Wisconsin is known for what it produces: dairy, lumber, and beer. In addition to this work, the state is known for its play: fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, and vacationing in the Dells are some of the activities Wisconsin is famous for. Wisconsin is also known for its Native American culture. Tribes depended on the state’s cranberries, wild rice, and ginseng, and today, their reservations offer casino gambling.
Read on to learn about the many things Wisconsin is famous for!
No one can celebrate wood quite like Wisconsinites. And they should. A big part of the state’s economy was based on the commodity for a long time. Even the state flower, the wood violet, depends on wet woodlands to grow. Therefore, residents here honor lumberjacks in a number of ways.
See larger-than-life replicas of the most famous of them at Paul Bunyan restaurants in the popular vacation areas of Minocqua and the Dells. You’ll likely pass wood pulp and paper factories while driving through the trees of Wisconsin to your log cabin holiday rental. While you might get stuck behind a horse and buggy in the Amish regions of other states, you can get stuck behind lumber trucks in the North Woods. They aren’t as slow as four-legged transportation, but make sure you stay back to ensure safety!
Wisconsin is known for its dairy cows and farms. Perhaps that is the reason that ice cream is cheap here, as well as abundant and delicious. Because the state is a common summertime destination for people in Chicago, Minneapolis, and throughout the area, ice cream is a part of its culture.
Ice cream is not the only tasty dairy product made in Wisconsin. Its cheeses are to die for! Consequently, some of the state’s cheeses have received international awards. They come in many varieties and I’ve never eaten one I didn’t like. Cheddars are spectacular, and any type mixed with dill, jalapeno, or cranberry are amazing. The last add-in is farmed in nearby bogs throughout the state.
Don’t leave without sampling the cheese curds– one of the area’s signature foods. You can purchase them in many restaurants and stores. The ones from Mars Cheese Castle and the Wisconsin chain Culver’s are the best, in my opinion. If you’ll be attending a Green Bay Packers game, be sure you’re recognized as a “Cheesehead”. This is the affectionate moniker for fans of “Da Pack”. Who doesn’t want to watch football wearing a giant hunk of yellow rubber cheese on one’s head?
Americans of a certain age vividly remember watching “Laverne and Shirley,” a massively popular seventies sitcom featuring two young single women who ventured out to work and share an apartment on their own. Where did they work? A Milwaukee brewery, of course! While we watched, our parents were likely sipping an old-timey brew from there, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, or Schlitz.
Brewers were so common in Wisconsin’s largest city that it’s baseball team was named after them. Nowadays, microbrews are all the rage, and boy are they satisfying. “Spotted Cow” from New Glarus is just one microbrew gone macro– but still available only in Wisconsin. Most microbreweries also serve food and are family-friendly, in keeping with the state’s values and ways. Whatever town you find yourself in, sample the local poison and you won’t be disappointed.
4. Outdoor activities
Wisconsin is a playground for the outdoorsman. Three sports that come to mind are hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. Hunters seek deer, black bears, and fowl. Fishing for Lake Superior whitefish is common in summer for commercial and amateur fishermen. It’s not uncommon to have your fish caught only hours before you devour it in Bayfield, the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”. Bodin Fisheries supplies many restaurants in the town, while locals bring it home along with musky, bass, and other fish. In winter, many enjoy ice fishing or snowmobiling. Folks pursue a multitude of sports here though, from scuba diving or swimming in one of the Great Lakes, to biking and beyond.
5. The Dells
As a child growing up in New Jersey, practically every classmate I had went “down the shore” for vacations. Now living in Chicago, I take my family to the Dells, along with practically everyone else in the city. The Wisconsin Dells are famous for family outings. Some incredible water parks are in the region, along with plenty of mini-golf and go-kart options. Shopping, restaurants, and cinemas sprinkle the area, ensuring all family members will have fun. Vertical Illusions offers exhilarating rides for all ages, through the forest and over a lake. For those who don’t relish getting pine sap in their hair, the outfit also provides kayaking and paddleboarding.
6. Native American Culture
Across this country’s East and Midwest, relatively few Native American reservations exist. The majority, and certainly the largest, find themselves in the West. However, Wisconsin is an exception. For instance, it has many reservations, and a substantial Chippewa population.
Also called Ojibwe, this group holds Powwows statewide throughout the year, which are a spectacular mix of pageantry, food, and art. Powwows are an educational experience, but also a whole lot of fun. Taste the doughy fry bread of a Native American taco and you’ll agree the festivals are a wonderful experience! Additionally, some tribes offer demonstrations of how to collect and prepare wild rice. Try this tasty recipe from the Lac Courte Oreilles. The band has also prepared cranberries, a billion-dollar industry in Wisconsin, for centuries. (Ginseng also brings money to the state). Score some dollars of your own at one of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s many gambling venues.
Much of Wisconsin contains sandstone, a valuable construction material. As I learned on a trip to the Dells, the gritty substance is also a powerful exfoliant! Get a pedicure at areas spas and you may have your feet rubbed with it. What a treat!
One of the famous duck boat tours down the Wisconsin River to Lake Delton took passengers by the huge rock formations along the Soo train route. (“Soo” comes from the pronunciation of Sault Ste. Marie, for which the line was named.) The softer consistency of sandstone has allowed Mother Nature to carve out sea caves along the Great Lakes, which are great to kayak through. Rent your vessel from many companies, like this one in Cornucopia.
