By Shelby Deering | Photos courtesy Travel Wisconsin, unless otherwise noted
Wisconsin has a plethora of natural scenes to admire, from pine tree-dotted state parks to expansive grasslands. We even have a segment that looks and feels just like the ocean: the Lake Michigan coastline. Spanning 407 miles, the shore features crashing waves that flank stunning beaches, restaurants with unbeatable lakeside views and activities to soak it all up. This summer, head to these five locales that are right on the Lake Michigan coastline.
For a Lake Michigan experience filled with activities galore, look no further than Milwaukee. It all starts at Lakeshore State Park, the city’s love letter to Lake Michigan, with its beach, trails and marina. Linger for an afternoon at the Milwaukee Art Museum or head right down the way to the storied, and Instagrammable, Milwaukee Pierhead Light. To feel an even deeper connection to the water, take an introductory class at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. For farm-to-table eats and an open-air beer garden, don’t miss South Shore Terrace. Or get dressed up and make reservations at Harbor House, one of the best eateries in the city, featuring Maine lobster and clam chowder. Bradford Beach will satisfy your need for sun and fun, but if it’s shopping you’re after, look to the boutique-packed Historic Third Ward. Wind down at the oh-so-luxe The Knickerbocker on the Lake.
It’s the Lake Michigan coast with a major dose of charm. To see the best of Port Washington, go to South Beach Park or saunter through the city’s newest park, Coal Dock Park, with its picturesque promenade, pedestrian bridge and bird sanctuary. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, stop by Dockside Deli for a chicken salad BLT or veggie quesadilla or sip a craft cocktail at Twisted Willow. Shop downtown at Locally Inspired for Wisconsin maker-made wares or the cult-favorite Duluth Trading Company. For an unforgettable view of Port Washington’s harbor, stay overnight at the aptly named hotel, The Harborview.
Water is a big part of Racine’s history, and you can take it all in with a trip. For the best view in town, head to the Racine Overlook, the perfect place to spot ships as they enter and exit Reefpoint Marina. See the marina in all its nautical glory from Reefpoint Brew House and order a fish fry. Get your toes in the sand at North Beach, or go the landlubber route by taking a lakeside stroll through Samuel Myers Park. For a top destination that’s a stone’s throw from the water, tour the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed S.C. Johnson Wax Headquarters. Staying overnight? Continue your coastal excursion at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Racine Harbourwalk.
Famed for its Kohler-Andrae State Park that looks just like a Cape Cod postcard, Sheboygan holds other Lake Michigan treasures. The waters around this city aren’t calm, with a long history of shipwrecks that can be discovered at the nearby Wisconsin Maritime Museum, or you can see one for yourself: the Lottie Cooper Shipwreck viewed on dry land in Deland Park. Take a walk out to the bright-red Breakwater Lighthouse, then grab a bite at Stefano’s Slo Food Market, located a hop, skip and a jump from the shore and readied with Cubanos, pork tacos al pastor and more. Immerse yourself in Sheboygan surfing culture at EOS Surf & Outdoor. Top off your trip with a stay at the Blue Harbor Resort & Conference Center, complete with pristine views and an indoor waterpark.
Door County is a quintessential Wisconsin destination — and its proximity to Lake Michigan makes it a maritime must- see. Starting at the northern tip, head to Schoolhouse Beach Park via the Washington Island Ferry. It’s one of only five sand-less beaches in the world, where smooth pebbles and crystal-clear water beautify the scenery. On the island, Hotel Washington is its own gem, with bygone accommodations and a charming seasonal restaurant. Near Sturgeon Bay, explore the sandy surroundings of Whitefish Dunes State Park. Or take to the water through a kayak tour with Cave Point Paddle and Pedal. Eat local and take in lakeside views at Harbor Fish Market & Grille or Donny’s Glidden Lodge. After all that sun and surf, lay your head down at Blacksmith Inn on the Shore, or reserve the six-bedroom property The Lighthouse.