Just north of Chicago is a gem of a tourism destination: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. That’s Lake Geneva, as in the city, with Geneva Lake, the recreation centerpiece, right in the city center. Now, why a gem? Because it looks and feels like one of those storied resort communities on the east coast, with comparisons regularly drawn to Newport, Rhode Island, for its prime shoreline and magnificent mansions, yet it’s only a two-hour drive from Chicago. Honestly, no air fare required to feel like you’ve just landed in a city by the sea.
Lots of people from Illinois first gaze upon Lake Geneva in all its glory during their twenty-something years, and even when couples become newlyweds and then parents the getaway tradition continues.
“Our repeat customer is someone who falls in love with the community and keeps finding ways to continue the love affair with Lake Geneva, and that’s especially true for families,” says Stephanie Klett, executive director of the Lake Geneva visitor bureau. “There’s a special bond there that we never take for granted.”
Getting back to that Newport resemblance, Lake Geneva is famous for the mansions that circle the lake, built by families whose names should be familiar — Wrigley, Schwinn, and Maytag, to namedrop a few. The mansions date back to the mid-1800s and to say they are remarkable works of architecture is understating it. Now consider the 21-mile shore path that allows visitors to walk the yards, some front, some back, of these estates, and you too can dream a little dream of being rich and famous.
While the grandeur of these “summer cottages” may be lost on the youngest ones, the walk is refreshing and the reward to follow is time at the beach — make that beaches — with sandy shores in Lake Geneva and neighboring villages of Fontana and Williams Bay all open to the public. The fee for a day at the beach is mere dollars, so take that, rich and famous. Here’s a photo tip: Pose the family in front of the fountain outside the Riviera Park building — the fountain is a replica of the New York City “Angel of the Waters” fountain.
If water is the only ingredient necessary for a successful family getaway, then consider staying at Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark or any of the lakeside resorts including The Geneva Inn, The Cove of Lake Geneva, and Harbor Shores.
Of course, it’s understandable the visitor bureau would also want to put in a good word for family attractions that are more land than water, such as the conservation-focused Safari Lake Geneva and the Dan Patch Stables for trail rides. For something that puts the family closer to the sky, they suggest checking out Lake Geneva Canopy Tours or Aerial Adventures. Note, children must weigh at least 70 pounds to zip.
As if all that’s not magical enough, the family can take in a performance at the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre, where master illusionist Tristan Crist manages to mesmerize kids with large illusions, enough to keep them off their cell phones.
Toy Store Find: Allison Wonderland, with classic toys, games, and puzzles
Time Your Visit: Every Thursday evening June 13 to Aug. 8 are free “Concerts in the Park” at Flat Iron Park. There are food trucks to keep kiddos content during the performances. You could also make the Venetian Festival with waterski show, boat parade, fireworks, and carnival fun an annual tradition. This year’s dates are Aug. 14-18.