There is no finer summer vacation spot in the Midwest than Wisconsin.
How do I know? I grew up in Madison and am a frequent visitor. Bring your bike if you drive. Madison and Milwaukee are a short hop beyond Chicago. And Amtrak runs eight trains a day from Chicago to Milwaukee ( and you can hop on the Badger Bus to Madison that also runs eight times a day ). However, it is also a short drive.
I took the Amtrak Hiawatha train to Milwauke,e then onto Madison via the Badger Bus. My friend drove and brought his bike. ( I have one there. )
Madison: City of Four Lakes
Madison is a great summer destination. The downtown is nestled on a one-mile isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona. You can bike everywhere.
We liked the UW Lakeshore Trail, which takes you direct to Picnic Point, which jets out into Lake Mendota.
Grab a brat and Lake Louie IPA microbrew at the UW Memorial Union Terrace after your ride. The also have corn on the cob and even veggie brats.
Don't forget to try some Wisconsin cheese, including at Framagination on the Capitol Square, where people can sample the state's signature cheeses and more. They also have sandwiches and people can enjoy their cheese or sandwich outside.
The Capitol Square downtown is hopping all summer. The Farmers Market runs Saturdays until 1 p.m. Wednesday night features concerts.
Nearby Law Park has a free water ski show every Sunday at 6 p.m. Also, people can rent a canoe at Wingra Park on Lake Wingra or at Brittingham Boats on Lake Monona Bay.
Don't miss Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Lake Monona as well as the UW Arboreturm.
My friend and I liked the free Vilas Park Zoo. It has a great cafe that features burgers and salads. Don't miss the lion cubs.
Architecture lovers will love the Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace Convention Center just off the Capitol Square. If you have time, Spring Green is 37 miles west on Highway 14 and features Wright's Taliesin home.
Just south of Madison is the Swiss Village of New Glarus. Enjoy a bike ride on the Sugar River Trail and then have some fondue at the New Glarus Hotel. Bloominladen is also worth a visit to pick up a souvenir.
Bike rentals include the B Cycles, which are everywherealthough some bike shops feature better deals on daily rentals.
Madison night life includes the Shamrock Tavern just off the Square and Woofs which has a nice beer bust Sunday afternoons.
Plan B on Williamson Street ( where the hipsters can be found ) is for dancing. The Club V off the Beltline Freeway is another option.
Lodging options include The Edgewater overlooking Lake Mendota. The Hilton ( which overlooks Lake Monona ) is also nice. The Best Western on the Square is another option ( the Park Hotel ) as is the Concourse. Bargain lovers might stay on the West Side including at the Radisson or AmericInn.
For more vacation ideas and activities, pick up ( or read on line ) The Isthmus or Our Lives Magazine. VisitMadison.com is another resource.
Milwaukee: State fair, public market, art museum and more
While in Wisconsin, stop off In Milwaukee. The state fair runs Aug. 3-13.
The city has a lot to offer, including the Milwaukee Art Museum along Lake Michigan with its stunning architecture that juts out over Lake Michigan. The Milwaukee Public Market is another must.
People will find many of the bars in the historic Third Ward. The bikeshare program, called Bublr ( an offshoot of "bubbler," which is what they call their water fountains ), is everywhere in Milwaukee.
The new Inter-Modal Station is nearby and features the city bus, the regional buses, Amtrak and more. It also has a cafe and a gift shop.
Read the weekly Shepherd's Express for more ideas ( including Ruthie's column which covers LGBTQ events ).
Other Wisconsin vacation ideas
Door County, which is a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is a favorite destination.
The shore along Lake Superior is very beautiful and features the Apostle Islands.
The lake country in northern Wisconsin ( Minocqua and Rhinelander ) and nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan ( including Porcupine Mountain State Park ) is another option. These areas typically aren't as hot and humid as the rest of the Midwest.
So there is more to Wisconsin than beer, brats and cheese curds. Best of all, there are several trains a day on Amtrak to Milwaukee from Chicago.
Bill Malcolm is a writer based in Indianapolis. He also writes for The Midwest Eagle ( an LGBT publication in Indianapolis ) and All Aboard Indiana as well as The Broad Ripple Gazette.
All or part of this material may appear in these or other publications.