Your guide to a great guys getaway in Lake Geneva
Located a mere 50 miles southwest of here, a scenic and easy drive that takes less than an hour to reach from Milwaukee, Lake Geneva is a gorgeous, touristy resort town in Walworth County, enormously popular among leisure-lovers from Illinois and Wisconsin. But you already knew that.
If you've ever been to Lake Geneva, you know it's a haven for bachelorette parties, especially during the busy season, and if you've read OnMilwaukee, you know that it's also a cherished vacation destination for families – in late-summer, winter and on spring break, as well as among foodie couples and magic-appreciating adventure-seekers.
I've never been intentionally included on a bachelorette party, and I don't have a significant other or kids, but last week I spent three nights in Lake Geneva – on two separate, coincidentally timed and unexpectedly similar trips – and I can say this now with certainty: it's for the boys, too.
The first trip was an eventful but all-too-brief overnight stay in the middle of the week to play golf with a buddy from Madison and also pack in a bunch of other stuff – the fulfillment of a two-year-old wedding present promise. The second trip was a 12-guy bachelor party, in which no one else was from Wisconsin and only two other people had been to Lake Geneva before.
From this sample size of recent experience, I feel qualified to offer an unbeatable three-night itinerary for a great guys getaway in Lake Geneva.
Where to stay: Lake Lawn Resort
A former circus property that first opened its doors as a hotel 140 years ago, the historic Lake Lawn Resort sits along the Delavan Lake shoreline – just a mile and a half from Interstate 43 – and is a year-round destination for getaways, family retreats, weddings and conferences.
The full-service resort, 2400 Geneva St. in Delavan, offers over 270 guest rooms, as well as an 18-hole golf course, boat and water sport rentals, two outdoor swimming pools, an indoor pool, a 170-slip marina, fitness center, the Calladora Spa and three on-site restaurants.
My buddy and I had a spacious suite in the Norwood Lodge, which we checked into early in the evening. The room – well-appointed with a rustic aesthetic – was wonderfully more than we needed, featuring a queen bedroom, upstairs twin beds, three bathrooms, a sizable living/dining room and kitchen.
No sooner had we sat on our patio, regretting having not bought a bottle of bourbon to drink while overlooking the lake, than we realized it was time to leave for our first activity.
What to do: Lake cruise
After a 10-mile ride (15-20 minutes) in the Lake Lawn Resort shuttle, we'd arrived in downtown Lake Geneva. Placid, clear, surrounded by stunning mansions and imbued with the carefree vibe of vacation, Geneva Lake – remember, Lake Geneva is the town; Geneva Lake is the body of water – has been dropping visitors' jaws for more than a half-century.
The Sundowner Tour is one of about a dozen offered by Lake Geneva Cruise Line, 812 Wrigley Dr., and I'd argue it's the best: picturesque beauty at sunset on an early summer evening, an interesting guided narration of the lake's history and homes and a sufficiently stocked bar. Also, the Sundowner's only an hour long, which is exactly enough time for a drink, a couple photos and all the information you need about the Wrigley family's unfathomable wealth.
Later, for the bachelor party, we took a pontoon boat out on Powers Lake, swam around and invented a new drinking game. Boating on one of the calm, clean lakes in the area is highly recommended; Geneva Lake and Delavan Lake both offer public rentals, and there's nothing better than beers on a boat with the boys.
Where to eat: Oakfire
This sleek, three-year-old Italian-American eatery located right across from the Riviera Docks, where the cruises let off, is the relatively new kid on the block and definitely a crowd-pleaser. Oakfire, 831 Wrigley Dr., serves a nice selection of appetizers, salads, paninis, pasta and wood-fired Neopolitan-style pizzas, as well as some delectable desserts.
We ordered the bruschetta with prosciutto, buttermilk fried chicken parmigiana and sausage calzone, as well as a couple of the restaurant's signature cocktails, enjoying it at an outdoor table with a charming view of the lake. All of the food was quite tasty, but the best item was dessert: the almost-immorally indulgent Pizza con Nutella, a stuffed pizza with sliced bananas, Nutella, powdered sugar, chocolate drizzle, fresh basil and strawberries that had us feeling not only full, but like we needed to go to Confession.
It's not cheap, and Oakfire doesn't take reservations for groups of less than six people – there was a long line on our Tuesday night – so be prepared to be patient. But it's worth the wait.
Where to drink: Thumbs Up
Lake Geneva has a decent nightlife scene – admittedly less decent on a Tuesday night – with about a half-dozen true bars located downtown. After asking the advice of a local dude – who looked like he knew what he was talking about and suggested either Fat Cats or Thumbs Up, two solid dives on Broad Street – we wandered over to Thumbs Up.
