maritime community. It's one of the best deep-water sport fishing spots in the state, and there are no fewer than 37 shipwrecks in the surrounding waters, many of which are excellent scuba diving sites. Visitors can learn about the shipwrecks at the Rogers Street Fishing Village. The town also holds the honor of being where the ice cream sundae was invented in 1881, and if you want an authentic taste of this sweet treat, stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain at the Washington House.
Boasting an incredible collection of cars and other vehicles, the Volo Auto Museum is a day trip the whole family can enjoy. There are more than 30 unique exhibits for visitors to explore; movie buffs will love the Batmobile Collection and the TV and Movie Cars exhibit, while history lovers will likely be interested in the military exhibit and the collection of steam powered vehicles. If you're visiting with kids, you'll also need to see the Disney gallery, the carousel museum, and the collection of antique kiddie rides. Train tours around the property are offered during the summer months.
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