Wisconsin shopped local before it was cool.
The Badger State has long been a place to grab a local brew, snack on fresh produce and celebrate its heritage. Whether looking for the excitement of Milwaukee’s top-quality museums or the winding country roads of Door County, groups can experience the state’s authentic identity at stop after stop. No matter the time they visit, groups will find festivals, top-quality cuisine and welcoming locals.
From pristine farmland to motorcycle mania, groups can find a rich cultural experience in Wisconsin.
People may expect motorcycles and beer in Milwaukee, but few new visitors are prepared for the city’s waterfront vistas.
“Most people are really surprised when they see Lake Michigan because it is like an ocean,” said Claire Koenig, communications manager for Visit Milwaukee. “We have beaches, green spaces and endless water. The views are stunning.”
The compact city allows groups to wander through the city’s downtown and major attractions with ease. Milwaukee stays connected to its roots with restored architecture, cultural festivals and a booming local culinary scene.
“We have hundreds of ethnic restaurants that are the essence of the diverse cultures in Milwaukee,” said Koenig. “We recently opened our first Syrian restaurant, which is run by refugees.”
Groups can also experience Milwaukee’s culinary heritage at the Milwaukee Public Market. About 20 vendors sell artisan foods, chocolates, seafood and more. An accessible and accommodating group stop, the public market became one of the city’s most popular attractions long before the food hall trend arrived in other cities.
The church steeples dotting the city’s skyline also reveal Milwaukee’s past as a hub for immigrating European immigrants. The immigrants brought their faith with them, which led to a boom in church construction.
Groups can discover why Milwaukee is known as the City of Steeples through historic church tours. The Basilica of St. Josaphat is an ornate example of a church built by the immigrants in the early 1900s.
The city also has several high-quality museums. The Milwaukee Art Museum contains 25,000 works of art, making it one of the largest art museums in the country. The building itself serves as a fascinating piece of art, since the design resembles wings that not only look impressive but also mechanically move to open, flap and close at set times throughout the day.
The Harley-Davidson Museum honors Milwaukee’s production of the famous motorcycles. Visitors who don’t enjoy motorcycles often love the museum because of its focus on history and pop culture. Groups can learn about the use of these motorcycles in various wars, biker clubs and iconic films.
For youth groups, Discovery World engages kids’ attention while teaching them science and technology. All ages enjoy the museum’s full-size schooner that explores Lake Michigan on educational or pleasure sailings.
Fresh cherries and lighthouses dotting the shores of Lake Michigan keep guests returning to Door County. Two hours north of Milwaukee, the region known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest charms visitors with its rich history and 300 miles of stunning shoreline.
Groups that time their visit to late July can pick ripe and juicy fruit from some of the county’s 2,000 acres of cherry orchards. Guided orchard tours and markets ensure tasty stops for groups.
Tours often venture onto Lake Michigan aboard scenic boat cruises that provide educational narration, various entertainment and views of the region’s bluffs, islands and beaches. A fish boil infuses maritime history into the experience. Groups can watch the fiery fish boil before the dinner of whitefish, potatoes and onions is served.
Small towns like Egg Harbor, Sturgeon Bay and Ephraim are full of personality and offer specialized shopping opportunities. Some businesses, such as the Door Artisan Cheese Company in Egg Harbor, arrange behind-the-scenes tours. Visitors can watch a master cheesemaker demonstrate his craft, then walk through the cheese-aging caves that naturally preserve the cheese. At the site’s Cave Market, groups can shop for specialty food items and artisan cheese made around the world.
For a closer look at one of the many scenic lighthouses in Door County, groups can explore the Cana Island Lighthouse. The structure celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019 and plans to soon open a new welcome center with exhibit space and a gift shop.
Less than an hour southwest, groups can root for the Packers in Green Bay. And the city offers more than sports with the Oneida Nation Museum’s displays on Native American pottery and beadwork.
The National Railroad Museum showcases the world’s largest steam locomotive. Other attractions include the Automobile Gallery, the Green Bay Botanical Gardens and Oneida Casino.
