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Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: 25 (Or More!) Great Things To See And Do In Lake Geneva
For over 125 years, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has been an idyllic vacation and resort destination for millions of visitors from all over the world.
Located just 12 miles north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, Lake Geneva is especially popular with Chicagoans and Milwaukeeans looking for a peaceful, yet very vibrant destination for a day, weekend, or longer.
This small town of just over 9,000 permanent residents is tucked alongside the east end of Geneva Lake, one of the most picturesque and popular destination lakes in the Midwest. There's a spirit in Lake Geneva that is undeniable. Just like us, it will call you back again and again!
Learn about 25 of our favorite things to see and do in the Lake Geneva area below ... Enjoy and be sure to comment on our Guestbook at the bottom of this lens!
Boat Rides On Geneva Lake
Sightseeing Cruises And More!
For decades, scenic tours of Geneva Lake have been a huge part of the visitor experience. There's nothing quite like a boat ride and being out on the water with the sun and fresh lake breezes reinvigorating your spirit!
There's always something new to see, whether it's the renovation of an historic lakefront property or mingling with other passengers or just waving hello to fellow boaters out on the lake.
The oldest and most well known boat in the fleet is the Lady Of The Lake, pictured above. She is a throwback to days gone by and is used daily for one hour sightseeing cruises.
There are a number of specialty cruises, like Ice Cream Social cruises, Sunset cruises, and dinner cruises. Most newcomers opt for one of the three sightseeing trips.
The shortest cruise is the one hour Geneva Bay cruise. If you're pressed for time, this is a good option. You'll see the area closest to downtown Lake Geneva and venture about halfway across the length of the lake (it's seven miles long).
An even better option is the full lake tour, which runs about 2 1/2 hours. You'll traverse the entire perimeter of Geneva Lake, with the captain narrating along the way. You'll see historic mansions and learn all sorts of interesting facts about the lake and the area. This is a wonderful, relaxing cruise and is highly recommended!
And then there's the mail cruise. Mail is delivered by boat to many of the homes along the shore, and the U.S. mail boat, named the Walworth, departs at 10 a.m. every day from June 15th to September 15th. This is a one-of-a-kind experience ... the "mailman" is an agile young daredevil who leaps off the front of the boat, stashes the mail into the mailboxes on the piers, and leaps back on to the back of the boat as it cruises along. You really have to see it to believe it! The tour (and mail delivery) takes 2 1/2 hours and the Walworth docks back at downtown Lake Geneva at 12:30 p.m.
We definitely recommend getting your tour tickets in advance for any of the cruises. You can handle all the details online at Cruise Lake Geneva .
As an update, we see the folks at Lake Lawn Resort in nearby Delavan have also started offering daily summer boat cruises around Lake Delavan. One of our friends took this cruise and really enjoyed it! Lake Delavan arguably doesn't have the eye appeal of Geneva Lake, nor the same level of spectacular shoreline homes and architecture, but it's scenic nonetheless and Lake Lawn Resort has been freshly revamped and invigorated in the past few years.
Check out all they have to offer at: http://delavanwi.org/wp/
Where is Lake Geneva?
Walking Path Around Geneva Lake
Bring Your Walking Shoes
Get your exercise by walking the perimeter of Geneva Lake!
Within the past few years, a walking path was completed which circles the entire shoreline of Geneva Lake. It was no small task, since the circumference of the lake is about 21 miles!
Obviously that's a bit too much to do in one day (or even two or three!), so the path is broken into seven distinct segments. You can access the path from just about anywhere, and the real fun of the journey is getting an up close and personal look at some of the spectacular shoreline real estate. We have walked several of the segments and just recently hiked the Williams Bay to Fontana leg. This hike, about 3.5 miles long, borders on the spectacular. The terrain is varied, which will give you a great workout, and you'll pass stunning mansions, private lakefront clubs, and a few historical sites.
