Last year for my birthday, I asked my boyfriend, Tyler, if we could spend a weekend together at his cabin in Williams Bay instead of having him buy me a tangible present. He agreed, and my first annual Discover Wisconsin birthday trip was born. During our first trip, we visited a few different restaurants; took a boat tour around Geneva Lake; explored one of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s historic sites, the Black Point Estate; and walked around downtown Lake Geneva and Williams Bay. I loved dedicating a weekend to explore a new part of Wisconsin and spend time with Tyler, and I am so glad he has been able to help make this a tradition!
This year’s trip took us farther north, to an iconic region of Wisconsin I can honestly say I had no previous memories of: Central Wisconsin’s Marathon County and Wausau.
I’ll tell you right now that part of the reason I love this ‘birthday trip’ idea so much is because my early autumn birthday falls right at peak color and is when the weather is still usually mild; this makes it perfect for hiking and most other outdoor activities. With only a weekend to explore, I’d say we did a decent job making our way around the area – but I’ll leave that up to you! Here’s our 2018 trip itinerary:
The Stewart Inn (521 Grant Street)
Tyler excitedly told me a few months beforehand that he had booked one of the best and most historic hotels in Wausau. I resisted the urge to Google search the place and instead let myself do something I usually hate – be surprised. I could not be more glad I did! The Stewart Inn is one of Wausau’s most historic buildings and made for an amazing first bed & breakfast experience. The architecture and interior design were breathtaking, and Randy, the owner, was able to answer all of our questions about the history of the place. Actually, he was able to answer all of questions about the city, too, and recommended a great restaurant for us to go to on Friday night (more below). We were pampered with 3-course breakfasts (didn’t know that was a thing), chocolate chip cookies 24/7, and a steam shower, of all things! The Stewart Inn is centrally located and is within walking distance from both downtown and the East Hill Historic District!
Back When Café (606 3rd Street)
When Randy recommended this place, I was intrigued. Don’t let the word “café” mislead you; with a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city, Back When offered an impressive dinner selection featuring everything from fancy pasta dishes to an upscale Friday fish fry that, according to my meat-eating counterpart, was top notch. I felt almost pretentious when I ordered the zucchini pasta, but I had been wanting to try this vegetable alternative since it first went viral among Instagram’s most esteemed vegetarian and vegan foodies, so I ordered it. 10/10 WOULD RECOMMEND! Aside from a slight change in texture that I actually enjoyed, it tasted just as good as regular pasta with marinara. If I had been given it as a dish in a blind taste-test, I would never have thought to ask if the noodles were actually, you know, noodles. The best part was that I could eat the entire dish without falling into a food coma, and more importantly, I still had enough room for their famous carrot cake!
Thrive Foodery (2105 N 2nd Street)
Apparently carrot cake is a thing here. I don’t mean to start with dessert, but I just need to put it out there that if you go to Wausau, I think you’re supposed to have carrot cake. I ordered the bulgur veggie burger for my entrée (hold the mayo – even if it’s vegan, I am 0% interested) but would recommend ketchup if you choose to go sans mayo like I did so the burger doesn’t taste dry. Tyler got the meat-lovers pizza (opposites attract, right?) and loved it, but note that unless you’re a competitive eater, you’re probably going to need a box if you attempt to eat the thing solo.
Any reputable Wisconsin travel organization or blogger will tell you that Rib Mountain State Park is a must-see at any time of year, but given that it is the second highest peak in Wisconsin, it provides an especially picturesque outlook in the fall. As much as I love hiking, I decided that we should take the chair lift up the hill, and I’m glad we did! We ended up hiking so much once we got up there that I was relieved to sit my butt back down on the lift when it was time to head down. It’s something I would suggest doing once to say you did it; if you feel like climbing the incline by foot the next time, go for it!
Wausau’s beautiful new river walk improves access and viewing to its greatest asset: the Wisconsin River. It connects downtown to other parts of the city and straddles both sides of the river. The infrastructure and landscaping is impressive, which stood out to me – among other features – when we first drove into the city on Friday. We took the path for about a mile and it served as the perfect spot for a photo-op with some of my new clothing from Desert Tide Boutique! Be sure to check out their newly renovated website and use the code ‘CHELSEY20’ for twenty percent off your order now through November 30th.
Things to Do
Leigh Yawkey Woodsen Art Museum (700 N 12th Street)
If I’m being honest, we were attracted to this museum over some of the others because of its accessibility to where we were staying, its low cost of admission (free), and the fact that it was one of the only museums still open so late in the afternoon on a Saturday. I love museums, but don’t always have the patience to walk through 2D art galleries, so art museums aren’t usually high on my list of to-dos. BUT, and I repeat, BUT, when there is content that is of interest to me, I can go all in, and that’s exactly what happened when we stopped by the Leigh Yawkey Woodsen Art Museum in Wausau’s East Hill Historic District! This place and the artists it features are world-renowned for their bird art. Growing up, my mom used to have an impressive set-up of bird feeders in the backyard, and we would always sit with a bird book inside and try to identify the birds that came right after she refilled the feeders. I appreciate artwork inspired by nature and the outdoors more broadly, and the pieces here were diverse and piqued my interest. Be sure to walk through the outdoor gardens after exploring the museum to see some larger and more interactive pieces!
45 x 90 Geographical Marker (Poniatowski)
I have to thank a Facebook post from Explore Central Wisconsin for letting me know about this one. I think it popped-up as a sponsored post actually, since geography is a prime keyword in a lot of my searches. This little known landmark is actually the most accessible of the world’s four 45 degrees latitude/90 degrees longitude coordinate locations; two are in the ocean and another is in a mountainous part of China. The farmer who owned the land originally discovered the significance of the location, and the spot has since been leased to Marathon County to create the accessible landmark that currently exists. Two points of note: one, the address listed on the Explore Central Wisconsin website was NOT correct; the park is located on the east side of Meridian Road just north of Highway U in Poniatowski (Google Maps knows where it’s at if you type in ’45×90 Geographical Marker.’ Two, apparently you can become an official member of the 45×90 Club and receive a commemorative coin if you stop by the Wausau visitor’s center. That would’ve been helpful to know before we left Wausau for good and made this stop on our way home.
With a new year comes another birthday and, for me, a third Discover Wisconsin trip. Where should I go, and what should I do there? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!
Note: All photos of me were taken by and are credited to Tyler Ayer.