Wisconsin is cheesy and proud of it. The state pumps out 2.5 billion pounds of cheddar, Gouda and other smelly goodness – a quarter of America's hunks – from its cow-speckled farmland per year. Local license plates read 'The Dairy State' with udder dignity. Folks here even refer to themselves as 'cheeseheads' and emphasize it by wearing novelty foam rubber cheese-wedge hats for special occasions (most notably during Green Bay Packers football games).
So embrace the cheese thing, because there's a good chance you'll be here for a while. Wisconsin has a ton to offer: exploring the craggy cliffs and lighthouses of Door County, kayaking through sea caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, touring Green Bay's football shrine of Lambeau Field, cow chip–throwing along Hwy 12, or simply soaking up the beer, art and festivals in Milwaukee and Madison.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Wisconsin.
Hundreds of motorcycles show the styles through the decades, including the flashy rides of Elvis and Evel Knievel. You can sit in the saddle of various bikes (on the bottom floor, in the Experience Gallery) and take badass photos. Even nonbikers will enjoy the interactive exhibits and tough, leather-clad crowds.
You have to see this lakeside institution, which features a stunning winglike addition by Santiago Calatrava. It soars open and closed every day at 10am, noon and 5pm (8pm on Thursday), which is wild to watch; head to the suspension bridge outside for the best view. There are fabulous folk and outsider art galleries, and a sizeable collection of Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. A 2015 renovation added photography and new media galleries to the trove.
One of Wisconsin's busiest attractions. Alex Jordan built the structure atop a rock column in 1959 (some say as an 'up yours' to neighbor Frank Lloyd Wright). He then stuffed the house to mind-blowing proportions with wonderments, including the world's largest carousel, whirring music machines, freaky dolls and crazed folk art. The house is broken into three parts, each with its own tour. Those with stamina (and about four hours to kill) can experience the whole shebang for adult/child $30/16.
Taliesin was the home of Frank Lloyd Wright for most of his life and is the site of his architectural school. It's now a major pilgrimage destination for fans. The house was built in 1903, the Hillside Home School in 1932, and the visitor center in 1953. A wide range of guided tours ($22 to $92) cover various parts of the complex; it's wise to book ahead (for a small surcharge). The one-hour Hillside Tour ($22) provides a nice introduction to Wright's work.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed several buildings at the company's headquarters. Free 90-minute tours take in the 1939 Admin Building, a magnificent space with tall, flared columns in its vast Great Workroom and 43 miles' worth of Pyrex glass-tube windows letting in soft, natural light. You’ll also see the 1950 Research Tower – where Raid, Off and other famous products were developed – which features 15 floors of curved brick bands and more Pyrex windows. Advance reservations required.
The entire island is parkland, with no cars or bikes allowed. There are hiking trails, a sand beach and squat, stone Pottawatomie Lighthouse, which is a 1.25-mile amble from the ferry landing. The majority of the island's 40 primitive campsites (per tent $25) cluster near the ferry dock. There are no showers, but there are pit toilets and drinking water.
Wingspread is the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for HF Johnson Jr, one of the SC Johnson company's leaders. It is the last and largest of Wright's Prairie-style abodes, completed in 1939. It's enormous, with 500 windows and a 30ft-high chimney. Free tours through the building take one hour, and must be booked in advance. The home is about 5 miles north of downtown Racine.
The university's art museum is huge and fabulous, and way beyond the norm for a campus collection. The 3rd floor holds most of the genre-spanning trove: everything from the Old Dutch Masters to Qing Dynasty porcelain vases, Picasso sculptures and Andy Warhol pop art. Free chamber-music concerts and art-house film showings take place on Sundays from September to mid-May.
The two-floor Hall of Fame, located inside the atrium adjacent to Lambeau Field, is filled with Green Bay Packer memorabilia, shiny trophies and movies about the storied NFL team that'll intrigue any football fan. Buy tickets at the counter where stadium tours are offered; package deals are available for reduced rates. See the website for options and prices.