There were 20-30 people inside, most of whom were playing trivia, one of several regular events the pub hosts, along with karaoke, movie night, ladies and guys nights and other theme parties. Thumbs Up, 260 Broad St., also has pool, darts, pull tabs, bar dice, space for dancing (more common on the weekends) and a friendly staff who let us play beer pong on the back stage.
The drinks are cheap and the people are cool, the vibe is fun but laid back, there's lots to do and no one seemed to mind us trying to turn up on a Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, Uber and Lyft aren't as prevalent as in Milwaukee or Chicago, but even on a weeknight, we didn't have to wait too long to get one back to Lake Lawn.
What to do: Golf
Whether you're a serious golfer or a beginner, no guys' trip to Lake Geneva is complete without hitting the links. The region is home to 11 courses – including some of the best in Wisconsin, which last year was named by Golf Advisor as the top golf destination in the country – from championship-level to par-3 experiences, as well as numerous driving ranges, an indoor golf simulator and mini golf.
On site at Lake Lawn is Majestic Oaks, the resort's sprawling and beautiful championship course. A historic masterpiece first opened in 1921 and splendidly re-engineered in 1990, Majestic Oaks lives up to its noble-sounding name. Set amid more than 250 tree-lined acres and two miles of shoreline, the course is known for its stately oaks, deep sand bunkers, subtle undulations and many-tiered greens, as well as a location right along beautiful Delavan Lake.
Armed with an energy drink and an attitude of upbeat ambivalence – I hadn't golfed in at least six years and was determined not to care how badly I played – I rented clubs and a cart and we set out, determined to avoid both total embarrassment and upsetting the real golfers.
The course has a traditional, straightforward layout, but is still challenging, as the copious mature trees that frame the holes demand accuracy. I'm more of a wicked-slice-and-wander-around-looking-for-my-ball kind of golfer – though I do have a Junior LPGA-caliber pitching wedge game – but we still had a terrific time playing Majestic Oaks on a beautiful morning.
That weekend, several guys on the bachelor party played at Geneva National, voted a top-10 Wisconsin course by GolfWeek and Golf Digest, featuring 54 serene holes carved out of the rolling countryside and designed by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. That's a damn good place to play too.
Where to eat: Popeye's
You walk into Popeye's, and it's abundantly clear this is not that Popeye's. First, because of the ubiquitous nautical theme (and lake view), and second because the staff will tell you so immediately, asserting that – although it and the national chicken chain both were founded in 1972 – the Lake Geneva one was first.
Large, lively and literally colorful, Popeye's is the ultimate tourist restaurant – it's casual, kinda cheesy, a little overpriced and the food is fine. We got the fried cheese curds, as required by Wisconsin law, the smoked barbecue baby back ribs and – as required by Popeye's law – the flame-roasted chicken from the famous outdoor rotisserie. Also popular are the hearty burgers and fresh seafood.
During our visit, we encountered three different bachelorette parties, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Don't go to Popeye's expecting a life-changing culinary experience; go there expecting to enjoy yourself. It's a Lake Geneva landmark, and you should eat there once when you're in town.
Where to drink: Hogs and Kisses
This is Lake Geneva's Saturday-night hot spot. A funky little place at 149 Broad St., it serves food (mostly sandwiches and burgers) into the early evening, and then turns up at night, with DJs, dancing, drinking and, from what I could see, far too many people doing Fireball shots.
Hogs and Kisses has DJs and dancing Wednesday through Saturday, and when our bachelor party horde was there, it was absolutely mobbed – a sweaty, swaying swarm of matching bachelorette shirts and people singing along to Backstreet Boys.
This place is a party at night, and you should be aware of that when you go, because no whining on the guys getaway. But if you're in the mood to let loose, it's the most fun bar in Lake Geneva.
Where to stay: Bella Vista Suites
An upscale boutique hotel ideally located right on the Geneva Lake shore and minutes from the downtown attractions, Bella Vista Suites, 335 Wrigley Dr., calls itself the city's "best-kept secret."
It features well-appointed luxury suites and in-room amenities such as jacuzzi bathtubs, fireplaces and private balconies, as well as the hotel's indoor pool, the Heartland Spa, Himalayan salt sauna and more.
Whether you're hoping for a romantic weekend away, looking to relax with the family or hitting the town with friends, Bella Vista Suites – if you're willing to pay a little more – is a great place to be.
