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Why We Keep Coming Back to Wisconsin, No Matter the Season

Those that have been following our travels closely know that this past winter we ventured off on a snow-filled Wisconsin getaway… right in the heart of the polar vortex. While the temperatures were a little colder than we had anticipated (-13 degree weather with a windchill of -25), we had the BEST TIME exploring all that Madison, Wisconsin had to offer - even in some extreme icy conditions! 

Now we just returned from a summertime getaway in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin (you can read more about that trip here), and it cemented our love for this beautiful, neighborly, and always surprising state. 

Here’s why we’ll keep coming back to Wisconsin, no matter what season it is! 

THE NATURAL BEAUTY

WINTER :: Winter in Wisconsin is postcard-worthy. Families ice skating on frozen lakes, tall trees covered in glistening snow, charming shops and cafes welcoming visitors in for hot cocoa and a warm place to sit… It’s lovely in every way. We were mesmerized by the weather, requesting a window table at every restaurant so that we could watch the snowflakes fall over the city. 

SUMMER :: We didn’t think it could get more magical, until we returned this August. What we knew to be a winter wonderland had transformed into a green, lush, summer paradise. The Northwoods is what we would consider the ideal Fourth of July destination. We couldn’t get over how naturally beautiful Wisconsin is in the summer, and we can only imagine how colorful it is in the Fall! (That season is next on our list!)

THE FRIENDLY LOCALS

WINTER :: We always say that what makes a place is the people. There is no better way to learn, understand, and connect with a destination than through conversations with the people that call it “home”. During our trip to Madison, Wisconsin this past winter, we spent hours chatting with locals about the snowy weather, what life is like in Madison, and what restaurant really has the best cheese curds. (Important stuff.) 

SUMMER :: This trip, we spent our first morning in Boulder Junction on White Sand Lake with a local fishing guide, Marty Clauson. Marty not only taught us how to fish for walleye, but shared about his love and admiration for the state of Wisconsin. He told us about his around-the-world travels, and how he’s never loved a place more than where he is now. Marty’s love for the Northwoods was contagious, and by the end of our fishing adventure we were about ready to move! That’s when you know you’re somewhere special.

THE WISCONSIN CHARM

WINTER :: There’s a kind of charm that Wisconsin possesses, if you’ve been or if you’re a Wisconsinite, you know what we’re talking about. It’s more than the pretty scenery, rustic accommodations and smiling faces, it’s a feeling. In the winter we were charmed by Madison’s big-city-charisma meets small-town-allure. We’d sit in a snug coffee shop and sip our lattes as we’d admire the striking capitol building from across the way… Madison was approachable, yet cosmopolitan, all in one!

SUMMER :: This trip, we experienced Wisconsin’s charm just about everywhere we went. We grabbed ice cream at the local Ice Shanty Drive-In and Mini Golf, an adorable ice cream shop meets mini golf destination that one could only find in Wisconsin. What’s better than a soft serve ice cream and a friendly round of mini golf?

We dined at the Blue Bayou Inn, a homey and whimsical restaurant serving New Orleans cuisine by candlelight. We feasted on homemade soups, a table-side salad bar, and blackened catfish, all the while watching the lake shimmer in the distance. It couldn’t have been more romantic! 

One day we heard some people talking about the Min-Aqua Bats, the oldest continually running amateur water ski show in the United States, and we were instantly intrigued. Of course this kind of performance would be in Wisconsin! This free, interactive summertime attraction was spell-binding, and fun for the whole family. We couldn’t believe the tricks these young water skiers could do! 

THE SENSE OF ADVENTURE

WINTER ::  One thing we’ve learned from our Wisconsin travels is that Wisonsonites know how to have fun, even if the temperature is well below freezing. From ice fishing along the frozen lakes, to rooftop campfires underneath the falling snow, to whimsical botanical gardens that are begging to be explored… it was the winter wonderland we’d always dreamed of - and more! 

SUMMER :: We couldn’t get over all that there was to see and do in the Northwoods… it was borderline overwhelming! From picturesque hiking and biking trails, to exploring quaint towns, and swimming in the literally hundreds of lakes, it’s a destination that would take weeks - if not months, to properly traverse. It’s perfectly rugged and untouched, making the Northwoods of Wisconsin an outdoor lovers dream. 