You can even arrange a boat pick up from the Lake Geneva Cruise Line at select locations. There are several parking areas located along the path as well,
Learn more about everything the path has to offer at: WalkTalkGawk.com
Fat Cats (Bar / Cocktail Lounge)
A Long Time Favorite Watering Hole
Fat Cats is a little bit of everything ... Nostalgic Lake Geneva bar / locals hang out / nightlife spot ... and yes, some might even call it a dive bar.
We've been stopping in here for over 30 years, so we know it's at least that old. I seem to recall it was there in the 60's when I first started going to Lake Geneva with my mom and my grandparents.
Nonetheless, you'll find a little bit of everything at Fat Cats. It's just steps away from the lakefront at 104 Broad Street, just a few doors south of the main downtown intersection of Broad Street and Route 50. Prices are reasonable, especially for Lake Geneva. Expect locals, late night tourists, wedding parties, and people from the beach looking for a cool, dark place to enjoy a beer or cocktail.
In short, everyone is welcome at Fat Cats, a great bar in a great town!
The Cheese Box
Wisconsin's Finest Since 1940
The Cheese Box is a Lake Geneva tradtion since 1940. It's located about 1/2 mile south of downtown on County Highway H.
County H is the original Route 12. The highway was diverted outside of town to accommodate higher traffic loads in the early 1970s or thereabouts. This particular stretch of the old Rt. 12 harbors a lot of history. It is still known as the Miracle Mile to some, Motel Mile to others. You can still see vestiges of many old motels as you traverse this stretch of road ... motels that saw their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.
Thankfully, many have been renovated over the years and still welcome guests looking for a less expensive place to spend a few nights. And in the midst of all the motels, mini golf courses, and newer upscale properties is The Cheese Box.
It's a small place, probably no more than 1500 square feet all told. There's pretty much a deli counter and that's it. But the cases are stocked with the best Wisconsin cheeses, sausages, and specialty foods. Many are made here.
It's a perfect place to stock up for a picnic on the lake or fill up a cooler for your motel room. You can buy beer and wine here too! As an added bonus, they stock a nice selection of Wisconsin wines. If you haven't associated Wisconsin with wine, you should know there's a vibrant wine producing area in the western and north eastern part of the state, and many of the wines, particularly the rieslings, are top notch.
The Cheese Box is a must stop attraction while in Lake Geneva. Enjoy a real taste of Wisconsin!
Budget Host Motel
Clean, Comfortable, And A Great Value
Located about 1/4 mile south of The Cheese Box on County H (also known as Wells Street), the Budget Host Diplomat Motel is a great choice for visitors who don't want to spend an arm and a leg for a good night's sleep.
The motel is at 1060 Wells Street, which is about 10 blocks from downtown. It's walkable to downtown but there aren't sidewalks all the way so we don't recommend it. Don't misconstrue; the area is totally safe but the terrain isn't 100% suited for walking. If you drive, you can be in downtown Lake Geneva in literally two minutes or less.
There are a variety of rooms available and as an added plus, the largest swimming pool in the Lake Geneva area. It is kept at a toasty 82 degrees so it's ideal for a swim even if the air temps are a little cool.
The Budget Host Diplomat is part of the Budget Host national chain although this place has the personal service of a long time local independent. It's a clean, comfotable, and convenient place to stay if you're on a budget
Staller Estate Vineyard And Winery
A Little Bit Of Napa Valley Near Lake Geneva
Wine in Wisconsin ... Who Knew?
Actually, if you drive around Walworth County (where Lake Geneva is located), you'll notice a hilly terrain with numerous valleys and lush green foliage. Agriculture is still alive and well in Walworth County and in recent years, grapes have become one of the many fruits and vegetables grown here.
Staller Estate Vineyard and Winery is one of the newer Wisconsin wineries to hit the scene. It's located about 15 minutes west and slightly north of Lake Geneva just outside the town of Delavan.
This is truly an estate winery. Almost all of the wines are handcrafted from the Staller vineyards located in Walworth County. You can visit the Staller Estate Vineyard and Winery every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The winery is very popular, so sometimes they are out of stock on certain wines, but you'll be sure to find one or more that you like.
