Wisconsin is known for its gorgeous lakes and rivers and its incomparable scenery. Meeting planners that want to incorporate water into their events while avoiding big-city crowds should consider these beautiful and historic full-service destinations.
Manitowoc and Two Rivers
Manitowoc and Two Rivers hug the shore of Lake Michigan, about 30 minutes south of Green Bay. Though smaller destinations, they aren’t lacking in scenic vistas, maritime history or water activities.
Meeting planners interested in getting away from the biggest Wisconsin cities should consider booking a conference at one of the area’s three full-service hotels, two of which are right on the lake. The Baymont by Wyndham Manitowoc Lakefront hotel has 109 lodge rooms and 3,321 square feet of event space that can comfortably accommodate 250 conference or 180 banquet guests. The Lighthouse Inn in Two Rivers has 66 guest rooms and 5,542 square feet of meeting space that can be divided into two rooms.
The Baymont is strategically located next to one of Manitowoc’s main attractions, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, home of the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine. Conference planners can use both the museum and the submarine for off-site events like cocktail parties or receptions. The museum has 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces that can host groups up to 400 inside and 800 outside.
To experience this great waterfront destination, attendees can get out on the Mariner’s Trail, a six-mile paved path along the lakeshore for hiking, running and biking, or they can visit the nearby marina to rent kayaks or paddleboards or do some charter fishing.
The largest meeting facility in the area is the Holiday Inn, which is five miles from Lake Michigan and has 204 guest rooms and 23,700 square feet of meeting space.
On Lake Michigan, about a 30-minute drive north of downtown Milwaukee, Port Washington is a convenient jumping-off point for meeting groups that want to enjoy the waterfront location and tap into the small-town vibe, but also take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
“We are literally right on the lake, so our downtown main street runs north and south, parallel to the lake,” said Kathy Tank, executive director of the Port Washington Tourism Council. “No matter where you are in downtown, you have a view of the lake.”
Planners looking for waterfront meeting locations should check out the Harborview Hotel on the marina. It has 93 guest rooms and can host meetings of up to 100 people.
Larger events can take advantage of the Port Exploreum museum, which gives visitors a taste of Port Washington’s rich historical and maritime past while also connecting them to the future of the area. The museum can accommodate groups of up to 200 people. The Country Inn and Suites, moments from Lake Michigan, has 88 guest rooms and can host groups of up to 450 people in its Lakeview Conference Center.
To learn more about the area’s maritime past, groups can take a tour of the restored 1860 Light Station, which has guided ships on Lake Michigan since 1860. Guests can climb to the lantern room to see the replica Fresnel lens and take in the amazing views of the water.
Called the Malibu of the Midwest, Sheboygan has an unusual claim to fame. Visitors come to Sheboygan from all around the world to surf the waves of Lake Michigan from September through January. Sheboygan is located on an inlet from the lake that is positioned just right to pull in big waves, said Shelly Harms, public relations director for Visit Sheboygan.
Even if you don’t surf, Sheboygan has plenty to offer in terms of attractions and water-based activities. It is also famous for its bratwurst, which is served on round hard rolls instead of the traditional oblong roll.
With 900 guest rooms in the area, meeting planners have plenty of hotel options. For those who want to be right on Lake Michigan, the Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center is the largest conference facility in the area. It has 300 guest rooms, and its Grand Ballroom can host up to 544 people for a banquet or 1,250 for a reception.
The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is another great option for meeting planners. Not only is it a world-class art gallery, but its bathrooms were voted No. 1 in the world. Each one was designed by a different artist with Kohler fixtures and porcelain art pieces. It can host groups of up to 400 in its general event space, which can be closed off from the rest of the center during visitor hours. It also has outdoor event space that can host groups of up to 100 and a theater space that can hold 176 guests.
The Mississippi River figures prominently in the city of La Crosse, with the downtown area and the La Crosse Center, the area’s largest convention center, right alongside it. The convention center is undergoing a $42 million renovation and expansion, and the city recently added 400 hotel rooms within walking distance of it. As part of the renovation, the center is adding a new ballroom and a rooftop terrace that overlook the river and additional prefunction space.
“There are a lot of good additions,” said Jay Fanta, director of convention sales for Explore La Crosse. “It puts us in a good position for future larger meetings in the Midwest and national meetings and conventions.”
The center, which is scheduled to open in late fall of 2021, will have close to 150,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.
“A lot of the new meeting space really shows the views and the beauty of the region,” he said.
La Crosse has more than 2,500 guest rooms, about 1,000 of them within walking distance of the historic downtown area. The Radisson, which also has meeting space and 169 guest rooms, is connected to the La Crosse Center.
Groups that want to plan an off-site event can book a scenic cruise on the La Crosse Queen, a modern replica of a Mississippi River paddle-wheeler, or take a craft brewery tour of the area. Meeting attendees who want to get outside and explore nature can climb to the top of Granddad Bluff, a 590-foot-high hill with panoramic views of the area.
Kenosha, which sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a desirable sunny-day destination. Groups that plan events in Kenosha love to get attendees out on the water, either by visiting one of the five beaches or by renting out paddleboards, sailboats or kayaks. Smaller groups can book a private event on the Tall Ship Red Witch, a replica of an 1830s wooden sailing schooner that takes visitors on a two-hour cruise around the lake or rent out multiple boats for a charter fishing expedition.
With more than 1,200 guest rooms throughout Kenosha County, planners have many options to choose from. If groups want to be by the lake, the Wyndham Garden Kenosha Harborside has 109 guest rooms and 4,500 square feet of meeting space that can host up to 250 conference or banquet guests. In downtown Kenosha, the Stella Hotel and Ballroom features 80 guest rooms and 7,000 square feet of meeting space, including its two-story ballroom that features natural light. The ballroom can accommodate 300 people.
The Civil War Museum makes a wonderful off-site venue overlooking the lake. Its outdoor terrace can hold groups of up to 200 people, and Freedom Hall and the main lobby can host groups of up to 150. Meeting attendees can visit the exhibits during their event and learn more about the Civil War from a Midwestern perspective.