We’ve been consistently surprised by Wisconsin. By its approachability, affordability, its pristine beauty, and even this time by how dog friendly it is! We’ve seen this state at its very coldest, and at its warmest, and we’re happy to report that we’ve truly loved both! We’ve still yet to experience Wisconsin in the Spring and in the Fall, so we’ll be sure to check back when we do. ;)

Our Quintessential Summer Getaway in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin

Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, the “Musky Capital of the World”. 

To some, that probably doesn’t mean much. To a true Wisconsin native, just the mention of this city (and it’s famed fish) sends nostalgic memories of family vacations and lake-side adventures. It’s a place that might not be on many people’s bucket list, but after experiencing it for ourselves, we believe it absolutely should be. Being born and raised in California, we had no idea what to expect when it came to a “Wisconsin Summer” - and we were amazed at what we discovered. 

Situated in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Boulder Junction has over 225,000 acres of state forest filled with lakes (194 of them, to be exact), rivers, and trails. It’s home to countless adventures,quaint small businesses, unique dining and shopping, family friendly resorts, and more. We spent four days in this All-American slice of paradise, and it’s been awhile that we’ve felt that relaxed and at home. 

Here’s a look into our summertime escapades in Boulder Junction:

LAKEFRONT ACCOMMODATIONS

We stayed at Dillman’s Bay Resort, a classic vacation property located on the shores of the breathtaking and picturesque White Sand Lake. (About 20 miles outside of Boulder Junction.) Beyond their cozy lakeside log cabins, Dillman’s has a full marina, tennis courts, playground, four beaches, picnic grounds, creative workshops, and more. It’s the kind of place that families return year after year, to swim, barbeque, play games, and breathe in that crisp Northwoods air. Oh, and they’re incredibly dog friendly too!

FISHING

It’s no doubt that Boulder Junction has some of the best fishing in Wisconsin. There are 194 lakes within 9 miles of town (pretty crazy, right?), making the fishing options seemingly endless! They’ve been coined the “Musky Capital of the World”, because more musky are caught on Boulder Junction lakes than any other similarly sized location. Beyond the muskies, they’re also home to walleye, bass, panfish, brook trout, and yellow perch, among many others. Boulder Junction is a fisherman's dream! 

HEART OF VILAS COUNTY BIKE TRAIL

With more than 50 miles of paved trails that connect Boulder Junction  to its surrounding cities, the Vilas County Bike Trail System twists and turns along lakes, rivers, and lush landscapes. There are even picnic areas and swimming spots to take a break, and take a dip! The trail is smooth and paved and features rolling terrain that is fun for the whole family… it’s definitely a must-do! (You can rent bikes and e-bikes from Coontail, which is just steps away from the paved trail!)

DOWNTOWN BOULDER JUNCTION

Boulder Junction’s quaint downtown is like something out of a Hallmark movie, it’s cute and charming and perfectly picturesque, brimming with quaint boutiques, antique shops, cafes and restaurants, and local hang outs. You can tell that life moves a little slower in Boulder Junction, and we were perfectly cool with that. One could spend an entire afternoon just perusing and exploring the downtown, grabbing cheese curds at Boulder Beer Bar and ice cream at Mad Dog Jakes, which leads us to...

Cheese Curds for the win!

Cheese Curds for the win!

BOULDER JUNCTION DINING

If there’s one thing we learned, it’s that you won’t go hungry in Boulder Junction. There are food options a’plenty, and we found ourselves planning our days around our meals. (As how every good vacation should be planned!) We dined on woodfired pizzas and fresh salads at Aqualand Ale House, hearty omelettes and waffles at The Granary Restaurant, soups and grilled cheeses at Headwaters Restaurant and Tavern, and had a romantic, intimate date night at the Blue Bayou Inn (which is a little outside of town in Manitowish Waters). From the freshly caught seafood to the classic comfort food, we tried just about every kind of cuisine Boulder Junction had to offer... and let’s just say it was all so good, that our pants were definitely a little tighter when we left!

Love the vibes at Aqualand Ale House!

Aqualand Ale House pizza :)

Summertime in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin did not disappoint. We now know why Wisconsinites are so passionate and loyal to their summers in the Northwoods. It’s a slice of America we never knew existed, and now that we do, we already have the urge to return. The scenic surroundings, cozy log cabins, friendly locals, and fried cheese curds after a long morning of fishing on the lake…  it’s what an American summer is all about. 

God bless the USA, and God bless Boulder Junction. We can’t wait to come back.