We were quite impressed with the wines, particularly a white wine named Horizon Cuvee. It's a semi dry offering with notes of grapefruit up front and then all kinds of fruit flavors in the palate. Pick up a bottle or two for your wine collection, or to educate some of your wine loving friends about Wisconsin wine!
Mars Resort (Restaurant / Bar / Supper Club)
Oh Those Wisconsin Fish Frys!
Mars Resort and Restaurant is hard to find and even harder to forget. It's located about 5 minutes outside of downtown Lake Geneva, tucked along the south shore of neighboring Lake Como.
Mars Resort has been around since the 1920s. It's a combination rustic resort, boat dock, small beach, and supper club style restaurant. Fish frys are legendary, as are their ribs. You can sit inside or outside on their deck and take in the sunset over Lake Como. On weekends there's a piano player entertaining patrons with unobtrusive background music.
You can access Mars Resort off of Route 50 going west from downtown Lake Geneva. Watch for a small "Mars Resort" sign on the right hand side of Rt. 50. Turn right and follow the road all the way down (about 1/2 mile) to South Shore Drive, where you'll find the place. The actual address is W4098 South Shore Drive, Lake Geneva WI 53147 if you want to MapQuest it. The phone number is 262-245-5689.
We highly recommend this place for dinner. It's reasonably priced and the setting is relaxing and enjoyable. It was one of my mom's favorites ... back in the late 40's and early 50's she used to swim across Lake Como, about 3/4 of a mile swim, and catch some rays on their small beach just outside the restaurant. It was the last place I took her for lunch on her final visit to the area before she passed away in the late 80's.
Be sure to stop at Mars for a great meal at a great price in a comfortable, charming setting.
Lake Geneva Shopping By Mail! - Have A Little Lake Geneva Sent To Your Home
Here are a few of our favorite Lake Geneva books ...
Upper Crust Pizza And Pub
An Underrated Gem
We just discovered Upper Crust a few years ago. We happened to drive south on County H (Wells Street) past The Cheese Box to explore a small lake where my grandfather used to occasionally fish. That's Pell Lake, pictured to the right.
Upper Crust Pizza And Pub is located on County Highway H about 4 miles south of downtown Lake Geneva. You can dine in or carry out. We like to dine in and enjoy Chicago style pizza and great Italian sandwiches like beef, meatball, and sausage. The owners are originally from Chicago and ran pizza / hot dog places in the city before settling in this area some years ago.
The beer is cold, the hospitality is warm, and it's great for families. The locals know it but it's off the tourist track, meaning the portions are ample and the prices are low. The address is N1070 County Road H, Genoa City, WI 53128 and the phone is 262-279-2233.
Near the front entrance and the cashier station, you'll see loaves of fresh crusty bread for sale on a rack. The leftover pizza dough is used to make fresh italian style loaves daily, and Upper Crust sells them for $1 each. The bread is delicious! It freezes well too, so buy a few loaves and use it for toast, sandwiches, etc.
Make it a point to stop at the Upper Crust the next time you're in Lake Geneva. You won't be disappointed!
Apple Barn Orchard And Winery
A Real Farm Winery
Apple Barn Orchard and Winery is a fun place to visit. Located just outside of the town of Elkhorn (15 minutes from Lake Geneva), this is a family farm operation that has been around since the late 1840s.
Tours of the farm are available and you can pick fruit grown on their farm in season. A few of the more popular are strawberries, apples, and blueberries.
And then there's the wine!
Apple Barn Winery wines are easy and fun to drink. They're mostly fruit based wines, so they're slightly sweet and best served chilled. We enjoyed their Honey Crisp Apple Harvest and the Hardy Pear, which has garnered medals at national wine competitions. Most of the wines run about $10 a bottle, so buy a few for a picnic along Lake Geneva's shore.
