Waterfronts may be Wisconsin’s most valuable resource.
With abundant rivers and more than 800 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, Wisconsin has more than its share of beautiful waterfront destinations. Here are five small Wisconsin cities that take full advantage of their waterfront locations to get meeting attendees out of the ballroom and into nature.
Located at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, Eau Claire offers visitors plenty of opportunities to get out on the water, including canoeing, kayaking or renting pontoon boats. Hikers and bikers can explore along the Chippewa River State Trail, which follows the river, or enjoy paddling or tubing excursions.
The Pablo Center at the Confluence downtown features multiple art galleries and a theater that presents Broadway shows. The facility also has several spaces available for events, including RCU Theatre, which can seat 1,200 people or 220 on the stage.
JAMF Theatre can accommodate 400 proscenium-style or 300 for a seated dinner. Marilyn Schaefer Riverfront Hall offers Chippewa River views and can seat 100 for dinner, while the Market and Johnson Clearwater Recital Hall offers sweeping views of the confluence and Haymarket Plaza.
Eau Claire Event District, a multi-building event venue, offers both indoor and outdoor event locations and can accommodate groups of up to 1,000 guests. The 11,000-square-foot Crescent building can host 650 seated guests, and the 18,000-square-foot High Country Building can accommodate 1,000 seated guests. The site includes 133-inch projector screens, state-of-the-art A/V and full-service catering.
The County Materials Complex, which is scheduled to open in May 2024, will include the 172,502-square-foot Sonnentag Event Center, with a capacity of 5,000, and the John and Carolyn Sonnentag Fieldhouse, a 100-yard artificially turfed fieldhouse.
The largest meeting hotels in Eau Claire are The Lismore Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel with 14,000 square feet of event space; Metropolis Resort and Conference Center, with 8,350 square feet of space; and Sleep Inn and Suites Conference Center, with 6,400 square feet of event space.
In their free time, attendees can enjoy the largest sculpture tour in the nation, which features more than 150 sculptures on display, or visit the Chippewa Valley Museum.
Sturgeon Bay and Door County
Sturgeon Bay and Door County are situated on the Door Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Michigan. Most visitors to the area come for the 300 miles of shoreline, beaches and outdoor adventure. Visitors can take guided kayak tours or rent jet skis or pontoon boats to enjoy the county’s gorgeous scenery from the water.
There are 34 named islands in Door County, the largest being Washington Island, which is the only one with a year-round population. Visitors enjoy crossing the lake by ferry to reach the island. Once there, groups can take trams around the island, stopping at key points of interest.
The 161-room Stone Harbor Resort and Conference Center in Sturgeon Bay has the largest meeting spaces in the county and can accommodate groups of 300 to 350 for a banquet. The Landmark Resort, farther up the peninsula in Egg Harbor, has 291 guest rooms and nine small meeting spaces. Egg Harbor Room has 2,394 square feet and State Room has 1,463 square feet.
The Door County Trolley offers a variety of private group tours for up to 28 people, from lighthouse tours to winery and haunted tavern tours. Tour boats that leave out of Sturgeon Bay and Sister Bay take groups on narrated expeditions past lighthouses, Death’s Door, many islands, bluffs and beaches. Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours also offers Sunset Live Music Cruises.
Many meeting planners will incorporate a fish boil into their events. Locals cook white fish in a large pot over an open flame and then flash-finish it with kerosene to burn off all of the oil before the meal is served.
Wauwatosa, a charming village of 49,000 residents, is right in Milwaukee’s backyard on the Menomonee River. The village center is modeled after a European town, evoking Old World charm. The city is very walkable and offers boutique shopping, a variety of restaurants and a series of outdoor murals.
For fun, meeting attendees can walk or bike along the Menomonee River Parkway, which begins at Currie Park. The Oak Leaf Trail, which also follows the Menomonee River, is a 100-plus-mile trail that is perfect for cycling. Groups can also book a round of golf at Hansen Park Golf Course or Currie Park Golf Course.