Dog Friendly Guide to Kalamazoo

Being the embarrassingly proud dog “pawrents” that we are, we get overly excited when we discover a truly dog-friendly town. It’s probably the same kind of feeling (we imagine) as winning the lottery. 

“Sally (our bernedoodle) can come WITH US?!” 

“There’s MULTIPLE dog parks?!” 

“We can bring Sally to a BASEBALL GAME?!” 

There were multiple times a day that we were overcome with glee - not just because we were falling in love with Kalamazoo (it’s the coolest), but we just couldn’t get over how accommodating and welcoming this city is for dogs. Below is where we stayed, ate, drank, and played with Sally in-tow… and as you’ll see by Sally’s ever-smiling face and droopy pink tongue, she had just as much fun as we did. If not more!

STAY

Kara’s Kottages :: 95% of the time when we travel with Sally, we stay in traditional hotels. Sure, it’s tight and not always the most convenient, but we can always make it work. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when we find a bed and breakfast that’s not only cool, but dog friendly too. We were ECSTATIC to find out about Kara’s Kottages - a cozy, modern, and homey alternative to a standard hotel room. 

We stayed in the Redwood Kottage, on Kalamazoo Avenue, and we loved having so many “at home” amenities at our disposal. It had a full size kitchen (stocked with complimentary breakfast items), a living room, a washer and dryer, and even a quaint covered patio! Sally loved having so much space to roam, and with the pet fee being only $15/night, it’s an incredibly easy and affordable pet-friendly option!

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EAT & DRINK

Walnut & Park :: Summertime in Kalamazoo is magical - the weather was perfect (75 degrees and sunny) the entire time we were there, so we found ourselves sitting outside as much as we could! We loved Walnut & Park because of their relaxed and picturesque outdoor patio - and their specialty coffee and made-to-order breakfast sandwiches weren’t bad either! Plus, Sally was welcome to sit with us outside!

Factory Coffee :: We were anxious to try Factory Coffee, as there was a lot of hype surrounding this hip coffee shop, and it definitely suprassed our expectations. The coffee is strong, the ambiance is cool (it’s located in an old factory), the baristas are friendly, and the puppy-friendly outdoor patio is a great place to relax… for both humans, and pets!

Arcadia Ales :: It’s probably a good thing we didn’t discover Arcadia Ales until our last night in Kalamazoo or we’d have been tempted to come to this waterfront brewery every day! Their pet-friendly beer garden has shuffleboard, cornhole, direct access to the Kalamazoo River, and their extensive beer and food menus are some of the best in town! We highly recommend their famous wood-fired pizza - the crust is incredible. (Even Sally got to try it!)

Wax Wings Brewing :: Have you ever been to a brewery where you walk in and immediately feel like family? That’s how we felt at Wax Wings Brewing, the ambiance is relaxed, the people are friendly, and they serve some amazing beer on tap. Best part is? Dogs are welcome!! We’ll cheers to that! 

Mornings at Walnut & Park

Nice little afternoon at Factory Coffee

Sally wanted her own pizza at Arcadia Ales

PLAY

Fairmont Dog Park :: We know a dog park is a hit when Sally immediately collapses in the back of our car - exhausted, out of breath, and joyously panting for air. After a solid hour of playtime at Fairmont Dog Park, Sally did just that! It’s free to the public from 8am to sunset, and if we were Kalamazoo locals, we’d be there everyday!

Prairie View County Park :: This 210-acre lakeside park has everything from a swimming beach to picnic areas, to a super extensive, lush, and beautiful dog park! The fenced-in dog park spans over 7 acres, with plenty of room for pups to run free - and there’s even a shaded walking trail to enjoy! 

Kalamazoo Growlers Game :: Call us weird, but we’ve always thought it would be fun to bring Sally to a baseball game… and this dream came true at the Kalamazoo Growlers “Bark in the Park” night! Leashed pups of all sizes came out to watch the game with their owners, and Sally had a blast making new friends and trying a bite of Bobby’s hot dog. Check their schedule for Bark in the Park nights, it was a night we’ll never forget!

Beer and a dog. And another dog.

Don’t see your favorite dog-friendly Kalamazoo spot on our list? Leave a comment and let us know! We can’t wait to return with Sally and visit more puppy-approved places!

What You Probably Didn't Know About 'The Zoo" (aka Kalamazoo)

Kalamazoo, Michigan. With a name as fun and quirky as that, how could this city NOT be cool?! 

