Woods and water are two of the many reasons Wisconsin has become the Midwest's vacation playground, and nowhere is the water more celebrated, cherished and enjoyed than in the state's Harbor Towns along Lake Michigan.
Dotted along 1,100 miles of scenic coastline, Wisconsin's harbor towns have been welcoming visitors to their shores for more than 150 years. From sophisticated cities to quaint fishing villages, there’s a lot of variety in Wisconsin’s coast towns and a lot to discover. To get you started, here’s an online tour of some of the state's harbors along the Lake Michigan shore.
Located along the shores of Lake Michigan, these neighbors blend quaint rural heartland with lakefront city.
Start your Kenosha adventure with a trip to Jelly Belly Center in the village of Pleasant Prairie. Take a free tour and discover the sweet secrets of this candy factory aboard the Jelly Belly Express, then belly up to the sample bar to try any of 100 flavors.
Interested in seeing some real mammoth bones? Home to the Schaefer Mammoth, the Kenosha Public Museum displays the actual bones of this prehistoric creature excavated in Kenosha County. If prehistoric creatures aren’t your thing, the museum’s art gallery showcases an extensive collection of works by Renoir, Dali, Picasso and Chagall in addition to special exhibits.
Sticking with the museum motif, the Racine Art Museum is a must-see, both for the artworks and the building itself, which has won numerous architectural awards. Housing one of North America’s most significant collections of contemporary crafts, the museum’s focus on ceramics, fibers, glass, metals and wood from internationally recognized artists is complimented by 1930s art from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.
Racine is also home to several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations, notably the S.C. Johnson headquarters.
No trip to Racine would be complete without a visit to Bendtsen's Bakery to sample this Wisconsin delicacy.
Recent developments along the city's lakefront and downtown area provide an array of options for a fun-filled weekend in Wisconsin's biggest city. Whether it's a family trip, a romantic getaway or just an escape from the daily grind, Milwaukee's got you covered.
From live theater and ballet to opera and symphonic performances, there are countless venues to experience some of the finest performing arts the state has to offer. The refurbished Milwaukee Theatre joins the Pabst Theatre, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Repertory Theatre among the city’s top venues.
One thing you won’t run out of in Milwaukee is places to eat. Home to a smorgasbord of dining options, its expansive list of restaurants offers everything from Italian and Thai to German and Hungarian cuisine.
But the city offers more than just food and live performances. Highlighted by the stunning Calatrava addition, the Milwaukee Art Museum is the fourth largest repository for Georgia O’Keefe’s work in the U.S. hosting the only gallery east of New Mexico.
And if your day trip turns into an overnight stay, check in at one of the city’s downtown locations.
Enjoy Old World hospitality and luxurious accommodations at The Pfister Hotel. Named one of the "World’s Best Places to Stay" by Conde Nast Traveler, the Victorian hotel offers elegant rooms with outstanding views of downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.
If you’re looking for something a little funkier, make Hotel Metro your overnight destination. Style and elegance conspire to create a mood full of charm and character in the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown.
Built on the shoreline 30 miles north of Milwaukee, Port Washington blends New England charm with Midwestern friendliness. This picturesque city, which boasts the first man-made harbor in North America, has much to offer visitors, including self-guided walking tours past the many historic buildings and along the marina. Part of the Wisconsin Maritime Heritage Trail, the city’s harbor walk features exhibits commemorating shipwrecks off of the Port Washington coast. Every summer in July, Port Washington becomes home to the “World’s Largest One-Day Outdoor Fish Fry.” The festival includes a parade, live music, a carnival and fireworks.
Located halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay, Sheboygan boasts the Harbor Centre Marina, a 281-slip gem that has been called “the finest marina on the western shore of Lake Michigan.” As if that weren’t enough, Sheboygan County is ranked as one of the best golf destinations in the country by Golf Digest. Home to the Kohler Company’s spectacular golf courses Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, it has hosted the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2004 & 2010 PGA Championships and is the future site of the 2015 PGA Championship, as well as the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Sheboygan County also offers world-class road racing at Elkhart Lake’s Road America, exciting water sports activities and the John Michael Kohler Art Center. For those who love to shop, the area offers Fish Shanty Village, Harbor Centre Downtown, a wide variety of antique shops and much more.
Manitowoc and Two Rivers
Dubbed Wisconsin’s “Maritime Capital,” Manitowoc celebrates its illustrious past and present as a shipbuilding hub with displays of nautical treasures ranging from wooden sailing ships to the U.S.S. COBIA, a World War II submarine, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
Manitowoc is the hub for the S.S. Badger, which offers daily cruises between the maritime capital and Ludington, Michigan.
No visit to Manitowoc is complete without a stop by Cedar Crest Specialties, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor offering everything from cones and malts to ice cream sodas and floats. Don’t forget your camera; a photo in front of “The Big Cow” is a great keepsake.
But your harbor tour doesn’t stop there. Renowned as a vibrant fishing and shipping hub, Two Rivers is a great destination for charter fishing and much more.
The home of an extensive commercial and charter fishing fleet, Two Rivers also boasts seven-plus miles of sandy beaches, which serve as a gathering place for sunbathers, swimmers, wind surfers, kayakers and jet skiers alike. Beyond the surf, numerous ship wrecks entice scuba divers from around the world.
The Great Lakes Coast Guard Museum in the Rogers Street Fishing Village has many wonderful marine artifacts on display, while the Hamilton Museum of Wood Type and Printing offers thousands of wood pieces in various fonts and sizes still used today.
Birthplace of the ice cream sundae, the Historic Washington House, a classic 1850s saloon, hotel and museum, is still serving them up today.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the majestic great lake, the quaint port towns of Kewaunee and Algoma invite visitors to enjoy life at a more leisurely pace.