They also host several festivals during the year and it's a popular place for kids too. If you're in the Lake Geneva area and have a little extra time, be sure to visit Apple Barn Orchard And Winery for some of their highly enjoyable fruit wines.
Big Foot Beach State Park
Just Two Minutes South Of Downtown Lake Geneva
Big Foot Beach State Park is located a short two minute drive south of downtown Lake Geneva, nestled along a cove of Geneva Lake known as Buttons Bay. It's part of the Wisconsin state park system and is best known for a small stretch of beach on the lake.
But this park is much more than just a beach. Across the road from the lake, Big Foot Beach State Park really blossoms. It's a 270 acre site with lagoons, hiking trails, camping facilities, fishing and kayaking areas, and scenic beauty. There is an active cadre of local volunteers who help tend to the park's needs and organize fund raising activities.
It's a great spot to camp or just picnic. You can even bring your dog friend, as they have a designated dog friendly area.
Here's where you can learn more about Big Foot Beach State Park .
Lake Geneva Scenes...Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chuck's (Restaurant / Bar)
When All You Want Is A Great Cheeseburger
The official name of this legendary restaurant and bar is Chuck's Lakeshore Inn, but everyone calls it Chuck's.
Chuck's is located on the west shore of Lake Geneva in the village of Fontana. It is just steps away from the famed Abbey Resort and practically next door to Gordy's, which also made our Top 25 List.
Chuck's offers sandwiches off the grill and a lively bar that caters to locals and tourists alike. The cheeseburgers are as good as it gets ... hot, juicy, and fresh. Check the Chuck's website for food specials ... we enjoyed 1/2 price burgers recently on a Sunday.
Out the front window, you can enjoy an unobstructed seven mile view across the blue waters of Geneva Lake, all the way to downtown Lake Geneva in the distance. It's about a 15-20 minute drive along South Lakeshore Drive, past many of the famous old mansions that hug the lake.
Chuck's is one of the best casual places in the Lake Geneva area. Stop in, relax, and enjoy!
Gordy's Boat House (Restaurant / Bar)
Great Food, Great Fun, Great 7 Mile View
Located adjacent to Chuck's is Gordy's, making this an ideal mini pub crawl if you're so inclined (we have been, more than once!).
Gordy's also has an official name ... it's Gordy's Boat House Restaurant ... but much like Chuck's everyone shortens it. Gordy's is known not only for its bar/restaurant that is a slightly more upscale (yet still very casual) experience than Chuck's, but also for boat rentals. For over 50 years, Gordy's has been one of the go-to place to rent a boat on Geneva Lake.
The bar and restaurant area has a fantastic waterfront view of the lake, and the food is really good. We like the fish frys and hefty sandwiches, along with great frozen drinks and cold beer on tap.
You can even arrive here by boat if you wish. Dock your vessel at one of the three piers in front of Gordy's or have their staff valet park it for you.
Gordy's is closed from early January through early April and is open every day during the summer.
Only Five Minutes And Yet A World Away
Lake Como holds a special place in my memories and my heart. It was here that my grandfather bought his first summer cottage in 1929, a small two bedroom frame cottage across the street from the lake. In the mid 1950s, he retired from Sears and built a three bedroom brick house a few blocks north from the lake on Larch Road. That house still stands today, a testament to his craftsman skills and his insistence on using 12 inch thick bricks in construction.
Lake Como is just north of Lake Geneva, only about five minutes drive. There really isn't a downtown Lake Como, although it is home to the famed Geneva National Golf Club, adjacent to the lake's western edge.
In many ways, the actual lake (Lake Como) is everything Geneva Lake isn't. It's quiet, peaceful, and mostly devoid of pleasure boat traffic. While it's a sizeable lake in sheer area (3.5 miles long and about 3/4 mile wide), the lake is only 9 or so feet deep at its deepest point.
Fishing is good, and catches often include bass, walleye, panfish, northern pike, and more. Lake Como's south shore is home to a few resorts and well known restaurants, like Mars Resort and the French Country Inn.