Located just 45 minutes south of Grand Rapids, this booming and surprisingly urban town doesn’t always get the same recognition of its other neighboring metropolises... but it should. Kalamazoo is hip and trendy in all of the best ways (think cool coffee shops, craft breweries, local boutiques), and yet it’s warm and inviting and unpretentious AND distinctly midwestern. 

We didn’t know much about “The Zoo” (as Kalamazoo locals like to call it) upon arriving, but we left with new friendships, countless memories, and a deep love for this bustling Michigan town. Here’s what we discovered about Kalamazoo, and why we’ll be back:

The Downtown is SWEET

We tend to judge a city based on their downtown. Is it hopping? Are their cool places to eat/drink? Do we immediately want to jump out of the car and go exploring? It was a big YES to all of those questions as soon as we drove into Kalamazoo. The downtown is easily walkable, surprisingly sophisticated, and filled with charming streets, art-filled alleyways, and lively shops and restaurants. 

Bates Alley was a little known alleyway in downtown Kalamazoo that was recently revitalized with a painted pathway, new decks, twinkly lights, and more. The result is breathtaking… even our puppy Sally thought so!

The historic Kalamazoo Walking Mall is not only an incredibly picturesque street to explore, it’s the first outdoor pedestrian mall in the United States! It’s filled with local shops, vibrant restaurants, brewpubs, coffee shops, and more - you could easily spend an entire afternoon here!

In our opinion, it’s not a downtown until you have a trendy rooftop bar - and Kalamazoo has just that! SkyDeck has 360 views of downtown Kalamazoo, plenty of places to sit and hang out, and wide variety of tantalizing mixed drinks. (If you’re feeling really adventurous, we suggest taking the stairs to the top! It’s a great way to get some exercise!)

Sally loves Bates Alley too!

Of course we stopped for ice cream in the Kalamazoo Mall

Best views in town from the SkyDeck

There’s A LOT to see and do

There’s no shortage of fun activities in Kalamazoo, no matter the season! We visited in early August, when the high temperature was 82 degrees, and the low was in the 70’s… absolutely perfect, if you ask us! Now having seen photos of Kalamazoo in the fall, we’re anxious to plan a trip to see the autumn leaves, and the winter looks absolutely dreamy too! But we digress… Even though our time was short, we packed in as many “must see” spots as we could (but there is still SO much more we’ve yet to explore)!

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum shares the history of Kalamazoo in a fun and “hands on” approach, with exhibits focusing on science, technology, and more! It’s fun for the whole family, and we had a great time learning more about Kalamazoo - and the best part is? Admission is FREE! (While we were visiting in the height of summer, this would be a perfect rainy day activity!)

Located in the iconic Kalamazoo Walking Mall, the Kalamazoo Candle Company is a family owned and operated candle shop with walk-in candle making! Visitors are encouraged to walk in anytime during store hours and craft their very own scented candle! The candle making process only takes about 30 minutes, and then they need about 60 minutes to cool. We had so much fun concocting our candle scents, we each made two! (This would also be a great rainy day activity!)

If you’re visiting Kalamazoo in the summer months, like us, we highly suggest attending a Kalamazoo Growler Game! The Growlers play in the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate baseball league, and they’re REALLY fun to watch. They’re very interactive with games, dance cams, contests, and more… And if you’re traveling with your pup, you might even be able to catch a “Bark in the Park” game, where dogs can come too! Check the schedule here

The checker cab started in Kalamazoo! There’s one in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum!

Making candles!

They have a RAD Farmers Market

We can never pass up a good farmers market, and if you’ve been following us for awhile, you’ve seen us hit up dozens across the country. We can easily say that Kalamazoo’s is one of the biggest and the best, as they have over 100 businesses represented! With everything from fresh produce to locally made accessories and wellness products, they truly have something for everyone. Days and hours change based on the time of the year, check the schedule here

It’s REALLY pretty in the Summer

Both of us were born and raised in California, with little (if any) knowledge about Michigan. We knew there were a lot of lakes… but that was about it! We were amazed by the beauty in and around Kalamazoo in early August  - it’s green and lush, the lakes are sparkling, and wildflowers everywhere are blooming. Michigan friends, we understand the hype now

Our first evening in Kalamazoo was spent at the scenic Gull Meadow Farms, where we got to frolick, play, and photograph our way through sunflower fields during their first annual Sunflower Festival. Does it get any dreamier (or more romantic) than this?! 