Founded in 1851, Algoma has held on to its tradition of small town friendliness. Strolling along the historic downtown streets, visitors are greeted by cheerful Algoma store owners. Rich with a variety of shops, finding that perfect gift for someone or even yourself is easy in Algoma.
Along the way, visitors can stop in at the von Stiehl Winery. Founded by Dr. Charles Stiehl, it’s Wisconsin’s oldest winery. Housed in an 1850s building that was originally the Ahnapee Brewery, von Stiehl Winery has become respected in its pursuit of making some of the best wines, from robust Merlots to sweet late harvest Rieslings.
Once an abandoned railway line, the picturesque Ahnapee Trail takes hikers, bikers and snowmobilers on a winding journey, following the Ahnapee River. Perfect for a relaxing day with friends and family, the trail passes scenic landscapes of farmland, marshes and woods and even crosses an old-fashioned railway bridge.
Originally settled by the Potowatomi Indian Tribe more than 600 years ago, the friendly city of Kewaunee is rich with cultural heritage, natural beauty and a comfortable small-town environment.
Lake Michigan’s wide sandy beaches offer the perfect setting for a sunny summer stroll. Catch a glimpse of wildlife on the Marshlands Walk along the Kewaunee River or peer into the world of fish traveling upstream to spawn at the DNR’s Anadromous Fish Facility.
Visitor’s can also catch a glimpse of the beautiful 19th and 20th century architecture during a walking tour of the Marquette Historic District, trace the development of the charming town at the Kewaunee County Historical Society Historical Museum and experience life behind bars at the museum’s historical jail.
Kewaunee’s maritime heritage is embodied in the Tug Ludington. Constructed specifically for the WWII war effort, it participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, towing ammunition barges across the English Channel. Since then it has hauled more than 1 million tons of cargo and was instrumental in the construction of many harbors on the Great Lakes. Now, visitors can climb aboard and get an inside look at this venerable workhorse.
With the twitch of a line, the leisurely life in Kewaunee and Algoma can switch to an afternoon of excitement aboard one of the many fishing charters. Brown trout, chinook and coho salmon, and powerful steelhead challenge anglers of all skill levels, and are sure to provide a number of fish tales for years to come.
Door County has long been called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest."
With five state parks and 11 lighthouses framed by 300 miles of rugged shoreline, this 75-mile long peninsula combines pristine scenery and unsurpassed outdoor recreation with acclaimed performing arts, renowned galleries and shops and deluxe accommodations.
Door County offers visitors a wide variety of fishing, boating, sailing and kayaking opportunities, with many of the rustic lakeside villages boasting beautiful new marina developments as their centerpieces. The area also features an extensive system of biking and hiking trails, as well as excellent golf courses and more than 80 galleries and museums.
No trip to Door County would be complete without experiencing the fiery spectacle and delicate taste of one of the area’s fish boils, followed by a piece of Door County’s signature cherry pie. For another unforgettable experience, take the ferry across the “Death’s Door” passage to Washington Island or camp overnight on Rock Island State Park -- one of the state’s most remote locations.
The hub of Door County, Sturgeon Bay was once one of the major shipbuilding centers in North America. While visitors here can still see massive ore boats and yachts under construction, the town now also offers a charming downtown with the widest selection of specialty shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums and lodging accommodations in Door County. Numerous festivals, concerts and community events take place throughout the year, and for those with an interest in the area’s nautical history the newly expanded Door County Maritime Museum is a must-see.
Offering a great combination of sports and ports along with several cultural attractions, the Green Bay area is a popular destination along Wisconsin’s harbor town tour.
Professional sports get top billing in “Titletown,” where the NFL's Packers reign supreme. Fans and other curious visitors flock to the area during the summer for training camp from mid-July to mid-August, while the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame (located in storied Lambeau Field) is open year-round. The renovated stadium is even available for weddings.
Sports in Green Bay aren’t just for spectators though. Golfing, boating and hiking are all popular summer activities and salmon and walleye fishing opportunities abound along the lakeshore ports, which include nearby Algoma and Kewaunee.
As the oldest settlement in the Midwest, Green Bay offers many unique opportunities to explore days gone by. Visitors can stroll through more than 40 acres of historic buildings at Heritage Hill State Historical Park, ride the rails at the one-of-a-kind National Railroad Museum or explore Native American culture at the Oneida Nation Museum.
Green Bay offers plenty of activities for kids, as well, including the chance to get up close with animals of all species at the N.E.W. Zoo and Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary or get hands-on at the Children’s Museum of Green Bay.
Located along the Oconto River and waters of Green Bay, Oconto’s historical attractions and recreational opportunities highlight an excursion to this harbor town.
The harbor, with its 3,000 foot breakwater, boat launches, municipal and private mooring, docking facilities, picnic pavilion and restaurant, is a popular spot for fishermen, powered pleasure craft and sailing vessels.
History buffs will enjoy the Beyer Home Museum. Its copper culture artifacts, early settler and logging items, carriages and two electric cars provide a glimpse into the life of a well-to-do 1890s family.
The historic West Main Street, featuring 33 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, includes a self-guided walking tour of the era’s wealthy lumber mill owners’ homes and the country’s first Christian Science church.
Shipbuilding, great fishing, historical attractions and specialty shopping are just a couple of the things travelers will discover in Marinette.
Insight into Marinette’s history in the logging industry is on display at the Marinette County Historical Museum.
Anglers will find large- and small-mouth bass, walleye, sturgeon and steelhead along the shoreline while shoppers can enjoy a variety of specialty shops at Dunlap Square.
Heading out onto the water? Try these boat-up bars across Wisconsin!