Wisconsin

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.

Snow-cation's All I Ever Wanted - Exploring Madison Amidst the Polar Vortex

It’s February. It’s the time of year where many-a-people run from the cold and flock to somewhere warm. It’s the high season for tropical, beach-y destinations like Hawaii, Turks and Caicos, and Cabo.

Call us crazy (maybe it’s our rebellious side coming out), but we highly suggest doing the opposite.

Sure, mai tai’s on the beach sound great - but let’s be real. You’ll be fighting the crowds, and you’ll be paying a high premium to do so. We think tropical getaways are always better during the off-season, where prices are practically slashed in half, and your chances of having the beach all to yourself are significantly greater!

So this winter, we decided to head somewhere different. Somewhere snowy. Somewhere that’s up-and-coming, full of winter activities (both indoor and outdoor), culinary experiences, and that friendly, Midwest charm. We got two round-trip tickets to Madison, Wisconsin, packed our winter coats (and hand warmers), and prepared for some sub-freezing exploring.! Here’s what we did, and what YOU should do when you head that way!

Great photo opps in front of the Capitol building!

ICE SKATE AT TENNEY PARK

Have you ever ice skated on a frozen lagoon before? We hadn’t either! Tenney Park is something out of a storybook - with snow covered trees, picturesque bridges, and dozens of families skating across the lake. You can rent ice skates for only $6/hour, and you can warm up with a hot cup of cocoa at the warming center after you’re done. If you’re a seasoned skater or hockey player, bring your stick and slide into one of the pickup hockey games.

Tenney Park kisses

STATE STREET

One of the most iconic streets in Madison is State Street, that runs from The Capitol Square to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. State Street has everything from fine dining to quirky boutiques, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, lively bars, and more. We found ourselves on State Street every day that we were in Madison - there was simply too much to see! Some of our favorite spots were Cask & Ale, Paul’s Book Store, August, The Soap Opera and Little Luxuries.

State Street views with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art on the right

Having snow-much fun on State Street

Ready to warm up with a cocktail inside Cask & Ale

Our first Wisconsin-style Old Fashioned’s

University strolling in the snow

Exploring the University of Wisconsin

BREWERY HOP

There’s no doubt that the craft beer scene is thriving in Madison. It’s “microbrew country”, as they like to say, with several fantastic tasting rooms and award-winning breweries. And we can’t think of a better way to spend a snowy day, then “hop-ping” (Get it?) around a few! There are breweries for any kind of beer fanatic - we took a liking to Ale Asylum, Karben 4, and ALT Brew.

Ale Asylum goods

Karben4 IPA time

OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS

Find yourself needing a warm escape from the cold air? Well, we’re happy to say that a tropical oasis DOES exist in the middle of the snow! While the Olbrich Botanical Gardens has over 16 acres of outdoor gardens, they also are home to the Bolz Conservatory - a warm and sunny escape from the oftentimes below freezing temperatures outside. There’s tropical plants, pretty birds, lakes with koi, and temperature in the conservatory is always kept between 65-95 degrees! And with admission at only $2/person, it’s an easy and affordable way to spend an afternoon! And don’t forget to brave the cold and walk around some of their gorgeous outdoor gardens… you’ll feel as though you’ve entered a different land!

Looking for pretty birds

Found one!

Thai temples in Wisconsin? You bet!

THE EDGEWATER SPA

We’ll take any excuse to have a spa day - and wintery weather is the perfect excuse! The Edgewater Madison is home to a luxurious, waterfront spa that’s cozy and welcoming and offers every kind of treatment one could want. If you’re heading there with your significant other, we highly recommend their signature Couples Massage. Complete your spa day with a glass of champagne, and a dip in the relaxation pool! Does it get anymore romantic than that?

Heading down to our massage

MADISON HOTEL WEEK

If we’ve convinced you to head to Madison, you’re in luck. February 8-18 is Madison Hotel Week, where you can find discounted room rates at some of the best hotels in the city! We stayed at The Edgewater Madison, and absolutely loved it. They’re offering a discounted rate of $125/night during Madison Hotel Week, which we think is a lovely time for a Valentine’s Day Getaway.

Views from our balcony. Can you see the “I Love U"?