Because of its proximity to Milwaukee, Wauwatosa is also a great location to take in a Milwaukee Bucks game at Fiserv Forum or take a 20-minute drive to enjoy all that Lake Michigan has to offer.
Renaissance Milwaukee West Hotel is one of the largest meeting facilities in Wauwatosa. The 12-story hotel, which opened during the pandemic, offers 9,864 square feet of event space, with the largest space able to accommodate groups of 550. The hotel’s restaurant, Eldr+Rime, offers space for more intimate gatherings with two private dining rooms.
Milwaukee County Zoo is only 2.5 miles from Wauwatosa and features several unique meeting options. The Peck Welcome Center, which is on zoo property, features a spacious indoor ballroom with large windows, terrazzo floors and an outdoor patio. It can seat 320 for an event. The Zoofari Center, which is located outside the zoo grounds, has a permanent stage and dance floor that can host up to 300 guests. There are several smaller spaces within the zoo that allow guests to view the animals while they dine.
The Sonesta and Radisson both have ballrooms, and several other hotels in the area feature smaller boardroom spaces.
A suburb of Milwaukee, Wausau is not only an outdoor lover’s paradise but also has a thriving cultural and arts community. Meeting attendees can spend time before or after their events partaking in the outdoor adventures the area is known for, including biking, hiking, skiing and paddling. The city was built along the Wisconsin River and Lake Wausau, which was formed when the Eau Claire and Rib rivers merged. The county has 863 miles of snowmobile trails, 42.7 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Dells of the Eau Claire River State Natural Area and more than 120 parks and forests to explore.
The Hilton Garden Inn Wausau in Rib Mountain is the city’s premier hotel, offering sweeping views of Rib Mountain State Park. The 108-room hotel is just two miles from the Granite Peak Ski Area, and local shopping, dining and entertainment are only five minutes away. The Hilton has 5,847 square feet of meeting space. The Grand Hall can accommodate 210 for a banquet and 387 theater-style. There are also four conference rooms and a small boardroom.
The Jefferson Street Inn is just two blocks from the Wisconsin River and one mile away from the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, which is a major attraction in the city. The inn has an 8,000-square-foot event center, including the Grand Ballroom, which features a bar, dance floor and stunning Palladian windows overlooking Wausau’s historic district.
The Grand Theater has several spaces that can be rented out for events, including the theater itself, which seats 1,200 guests. The Great Hall offers 4,300 square feet of event space that can accommodate 400 people or 220 for a sit-down meal.
Some of Oshkosh’s most notable attractions also make great meeting and event locations. The city, which sits along the Fox River, is home to a top-notch aviation museum and the Paine Art Center and Gardens. One of the most extensive aviation museums in the world, EAA Aviation Museum features more than 200 historic planes. Visitors can take a ride on a vintage airplane at Pioneer Airport or learn about space in the Willan Space Gallery.
EAA AirVenture Grounds and Expo Hangars have 179,000 square feet of space that can be used for events, conventions, shows or festivals. Outdoor exhibit space is also available.
The Paine got its start as an English-inspired country estate. The mansion is the centerpiece of the facility, along with four acres of garden galleries that change displays with the seasons. The Paine’s art collection features more than 1,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative objects and furnishings. Meeting groups of up to 200 can utilize several spaces for their events, including: the conservatory and adjoining carriage house; the mansion; and the studio, which offers a comfortable space for professional development, workshops and meetings.
Several venues are situated on the waterfront, including the Oshkosh Convention Center, which is connected to the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel. The convention center has a capacity of 2,200 and features 14 flex meeting spaces.
The Waters, a wedding venue and event space on Lake Winnebago, features a screened porch and balcony. The facility can accommodate a maximum of 300 guests, and its grand ballroom can seat 172 people.
The Howard is a three-story Old English/Tudor Revival mansion with 33,000 square feet of space that has been fully restored into an event venue. The building has a 7,000-square-foot concert hall and a ballroom that spans two floors and can hold up to 450. The facility also features a vintage 10-lane bowling alley.