Fun fact: during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, many Chicagoans escaped to Lake Geneva to wait out the burning and rebuilding period. It should not come as a surprise, then, to learn that Lake Geneva, WI, has been a continual destination for escape by city-dwellers since after the Civil War. With miles of shoreline and a number of crystal-clear lakes nearby, tons of trails, restaurants, events, festivals and more, there are many reasons why Lake Geneva should be high up on your list for a spring/summer getaway!
The History of Lake Geneva, WI
It was surprising to learn that Lake Geneva WI was not named after the same body of water in Switzerland, but instead, after Geneva, New York. Surveyor John Brink had been headed from the East Coast toward Galena, Illinois (which was actually the first official site of a mineral rush in the United States!). During his travels throughout the midwestern region, he came upon Geneva and named it as such. To avoid confusion with the Illinois town of Geneva, ‘Lake’ was added, resulting in the name we know today.
While our founder Megan Zink worked with the VISIT Lake Geneva organization to create this guide, our love for Wisconsin, cheese, and especially Lake Geneva, is genuine.
Maxwell Mansion Lake Geneva
Fitting right into that theme is the historical Maxwell Mansion. When it comes to Lake Geneva hotels, you could not find a more unique location.
The Maxwell Mansion was built in 1856 by Dr. Philip Maxwell, a real estate prospector and well-known surgeon in Chicago, as a grandiose summer home for him and his wife. He actually served as the 11th and final surgeon at Fort Dearborn and was also one of the first 500 listed on the census of Chicago when it was still a town.
ALLL THE HISTORY
Firstly, you know we can’t get enough of history, fun facts or unique and off-the-beaten path spots. Just like the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Indiana, Maxwell Mansion is actually part of the Historic Hotels of America collection.
From the home tours offered by the concierge to the accurately decorated speakeasy in the basement and aptly themed Apothecary bar upstairs, this hidden gem is filled to the brim with culture.
Secondly, no detail was left unattended to. Everything from the main house to the Stables (which were actually originally used as stables during Dr. Maxwell’s time and have been converted into equestrian-themed rooms). The rooms have some of the most luxurious and wonderfully delightful amenities you’ve ever enjoyed.
- Full steam shower: you know when you go to a spa and you can hang out in the steam room and then shower when you get too hot, mostly without ever leaving the vicinity? Well, imagine a hotel room with a PRIVATE, full steam shower that is also a regular shower, right off the main bedroom. Get too hot? Just take a regular shower, with a simple twist of the knob! Then shimmy into a fluffy robe.
- Amazing toiletries: J.R. Watkins soap, Essentiel Elements shampoo, conditioner and body wash and some other goodies will make you feel absolutely luxurious.
- USEFUL tech stuff: bedside power hub including a USB type-C port – not easy to come by!
The Apothecary & Speakeasy at Maxwell Mansion
As mentioned before, the original builder of the mansion was a well-known surgeon in Chicago. The owners decided to play up that factor with the medicinally-themed Apothecary bar – a quirky and extremely charming spot that is also open to the public. Pull up a seat at the bar (or take your cocktail into the adjoining theater room… or even out to the expansive patio) and indulge in a carefully crafted cocktail. They spare no expense – you can even enjoy a bit of opalescent Absinthe – and this stuff is no joke. Try the Kübler, which is from Switzerland – specifically from the region Absinthe was said to have been invented.
If you think the Apothecary feels like you’ve traveled in a time machine, just wait until you see the basement Speakeasy! This is also open to the public, but you have to have a password to get in. Guests of Maxwell Mansion are treated to a private cocktail hour from 8-9 PM and a dedicated entrance from inside the hotel. Be sure to grab a libation and take in the décor – and most likely, a jaunty tune from a skilled piano player.
Don’t miss the wall decked out in old prescriptions (they look more like certificates) and the giant ‘blood drain’ on the floor – Dr. Maxwell was said to have performed his surgeries in the basement. Word on the street is that they throw an excellent Halloween party!
Outdoor Activities, & Ambience, Oh My!
A bocce court? Amazing. A hotel with a full-size astro turf bocce court that is lit for night play, several fire pits, an outdoor pool with cabana, a film screening room and a golf cart shuttle fashioned to look like a classic car? Out of this world!
Every nook and cranny, including the ones outside, are filled to the brim of things to discover and activities to delight the senses.
BONUS: The Maxwell Mansion has 3 rooms that are pet friendly and accepts pets of any size for an additional charge. So don’t worry about needing to find a pet-sitting solution for a quick weekend trip. See… even more reasons to allow yourself a relaxing getaway!
Things to Do in Lake Geneva, WI in the Spring/Summer
Much like the fall and even the winter seasons, you will not be wanting for things to do in Lake Geneva, WI. Lake Geneva has an amazing mix of relaxing AND recreational activities you can find to set yourself up for a wonderfully well-balanced itinerary (because who likes to lay around, anyway?!). From restaurants, trails, outdoor adventure activities and some really incredible things to do on the lake, we’re sure you will find the perfect mix to help you recharge during your next Midwest travel adventure.
Downtown Lake Geneva – Restaurants and Shopping
No matter what the season, the downtown Lake Geneva area is always a great place for exploring – but nothing beats taking a leisurely stroll past all the shops and restaurants during the warm summer months. Here are a couple of hot spots to explore:
Egg Harbor Café
Sure, there are a couple of other Egg Harbor locations throughout Illinois and Wisconsin (and even Atlanta!), but that actually is all the MORE reason to check this breakfast destination out – you don’t have to limit your enjoyment to when you are in LG! The Egg Harbor brand was founded in 1985, by people who loved breakfast and wanted to build a company that puts its customers and employees front and center. Their mission is ‘improving service in every sense’. They source all ingredients carefully and ensure they are of the highest quality – offerings include fair trade Big Shoulders Coffee and Mid-State Specialty Eggs, which is a collective in Smithton, Missouri that works with ~160 small family farms based in the Midwest.
