After finally finishing my chores for the weekend, I have the windows open, listening to the rain and looking at some pictures from the Wisconsin trip the D-Man and I took earlier this year.
I love the reactions I get when I tell people where I went for vacation.
“ I went to Wisconsin.” This is typically followed by silence or a comment like, “Why?” I guess when you live in SoCal, Wisconsin isn’t a top vacation spot, but I don’t really understand why not.
I have talked a lot over the years about how great Summerfest is, but there is more to Wisconsin. On this last trip we had a fantastic time at the World’s Best Music festival. We saw Debbie Gibson after a thunder delay, caught a great local cover band called The Playlist and then a great show by Earth, Wind and Fire. But there is more to southern Wisconsin.
Here are three places to explore when the music isn’t playing:
Downtown Milwaukee continues to go through a transformation and every year we visit it gets better and better. The Milwaukee Bucks have their arena downtown and the area around Fiserv Forum is nicknamed the Deer District. There are fun bars, restaurants, and summer festivals even when it isn’t basketball season. If you feel like doing some roller skating, there is a Starbucks that has an outdoor roller rink in the summer and that turns into an ice rink in the winter. The Third Ward District, on your way to the Summerfest grounds, has more great places to eat, drink and hang and the Riverwalk is also a great way to see the whole downtown. If historic architecture is your thing, downtown Milwaukee is the place for you. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is not at all what you would expect it to be. In a historic office building, we had a room with high ceilings and windows that made it feel huge. if you are looking for some great bar food or a place to grab an after Summerfest drink, check out the Swingin Door Exchange across from the hotel. After Earth, Wind and Fire, we stopped in and found the place filled with friendly folks who invited us to join them in a game of “Shut The Box.” (It’s a Wisconsin thing, but Google it for the rules.)
But if you are looking for some small-town Wisconsin charm close to Milwaukee, head north to Cedarburg and Port Washington.
Historic downtown Cedarburg is just about 20 minutes from Milwaukee. If you are looking for quaint shops and scenic creek views, plan on spending an afternoon. We started our day at the PJ Piper Pancake House with German pancakes. Then it was off to the Cedar Creek Winery for some wine tasting. No, it is not Napa and if you are a wine snob, you might want to pass. But if you want a nice light summer wine to drink by the lake, try the Strawberry Blush. Although we didn’t make it this year, there is also the Crème and Crepe Café, if you saved any room for some lunch, right next to the winery. We always spend a portion of the day at Fiddleheads Coffee. The coffee is good, but the back porch area is the perfect chill spot, especially on a hot day.
From Cedarburg, make the 15-minute drive to Port Washington. With its touch of New England charm, the downtown is nestled on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan. Take a walk at the Coal Dock Park, which not surprisingly, was once the site of a coal dock. Or get a real feel for Lake Michigan and walk the breakwater to the lighthouse. The Harborview Hotel has been recently updated and features the Beacon restaurant where they have my personal Wisconsin favorite, Perch fish fry, daily. On a nice evening, you can sit outside and enjoy the water view. If you are looking for a little more adventurous menu, try the Twisted Willow. Great food and atmosphere.
If you are looking for a different vacation spot next summer, combining quant and urban, southern Wisconsin could be the place for you!