Nearly half of Wisconsin’s borders bump up against lakes. And where there are lakes, you can expect beaches.

These aren’t any old lakes, mind you: they’re two of the biggest freshwater bodies in the world, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Traditional lake activities like swimming and kayaking abound across the state’s beaches – and to the surprise of many non-Wisconsinites, the Badger State is also home to some of the best (dare we say the best) freshwater beaches for surfing you’ll find anywhere.

From the urban beaches of the state’s culture capital Milwaukee to rural strands along the state’s northernmost border, here are our picks for the best beaches in Wisconsin.

Many people enjoying the beach activities at North Beach on a beautiful summer day with clouded skies above the cool waters of Lake Michigan
A summer tableau at North Beach in Racine © Tony Savino / Shutterstock

North Beach in Racine is the best Wisconsin beach for families

About 40 minutes south of downtown Milwaukee is the alluring, architecture-rich city of Racine. Perhaps most recognized for its famous Frank Lloyd Wright works (did you know the famous architect was born in Wisconsin?), Racine offer much more than buildings. Located a few blocks from downtown’s main drag is North Beach, a Lake Michigan mainstay that is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the Midwest.

North Beach’s especially soft sand and crystal-clear water make it ideal for swimming and volleyball. If you also have a bicycle, bring it along since the beach is bordered by a waterfront bike path that stretches up and down the coast. Families in particular will appreciate on-site bathrooms, eating options, the elaborate Kids Cove Playground located right on the beach, and the Racine Zoo only a couple blocks away.

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City folk will have a great time at Bradford Beach in Milwaukee

Surely the most famous among the beaches of Milwaukee – with crowds to match – Bradford Beach is a half-mile stretch of sand that is particularly packed on weekends in the summer, when just about the entire city comes out to have a good time. Which is understandable, as the beach is near waterfront restaurants and easy parking, just off the Oak Leaf pedestrian and cyclist trail and a quick walk from the Milwaukee Art Museum, one of the city’s top attractions.

Swimming, paddle boarding and even surfing are all popular at Bradford Beach. And you don’t have to get your feet wet to have fun, thanks to volleyball courts full of friendly folks welcoming you to join in and a kite shop down the coast for enthusiasts. A true urban beach, it’s also easily reachable from some of the best neighborhoods in Milwaukee, like the trendy downtown and the East Side neighborhoods, both full of great bars, restaurants and nightlife.

Looking out onto a calm Lake Michigan through a wooded area in Grant Park atop a bluff. The open water if framed by the greenery surrounding the pathway for a spectacular view of the Great Lake
Grant Beach in South Milwaukee offers fun for the whole family, including excellent trails for short hikes © Tony Savino / Shutterstock

You’ll experience a little of bit of everything at Milwaukee’s Grant Park Beach  

Whether you’re looking for swimming and volleyball or family-friendly fun and hiking, Grant Park Beach has you covered. While just about every Wisconsin beach is family-friendly, Grant Park in the Milwaukee suburb of South Milwaukee is especially great for young children. There’s a large playground on site along with bathrooms and a concession stand that’s open during warm months. All this means that families fine with burgers and ice cream can show up at the beach without much pre-planning and score an enjoyable experience for everyone.

With or without kids, nature-loving beachgoers will love this beach since it’s sandwiched between Lake Michigan and a densely wooded area that’s dog-friendly and also great for hiking. If you’re keen on trekking, hop back in the car and drive a few minutes north within the park to the Seven Bridges trailhead, and get ready to stretch your legs.

Surfers will find great waves (really!) at North Beach/Municipal Beach in Sheboygan

Known to locals as the “Malibu of the Midwest,” the city of Sheboygan has 36 parks and boatloads of hiking and biking trails. But what makes the city unique is its surf scene. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Not only is freshwater surfing possible, but it’s a popular pastime along the eastern shores of Wisconsin, particularly in Sheboygan, about an hour north of Milwaukee. Swing by EOS Surf & Outdoor Shop to rent a board, take a lesson or to buy some gear. If surfing isn’t your style, you can also rent a paddle board.

Wisconsin’s prime surf season is from September through May, when the wind and waves are the strongest and the temperature can get so cold a wet suit is required. Also keep in mind that while experienced surfers might enjoy the thrill of wild winter water, beginner surfers should stick to the August or September waves. 

A sea kayaker explores the sea caves at Meyers Beach in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Bayfield, Wisconsin
Near Meyers Beach on Lake Superior, hop in a kayak to explore red cliffs and a network of sea caves © Alamy Stock Photo

Bring your kayak to Meyers Beach in Bayfield

Along the northernmost coast of the state, hugging the shores of Lake Superior – known as Gitchigami to the Red Cliff band of the Lake Superior Chippewa – is the no-excuse-to-not-visit Meyers Beach. The superb kayaking opportunities here set this beach apart.

During warm-weather months (June to September, typically), you’ll paddle past pine tree–topped red cliffs, and on into narrow sea caves. If hiking is more your jam, you can also hike along the Meyers Beach trail, which follows the coast and looks down onto the cliffs and kayakers. Come fall, it’s typically too windy to kayak, but in winter you can usually hike across the frozen lake to the caves, which turn into an icicle-covered winter wonderland.

You might also like:
The 10 best beaches in Wisconsin
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