Think you need to travel to the Atlantic or Pacific to enjoy a beachside vacation? Think again! Wisconsin is home to a number of ocean-esque beaches along beautiful Great Lakes coastlines. These freshwater favorites are great family- and budget-friendly, closer-to-home alternatives to the traditional oceanside vacation.
Here are six of our most impressive beaches that will leave you with no choice but to dive in and head to Wisconsin’s coasts!
Selected by USA Today as one of the “51 Great American Beaches,” North Beach is located on the Lake Michigan waterfront. This beach has 2,500 feet of shoreline open to the public for swimming, fishing and picnics, and has been a designated Blue Wave Beach (America's first environmental certification for beaches) since 2004. The Beachside Oasis is also a part of North Beach, featuring a concession stand, live music and the Kids' Cove Playground – a gem located right on the beach.
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You’re in America’s Kringle Capital. The Kringle, an oval-shaped, authentic Danish pastry, is produced predominately in Racine County. With 32 layers of flaky dough and filling choices from fruits to nuts, this pastry leaves you satisfied. Stop by O&H Danish Bakery to try it out!
Travel to the northernmost tip of Wisconsin and visit Madeline Island, the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands. The island’s boardwalk provides a guided walk along Big Bay Beach, allowing you to enjoy the sound of the waves while taking in the spectacular view of Lake Superior through the towering trees. With two miles of sand beach, swimming and fishing, this park is both secluded and free, everything a vacation should be.
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Try stand-up paddle boarding, a popular activity that combines surfing and paddling. Paddleboards, canoes and kayaks are available at several nearby Madeline Island rental companies. Enjoy a beer and a sunset at the casual and eclectic Tom’s Burned Down Café. This local bar was once damaged in a fire and instead of re-building, they covered the building with a tent and now allow patrons to leave permanent marks by writing on the ruins’ walls.
Not a fan of sand in your shoes? Then Schoolhouse Beach is for you. Here, kids make stone castles instead of sandcastles by using individual limestone pebbles polished smooth by Lake Michigan’s waves. Not far from shore, the water deepens fairly quickly for great diving, rafting and snorkeling, and excellent swimming is offered in a marked area. The limestone rocks are beautiful but be sure to leave them there for the next visitors to enjoy. The town park and beautiful wooded setting are perfect for picnics and cookouts.
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The Door County Peninsula is surrounded by numerous historic shipwrecks, including wooden schooners and steamers that sank in the mid-1800s. Depths of the ships range from as little as 10 feet to 225 feet. Shoreline Scenic Cruises offers guided cruises exploring these shipwrecks and more.
Kohler-Andrae State Park is the home of majestic sand dunes, miles of golden beach, and the shimmering blue Lake Michigan water. This beach has the largest dune complex along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan coastline and the unique wetlands within it provide habitat for many rare plants, some of which are only found on Great Lakes shorelines. More than 150 bird species have been spotted within the park, including many species of waterfowl and shorebirds and more than 20 species of warblers.
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Shop and explore downtown Sheboygan. Field to Fork Café serves breakfast and lunch favorites made with wholesome, natural ingredients from local farmers. Swing by the grocery section and buy fixings for lunch (picnic anyone?). Be sure to also take some time and explore the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. The center has 10 galleries, a theater, studio classrooms and more.
Point Beach State Forest is a family-friendly Lake Michigan beach offering several hundred yards of beautiful sand beach, biking and walking trails and picnic areas. Concessions are available at the beach house during the summer months. Bring the bicycles to this beach and ride the Rawley Point Recreational Trail – you can ride six miles to the Rawley Point Lighthouse at Point Beach State Forest or connect with the Mariners Trail in Two Rivers and ride to Manitowoc.
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Visit the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. With 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns, the collection is one of the premier wood type collections in the world. In addition to wood type, the museum, which is often visited by current artists, typographers and designers from across the country, is home to an amazing array of advertising cuts from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Fair warning: this beach gets busy in summer, but for good reason. This urban beach is the perfect place for L.A. dreamers of all ages to catch beach vibes in the Midwest. The active sports scene (including sand volleyball and sand soccer leagues), cocktail bar and Lake Michigan views keep the atmosphere at Bradford lively and refreshing. A new, state-of-the-art ramp from street to lakefront has made Bradford one of the most accessible beaches in the country. Pro tip: head there early to score free parking nearby and snag a prime spot for the day.
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Order tropical cocktails and food at The Dock and cheer on beach volleyball leagues as they compete (or play a game yourself). Just across the street is Lake Park, a serene escape from Bradford’s energy. Hike the historic park paths to find the North Point Lighthouse, Milwaukee’s last Native American burial mound and the picturesque Lake Park waterfall (best viewed after it rains).