Chicago families craving an escape to the great outdoors seem to fall into two camps—those who go to Michigan for their getaways, and those who travel north to Wisconsin. My family is Wisconsin-faring folk; I’ve been visiting Lake Geneva for as long as I can remember.
While Memorial Day through the Fourth of July remain prime times to take a trip to this picturesque lakeshore burg, late summer and the fall months hold an array of charms (plus fewer crowds) as well. Pick a weekend in August, September, or October, pack up the car, and make the 90-minute trip north. You’ll be greeted with shopping options covering everything from beach souvenirs to designer labels, restaurants ranging from seafood shacks to foodie delights, and hotels catering to families, groups of friends, and couples looking for a romantic respite.
My mom and I make an annual ritual of visiting Lake Geneva during the Maxwell Street Days festival (August 23 to 25 this year). The town’s specialty stores, art galleries, antiques shops, and clothing and accessories boutiques display their wares on the sidewalks, offering deep discounts and a fun way to mix and mingle with locals and tourists alike. We always stop at Boatyard Bagel Co. (846 W. Main Street, 262-203-5391, boatyardbagels.com) for a power breakfast and a cup of Intelligentsia Coffee before setting out to hit the sales.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
If retail therapy isn’t your bag, there are plenty of other Lake Geneva happenings heating up in August, September, and October.
The 33rd annual Art in the Park (August 10 to 11) brings together works by 80 artists from across the country, all displayed on the glistening shores of Lake Geneva. Then, just a few days later, the lake comes alive with the Venetian Festival (August 14 to 18), a five-day event featuring a carnival, water ski show, and local cuisine that culminates in a lighted boat parade and a fireworks display.
September is a busy time in town, too, kicking off with the Lake Geneva Wine Festival on September 7. Wines from around the world join food from local restaurants at the rustic Lake Lawn Resort (2400 E. Geneva Street, Delavan, 262-728-7950, lakelawnresort.com). Beer aficionados shouldn’t feel left out in the cold as the Fat Tire Memorial Tour of Lake Geneva is set for the same day. This leisurely 21.5-mile bicycle tour takes riders to 10 taverns throughout Lake Geneva, Fontana, and Williams Bay. The fourth annual Taste of Lake Geneva highlights local chefs and restaurateurs from September 14 to 15. Of course, no lakeside town would be complete without its own boat show; Lake Geneva’s popular Antique and Classic Boat Show is a sailor’s dream, taking place September 27 to 29 at the sprawling Abbey Resort (269 Fontana Boulevard, Fontana, 262-275-6811, theabbeyresort.com).
October’s often mild temperatures and stunning fall color displays make Lake Geneva a lovely weekend destination; an array of autumn-themed activities make it even more appealing. Celebrate harvest season at Oktoberfest (October 12 to 13). The family-friendly festival serves up food, live music, shopping specials, wagon rides, and, of course, the Great Pumpkin Giveaway. The town’s weekly Farmers Market events also wrap up on October 17, bringing the season’s abundant crop of produce, bakery, local cheese, plants, and flowers to a colorful close.
THE SPOT TO DINE
Boat up to Pier 290 Restaurant in Williams Bay is the chicest spot around for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch. Boat up and the staff will have you docked and seated quickly so you can enjoy clean flavors, fresh ingredients and a sense of fun that really gels with the upscale elegance of this enclave. 1 Liechty Drive in Williams Bay, WI, 262-245-2100. gagemarine.com
MORE TO SEE AND DO
Lake Geneva’s collection of stunning mansions is as legendary as the lake itself. In fact, that’s another highlight of my family visits—boarding the stately Lake Geneva Cruise Line tour boats at the Riviera Docks (262-248-6206, cruiselakegeneva.com). These can’t-miss cruises wind around the 21-mile Geneva Lake, floating past breathtaking properties owned by prominent families, including many recognizable Chicagoans with names like Wrigley and Swift. To get up close and personal with one of these historic homes, book the guided tour of the Black Point Estate offered by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The property, which was built in 1888, is one of the oldest mansions on Geneva Lake and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Or, just jump on the Geneva Lake Shorepath, an original Native American trail that hugs the water. You’ll literally be walking through the backyards of these stunning homes.
WHERE TO STAY
Whether you’re traveling to Lake Geneva with kids, a gathering of friends, or your SO, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa (7036 Grand Geneva Way, 800-558-3417, grandgeneva.com) won’t disappoint.
Grand Geneva, which is a AAA Four Diamond resort, opened in 1968 as the Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotel, the first of its kind in the country. The hotel welcomed celebrities such as Bob Hope, Sonny and Cher, Liza Minnelli, and Bill Cosby (as well as a bevy of “bunnies”). The resort celebrates its 45th anniversary throughout 2013 with “throwback” room rates, a display of Playboy memorabilia, and special concerts that pay homage to this unique property’s storied past.
The Grand Geneva’s Prairie-style buildings surround a scenic lake and are set on two championship golf courses. Seasonal activities include indoor and outdoor tennis, hiking, biking, and a ski and snowboard park. While the weather is still warm, take a dip in the resort’s gorgeous outdoor pool, or cuddle up at Embers Terrace, an open-air lounge set around a glowing fire pit.
To completely unplug and unwind, make an appointment (or two, or three) at WELL Spa + Salon, a haven for pampering services. The Fitness Center at Grand Geneva also offers a basketball court, an indoor lap pool, a 35-foot climbing wall, and specialized classes like yoga and Pilates to burn those extra calories you may have spent. You are on vacation, after all!
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
If weekend escapes to the lake aren’t enough anymore, it may be time to contact with an area specialist to explore properties for sale. David C. Curry is just such an expert. This Lake Geneva native has been a full-time agent for 17 years selling only Lake Geneva vacation homes. His blog at genevalakefrontrealty.com is a must-read for anyone looking to learn more about the area—or just pining for the lake from an office in the loop. Geneva Lakefront Realty, LLC is at 49 West Geneva Street in Williams Bay, WI 53191, 262-245-9000.
For more information about Lake Geneva lodging, attractions, events, and more, visit the Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at lakegenevawi.com, or call 800-345-1020.