It’s difficult to be bored in Wisconsin Dells: The central Wisconsin city offers activities for youth groups, senior groups and every age in between.
“Wisconsin Dells is the perfect combination of natural and man-made attractions,” said Leah Hauck, communications manager for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau. “Visitors originally came to Wisconsin Dells 150 years ago to see the bluffs and get on the river. Since then it has evolved.”
Nature lovers still flock to the area and can choose from several scenic boat tours along the Wisconsin River. Sunset cruises offer a relaxing way to see the views accompanied by dinner and live music.
Younger groups will love the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World, with dozens of water parks, roller coasters and other attractions suitable for families. Deer Park Wisconsin appeals to all ages with 28 acres featuring deer, elk, buffalo and other animals. Over 100 tame deer walk right up to guests and beg for treats in an up-close encounter.
Wisconsin Dells also welcomes many adult groups, since about 40% of visitors come to Wisconsin Dells without children.
“We have a lot of attractions that really accommodate groups,” said Hauck. “We are fit to host large groups of people with bus parking, guided tours and a compact area of attractions. A lot of our restaurants accommodate groups with large dining tables where they can feed people en mass.”
One new attraction that draws adult groups is the New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm. An hourlong presentation discusses the area’s suitability for growing cherries and lavender while visitors ride in a wagon through the farm’s 40 acres. Tours also include the five-acre wildflower sanctuary, the garden and a sample of the farm’s signature lavender cherry pie.
The International Crane Foundation also plans to add a new reason to visit the area with an upcoming $10 million renovation and expansion of its headquarters. The updates will expand exhibits and interactive areas where people can watch the giant cranes in their natural habitats.
A one-hour drive south leads travelers to Madison, the state capital. Visitors enjoy looking up at the Wisconsin State Capitol’s beautiful mosaics and towering marble columns on a guided tour of the building.
Other Madison favorites include the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, the National Mustard Museum and Betty Lou Cruises.
With water so pristine that kayakers can see the color of the pebbles below, Lake Superior offers guests an untouched wilderness to discover. Many groups enjoy the lake’s gorgeous panoramas in Bayfield County. This northern corner of Wisconsin boast art havens, outdoor recreation and spectacular scenery.
Bayfield County serves as an access point for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and its 21 islands full of rock formations and eye-catching sea caves.
Guided kayaking tours weave through some of the park’s highlights; tours can last a day or guests can choose an overnight camping adventure. Winter draws guests curious to explore the sea caves covered with ice. Summer visitors can kayak inside the caves to admire the formations up close.
For laid-back tours, groups can book the Apostle Islands Cruises. The glass-bottom-boat tour passes by lighthouses and shipwrecks on Lake Superior.
Groups can hop on the Madeline Island Ferry Line for a three-mile trip to Madeline Island. Shoppers can wander into local gems like Madeline Island Candles, the Bell Street Gallery and the Woods Hall Craft Shop.
Another popular island is Stockton Island. Walking on this beach produces a squeaking sound, creating the nickname “singing sands.”
Back on the mainland, Bayfield is home to several art shops, including Eckels Pottery and Stone’s Throw for jewelry and home decor. Big Top Chautauqua hosts musical performances inside a circus tent for a memorable evening performance.
The Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in neighboring Ashland County introduces guests to the outdoors offerings of the region with exhibits, events and information.
Travelers seeking even more natural beauty can head to the northwestern tip of Wisconsin in Douglas County. The town of Superior in this county offers attractions such as the Bong Veterans Historical Center, which tells the story of a local farm boy who became a war hero during World War II. Groups can also tour the historic Fairlawn Mansion and the SS Meteor Whaleship Museum.
Many visitors come for the thundering waterfalls at nearby Pattison State Park. The Big Mantiou Falls stands 165 feet high, making it the tallest waterfall in the state. The surrounding park encompasses 1,400 acres of hiking and outdoor recreation.
More waterfalls serve as photo backdrops at Amnicon Falls State Park. Groups can view these delightful falls from a covered footbridge or trails along the river.