Last year for my birthday, I asked my boyfriend, Tyler, for a different kind of gift. Instead of searching for an object to buy, I asked if he would take me on a weekend trip to his family’s cabin in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. That sparked the idea to take an annual “birthday trip” and explore a new place in Wisconsin each time. This year’s trip took us farther north to Wausau, located in Marathon County. Since my late September birthday falls right at peak color in the north, it is the perfect time visit and explore. These are my top recommendations for a fall weekend in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Lodging in Wausau
Tyler told me a few months before our trip that he had booked us a room at one of the most historic places in Wausau. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The Stewart Inn is one of Wausau’s most historic buildings and made for an amazing first bed and breakfast experience. The architecture and interior design alone were breathtaking!
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 our questions about Wausau and recommended a great restaurant for us to go to on Friday night (more below). We were pampered with three-course breakfasts each morning, cheese and wine pairings in the evening, and chocolate chip cookies 24/7! The Stewart Inn is centrally located and is within walking distance from both downtown and the East Hill Historic District.
Dining in Wausau
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. I felt a little pretentious ordering the zucchini pasta, but I absolutely recommend it! Aside from a slight change in texture that I actually enjoyed, it tasted just like your traditional pasta dish with marinara. The best part was that I could eat the entire dish without falling into a food coma. Also important, I still had enough room to try their famous carrot cake!
Thrive Foodery is the perfect mix of modern restaurant and classic American pub. I ordered the bulgur veggie burger for my entrée (hold the mayo), 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 to-go box. This place also offers great carrot cake!
Hiking and Walking in Wausau
Any reputable Wisconsin traveler will tell you that Rib Mountain State Park is a must-see at any time of year, but given that it is one of the highest peaks in Wisconsin, it provides an especially picturesque outlook in the fall. As much as I love hiking, I decided that it would be a fun change of pace take the chair lift up the hill at the adjacent Granite Peak Ski Area. We ended up walking around so much once we got up there that I was relieved to sit down on the chairlift when it was time to head back down. I would suggest investing in this unique ride at least once to say you did it; if you feel like climbing the incline by car or 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 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 in Wausau!
Things to See and Do in Wausau
If I’m being honest, we were attracted to this museum, because it is one of the best free things to do in Wausau. I love museums, but don’t always have the patience to walk through art galleries when the content isn’t of much interest to me. The opposite actually happened when we stopped by the Leigh Yawkey Woodsen Art Museum in Wausau’s East Hill Historic District; I couldn’t get enough! This place and the artists it features each year are world-renowned for their bird art. 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!
I have to thank a Facebook ad for letting me know about this one. This little known landmark is actually the most accessible of the world’s four 45 x 90 coordinate locations; two are in the ocean and the third is in a mountainous part of China. The farmer who owned the land originally discovered the significance of the location in the 1970s and has since leased the spot to Marathon County to create the accessible landmark that currently exists. Two points of note: one, the address listed on our original source was NOT correct; the park is located on the east side of Meridian Road just north of Highway U (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 x 90 Club and receive a commemorative coin if you stop by the Wausau visitor’s center. We didn’t get that memo until we were back home. Oops!