By contrast, the north shore is peaceful and residential, with just a few local establishments catering to those who live here and visitors seeking solitude. One such place is Duffy's Cottages, where you can rent a cottage by the week or weekend and relax in their onsite pub.
If you're looking to buy real estate near Lake Geneva at a more reasonable price, take a look at Lake Como ...
Carvetti's (Restaurant / Bar / Nightlife)
In The Heart Of Lake Geneva
Get your groove on at Carvetti's, one of downtown Lake Geneva's many nightlife options. There's a sizeable indoor and outdoor area, along with an outdoor volleyball area in back that can be converted to a group party area.
The menu is casual with daily specials that tempt the taste buds. The salads and 1/2 pound burgers are best bets, and there are 18 beers on tap to wash it down.
Later in the evening, Carvetti's turns into one of Lake Geneva's most popular meet and greet spots, where a young and fashionable yet casual crowd congregates. It's located right on Main Street (Rt. 50) in the heart of downtown.
Great Breakfasts On The Cheap
We don't know how long the Lake-Aire Restaurant has stood at the southwest corner of Rt. 50 and Broad Street in downtown Lake Geneva, but it seems like forever. And that's a very very good thing.
Lake-Aire is open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner, but make the pilgrammage for their farm fresh breakfasts. They're the best in town, and easy on the wallet. Just pop in and grab a booth, your waitress will be right over with coffee.
We can say a lot more about Lake-Aire, but you get the picture, right?
Just Across The Lake
Williams Bay is two things actually. First, it's an actual bay that's part of Geneva Lake, and second, it's a charming little town that offers many of the amenities of Lake Geneva, particularly access to the lake.
You can reach Williams Bay off of Route 50, just 7-8 minutes west of downtown Lake Geneva. it's a popular place in the summer, with many of the homes belonging to out of town residents. The town offers ample free parking, an accessible boardwalk, several specialty shops, and a nice selection of places to eat and drink.
Downtown Williams Bay is clustered around the intersection of Geneva Street and Walworth Avenue, just west of the public beach. Just park the car, get out and stroll around, and make yourself at home!
Alpine Valley Resort
Ski, Relax, And Rock 'n Roll
Alpine Valley Resort is probably best known for being one of the closest ski resorts to the Chicagoland area. But for over 30 years and counting, it has also been home of the Alpine Valley Music Theater, a concert venue that seats over 20,000 and attracts some of the biggest musical acts in the world.
From our own personal experience, we've seen quite a few Rock and Roll Hall of Famers perform here, including The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Eric Clapton to name a few.
Alpine Valley, as the name indicates, is also an actual resort where visitors can enjoy the entire resort experience, including outdoor activities, spa treatments, and so on. The setting is beautiful in any season. We've skied here many times, and although it doesn't compare to, say, Colorado, it's a great place to get your "ski fix" without having to hop on a plane.
Alpine Valley is easily accessible from Lake Geneva via Route 12. It's only about 15 miles from downtown Lake Geneva, just outside the small town of East Troy.
9 Lives Boutique: A Resale Shop With Heart
Help Homeless Animals
9 Lives Boutique is always one of our first stops in downtown Lake Geneva. It's an upscale resale shop and boutique tucked in an old home just steps west of Broad Street, the main north-south street in town.
9 Lives Boutique features designer clothing, accessories, home furnishings, quality antique furniture, jewelry, and much more, all at rock bottom prices. The selection is surprisingly diverse, and the store is attractively organized for your shopping enjoyment.
Most importantly, 100% of all profits go to the Lakeland Animal Shelter, (Walworth County's animal shelter). Lakeland Animal Shelter is very active in the community and does an outstanding job finding forever homes for rescued dogs and cats.
For a feel-good shopping experience, be sure to stop in at 9 Lives Boutique. They're located at 835 Geneva Street. Geneva Street is just one short block north of the main downtown intersection of Broad and Main Streets, so turn left on Geneva if you're going north on Broad. They're open every day except Tuesday and their selection changes frequently. Visit them on the web at www.facebook.com/9LivesBoutique .
