Exploring Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva Cruise Line

Nestled on the northeastern shores of Geneva Lake in southeast Wisconsin, Lake Geneva has been a resort community since just after the Civil War. Often described as the “Newport” of the Midwest, Lake Geneva is a close enough vacation destination for those of us who doubt their minivans would actually survive the drive to New England.

Geneva Lakes

Lake Geneva Waterfront

Our family recently rang in the first warm weekend of summer with a trip to Lake Geneva. Even though air temperatures were in the 90s, Mother Nature was creating her own air conditioning by blowing a gentle breeze across the 45 mile-long body of 55 degree water.

Our weekend adventure started with a tour of Yerkes Observatory, the birthplace of modern astrophysics. Operated by the University of Chicago in the nearby town of Williams Bay, the observatory is the home of a 102 cm (40 inch) refracting telescope. Albert Einstein even made a visit back in the day (maybe he was the one who originally placed a Spiderman replica at the apex of the dome).

Yerkes Observatory

Yerkes Observatory

Where to Stay

Find family-friendly accommodations near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin from traditional hotels to private vacation rentals through Stay22.com:

We left the Yerkes Observatory with five collectively rumbling stomachs. Thank goodness for Popeye’s Restaurant on Lake Geneva, truly right along the waterfront. With choices like Alaskan red king crab legs, prime rib, and BBQ ribs along with traditional kids fare, we ordered three generously-portioned meals from the “Little Sailors” menu. While we ate, our eyes were as busy as our mouths as we took in the eclectic decorations and spied on a family celebrating a birthday. Popeye’s is also known for spitfire favorites like smoked brisket and flame-roasted rotisserie chicken.

Popeye's Restaurant

Popeye’s Restaurant

Around mid-afternoon we boarded the Grand Belle of Geneva just in time for the Ice Cream Social cruise (compliments of Lake Geneva Cruise Line). Enjoying vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream, peanuts, strawberry, caramel, and cookies, we peered out both sides of the Grand Belle as our knowledgeable captain shared an hour’s worth of regional history, pointing out the architecturally-significant homes. We explored the upper and lower decks, keeping a sharp eye for mermaids and other creatures of the sea. One smart family (not us) even brought playing cards and other games to occupy their kids once the ice cream had been licked clean.

For dinner, consider the Dancing Horses Theater in nearby Delevan. With a show engaging enough to hold the attention of a three-year-old boy for two straight hours, you won’t be disappointed.  Arrive early to explore the grounds and to pet a  hedgehog, calf, goat, or kitten in the Baby Barn. Pony and train rides are available and even Jay Leno once made a cameo appearance at the exotic bird show.

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Dancing Horses Theater

At some point, you’ll want to unwind, relax, and just enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside and the lake. Point your car towards The Abbey Resort & Spa in Fontana and know a full-service oasis is waiting to serve your entire family. A Lake Geneva icon for over 45 years, The Abbey Resort & Spa truly has something for everyone.

To the delight of our kids, both the indoor and outdoor pools were open in time for our trip. And, get this, they even have adults-only pools for the over 18 crowd. With an on-site arcade, board game alley, and official activities director, a person might even welcome a crummy day or two.

The Abbey Resort

Lawn Games at The Abbey Resort & Spa

With several on-site dining options, we ordered from the 10 page room service menu, enjoying our  food on the attached balcony overlooking the marina. A couple was getting married in the beautifully manicured grounds; my guess is that the bridal party pampered at the spa while the groom and groomsman found 18-holes at a nearby golf course. Before dusk, we threw stones into the lake, scampered around a nearby playground, and chatted with friendly locals and other happy vacationers. Fireside s’mores finished the evening, a true sign of a successful vacation and the arrival of summer in the Midwest.


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.