6 Most Underrated Cities in Wisconsin

These underrated cities in Wisconsin will make you glad you skipped the major tourist destinations. You can avoid the crowds while experiencing the vibrant authenticity of these hidden gems found all over Wisconsin. From cities with booming arts and culture to scenic pockets with unforgettable nature destinations, Wisconsin has a lot to offer if you are willing to take the road less traveled.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US downtown skyline at dusk
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US downtown skyline at dusk. Image credit Sean Pavone via Shutterstock

Despite being the largest city in the state, many believe Milwaukee to be the most underrated city in Wisconsin and the most underrated city in the Midwest. With a metro-area population of 1,445,000 in 2023, Milwaukee has a diverse demographic of residents, an active nightlife, excellent breweries, and a booming culinary scene. Additionally, the city has the kind of youthful energy that is comparable to other more well-known places in America. There is a myriad of theatres, museums, cultural events, festivals, and other activities in this under-the-radar Wisconsin destination. Milwaukee is the birthplace of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and there is a museum devoted to it that you can explore. It is also nicknamed "Brew City" because of the top-tier quality of craft breweries.

However, it is not all just beer and restaurants. Milwaukee has 191 distinct neighborhoods to explore, as well as 150 scenic state parks. The beaches in the region span a whopping 1,400 acres, with 135 miles of bike trails flowing through the city. There is much to do here in this unassumingly buzzing Wisconsin city.

Eau Claire

Chippewa River approaching the confluence in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Chippewa River approaching the confluence in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Image credit Matthew A Reddy via Shutterstock

Eau Claire is a fantastically musical and underrated city in Wisconsin due to the highly artistic community that has blossomed there. It has an active indie music scene, known as the Indie Capital of the Midwest. World-renowned musicians from the band Bon Iver are from Eau Claire, and the city continues to live and breathe the arts. However, arts and culture are not the only things this Wisconsin hidden gem has going for it. Nature lovers also appreciate its scenic beauty, as it is at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. This allows for water sports such as tubing and kayaking, as well as fishing, and other outdoor activities. There are also many parks in the city, adding some natural balance between city life and outdoor appreciation. In addition to the scenic destinations, there are farmers' markets, wineries, breweries, annual events, museums, and plenty of other attractions in this Wisconsin hidden gem.

Monroe

Monroe, known as "the Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA", is a city in and the county seat of Green County, Wisconsin
Monroe, known as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the US, is a city in and the county seat of Green County, Wisconsin. Image credit Sandra Foyt via Shutterstock

Known as "America’s Swiss Cheese Capital," Monroe is the Gateway to Cheese Country. In fact, it is even considered the Swiss Cheese Capital of the world. It is also home to the oldest brewery in the Midwest, the Minhas Craft Brewery, making it a unique and underrated destination for food and beverage lovers. You can stroll through the various specialty destinations for beer and cheese while learning about how they are made. For lovers of the outdoors, there are tons of outdoor recreational vantage points such as the Cheese Country Trail, which begins in Monroe and spans 47 miles of terrain, as well as the Badger State Trail. Some of the trails are biker and pedestrian-only, while some allow ATVs and snowmobiles in the winter.

La Crosse

La Crosse is a Community in Wisconsin on the Mississippi River
La Crosse is a Community in Wisconsin on the Mississippi River. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock

The city of La Crosse sits along the Mississippi River, in La Crosse County right across the border from Minnesota. The town is part of the Driftless Region, and it is a spectacular visit for nature lovers as well as history enthusiasts, with its plentiful riverside sights and preserved historic buildings to explore. The town is also named after the popular sport la crosse, which was often played in the area by the Native American Ojibwe due to the flat landscape. In other areas of the region, the grass would have been too tall for a decent playing field to form, but in the area where La Crosse is, the grass grew perfectly flat, which is why the Ojibwe mainly played the game there. Although the sport was likely invented along the St Lawrence River, it was also played in the Midwest when the Ojibwe arrived around 1545.

Cedarburg

Aerial view of downtown Cedarburg Wisconsin during the summer
Downtown Cedarburg Wisconsin is known for its quaint downtown district lined with historic buildings. Image credit James Meyer via Shutterstock

Cedarburg is a small city in Ozaukee County that is a favorite hidden gem for locals and visitors of the area. It has a charming downtown area with historic buildings, galleries, shops and restaurants, as well as quality breweries and wineries where visitors participate in tastings and other attractions such as wine and harvest festivals. It is quite a low-key destination but one that continuously brings in a steady flow of visitors due to its natural historic charm as well as the availability of high-quality food and beverage and picturesque accommodations that will make you forget you are in the American Midwest.

Minocqua

The Thirsty Whale is a lakeside bar and restaurant in in Minocqua, Wisconsin
The Thirsty Whale is a lakeside bar and restaurant in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Image credit Jason Patrick Ross via Shutterstock

Minocqua is one of the most scenic and underrated cities in Wisconsin due to its high concentration of freshwater bodies. It has one of the world’s largest collections of freshwater bodies, with around 2,300 found in the area, 45 of which are lakes. The outdoor scenery is a huge part of tourism, which quadruples the town’s population in the summer. The town also encompasses an island, giving Minocqua the moniker, "Island City," that is accessible via a bridge. It is also home to the largest forest in the state, the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, with 225,000 acres of land to explore. Additionally, there are nine beaches and 18 campgrounds in and around town.

If you are a lover of great local food and drink, as well as scenic landscapes sprinkled with historical relics and architecture, these underrated cities in Wisconsin may be for you. You can learn about how hops are transformed into beer at any of the fantastic breweries in these cities, or stroll alongside the rivers, creeks, and numerous freshwater bodies in and around the region. There are also plenty of opportunities to visit cultural centers, galleries, museums, and experience outstanding local cuisine.

Share