Madison reaps a lot of kudos – most walkable city, best road-biking city, most vegetarian-friendly, gay-friendly, environmentally friendly and just plain all-round friendliest city in the USA. Ensconced on a narrow isthmus between Mendota and Monona Lakes, it's a pretty combination of small, grassy state capital and liberal, bookish college town.
The eastern part of the state is a holiday favorite thanks to its miles of craggy shoreline for boating, swimming and fishing, its beaming lighthouses and its atmospheric maritime communities. Lonely islands, meals of fiery fish and football shrines all await, and there's always a lake or forest nearby for a nature fix.
The north is a thinly populated region of forests and lakes, where folks paddle and fish in summer, and ski and snowmobile in winter. Mountain biking trails continue to expand and draw fat tires. Nicolet National Forest and Chequamegon National Forest protect much of the area and provide the playground for these activities.
The 21 rugged Apostle Islands, floating in Lake Superior and freckling Wisconsin's northern tip, are a state highlight. Forested and windblown, trimmed with cliffs and caves, the national park gems have no facilities. Various companies offer seasonal boat trips around the islands, and kayaking and hiking are very popular.
With its rocky coastline, picturesque lighthouses, cherry orchards and small 19th-century villages, you have to admit Door County is pretty damn lovely. Honeymooners, families and outdoorsy types all flock in to take advantage of the parkland that blankets the area and the clapboard hamlets packed with winsome cafes, galleries and inns.
Green Bay is a modest industrial town best known as the fabled 'frozen tundra' where the Green Bay Packers win Super Bowls. The franchise is unique as the only community-owned nonprofit team in the NFL; perhaps pride in ownership is what makes the fans so die-hard (and also makes them wear foam-rubber cheese wedges on their heads).
This pastoral area holds the nation's greatest concentration of cheesemakers. As you're road-tripping through you can stop at local dairy farms and shops and learn your artisanal from farmstead, Gruyere from Gouda, curd from whey. Why so cheesy here? It has to do with the limestone-rich soil.
Washington Island & Rock Island
A couple of get-away-from-it-all isles float off Door County's tip. Washington Island is larger, with 700 Scandinavian descendants, a couple of small museums (one about farming, another about fishing), a lavender farm and a handful of beaches around the perimeter. Cycling is the big to-do.
Spring Green is a tiny town with big culture. Taliesin is here, Frank Lloyd Wright's ballyhooed home and architectural school. The respected American Players Theatre is also here, staging classics outdoors amid the trees. And the House on the Rock is a short distance down the road, offering enough whimsy for a lifetime.