Grand Geneva Resort
A History Of Resort Style Fun
if you're coming into Lake Geneva from the east of the south, you'll see the spacious Grand Geneva Resort at the intersection of Highway 50 and Route 12. The Grand Geneva is one of the crown jewels of the Lake Geneva area resort scene, along with The Abbey, Geneva National, Lake Lawn Resort, Alpine Valley, and a few others.
The Grand Geneva is everything you want in a four seasons resort. Family friendly? Check. Luxurious accommodations with numerous special deals? Check. Golf, skiing, and outdoor activities? Yes, yes, and yes.
The spacious grounds seem to go on forever, and the resort is a short hop to downtown Lake Geneva, assuming you feel the need to leave the resort. But pretty much everything you'd want in a weekend vacation is right here, especially during the winter when the lake isn't as much of a draw.
The Grand Geneva took the place of the former Playboy Club, which stood on this site in the late 60's through the early 80's.
For more information, check out the Grand Geneva website .
Maxwell Street Days
Shop Until You Drop In Downtown Lake Geneva
Maxwell Street Days is Lake Geneva's version of a huge downtown sidewalk sale. For as long as we remember, it's held in the middle to latter part of August.
Basically, it's a big sidewalk sale and all the stores seem to participate. The shopping scene is augmented by entertainment, food carts, and interactive activities. Vibrant, fun, and festive, Maxwell Street days is a Lake Geneva tradtion. it's the perfect way to spend a few hours getting to know all the specialty shops in town, and pick up a few bargains as well!
Explore The Skies And The Stars
From just about anywhere in the Lake Geneva area, you'll see the huge dome of Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay looming on the skyline. This scientific and astronomical center is run by the University of Chicago and has been a part of the Lake Geneva area since 1897.
For astronomy buffs, this place is as good as it gets. Even if you're not much into exploring outer space, stars, planets and such, Yerkes Observatory is well worth a visit. One of the largest telescopes in the world is on display, and you can take a peek during the free tours offered every Saturday.
Check the Yerkes website for the exact tour schedule, but they're usually held at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and noon on Saturdays. The tours last about 45 minutes, and there's an interesting gift shop you can explore afterwards. The tours are free, but there is a suggested donation of $5 per person.
Heaven For Gardeners
Located about three miles west of town along Route 50, Pesches Greenhouse is one of the largest greenhouses you'll find anywhere.
Just about every kind of flower, plant, gardening implement, and gardening advice can be found here. It's really a one of a kind attraction, far beyond a typical plant store or garden center. You'll just have to see for yourself! Pesches Greenhouse is open year around and is perfect for the gardening lover.
Historical Note ...
If you go east of downtown Lake Geneva on Route 50 for five miles, you will find a small lake and community called Lake Ivanhoe. It's one of many small lakes in the area, and is known by locals as a good fishing lake with a maximum depth of about 12 feet.
The community that surrounds the lake has an interesting history. Lake Ivanhoe was one of the first African-American resort communities in the United States. It's heyday was many decades ago, and there's very little evidence of the town's cultured past, which included a grand pavilion, full service restaurant, and more. Several of the streets are named after famous African-American cultural leaders of the 19th and early 20th century, like Frederick Douglas.
Lake Ivanhoe was established in the mid 1920s by black civic leaders from the Chicago area who wanted to develop a weekend resort community where African-Americans were welcome. The resort aspect of the community dwindled and faded into obscurity by the mid 1950s.
Today, Lake ivanhoe is a small rural bedroom community that is little more than a speck on the map. It's worth a drive around the community though, as some original summer cottages and structures from the 1920s still stand. Many of them are owned by descendants of the original community settlers.
Lake Ivanhoe is 5 miles east of Lake Geneva on Route 50. Look for the small green sign with an arrow that simply says "Lake Ivanhoe". Turn right and follow the road into the community and to the lake.
