14 Must-Visit Harbor Towns in Wisconsin
Dotted along 1,100 miles of scenic coastline, Wisconsin's harbor towns offer seaside vibes perfect for enjoying with friends and family. From lively cities to charming fishing villages, there’s a lot of variety in Wisconsin’s coastal towns and a lot for you and your crew to discover. Here’s a tour of some of the state's picturesque harbors along the Lake Michigan shore.
Kenosha and Racine
Located along the shores of Lake Michigan, these neighboring towns blend quaint rural heartland with lakefront city.
You and your group can enjoy the water by renting a kayak, stand up paddleboard or even a duck-shaped pedal boat from the Kenosha Community Sailing Center. Dogs can come too!
For some unexpected fun, take the kids to see 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. The museum’s art gallery also showcases an extensive collection of works by Renoir, Dali, Picasso and Chagall in addition to special exhibits.
Keep the artsy adventures going at the Racine Art Museum a must-see for 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 that offers free tours.
And be sure to stop in for some delicious Kringle from O&H Danish Bakery in all kinds of flavors from apple almond to chocolate coconut.
Between Milwaukee’s scenic lakefront and lively downtown, the city provides an array of options for a fun-filled weekend. 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 Miller High Life Theater joins the Pabst Theatre, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Repertory Theatre among the city’s great venues.
The culinary scene in Milwaukee is next level delicious. Home to a wide variety of dining options, its expansive list of restaurants offers everything from Italian and Thai to German and Hungarian cuisine. Sample as many spots as possible within the Milwaukee Public Market that brings together over 20 tasty food vendors under one roof.
Another must-visit is the Milwaukee Art Museum, home to the fourth largest collection of Georgia O’Keefe’s work in the U.S. and the only gallery of her work 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 luxurious accommodations at The Pfister Hotel. 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.
Port Washington and Sheboygan
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 the Port Washington coast.
Visit in July to celebrate 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 offers sandy beaches and surfing spots that have earned it the nickname “The Malibu of the Midwest.” Sheboygan County has also been 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 PGA Championships and is sure to take your breath away.
Sheboygan County also offers world-class road racing at Elkhart Lake’s Road America and the stunning John Michael Kohler Art Center. And be sure to stroll downtown to discover blocks of unique shops, tasty restaurants and much more.
Manitowoc and Two Rivers
Dubbed Wisconsin’s “Maritime Capital,” Manitowoc celebrates its 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 also the hub for the S.S. Badger, which offers daily cruises between the maritime capital and Ludington, Michigan.
While in town, treat yourself at Cedar Crest Ice Cream Parlor that offers everything from cones and malts to ice cream sodas and floats. Dig into the deliciousness and be sure to get photo in front of “The Big Cow” statue outside.
But your harbor tour doesn’t stop there. The home of an extensive commercial and charter fishing fleet, Two Rivers also boasts seven-plus miles of sandy beaches, perfect for swimming, kayaking, jet skiing or just relaxing with your favorite people. This area is also part of the Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, one of just 15 in the U.S. Divers come from around the world to explore the 36 known shipwrecks dating back to 1830.
Dig into more of the area’s rich history at The Great Lakes Coast Guard Museum in the Rogers Street Fishing Village that has many 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.
Top your trip off with a visit to the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, the Historic Washington House, a classic 1850s saloon, hotel and museum that’s still serving up delicious scoops.
Algoma and Kewaunee
Strolling along the historic downtown streets of Algoma, you and your crew can browse a variety of shops and locally owned restaurants. While in the area, stop in at the von Stiehl Winery—the oldest in the state! Housed in an 1850s building that was originally the Ahnapee Brewery, this is the perfect place to unwind with friends as you sip delicious wine and enjoy a view of the Algoma harbor.
For even more ways to enjoy the area’s scenic beauty, follow the Ahnapee State Trail. Once an abandoned railway line, the picturesque path takes hikers, bikers and snowmobilers on a winding journey, following the Ahnapee River. Ideal 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.
To the south, the town of Kewaunee offers sandy beaches and a scenic lighthouse best seen from Harbor Park. You can also 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.
Looking to get out on the water? Local fishing charters can help! 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 and Sturgeon Bay
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 city 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 must.
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 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!