48 Hours to Explore Manitowoc and Two Rivers

These next door neighbors are clearly trail-happy. Manitowoc and Two Rivers are connected at the hip by the seven-mile Mariners Trail that parallels the Lake Michigan shoreline they share. But that’s just the start. There are miles upon miles of other bike and hiking trails, a shipwreck trail, even a trail of art gems you’d never expect to find, which makes the area slogan “coast for a while” a very inviting proposition indeed.

Friday

Pull in to Two Rivers, nicknamed the “cool city” for the welcome breezes that come from Lake Michigan, and set up camp at Point Beach State Forest. There are 3,000 acres here, so finding room to spread out is never a problem, and all the sites are within walking distance of the lake. Stroll the six miles of sandy shoreline or hike a five-mile stretch of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Take your first of many Instagram photos at the Rawley Point Lighthouse, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and one of the brightest on the Great Lakes. Then it’s off to Manitowoc for dinner at the Courthouse Pub. While this bistro does have a Wine Spectator-awarded wine list, there are also plenty of microbrews on the menu. Try the fresh Lake Michigan whitefish, caught locally by Susie Q’s Fish Market, and for dessert, ice cream made at local confectionary, Beernsten’s.

Saturday

In the morning, bike into downtown Two Rivers for an espresso and muffin at the Red Bank Coffeehouse, which overlooks Central Park. Do a little shopping in the adjacent Schroeder’s Department Store, one of the oldest independent department stores in the country. The creaking wood floors in the footwear department add charm as you try on favorite athletic and fashion brands you’d expect to find in the big city.

Devote the rest of Saturday morning to watery pursuits. The Manitowoc/Two Rivers area is home to 37 known shipwrecks, and you can dive down to see them for yourself with Shipwreck Adventures, now sporting a new 28-foot vessel dubbed Double Trouble.

If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, pay a visit to Rogers Street Fishing Village in Two Rivers to tour historic displays and artifacts from the most famous shipwrecks. Visit the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse where the cupola rises 52 feet above lake level, and finish up at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in downtown Manitowoc.

Time to quaff a German draft beer at Kurtz’s Pub, a classic tavern in Two Rivers. Or if you’re a BBQ devotee, take a seat at Brian’s Smokehouse and BBQ in Manitowoc serving authentic southern-style ribs and brisket, and buy a bottle of your favorite sauce for your next grill-out.

Call this next leg of your visit the art trail, marked by a handful of wonderful insider finds. The Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc now has the complete Paris Le Cirque collection by Marc Chagall on display. It took more than 30 years to complete the acquisition. The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers has one of the world’s most complete collections of wood type at 1.5 million pieces. and offers workshops on letterpress and bookmaking. Or stop by the Martin Pottery Studio, also in Manitowoc, filled with creations straight from the potter’s wheel.

The restaurant al Corso may be a few minutes outside of town, but it’s entirely worth the drive. Located in a renovated 1800s-era tavern, this intimate dining spot serves exceptional contemporary American cuisine, making it a real find for foodies.

Sunday

Grab a bite to eat at the classic diner Warrens Restaurant in Manitowoc where the breakfast offerings are cooked fresh to order and you get a real flavor of the community. 
Saving what may arguably be the best for last, time to bike to your heart’s content. Set out on the Rawley Point Trail connecting Point Beach State Forest to the Mariners Trail via a five-mile path through pine and hemlock. The Mariners Trail adds another seven miles one way and provides the longest stretch of unobstructed views of the lake in the state. Enjoy the 50 flower gardens bordering the paved path, each with a different theme and all maintained by volunteers, plus the sprinkling of permanent sculptures.

If time allows, take one last leisurely hike, either at Woodland Dunes Nature Center or the splendid West of the Lake Gardens. Then pack up the car for the ride home, but not before stopping at the Historic Washington House in Two Rivers for an ice cream sundae – it’s where the sweet treat was invented.

For more 48-hour fun, check our our weekend guides to Bayfield and Madison