8. Ice Caves
Winters in this northern state are too cold to kayak. Luckily, the sea caves that Wisconsin is known for are pretty to snowshoe through, and free. However, dress warmly for your trek. I call the caves’ dangling icicles “stalacticicles”, as surely they resemble stalactites. Belt out the tune “Let It Go” on your way and you’ll feel like Elsa! Additionally, ride the ice road to Madeline Island. When Lake Superior freezes the ferry no longer operates. Therefore, individuals drive to the largest Apostle Island. Featured on IRT Deadliest Roads, the ice road is actually quite safe, and decorated with discarded Christmas trees. Instead of driving, you can ski or skate to the island.
If you attend the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race, you can watch a team of huskies race there. But don’t fret when you hear cries of “Mush!” The command makes one’s furry companions run, and doesn’t reflect the consistency of the ice!
9. Lake Superior Agate
Stones of blue and green glisten at sunrise as gentle Lake Superior tides flow over them, while firy oranges are brought out most at sunset. Perhaps this is why these waters are known for the colorful agate they contain. Collect these precious nuggets, put them in a rock tumbler, and you’ll have polished gems in no time. That is to say, tumbling brings out the shine and vibrancy of agates. Local artists sell beautiful jewelry made from the stones, which often has an exposed striated side that is lovely in a bracelet or necklace.
10. Door County
On the shores of Lake Michigan not far from Green Bay lies scenic Door County which Wisconsin is known for. Filled with resorts, picturesque vistas, and sailboats, this destination is a popular weekend getaway for Chicago families living just a few hours away. Boutiques sell clothing and quaint little shops feature lots of the state’s cranberry products. Jams go great with Wisconsin cheddar and a glass of wine. Moreover, nearby Lambeau Field is where you can see Wisconsin’s famous champions, the Green Bay Packers, play football.
11. North Woods Arts
Perhaps because the state is a leisure spot, art galleries have popped up all over it, particularly in the North Woods. Browse paintings, jewelry, pottery, and glass, throughout the year and featured on the North Woods Arts Tour. Butternut painter Kelly Meredith owns the Fanatical Fish Art Gallery and was also commissioned to paint nearby Ashland in murals. This is the most extensive outdoor mural collection I’ve seen anywhere, including much larger cities. Even the McDonald’s features her amazing historical work. In Phillips, witness the more than 200 concrete and glass sculptures of Fred Smith, who repurposed before it was cool!
12. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East
Frank Lloyd Wright’s forebearers settled from Chicago to Madison. Because of this, much of his groundbreaking (no pun intended) architecture finds itself here. Equal parts school and commune, Taliesin East is in Spring Green, while Taliesin West is in Arizona. The buildings themselves are virtually interchangeable from east to west. Additionally, both landscapes are breathtaking.
However, the Arizona location features desert, mountain, and stories-tall cacti, while rolling hills, pines, and lakes surround the Wisconsin estate. Guides offer tours with details as stunning as the property. For instance, marital affairs, devastating fires, and murder are part of the history. Also, the daughter of dictator Joseph Stalin married a Wright protegé when she defected, lived in Wisconsin many years, and rests eternally in the architect’s family plot. Consequently, numerous books chronicle the Taliesin’s drama, like Loving Frank and The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship.
Bayfield is sometimes called “the Cape Cod of the Midwest”. Indeed, John F. Kennedy himself enjoyed flying to this town, which perches on the Lake Superior coast. The airport even bears his name. Restaurants like Greunke’s, coffee shops like Wonderstate, and bookstores like Honest Dog Books make it the perfect place for a family vacation.
Additionally, you can dive the shipwrecks in scuba gear– the waters are cool even in the summer. Or swim, canoe, or participate in yoga on the pier. Just walking around and talking with the delightful people is fun too. Many Scandinavians settled in the area, which is not that far from Canada. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for locals to greet you with a friendly “Eh” or “Yah”. Just a short drive from the Twin Cities, Minnesotans unwind in these parts too.
14. The Apostle Islands
The Apostle Islands are a Lake Superior chain known for lighthouses, camping, and being the most northern part of Wisconsin. Many of them are perfect for pitching a tent and roughing it. Catch some fish, build a fire, and enjoy your meal. After that, take a tour of the Raspberry Island Lighthouse and do some kayaking through the sea caves.
Just as “Laverne and Shirley” popularized the city of Milwaukee, so did its predecessor, “Happy Days”. The show starred Ron Howard as teenager Richie Cunningham, and the cool biker who rented his family’s garage was the famous “Fonzie,” played by Henry Winkler. Any fan of the current series “Barry” will enjoy seeing the statue of Winkler (who plays Gene Cousineau in the comedy) appearing as the “Bronze Fonz” on the riverwalk. But there is so much to do in the most densely populated region of Wisconsin. Take in the architecturally unique Milwaukee Art Museum, or the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Experience all that is hip in the Historic Third Ward, like the stupendous dining at Belgian eatery Café Benelux.
You could spend an entire week in Milwaukee and still have plenty to do. If that’s your plan, be sure to stay at the city’s most famous hotel, The Pfister. It is not only elegant, but historical. During the holiday season, the well-known hotel finds itself draped in boughs of fragrant pine, wreaths, and tons of sparkle. The hotel is a treat in warmer months, too. If you’re in Milwaukee during the summer, take the Lake Express High-Speed Ferry across Lake Michigan. In a little over two hours you’ll be in Muskegon. This little beachside village has local theater, a huge amusement park, and live music. Consequently, it’s a great side trip for those with kids.
If you can think of other things that Wisconsin is known for, share it in the comment box below.