Located about twenty minutes outside of Kalamazoo is Prairie View County Park, which features 210 acres of lakes, picnic spots, a swimming beach, dog park, and SO much more! The scenery is stunning and the activities are endless (fishing, hiking, disc golf, boating, you name it- they have it), making it fun for the whole family. (Including your pup!)

Even downtown Kalamazoo has some charming parks, our favorite being Bronson Park. It’s grassy lawns, colorful flowers, and striking fountains make it a perfect place to break for lunch. And conveniently enough, during the summer it’s the location of Lunchtime Live! Lunchtime Live! is a seasonal food truck and music festival every Friday from 11:30am to 1:30pm during the summer, and it’s just as much fun as it sounds!

While we’re no experts on Kalamazoo by any means, we experienced enough to know that this city is something special. It’s a place that surprised us in so many ways, and we hope that at the very least, we piqued your interest in this vibrant and energetic city. 

We’re not sure when we’ll be back (hopefully soon!), but one thing we know for sure... it’s only going to get better

Our Top 5 In (And Near) Wallace, Idaho

Discovering new places that are off the beaten path is our jam. It’s 90% of the reason why we do what we do! (10% is for the food, obvi!) As we road tripped around Northern Idaho, we found some real hidden gems - many of which are in and around the small mining town of Wallace! It’s cute, quirky, oozing with history and fascinating superstition, and it’s absolutely worth a visit. Here’s a list of our Top 5 places to go and things to do in, around and near Wallace! 

(And for those of you in the planning stages, we stayed at the cozy Wallace Inn, just steps from downtown Wallace, and an easy drive to everything else. Highly recommend!)

THE ROUTE OF THE HIAWATHA SCENIC BIKE TRAIL

If you enjoy adrenaline-filled adventure, spectacular scenery, historic train tunnels, and downhill bike trails (that’s right - 100% downhill), you’ll LOVE the Route of the Hiawatha! This 15-mile long mountain bike or hike trail is totally epic, and sure to be the highlight of your time in Idaho - it surely was ours! The friendly folks at the Lookout Pass Ski Area will get you all set up with bikes, helmets, snacks, and even a bike rack for transportation to the trail. It’s about a two-and-a-half hour ride, but give yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the views, have a snack, and learn more about the history. And be sure to bring a jacket and wear comfy clothes that you’re ok with getting dirty - the tunnels are cold and wet!

THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Located in the heart of downtown Wallace, on the corner of Bank Street and Sixth Street, is the Center of the Universe. Don’t believe us? There are signs and a manhole/sewer cover to prove it! In 2004 the Mayor of Wallace at the time, Ron Garitone, declared and proclaimed Wallace to be the Center of the Universe. For no reason, other than why not? And that’s exactly why this random spot is on our list. It’s pretty cool to say that you’ve been to the center of the universe… even if it can’t technically be proven. 

WALLACE BREWING COMPANY

After you’ve taken your share of selfies at the Center of the Universe, walk down the street to the iconic Wallace Brewing Company. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time in this craft brewery that’s reminiscent of an old time saloon. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable, the crowd is a mix of Wallace locals and visitors, and the best part… it’s dog friendly! So if your pup is along for the journey, they can join you inside as well! Oh, and of course, the beer is really solid too. Be sure to try their famous Huckleberry Shandy! (Insider tip: If you want to enjoy your beer on the go, just as for a red solo cup! It’s perfectly acceptable - and legal - to walk around town with your drinks!)

THE OASIS BORDELLO MUSEUM

This famed wild west brothel turned museum is mesmerizing and bewitching, and one of the most engrossing tours we’ve been on in awhile. The Oasis Bordello was an active brothel in downtown Wallace until 1988, when the residents fled the building after rumors spread of a possible FBI raid. Since then, the new owners of the Oasis Bordello decided to leave the brothel completely as is, and make it a museum. It’s like walking into a time capsule, with everything from the bedding to the opened soda cans on the counters left just as they were. Unfortunately photos aren’t allowed on the tour, so trust us that it’s worth a visit. It’s absolutely captivating.

Outside the Oasis Bordello

RED LIGHT GARAGE

Being the foodies that we are, we couldn’t help but include a restaurant on this list. But this isn’t just any restaurant. The Red Light Garage is a Wallace staple - and whether you’re hungry for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this eccentric and downright zany spot has you covered. Especially if you’re in the mood for some huckleberries. Their huckleberry pancakes and huckleberry shake are basically world famous! 

Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear what your favorite sights in and near Wallace are, as we plan to return real soon!