Wisconsin is famous for its cheese, but that doesn’t mean meeting planners have to incorporate it into their events (although who doesn’t like a good cheese curd?). These five unique Wisconsin venues go far beyond dairy to tap into the state’s agricultural past as well as take advantage of its incomparable scenery.
Horstmann Homestead Farm and Events
The Horstmann family has owned their farm in the Driftless region of Wisconsin since 1869. The property is four miles from West Salem and just a 15-minute drive to Onalaska or Lacrosse, where most of the hotels are.
When the family first began homesteading, they raised dairy cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. The more recent generations raised beef cattle and grew crops to support them. A few years ago, the homestead’s fifth-generation owners Brian and Patricia Horstmann decided to convert the barn into a wedding and event venue because, at the time, they were both working full time, and it was very difficult to run a beef operation on the side.
Switching gears allowed them to generate a new revenue stream and keep the barn in the family. The barn underwent a complete overhaul that included new floors, ADA-compliant bathrooms, new electrical, a front patio and a back deck. The facility can hold groups of 200 people for a sit-down function and as many as 500 guests for a reception. Tables, chairs and table linens are included with the rental, and two attendants are on staff to make sure events go off without a hitch.
The back deck overlooks a beautiful valley, and the Horstmanns built a pavilion for wedding ceremonies to take advantage of the view. The pavilion can seat 180 guests. The former henhouse is available for the bride and her attendants to get ready, and the former bullpen is available for the groom and his groomsmen.
The Homestead Farm sits on 211 acres surrounded by beautiful hills that offer scenic views from all directions, and guests can enjoy the area’s natural beauty while sitting around a bonfire. The couple’s oldest daughter runs a DJ service for the property, while their youngest daughter is a professional photographer. Other add-ons include bar service and a day-of-event coordinator.
Heidel House Hotel and Conference Center
The 114-room Heidel House Hotel and Conference Center sits on the shores of Green Lake. Originally founded in 1890 as a private estate, the property became a resort in 1945. In 2019, the property closed. It reopened in 2021 under new management. The entire facility has been reimagined, and the new owners invested $11 million into a full renovation of everything from the meeting spaces to the guest rooms.
All the meeting spaces offer spectacular views of the lake, no matter what time of year it is. Dartford Ballroom is the largest of the facility’s three ballrooms, making it work well for large weddings, conferences and lectures. It can hold groups of 300 comfortably. Sandstone is a lower-level ballroom that can accommodate groups of 120, while Pleasant Point Ballroom can easily seat 180 and has a built-in stage. Pleasant Point is connected to Waves Pub and Grill. All three ballrooms have expansive windows and walk-out terraces overlooking Green Lake, allowing groups to incorporate a little bit of nature into their events.
The hotel offers an expansive catering menu but can work with groups that request specific meals that are not on the menu. Hotel staff will help groups plan everything from the menu and signage to the agenda.
The hotel partners with several rental companies in the area to bring groups out on the water. Green Lake Marina offers pontoon and ski boat rentals, and another marina offers kayak, paddleboard and e-bike rentals. Departing from the hotel’s dock, Escapade Yacht is a 60-foot boat that seats 36 at tables in the air-conditioned main cabin and 24 on the open-air upper deck. The hotel caters for events held on the Escapade. In their free time, groups can plan golf outings at Tuscumbia Golf Course, book a fishing charter or enjoy a spa day at Evensong Spa, which is adjacent to the hotel.
Lake Geneva Cruise Line
Lake Geneva Cruise Line celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2023. It got its start as a transportation company, shuttling people to and from their vacation homes on the lake. By 1873, larger boats were commissioned to carry as many as 700 passengers around the lake at a time. In 1879, John A. Wilson purchased two large steamers and formed The Anchor Line, the predecessor to Lake Geneva Cruise Line.
The charter boat service can take groups of up to 500 out on private tours of the lake, using many of its boats at one time. The highlight tour takes groups around the perimeter of the lake, giving a narrated history of the many beautiful and historic mansions and homes that have been built there since the late 1800s.
Some of the biggest names in Chicago — including the Wrigleys, Vanderbilts, and Mortons of Morton Salt fame — built homes in the area in the late 19th century. Most of the estates are only occupied for a month or two during the year before their owners head back to their primary residences. Many of the homes were built by Chicago beer barons, and one of the most popular cruises offered by Lake Geneva Cruise Line is the brewery cruise, which allows guests to sample different kinds of beer as they learn about the homes surrounding the lake.
Considered the Newport (Rhode Island) of the west, Lake Geneva is a popular summer vacation spot. The cruise line owns a lakefront restaurant called Pier 290 that features architectural items reclaimed from area mansions that were torn down. Many groups host cocktails on their cruise and then get off at the restaurant, where they have dinner, dessert, drinks and coffee before getting back on the boat.
The Stella Hotel and Ballroom
The Stella Hotel and Ballroom is in a historic structure built in the early 1900s that used to house the Heritage House Inn and the Kenosha Elks Club. A few minutes away from the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Kenosha, the full-service hotel features 80 guest rooms, 12 suites and plenty of meeting space.
The 3,942-square-foot ballroom can comfortably seat 225 at round tables for a banquet. The room has a natural wood floor, adding a touch of elegance, and large windows and beautiful chandeliers that are original to the building. The Elks Meeting Room can accommodate up to 65 for a banquet. The room once held a large swimming pool, and the blue mosaic tiles that cover the room’s pillars reflect that part of the room’s history. Several windows allow in natural light. The Heritage Meeting Room can handle up to 40 guests. There is a small boardroom, and the Card Room at the 1844 Table and Mash restaurant is perfect for more intimate gatherings of up to 40 people. French doors separate it from the rest of the establishment.
A small bridal suite overlooking the ballroom can be used for weddings but can also serve as a base of operations for corporate events held in the ballroom. The Café at the Stella, which serves coffee, pastries, breakfast and lunch, teamed up with the Lemon Street Gallery to exhibit artwork throughout the hotel’s public spaces.
The 1844 offers seasonal cuisine and features a vintage-inspired bar and lounge to enjoy cocktails or appetizers. The bar features more than 30 different types of whiskey, 12 craft beers on tap and signature cocktails. The Crow’s Nest Rooftop Bar offers panoramic views of Kenosha’s historic downtown and Lake Michigan. At night, it is the perfect spot to view the sunset while enjoying cocktails around the firepits. The Crow’s Nest is available for private events of up to 60 people.
Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center
An agricultural education facility, Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center shares the wonders of Wisconsin agriculture with all guests who walk through its doors. Visitors explore 10,000 square feet of exhibits that help them learn where their food comes from and the different types of technology that keep food production efficient and food safe.
Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, so visitors can learn about how a modern dairy operation works and how farmers work hard to care for their animals. Wisconsin is also one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation because of its range of climate, landscape, soil and seasons. It grows everything from alfalfa to zucchini.
Guests can enjoy a virtual tour of a local dairy farm and watch a calf being born in the Land O’Lakes Birthing Barn, which is attached to the Discovery Center.
The facility has a conference center attached that can host groups of up to several hundred. Very large groups can rent out the entire facility and even erect tents outside to capture the overflow.
If meeting groups arrive by bus, the center can take them to a local dairy farm down the road for an in-person tour. The center will also make sure to have cows onsite the days a meeting or event is planned at the center so attendees can experience the Birthing Barn firsthand. The Wisconsin Café on-site will cater breakfast, lunch and dinner for groups in-house and provides tables and chairs for any events held there.