The Riviera (Historic Architecture)
The Heart And Soul Of Lake Geneva
As you approach the shoreline of Geneva Lake from downtown, one of the first things you'll notice is a large, handsome facility that seems to serve as an anchor to the lake. This is The Riviera, a landmark here for decades.
The Riviera was originally built during the Great Depression as a beach house of sorts for the adjacent public beach. The architecture of the building is stunning, and the facility is very well maintained. The unique design allows for a ground level arcade that is both sheltered and open air. The upper level has a lavish ballroom that has served many purposes over the years.
Most notably, the ballroom atop The Riviera was a performance venue where many well known bands played. Musical groups varied in style, from jazz to up and coming rock bands. Among the more well known performers that played here are jazz greats Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Many rock bands from the Chicago area also performed here, like Styx and The Ides of March, just to name a few.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the top of The Riviera was home to a bar called Top Deck. It was one of the most lively nightspots in town, appealing to crowds from not only the general area, but those from Chicago and Milwaukee as well. The Top Deck closed and the entire upper area was reconverted to its original intent, a ballroom.
Now, the space is used for meetings, banquets, dinners, weddings, and special occasions. The view from the top is spectacular!
The lower level houses a number of shops for visitors and the office for Geneva Lake boat tours.
Lake Geneva Public Library (Historic Architecture)
Frank Lloyd Wright Style
About a block west from the heart of downtown Lake Geneva is Library Park, situated directly across the street from the lake. It is the setting for the Lake Geneva Public Library and one of the most unique settings for a library anywhere.
The first thing you'll notice is how well the library building blends into its park setting. That was by design. The building's architect was James Dresser, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Wright influence is undeniable. Although the original structure has had a few additions since opening in 1954, the design is seamless.
Wright actually designed a hotel in downtown Lake Geneva, which sat at the current site of the Geneva Towers condominium building. The hotel opened in 1910 and was quite popular for decades until falling into disrepair by the late 1960s. Sadly, the hotel was demolished in 1970 after a fire damaged a wing of the building.
To learn more about the Lake Geneva Public Library, visit their website.
Lake Geneva Downtown Shopping
Specialty Shops Galore
One of the most fun things about downtown Lake Geneva is parking the car and just strolling around. And when you do, you'll find all sorts of interesting shops to poke your head into.
The heart of downtown is the intersection of Route 50 and Broad Street. You're about a block from the lake here, and in the midst of the shopping and nightlife area.
Many of the shops stay open well into the evening, particularly in the summer. No matter what you're looking for, or even if you just like to window shop, you'll find it! Fashion, home décor, antiques, art galleries, specialty retailers ... they're all here.
You can find a complete list of shops at the Lake Geneva visitor information site.
Townie Bars Around Lake Geneva
You know what a townie bar is, right?
If you're anything like us, you like to get a little off the beaten track when you travel ...
Well, that includes great places to have a cold beer and maybe a great burger or fish sandwich. Or, just a place to take a break from the tourists.
And so, we introduce you to three Lake Geneva "townie" bars. Now being labeled a townie bar isn't such a bad thing, in fact it's a compliment. It means it's a place where in-the-know locals go, because the prices are reasonable and the people are friendly.
So without further eloquence, here are three of our favorite Lake Geneva area local bars ...
The Owl Tavern: We just discovered this place very recently, even though the building has been around since 1908. It's tucked away on the south shore of Lake Geneva, about 1/2 mile north of South Lake Shore Drive. It's at the intersection of Maple Ridge Road and South Land Road (actually Maple Ridge Road deadends at South Land Rd., and the tavern will be right in front of you).
There's absolutely nothing fancy about The Owl Tavern. It looks like a northwoods lodge, there's a pool table in the back, and a small square bar seating about 20 people. The crowd is locals in the know, including those who own the pricey mansions along Lake Geneva's south shore. It's a very friendly locals bar with no pretensions whatsoever.
The only downside to The Owl Tavern? No draft beer. But there's plenty of Wisconsin staples in bottles, like Miller High Life, Point, Leinenkugel, and a few other gems.