Our balcony after the snowy evening :)

The staircase inside the Edgewater is beautiful!

Madison, Wisconsin blew us away. The friendly locals, the lively downtown, the stunning, snowy scenery… We loved every minute of it. And we can’t wait to return.

Beyond the Cheese: Eating Our Way Through Madison, Wisconsin

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Wisconsin?

Cheese?

Us too. As self proclaimed cheese-lovers, a state known for its cheese curds sounds quite heavenly. We couldn’t wait to explore! There’s no denying that Madison, Wisconsin is home to some of the most delicious cheesy dishes in the US. Places like The Statehouse, The Old Fashioned, Fromagination, and The Tipsy Cow have the most mouth-watering cheese curds we’ve ever tried. But what really caught our attention is how varied and impressive the foodie scene in Madison is in general! Because after awhile, even cheese fanatics like us tend to say “Cut the cheese!” (get it?), and desire a change of flavor. Here are a few of our Must-Try spots the next time you’re in Madison!

Give us all the cheese!

We can never get enough cheese!

CAMP TRIPPALINDEE

Anyone else love summer camp as much as we did? The games, the bonfires, the quirky counselors and the Capri Suns… Can we go back?! Well, probably not. But you can go to Camp Trippalindee, where those stories and memories can be relived! Grab a seat at their outdoor bonfire, wrap yourself in a blanket, make s’mores and sing camp songs (optional). Or sit at the bar inside, chat with the friendly bartenders and dine on juicy burgers and hearty sweet potato fries. Wash it all down with a Boozy Capri (an adult version of a Capri Sun) and play a round (or three) of Jenga! Those nostalgic summer camp feelings coming back yet? We thought so.

GRAZE

We love a brunch spot with a good view. Located across the street from the Capitol Building, with floor to ceiling windows, Graze has just that! Pair the view with tantalizing brunch options like the sticky bun, chilaquiles, or the loaded breakfast sandwich, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect Saturday morning! And if that cup of coffee at brunch wasn’t enough, walk across the road to Colectivo Coffee, where you can get a strong, smooth cup of joe!

ENO VINO

Speaking of good views, Eno Vino just might have the best one in town! This Spanish-inspired tapas and wine bar sits on the top floor of the AC Hotel in downtown Madison, and features jaw-dropping views of the Capitol Building. They have an extensive wine and craft cocktail menu, and their small bites are great for sharing. They even have a “Merienda Hour” with specials on wine, cocktails, and more - which we’re planning to hit up next time!

ALE ASYLUM

Madison is home to some of the best craft breweries in the US! Being there amidst the polar vortex, we weren’t able to get out to as many as we’d have liked. One of our favorites was Ale Asylum, which not only had amazing draft beers (Try their Hopalicious or Velveteen Habit), but also some solid pub grub too! We recommend their Honey Mustard Brisket, Hummus Plate, and Chips with their IPA Cheese Sauce. (OK, we know. More cheese. But it’s SO GOOD!) We also loved the beer at Karben4 Brewery - try their Fantasy Factory or Tokyo Sauna!

CANTEEN

Mexican food in Wisconsin? That’s a thing? We were just as surprised as you are! We were even more surprised that it’s actually really tasty and authentic. Canteen is a trendy, modern Mexican cantina that serves affordable street tacos with a twist. And they even make a mean margarita! Go at happy hour, when Pacifico Pints and Signature Margaritas are half off!

Ian’s

We always have to find a good pizza place. Thankfully, Madison did not disappoint in this department. Ian’s is a pizza-by-the-slice shop known for it’s creative pies. Seriously, have you ever had slices like these… Mac-N-Cheese, Portabello Pesto, Macho Nacho, Cheesy Potato with Ranch, or Smoked Brisket and Tots? They look, smell, and taste incredible! Unfortunately our stomachs didn’t have room to try them all!

Mac N Cheese pizza?!? Yes!

Are you hungry yet? Good - us too. Those are just a handful of dining options in Madison. Whether you’re cheese-crazed or lactose intolerant, there’s plenty of epic culinary adventures yet to be had in this up and coming town. Leave a comment and let us know what spots we should check out next time we’re there!