Nicknamed the Badger State, Wisconsin boasts several spectacular natural attractions. These, among others, include the heart-stirring Ice Age Trail, that for a remarkable 1,200 miles, meanders through the state like a tapeworm. And with more lakes than in Minnesota, outdoor lovers will have a spread-out feast within the more than 65,000 square miles of the 30th state. Besides, one of the nation's leading dairy producers boasts a collection of beautiful towns whose main streets will leave first-time visitors completely blown away. From Cedarburg to Mineral Point and several charmers in between, read on to discover the seven Wisconsin towns with the best main streets.
Mineral Pont will interest downstreet explorers because it's downstreet was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971— making it the first city in the Badger State to receive that appellation. Yet Mineral Point’s downstreet is not just popular because it is old. Of all the main streets in Wisconsin, Mineral Point’s is hands-down among the most picturesque. Among Mineral Point’s first settlers were hard rock miners from Cornwall, England, eager to strike wealth with the lead deposits discovered in the area. Today, featuring the charm of 19th-century architecture, many of the buildings in Mineral Point have been renovated to retain their Cornish heritage. Many beautiful limestone and sandstone buildings are on display that speak to the town’s storied past. Besides, Mineral Point is encircled by jaw-dropping mountainous scenery that adds natural drama to its already beautiful appearance.
If Architectural Digest identifies a main street as among the best in the United States, it will be wise to pay attention. Tucked away 20 miles north of Milwaukee, Cedarburg is the only Wisconsin town whose main street Architectural Digest ranks among the 39 Most Beautiful Across America. If Cedarburg’s buildings were of average beauty, the town would still be charming because of the beautiful Cedar Creek — a tributary of the Milwaukee River known for its clear water — that meanders through it. Yet Cedarburg features several limestone and fieldstone structures constructed in the Victorian age that are amazingly cool and charming. Those who want to lodge will enjoy staying at the historic, conveniently located cream-city-brick Washington Town Inn.
Nestled next to the Namekagon River, a 101-mile tributary of the St. Croix River, Hayward has the natural ingredients for beauty. This Wisconsin stunner is famous for its wide-open spaces, slow-paced allure, and, perhaps more significantly, outdoor opportunities. For instance, the fact that Hayward is an access point to the Hayward Lakes Area — home to more than an astounding 300 freshwater lakes—is enough reason to pique the interest of an adventure seeker. Also, since the town is close to other natural appeals, including the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which spans more than 1.5 million acres of Wisconsin's Northwoods, the outdoor opportunities in this Wisconsin gem are mindboggling. Yet Hayward's Historic Main Street, including its many antiques and boutiques, is no less a charmer.
While history buffs will want to catch a glimpse of Ripon’s Little White Schoolhouse, where on March 20, 1854 — a group from different political camps met to protest the westward expansion of Slavery, inadvertently occasioning the birth of the Republican Party, this Wisconsin secret has several other draws. Its downtown, besides featuring lively pubs, inviting restaurants, and artsy coffee shops, spots an eye-catching Italianate architecture inspired by the 16th-century Italian Renaissance, that will impress first-time visitors. Besides wandering through Ripon’s beautiful downtown area, part of the Historic Register, the Vines & Rushes Winery is another absolute must-do. Whether one will want to sit down to a plate of some delicious pizza or a glass of grape wine amid views that will elicit gasps in every direction, Vines & Rushes Winery perfectly fits the bill.
Tucked away not more than 20 miles from Wisconsin’s capital Madison, Stoughton’s main street is another enchanter that will be difficult to pass over. With one foot in the tech-laden New World and one in the Old, complete with its endearing simplicity and slow-pace charm, Stoughton is worth lacing up for. One of the buildings that define Stoughton’s beautiful cityscape is the more than 120-year-old Stoughton Opera House. An amazing movie venue with excellent acoustics, complete with upholstered seats, Stoughton Opera House, will be worth checking out. Outdoor lovers, however, will want to swing their backpacks and head to the Lake Kegonsa State Park, a beautiful park with plenty of flat Prairie and wooded trails — then head back to Grasshopper Goods — to pick some unique apparel or jewelry.
Once a small shipbuilding town, Sturgeon Bay, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, used to be a stop-through for fuelling before revving up the engine to head north. However, Sturgeon Bay is one of Wisconsin’s most alluring captors today. While Sturgeon Bay is Door County’s largest city, it boasts a population of only about 9,800. Among the first stops, right along the town’s picturesque working waterfront, should be the Door County Maritime Museum, a property that preserves the region’s fascinating maritime heritage. Even for those who find history a dry subject, this museum’s observation tower offers visitors the chance to grab some of the most amazing views — that stretch for miles on end. A few steps away is the Sturgeon Bay’s canal, which leads out to the Sturgeon Bay Canal Light — and Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light — two of the town’s most popular attractions.
This Wisconsin gem is home to one of the most unique clubs in the country, the Burlington Liars' Club. The club’s officers go through hundreds of submitted lies every year before bestowing an award they describe as “the most prestigious.” There is no lie, however, that Burlington’s main street is among the best in the Badger State. Located at the White and Fox Rivers confluence, Burlington boasts a population of about 10,900. One can sit by the rippling waters of the White River, ride a kayak amid the breeze and the amazing views, sample an amazing variety of apples and pears at the under-the-radar Brightonwoods Orchard, wander through the charming Kane Street Historic District., then pitch a tent at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area.
There are many reasons Wisconsin should be on every traveler’s radar. While it does not have a single defining landmark such as the Grand Canyon, the Badger State boasts several spell-binding attractions. Nature lovers, for instance, will get a blast exploring a state that has more rivers than Minnesota. For those who will limit themselves to downtown areas, Wisconsin is home to several charmers as well. From Mineral Point to Burlington, Cedarburg to Sturgeon Bay, these main streets are among Wisconsin’s best-kept secrets.