The Como Inn: This small unobtrusive bar and grill is the bar I've been going to the longest in my life. I first stopped here in 1977 when truth be told I was a year or so too young to be present in places that served alcohol (shhh, don't tell!). I liked it then and I like it now, and have been coming back off and on for over 36 years. Now that's loyalty!
In any event, The Como Inn is a small long and narrow building off the side of the road that looks like a roadhouse. Inside, you'll find a long bar, the requisite pool table, a volleyball court out back, and a relatively new outdoor deck off to the side. The Como Inn occasionally hosts live bands, usually in the summer and fall although it's not uncommon to find live music here in the winter on weekends.
If you want a terrific inexpensive burger or fish sandwich, The Como Inn is the perfect choice. They're an underrated beer bar too, with a dozen or so beers on draft, including a few beyond the scope of the usual domestics. The crowd usually consists of locals from the area in Lake Como. They may be a little boisterous on occasion (and that goes for all three of these places), but don't worry, they don't bite.
You'll find The Como Inn about 3 miles north of downtown Lake Geneva on County H, it will be on your left hand side as you go along County H. It takes less than 10 minutes to get here from downtown, so spend a few $$ at an underdog local place and if you see Bubba, the affable manager/bartender, tip him well, he's a great source of area information.
Finally, there's the Zenda Tap. Zenda is a tiny community just a few minutes south of Lake Geneva along Zenda Road. Access Zenda Road either off County B or from south Lake Shore Drive. Zenda Tap is about five minutes south of The Owl Tavern and 10-15 minutes tops from downtown Lake Geneva.
We just discovered Zenda Tap, in fact it was a recommendation from Bubba at The Como Inn. The Zenda Tap offer six beers on draft, dirt cheap prices, and good grilled hamburgers and cheeseburgers. You'll find a crowd of locals, bikers, and others who know this is a friendly bar at workingman's prices. The Zenda Tap is about 1/2 mile south of County B on Zenda Road. It's right next door to the famous Melges boat yard.
Ye Olde Hotel Bar And Restaurant
Just 5 Miles From Downtown Lake Geneva
Another of our favorite Lake Geneva area restaurants is the ultra historic Ye Olde Hotel Bar & Restaurant. If you appreciate good food and good service in a comfortable historic setting, it will be well worth the short and easy 15 minute drive from downtown Lake Geneva.
Ye Olde Hotel Restaurant & Bar was originally built before the Civil War in 1860 to serve as a rest stop for traffic on the nearby railroad line. It's no longer a hotel, but it's been a legendary local treasure as a restaurant for decades.
The place has the feel of a traditional supper club, with a long bar in one room and seating on the other side. Ye Olde Hotel Restaurant & Bar is famous for their steaks, fresh walleye pike, and weekend specials.
Two notable specials are the blue gill fish fry and the Sunday roast pork special ($9.95) served with home made mashed potatoes and dressing. We love the traditional Wisconsin appetizers and drinks, like cheese curds, smelt basket, and brandy ice. We stopped in recently and enjoyed a great bowl of chili on a Sunday afternoon that really hit the spot!
Ye Olde Hotel Restaurant & Bar is located in the small hamlet of Lyons, five miles northeast of downtown Lake Geneva. It's a very easy drive from downtown ... just take Broad Street north which becomes Highway 120. Follow 120 for a few miles and turn right at Highway 36 until you reach Lyons. Turn right on Mill Street and Ye Olde Hotel Restaurant & Bar will be on your right a couple of blocks down.
They're open from Wednesdays through Sundays during the summer (closed Mon. and Tues.). In January through March, they are open Thursday through Sunday. Weeknights are dinner only, while Saturdays and Sundays they serve starting at 11:30 a.m.
Ye Olde Hotel Restaurant & Bar is an historical gem and a throwback to years gone by, before chain restaurants dominated our cultural landscape. Give them a try for dinner ... you'll be glad you did!
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