What to do: Spa
Nothing says guys trip like spending an afternoon at the spa, right? If you value relaxation and feeling fantastic over outmoded ideas of masculinity, I can't recommend a spa visit highly enough. But, if you'd rather get stressed out, go play paintball at Richmond Hunting Club in Richmond, Illinois, and shoot the crap out of your friends, like we did to our bachelor.
Anyway, summoning our metrosexual confidence, my buddy and I ventured to Lake Lawn Resort's full-service Calladora Spa for some rest and recuperation. The spa and salon offers dozens of services, specials and packages, but we decided to get Calladora massages, 50-minute, intermediate-pressure rubs intended to alleviate stiffness and fatigue and improve circulation. It was incredible; my massage therapist and I talked about baseball and our various sports injuries, and I left feeling tranquil and rejuvenated.
Afterward, I detoxed in the steam room, and then we watched a World Cup game while sipping cucumber water. Bella Vista's Heartland Spa is also highly regarded, with a holistic, comprehensive approach to well-being and health.
Where to eat: Baker House
The Baker House, 327 Wrigley Dr., is a historic B&B overlooking Geneva Lake and right next door to Bella Vista Suites, a Nationally Registered Historic Property that's been preserved with many of its original details. An ornately furnished 1885 mansion, Baker House describes itself this way: "a fantastical folly set in a bygone era, a place where reality fades and decadence takes center stage. Designed with a hint of vintage glamour and a dash of old world aristocracy, you will be completely swept away to a world of Gilded Age living."
If that doesn't sound awesome, I can't help you. We went to Baker House for dinner on a Saturday night, and it was a perfectly fantastical folly, full of whimsy, wonder and hats. Lots of hats – old-fashioned, outrageous, military, Kentucky Derbyesque, feminine, fancy, weird and more. You pick a hat off the rack, sit in plush wing-backed chairs and overstuffed fireside couches, play parlor games at the table, then indulge in creative cocktails and classic specialties like beef tenderloin medallions, sautéed chicken marsala and Norwegian salmon filet.
As is tradition, we partook in Baker House's sunset toast, when the restaurant gathers everyone outside on the lawn – right in front of the lake – for a communal champagne toast, as well as an amusing history of the venue from its eccentric host. There probably isn't a more entertaining restaurant, or eating experience, anywhere in Wisconsin.
Where to drink: Champs
Every city in America is constitutionally bound to have a Champs, and Lake Geneva's Champs Sports Bar & Grill fits the bill – a huge, loud, buzzing hub, featuring pool, darts, a basketball hoop and games on TVs. What sets this Champs apart from others, though, is the large outdoor beer garden in the back, a chill gathering place to enjoy the nice weather.
Champs has an impressive menu, featuring the usual pub fare, plus several meatless entrée options, as well as daily food and drink specials. It hosts live music and other entertainment events a few nights a week, and claims to be an official Chicago Blackhawks bar.
We were there on a Friday night, with the Brewers losing to the Pirates on most of the many flat-screen televisions – and the sizable contingent of Cubs fans smirking. It's easy to imagine Champs being the go-to spot for Packers and Bears games in the fall, but the fun atmosphere would make it good times anytime.
With this guide, you're guaranteed a great guys getaway in Lake Geneva, but there's far more to do than just what I've written about here. For more information and ideas, click here. And remember, Lake Geneva is for the boys.
And if you can get a trip planned before the end of this summer, here are some upcoming events, from Visit Lake Geneva, to pencil into your itinerary:
Shake the Lake Music Festival at Lake Lawn Resort, July 27-29:This three-day festival kicks off Friday with a lineup of retro rock, food, fun and drink. Along with amazing tunes, activities include a KISS-inspired costume contest, the 3rd Annual Walworth County Bags Championship, carnival games, food trucks, kids' activities and much more.
Art in the Park, Aug. 11-12:Take in views of Geneva Lake while enjoying Art in the Park, a juried fine art exhibition featuring pottery, glass, wood, jewelry, painting, photography, sculpture and more. This event is held at Flat Iron Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Venetian Festival, Aug. 15-19:Highlights of this five-day festival include a carnival, water ski show, live music, craft fair, lighted boat parade and the area's largest fireworks display over Geneva Lake. Enjoy local fare at the brat stand and beer tent.
Maxwell Street Days, Aug. 24-26:Hit the streets of downtown Lake Geneva for the largest sidewalk sale of the year. Shoppers won't want to miss the bargains and specials offered by the area's stores during Maxwell Street Days. When it's time for a shopping break, the downtown area has plenty of coffee spots, pubs, grills, and ice cream must stops.
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