From Culture to Brewhops to Ice Caves, Five Wisconsin Winter Escapes

By Pat Dillon
Special to

Wisconsin gets high marks for winter getaways that are in the heart of snow-laden woodlands or central to cultural arts and culinary opportunities. Here’s a sampling of five itineraries to take the whole family or get away sans-kids.

Madison: Arts and Culture Tour

Art and culture are easily accessed through endless visual or performing arts events. Add the area’s artisan food culture and natural beauty, and enrichment tourism is complete.

The Concourse Hotel, a Madison institution with a fitness room and spa, plus a pool for the kids, is central to the arts hub.

The first Friday of the month is “Free Night Friday” at the WheelHouse Studio in the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union where the whole family can craft their own weekend souvenir at no charge. Look into indie and mainstream movie showings at UW Union South; they’re free. Check the schedule at the Overture Center for the Arts for theatrical and musical performances, including Children’s Theater of Madison. It also hosts free Saturday morning shows for kids. The center houses free art exhibits and is home to the James Watrous Gallery featuring Wisconsin art, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. At the west end of State Street, The Chazen Museum of Art is a world-class cultural hub.

Visit the Madison Children’s Museum for family fun, then take the crew to the Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant for the kind of food that put Wisconsin on the supper-clubbing map. Artisan farm-to-table menus of Graze, Harvest and Heritage are among locavores’ favorites. A stroll down Willy Street (Williamson Street), where boutique shopping is legendary, leads to more eclectic and locally-owned restaurants like Lazy Jane’s, known for scones, the Weary Traveler, or Jamerica and Ha Long Bay for ethnic fare.

Brew-hop Milwaukee’s Craft Beer Taprooms

Once famous for its beer barons, “Brew City” is now a go-to spot for craft and micro-brewing— more than 20 and counting! Brew-hop is the new bar-hop and downtown is a good anchor.

Book a room at the boutique Hotel Metro located near several breweries, some that serve food.

Two Milwaukee River-side breweries are Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and Lakefront Brewery that serves up a Fish Fry and a menu loaded with products from Wisconsin farmers. Nearby Milwaukee Brewing Company only serves their suds, but lets you reserve or walk-in for a tour.

From the Third Ward, grab a meal at the Milwaukee Public Market, tour and eat at the Milwaukee Ale House, or head south to Saint Francis Brewery or Milwaukee’s newest arrivals in the Menomonee Valley, Third Space Brewing and Urban Harvest Brewing.

Renew Spirits in Lake Geneva

The luxury of Lake Geneva goes uninterrupted when the temperature drops. Fireside lounges, spa services and year-round specialty shopping make it the perfect winter getaway.

Scores of hotels with spas populate the area. The Grand Geneva, Bella Vista Suites and, the ultra-modern, The Ridge Hotel, or the historic Baker House experience, all offer on-site spa services and lake views. Each mimics lifestyles of the social elite who once resided there. The T.C. Smith Historic Inn offers Greek revival and Italianate, Victorian era-luxury in a more intimate setting.

To book an off-site spa service, consider several day-spas nearby, such as Clearwater Salon and Day Spa, Jasmine Salon and scores of others open year round.

Once you're renewed, hit downtown shops for antiques at the Lake Geneva Antique Mall, a little Lily Pulitzer at Pier 290, or some snuggly lamb’s wool slippers from Overland Fine Sheepskin and Leather. But this just makes a ripple in Lake Geneva offerings.

Two Great Lakes Getaways

Bayfield and Door County offer Wisconsin’s big-lake, outdoor winter adventures. Bayfield, a charming burg tucked between Lake Superior and Northwoods’ stands of white birch and pine, is where winter-loving travelers head to explore needle-like ice formations making up the stunning Apostle Island ice caves. A drive along the shore allows for a glimpse of the sparkling shoreline and occasionally Lake Superior freezes enough to make them accessible to adventerous hikers.

Many come to ski nearby Mt. Ashwabay with its 317 ft. vertical drop and 12 runs, and some of the best Northwoods cross-country trails. If you stay at the Siskiwit Bay Lodge Bed & Breakfast, just three miles from the ice caves, you can snowshoe on-site (they provide the shoes) and then curl up to a fire in the lodge’s great room. Visit nearby Cornucopia shops and diners or take a drive to Bayfield and dine year round at the Good Thyme Restaurant or more casually at The Fat Radish.

Door County is another Great Lake-enhanced winter wonderland. With five state parks on the Lake Michigan and Green Bay waters, and 19 county parks, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails twist and traverse throughout the peninsula. Stay at the Thorp House, a compound of charming cottages in downtown Fish Creek featuring fireplaces and eat-in kitchens. It’s located just a few steps from the White Gull Inn that serves up the original Door County Fish Boil. The Whistling Swan and Restaurant is a charming Inn also located in downtown Fish Creek with a restaurant on-site featuring elegant, contemporary American cuisine.


Find even more wintertime getaways here.