Galerie Matisse & Matisse Too
Inside the Fancy Fair Mall you will find some pretty cool artisanal shops that carry everything from elaborate and luxurious Oriental rugs to hand-poured candles and even some upcycled planters made out of old gas pumps and other items. Galerie Matisse offers some really amazing artwork from artists all over the world in a variety of styles. Too features home goods, décor and other unique finds like hand-blown glass and jewelry.
Some other favorite boutiques/shops:
Jayne – Jayne has a great selection of clothes and accessories and something is almost always on sale!
The Bottle Shop – head here for some wonderful locally-made wines and beers. They also have a wide selection of over 800 imported bottles – you’ll definitely find something to fit your tastes! You can also pop a bottle right on premise (there’s a $5 corking fee) either at the wine bar, in the back room – which often has live music – or in the spring and summer, in their garden/patio. Bonus – they also have SNACKS. Locally-sourced cheeses and spreads pair perfectly with all your beverages!
Other Lake Geneva Restaurants: Pier 290
Not quite in downtown Lake Geneva, but only a short 10-minute drive to nearby Williams Bay are a couple of other shops and restaurants to note. You can stop by on your way around the Geneva Lake Shore Path, hop on a scooter and motor over, or, ya know – just drive! One especially to note? Pier 290. The name comes from its location around the lake – as you’ll find out later, each pier was numbered because Lake Geneva used to have a mail boat that would run mail service to the town. Also this is actually the most effective way to fight fires, as well (because of all the windy roads, etc.) and so the piers have to be numbered.
Pier 290 is an American restaurant and bar with a modern aesthetic (but also a great balance of historical décor) with a beautiful view of the water. It also features a gorgeous outdoor patio/firepit area and even a small beach in addition to the piers. And yes – you can absolutely pull up and dock your boat for a midafternoon or evening meal. Live music, craft cocktails, stellar wine list and delicious eats make this a hot destination during the spring and summer months (and don’t worry – they also take advantage of winter too, they have igloos you can enjoy happy hour in!)
Try a Zipline Tour At Lake Geneva Canopy Tours
If you’ve never taken a zipline tour (or even if you have), you should definitely check out a canopy zip lining run at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. ‘Zip lining in Wisconsin?’ you’re probably asking? YES. Lake Geneva Canopy Tours operates in a reclaimed gravel pit – which is an amazing reuse for it. Not only that, the facility operates under some really innovative green initiatives. When the company built the ziplining course, they only felled 8 healthy trees, which were then all repurposed for the ziplining platforms. They use a tactic called ear blocks to hold the lines up, which allow the tree to grow around them and don’t disrupt the tree’s growth or health. Their platforms are also positioned in a specific way for phototropism – which means that they are best positioned for sunlight so they can grow.
The company also recently built a brand new lodge with a private conference room for some out-of-office team building, and the property also features an outdoor seating area with fire pit, as well as a picnic area. Finally, in addition to zip lining, Lake Geneva Canopy Tours also offers high ropes and mountain biking. No excuse not to get moving when you’re in the area!
Lake Geneva Boat Tours
Looking for more Lake Geneva WI attractions? Head down to the Lake Geneva Beach waterfront and you’ll find the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. Food, water activities and fun facts?! Heck yes! Check out the Sunday Champagne Brunch tour – there is an option for everyone. From a tour of Geneva Bay, to a US Mailboat Tour (remember that mail service above?) to the historic Black Point Estate or even a Jazz Dinner Cruise, you’ll certainly find one that suits your tastes (oh yeah – they also have a luncheon and an ice cream social tour too).
As far as the architecture tour goes, think champagne and fun facts. Some of our favorites?
- All the piers are painted white because it’s the cheapest color of paint you can buy
- The Geneva Lake Shore Path is 20.2 miles long and it would take 8-10 hours to do the whole thing
- Geneva Lake is the second deepest spring-fed lake in Wisconsin
Pro tip: if you are a little sensitive to the motion of water, check out an earlier tour time, when there’s less boat traffic.
Geneva Lake Shore Path
If you visit Lake Geneva WI, you absolutely need to check out the Geneva Lake Shore Path. As the cruise guide mentioned, it is a whopping 20.2 miles (which actually equals out to over 26 miles with all the weaving in and out) and goes completely around the lake. A decree by early settlers of the area stated that ’20 feet from the shore be preserved for public domain’- so rather than being closed off as private lakefront property, the path is completely accessible (via dedicated entry points) to the public.
The path, however, is also quite varied in its topography, because each property owner is responsible for maintaining their own part of the path – you’ll find everything from elevated bridges and paved walkways to precarious stepping stones and overgrown dirt trails. Wear a pair of sturdy shoes!
Other tips for walking/hiking the Geneva Lake Shore Path:
- Be respectful – stay on the designated paths and don’t trespass on the private property!
- Dogs are welcome, but only as long as they are leashed (and you pick up after them).
- Pick a section to focus on – 26-ish miles can be a lot to tackle.
- Use one of the public access points – some of the most popular are the Lake Geneva Library, Chopin Road, Williams Bay, Fontana, Shadow Lane and Big Foot Beach State Park.
- Buddy up; park one car at the end of a section, and drive to another so you can save yourself the extra trip!
- Bit off more than you could chew? The Lake Geneva Cruise Line does pickups from the Shore Path in Williams Bay and Fontana.
Summing It Up
Looking for a destination that is equal parts relaxation AND recreation? Look no further than Lake Geneva, WI – especially during the spring and summer months! Did we miss a great place for relaxation or recreation in Lake Geneva? Let us know in the comments!