They say the best things in life are free, and that’s especially true here in Wisconsin, where there’s a plethora of free entertainment to help you stave off the winter blues without breaking the bank. Here, in no particular order, are 13 of the best ways to entertain yourself without laying out the big bucks:
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. SC Johnson tours - Racine
With an admistration building and a research tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this tour is not only a look back at a very specific moment in time, but a view of some of the most interesting work of one of America's best architects. A separate tour of Winsspread, the home Wright built for third-generation leader, H.F. Johnson Jr., is also available and is just five minutes away.
Tours are free, but require a reservation.
All SC Johnson tours begin at The Golden Rondelle Theater, at 1525 Howe Street, Racine, Wisconsin. Tour check-in is in the lobby.
All Wingspread tours begin at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 33 East Four Mile Rd., Racine, Wisconsin.
2. Geneva Lake Shore Path - Lake Geneva
Despite the impressive and massive homes that dot the shores of Lake Geneva, the 20 feet closest to the shore remain public property. Cared for by the owners, it's an interesting symbiotic relationship.
The path around the lake is 26 miles, but take an hour or two to stroll one part to get great views of the lake while also talking in some of the amazing architecture.
A great place to start the path is at Lake Geneva Library - 918 W Main St, Lake Geneva, WI 53147,
3. Heggarty Museum of Art at Marquette University - Milwaukee
Located on the south side of campus, this art museum offers children's educational programs as well as integrated studies for the students on campus. From modern master to Renaissance classics to Contemporary art, the Heggarty houses an impressive 6,000 piece collection.
Hours of operation:
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
The Heggarty Museum of Art is located at Marquette University at 530 N 13th St, Milwaukee, WI 53233.
4. Grandad Bluff - LaCrosse
The tallest bluff in the LaCrosse area offers sweeping views as well as challenging climbing paths year round. It's the home of the city's New Year's Eve fireworks.
Access Grandad Bluff Park at 3020 Grandad Bluff Road, La Crosse, WI 54601.
5. Kohler Design Center - Kohler
It might not seem worthwhile to check out this three-floor homage to design, but it's oddly interesting. From showcasing the company's products to exploring its history making cast-iron farm implements, there's plenty to learn and keep you interested.
Hours of operation: Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sundays & Holidays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
There is a daily factory tour at 8:30 a.m.
The Design Center is located at 101 Upper Rd, Kohler, WI 53044.
6. Wisconsin's First Capitol - Belmont
In 1836, this is where the first territorial Legislature established Wisconsin's territorial government.
According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, they met from October 25 to December 9, 1836, put 42 laws on the books, established a judicial system, called for roads and railroads, and — most significantly — established Madison as the permanent capital city.
Dates and hours of operation: Jun 8 — Sept 5, 2016
Open Wednesday — Sunday:
10 am — 4 pm
The First Capitol is located at First Capitol
19101 County Highway G
Belmont, WI 53510.
7. Wisconsin Veterans Museum - Madison
I once wondered in here completely unaware after visiting the Capitol Square Farmer's Market and it's been a place I've recommended to people ever since. Despite the serious subject matter, there's so much history and necessary information packed inside.
The Museum is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Sunday (April through September) 12:00 to 4:00.
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is located at 30 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703.
8. Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour - Pleasant Prairie
The tours had ceased for a bit, but according to their website, they are back up and running. This is a warehouse, not a factory, but hop on the tour train anyway and learn a ton while having fun and you get to finish with the store to load up on every flavor imaginable.
Please note, the Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour is no longer available.
Open daily from 9 am to 4 pm.
The Warehouse is located at 10100 Jelly Belly Ln, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158.
9. University of Wisconsin Geology Museum - Madison
The discussion leading to this museum was had at the very first Board of Regents meeting for the establishment of UW-Madison.
From a full-size mastadon to the results of more than 100 years of geology studies at UW, there's an amazing amount of history to be seen.
Monday – Friday: 8:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday: 9:00am – 1:00pm
The Geology Museum is located at 1215 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706.
10. Miller Brewery Tour - Milwaukee
No brewery tour of Milwaukee is complete without a stop at Miller. Despite the fact that I've done it at least a dozen times, I'm still in awe of the size of the operation and I adore a trip into the caves and drinks in the Miller Inn at the end. All ages are welcome and soda is available for those who don't want to sample the products.
Tours typically run every 30 minutes between 10:30 a.m... and 3:30 p.m... (10:30 am - 2:00 p.m... Sundays seasonally).
Tours leave from the Brewery Gift Shop Building at 4251 West State Street
Milwaukee, WI 53208.
11. Henry Vilas Zoo - Madison
With plenty of indoor exhibits, this zoo in Madison is on 28-acres and owned by Dane County. Whether you go for an hour or all day, it's impossible not to be happy in the face of these amazing animals.
The Zoo is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., all year round except some holidays.
The indoor exhibits (Aviary, Herpetarium, Discovery Center, and Primate Building) and Children's Zoo are open 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Vilas Zoo is located at 702 S Randall Ave, Madison, WI 53715.
12. National Fish Hatchery - Iron River
Not only can you learn about the National Fish and Wildlife Services programs for sustaining and conserving the country's fisheries, you can see the process of rearing lake trout and brook trout for Great Lakes restoration.
Hatchery office and self-guided visiting hours of fish culture areas are open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Visitor Center, Picnic Area and Trails are available from dawn until dusk..
Located at 10325 Fairview Rd, Iron River, WI 54847.
13. Sandhill State Wildlife Area - Babcock
This State Wildlife Area covers 9.150 acres and is home to a small herd of American bison, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, loons, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls and furbearers find a great home here at Sandhill.
There are biking, hiking and cross-country trails as well as an observation tower. It's also home to an Outdoor Skills Center that holds workshops. Explore, take pictures, identify plants and animals and enjoy this relatively untouched part of the state.
Located at 1715 County Hwy X, Babcock, WI 54413.