Boats on Lake Geneva on a sunny day

Spend time on the water in Lake Geneva. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

From Fish Fries to Bar-Hopping: Spend 3 Days in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva is a quintessential Wisconsin town: There’s a casual bar on every corner, a hike or a boat ride is never too far away and everyone is really friendly. These are reasons enough to visit, but the lake town also offers a laid-back vibe, with a few quirky attractions worthy of a double-take.

The downtown neighborhood was built on the edge of the city’s eponymous lake, allowing for a pleasant respite from shopping or bar-hopping whenever you need it. Big Foot Beach State Park is a quick drive from the central area, as well, if you’re looking for a quieter session with nature.

To visit Lake Geneva is to get a true taste of the Midwest — Bloody Marys, fish fries, great beer and all. This three-day itinerary will give you the best of all that and more.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Enjoy Classic Midwestern Eats and Beach Time

Scrambled eggs and tomato juice
Enjoy a healthy breakfast of eggs and juice. (Photo: Marriott International)

Start your weekend getaway at one of Lake Geneva’s most popular breakfast spots: the Egg Harbor Café, known for their skillets and omelets. There will most likely be a wait, so hop across the street and post up with a lakeside view until your table is ready.

From here, consider the downtown neighborhood your assignment for the morning. There are plenty of boutiques to visit — Black Circle Records for rare vinyl, the Hive Artisan Market for handmade gifts, the Rusty Gate for vintage home goods — so take your sweet time.

If that means grabbing an ice cream cone at Kilwins, an iconic scoop shop that’s been around since 1947…then we fully support following your tastebuds.

When lunchtime hits, head to Next Door Pub & Pizzeria. It’s a quick five-minute drive from the downtown area and completely worth revving up the car. You would be remiss not to order one of their specialty Bloody Marys, made the Wisconsin way — piled high with fixings — to go with your pie.

Don’t worry — you’re not doing anything too strenuous the rest of the day, so settle in for a relaxing post-meal beach nap. Make your way to Riviera Beach back downtown; it’s a great spot to dip your feet (or whole body) in the water, or just to people-watch as the sun starts to set. Or, if you’re visiting during the winter months, hire a guide and go ice fishing.

One of the best times to sink your line into the water is a few hours before the sun sets, making it a great pre-dinner activity. Lake Geneva Fishing Guide Service or Dancing With Walleyes are two great guide options, as this activity requires quite a bit of gear that doesn’t warrant a one-time purchase while on vacation.

Finding a guide who knows all of the ins and outs of ice fishing will set up a stress-free experience taking in one of Wisconsin’s greatest winter pastimes.

No matter what your afternoon held, you’ll have to hop back in the car for dinner, but it’s all in the name of another classic Midwestern tradition: the fish fry. The Boat House Bar & Grill is located on Buttons Bay along the shore of Geneva Lake, a five-minute drive south of the downtown neighborhood.

After eating your fill of fried cod, make your way to Studio Winery + Geneva Lake Distilling, where all the wine and spirits are made on-site, for a nightcap.

Saturday: Take a Unique Boat Tour

Set an early alarm for breakfast at Joni’s Diner — you’ve got a 10 a.m. boat to catch! About breakfast: Joni’s has old-fashioned style and that extends to the menu — go for the biscuits and gravy.

Once you’ve had your fill, buy a ticket for the U.S. Mailboat Tour. The two-and-a-half-hour tour gives you a front-row seat to something that only happens in a handful of places: mail delivery via boat. The postal route stops at posh vacation homes around the lake, so this really doubles as an architecture tour of sorts.

Once you’re back on land, Topsy Turvy Brewery is your lunch destination. Housed in a neo-Gothic former First Baptist Church, the brewery serves up beers inspired by historic Wisconsin moments. An example: The Stellar Nova Hazy IPA pays homage to one of the largest refracting telescopes ever built at the now-closed Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay.

After some bar bites and a brew (keep it responsible, you’ve got biking to do), walk over to Avant Cycle Café. The café is also a bike shop that offers rentals in two-hour or four-hour increments. Explore the Lake Geneva Bike Path, which has five color-coded segments. Check out the Blue Route, which winds through downtown Lake Geneva and offers great views of the White River along the way.

Once your legs are worn out, it’s time to think about dinner. With a fish fry marked off your list, the only acceptable follow-up is an old-fashioned supper club, a Wisconsin staple.

You’re revisiting the shore of Lake Como to grab a table at the Mars Resort. The menu is extensive, featuring classics like pork chops, deep-fried jumbo shrimp, rib-eye and patty melts, but don’t forget about the ever-important supper club drink. Go classic with a brandy old-fashioned.

After dinner, you’re going right back downtown to end the night at the theater. But it’s not what you’re thinking…get ready to experience a true lesson in the sleight of hand at the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre. Afterward, practice your own magic tricks over a mojito at Hogs & Kisses — or just enjoy the drinks and dancing.

Sunday: Go on an Outdoor Adventure and a Supper Club Cruise

Continue the trend of solid breakfast food at Great Eggs, a straightforward place with a delightfully straightforward name. You won’t regret the classic wrap, which is filled with eggs, cheese, potatoes and veggies.

Pack snacks — or a full lunch, you decide! — before you head out for some hiking at Big Foot Beach State Park, which has seven trails totaling 5 miles just waiting for you to explore. Each path is relatively gentle, making it a great place for all levels of hikers to explore the Midwestern ecosystem. If canoeing or kayaking is your idea of a good time, you can rent boats from outfitters near the park.

Don’t forget to make a stop to refuel — there are plenty of picnic tables and grills available for public use around the lake. After lunch, take a 10-minute drive north to Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures. Here, you can tackle the zip line course, take on the climbing wall or walk the high ropes course. It’s a great adrenaline rush to get your energy up for the night ahead.

For winter visitors, sledding and tubing are other great snowy day activities, and there are some great hills in the park. You can rent a sled (or snowboard) from the park’s maintenance shop, which is located next to the designated sledding and snowboarding area. There are also cross-country ski trails located throughout the park.

Bloody Mary in tall glass with lemon
Meals are always better with a Bloody Mary. (Photo: Marriott International)

For dinner, you’re hopping on another boat. Since you saw the lake during the day, it’s only fair you take it in at night, when the house lights glitter on the surface and the crickets play the score.

Cruise Lake Geneva has a supper-club-themed dinner cruise — and no, rest assured that two nights in a row at a supper club is definitely not too much. Wisconsin’s supper clubs are as singular as its Bloody Marys — each restaurant or bar has its own take.

This boat cruise has all the elements you’d expect from a wood-paneled restaurant with leather-bound menus: relish trays, Caesar salads, rolls and butter, twice-baked potatoes and short ribs in red wine sauce.

After dinner, allow yourself to roam as the Wisconsinites do: Walk down the street and into any bar that sounds like a good time. Start at Thumbs Up in the downtown area — a Bloody Mary with cheese curds on top is about as Wisconsin-esque a send-off as you can find.