Stroll sandy beaches or enjoy the sound of the waves crashing against the shore while exploring the beauty of historic coastal towns, right here in Wisconsin. Enjoy some fun in the sun while kayaking over the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan, bask in the sun on a sandy beach or set sail on a relaxing guided boat tour – whatever you choose, Wisconsin’s coastal towns have a memorable experience waiting for everyone.
Bailey’s Harbor – Door County
Enjoy plenty of opportunities to soak up the sun at Bailey’s Harbor. Located on the coast of Lake Michigan in Door County, Bailey’s Harbor is full of local restaurants and shops alongside breathtaking views of the shimmering lake. From beaches and fishing to sweeping views, Bailey’s Harbor will let you amp up your adventure or take a beat and relax – whatever you and your travel companion are up for.
Things to do: If you’re looking for a fun and memorable experience for the whole family, visit Lakeshore Adventures and climb aboard a clear-bottom kayak to take in the mysterious views of abandoned underwater ships on a shipwreck tour. Head north for a guided lighthouse tour on Cana Island and climb 97 steps to get a sweeping panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the Door County peninsula from the gallery deck. If you’re feeling brave, you can see Door County from a different perspective and take a 2,000-foot treetop canopy zipline tour over Moonlight Bay and Cana Island for a heart-stopping view of Wisconsin’s splendor.
Where to stay: After your day on the water, unwind and take in some local heritage with a hand-crafted beer at Door County Brewing Company, just a short walk from multiple inns and hotels right in the heart of Bailey’s Harbor. If you’re wanting a truly local and authentic experience, consider staying at Bailey’s Harbor Schoolhouse Inn. This historic inn is a renovated 1917 schoolhouse and is hosted by a fifth generation Bailey’s Harbor family who is sure to make your stay unforgettable.
For a more urban coastal experience, add Milwaukee to your list. As the largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee is full of history and character, and the Lake Michigan shoreline sets the stage for a variety of water activities ideal for the entire family.
Things to do: A hot spot on the Great Lakes’ “third coast,” Milwaukee has a massive variety of never-ending fun-in-the-sun activities, such as guided boat tours, freshwater surfing, jet skiing and even charter fishing. Bradford Beach, located a few miles north of the Third Ward, has plenty of space to lay out, relax and soak up some sun. After a full day on the water, steady your sea legs by exploring the city on foot. Take an evening stroll on the 3-mile Milwaukee Riverwalk – a path that runs through the heart of the city, or catch a romantic sunset view with your partner at Pere Marquette Park. And don’t forget to grab your leather jacket and get a coolamundo photo posing with Bronze Fonz – an epic bronze statue tribute to the Happy Days king of cool, Arthur Fonzarelli. No matter what you choose to do, the Milwaukee Riverwalk and surrounding areas offer a constant stream of fun for family and friends of all ages.
Where to stay: If you’re eager to extend your adventure and get back on the water as the sun rises, check out the Dubbel Dutch Hotel for a whimsical and traditional stay near the Lake Michigan waterfront. This 17-room boutique hotel is nestled in a renovated 1898 mansion where modern meets historic to tell the story of downtown Milwaukee. With views of the skyline to the south and glimpses of Lake Michigan to the east, Dubbel Dutch Hotel has a truly unique experience to offer – you can even bring along your four-legged friends!
If your ideal getaway is an island in the sun, Wisconsin has you covered! Enjoy a remote escape and hop on a quick ferry ride to Washington Island, where an adventure awaits just across brilliant blue waters from the tip of the Door County peninsula: a true little paradise island hidden among the Wisconsin wilderness. You’ll find a variety of local shops, nature preserves and even a limestone beach, where you can soak up some sun like a true island native.
Things to do: Schoolhouse Beach, a rare beach made of smooth limestone rocks, is a must-stop visit on Washington Island. You’ll only find five others like it throughout the world! Complete with marked areas to take a swim, with a diving raft and a charming picnic area along the shore, Schoolhouse Beach is a picture-perfect place to spend an afternoon. Dive even deeper into the awe-inspiring natural beauty and catch another ferry over to Rock Island State Park – a smaller island northeast of Washington Island. While you’re there, be sure to make the quick 1.25-mile hike to the Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Wisconsin’s first lighthouse, on the north side of the island. Leave your car behind, though; this island is vehicle-free.
Where to stay: From historic cottages and hotels to rustic campgrounds, Washington Island has plenty of options for lodging to match any vibe. If you’re looking to stay right on the beach, Sunset Resort is located within steps of the cool Green Bay waters and has rooms with views of the lake, making for the perfect opportunity to watch a relaxing sunset with your favorite vacation beverage in hand.
Just 55 miles north of Milwaukee lies the “Malibu of the Midwest”: Sheboygan. Located right on the shore of Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, known to many as the freshwater surf capital of the world, is the perfect place to hang loose. Whether you’re looking for a sandy beach to kick back and relax, a historic B&B with a luxurious spa or the perfect shore to elevate your golf game, Sheboygan has a little something to offer everyone.
Things to do: Get out on the water and enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan with a guided sailboat tour, or rent a surfboard and try your hand at catching some waves. After your beach adventure, head on over to Deland Park for a tour of the Lottie Cooper – a three-masted schooner that capsized in 1894 off the Sheboygan Harbor. Enjoy this recovered and restored up-close vision of a once vibrant ship – a truly authentic piece of Sheboygan history.
Where to stay: Book a stay at Blue Harbor Resort if you’re ready to get back out on the water to catch a wave. More than just a lakefront resort, Blue Harbor is home to Breaker Bay Waterpark: a complete adventure for all ages that includes a riptide pool, a hot tub, water basketball, tube slides and more. Stop by the patio to sip a signature cocktail and escape into a romantic lakeside sunset with your partner. Whether enjoying a family outing or a dreamy romantic escape, visiting Sheboygan is sure to be unforgettable.
Located just 30 miles south of Milwaukee and 60 miles north of Chicago, Racine is a whimsical destination for a long weekend getaway from the city. Racine has a variety of activities to get out on the water, so pack your swimsuits and head out to North Beach or put your angler skills to the test in Lake Michigan. In the water or relaxing on the coast, Racine has a wide variety of notable activities to offer.
Things to do: To no surprise, North Beach was voted one of the top five freshwater beaches by USA Today and was dubbed one of the top 10 family-friendly beaches by Parents magazine. Located just a few blocks from downtown Racine and spanning nearly 50 acres, North Beach makes you feel like you’re on a tropical island from the moment you step foot on the sand. Go for a swim, play a few rounds of sand volleyball, build an epic sandcastle; no matter what you choose, you’re bound for a relaxing afternoon lounging under a palm tree on the North Beach shores. Longing for a family fun jungle adventure in the sun? Swing by Racine Zoo to see over 100 different species of animals, including 50 endangered species. Don’t forget to pack a bag of your family’s favorite snacks and enjoy one of the zoo’s picnic areas to refuel.
Where to stay: If you’re looking to stay for at least a week, get a historic bed and breakfast experience and reserve one of the four rooms at the Christmas House, located not far from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The Christmas House, built in 1893, has been restored and refurnished to meet modern-day conveniences with a flair of antique décor.
Looking to learn more about Wisconsin’s fresh coast? Check out this guide to Wisconsin’s harbor towns.