regional stops for antiques, lighthouses, wineries, and more
Door County, WI
Door County has something for everyone. Relax at the beach, take a boat ride, or watch the sunset on Lake Michigan, or peruse the shops in Ephraim, Sister Bay, Egg Harbor, or Fish Creek. Head to the Saturday morning farmers market in Sturgeon Bay, take a lighthouse tour, or if you’re feeling rustic, take the ferry to Washington Island for an afternoon of hiking and outdoor adventure. For dinner, enjoy Scandinavian fare at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay (be sure to admire the goats grazing on the grass roof) or Pelletier’s famous fish boil in Fish Creek. Stay at a charming bed and breakfast or rough it at one of the county’s many campground options.
Visit Bayfield, a quaint community on the shores of Lake Superior that offers both adventure and relaxation. Take a kayak trip out to water-sculpted caves or hang back on shore and enjoy an afternoon of exploring museums, orchards, and berry farms. Apostle Island Book Sellers, the quintessential indie bookshop has the best selection of local and regional authors and from the window at Big Water Coffee Roasters there’s some awesome people watching. Bayfield is the official portal to the Apostle Islands and you can catch a boat to the more remote Islands and/or the ferry (car, passenger or bike!!) over to Madeline Island. In the evening, take in a show at Big Top Chautauqua, a famous music venue that seats 800 beneath a big top blue canvas tent.
Just outside Door County, Manitowoc is a destination all its own. Visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, the largest on the Great Lakes, to explore a genuine WWII-era submarine. There are also plenty of music and theatre venues, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and miles of beautiful Lake Michigan lakefront. Hungry? Eat dessert first: Stop in to Beernstein’s Confectionary for a homemade, hand-dipped chocolate (or two). Then jaunt up the road to Two Rivers for the best sub sandwich of your life at Fatso’s Subs.
Mackinac Island, U.P.
Enjoy a ferry ride out to the island, then grab some fudge, go for a hike, or watch a historic War of 1812 re-enactment. Visit the swanky Grand Hotel, take an island tour, or explore a lighthouse – Mackinac has plenty to fill a weekend with.
Two Harbors, MN
Fans of lighthouses, B&Bs, and scenic lakefront activities need look no further than the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Beaver Bay has the infamous Split Rock Lighthouse (allegedly among the most photographed in the nation) and a state park. The nearby Tettegouche State Park has amazing hikes with waterfalls and wildlife, and the City of Two Harbors in the place to stop for a historical lakefront corridor and shopping. But the definite stop is Gooseberry Falls State Park, where there’s tons of great little waterfalls to explore, trails, a visitors center, and nature store that the whole family can enjoy.
There’s something for everyone in Stillwater. Right on the banks of the St. Croix River, Stillwater offers outdoor adventures like canoeing, kayaking, and even hot air ballooning. If you’re after a calmer getaway, visit a few of the 70-plus boutiques on Main Street, go for a historic trolley ride, or visit the local Saint Croix Vineyards or Northern Vineyards Winery on the St. Croix Valley Wine Trail. Just an hour and a half from Eau Claire, Stillwater makes for a quaint afternoon getaway.
The Brainerd Lakes area is chock-full of things to do on the weekend and perfect for families. With 465 lakes in the Brainerd area, it is almost impossible to avoid doing something water-centric – but if you do want to stay on dry land, be sure to visit Paul Bunyan Land, an amusement park featuring a 26-foot tall talking Paul Bunyan. Go fishing – there’s even a guided fishing tour option - or spend a lazy afternoon at one of the area’s many public beaches. You can even go scuba diving and snorkeling! When the sun goes down, head to Crosslake Town Square to enjoy live music in the park on Saturday evenings.
Make it a maritime tour in Duluth with a visit to the S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, and the Great Lakes Aquarium. Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, Duluth has a cozy college-town feel with plenty of adventures to be had.
Twin Cities, MN
It’s hard to avoid water in the Twin Cities when the Mississippi River runs through ‘em and about 20 lakes surround ‘em. For a touch of nature in the city, visit the Mississippi River Gorge for miles of desolate beaches – a secret getaway from the bustle of the city. Take a walk or bike ride around beautiful Lake Harriet in southwest Minneapolis (be sure to bring your kids – or the kid in you – to the tiny and adorable Elf House, nestled in the base of a tree just past South Oliver Avenue), or rent a bike at Minnehaha Park and take a leisurely ride past Minnehaha Falls.