By Calie Joy Herbst Special to Published Jun 22, 2013 at 10:02 AM

About 80 percent of the tourists who flock to Lake Geneva’s charming downtown are from Chicago. It’s kind of like their "Up North," while we Milwaukeeans prefer heading to the North Woods or the Wisconsin Dells.

But Lake Geneva deserves another look.

It finally felt like summer when I arrived at the quaint shopping district on the shores of sparkling Geneva Lake. Just 50 minutes from my front door in Bay View, it is filled to the brim with local, funky clothing stores, mom-and-pop restaurants and old-fashioned candy stores. Parking is plentiful, and as long as you pay at one of the convenient pay stations (it’s not too expensive), you can wander around all day carefree.

The largest and most popular resort, just a few minutes from downtown, is the Grand Geneva, once the glamorous Playboy Club of the 1960s. Though most of the facility has been renovated since its "Mad Men" days, the staff is dedicated to preserving the resort’s rich history through plaques, murals and displays of authentic relics from the era.

Staying at the Grand Geneva is definitely an indulgence, but the lush trees, manicured gardens and private lake will take care of any guilt you might feel for treating yourself.

In fact, treating yourself well is one of the primary focuses of the Grand Geneva’s new Wellness Retreat. The retreat offers small groups of participants the opportunity to bond with one another while learning about nutrition, exercise and wellness. Yoga classes, cooking demonstrations, fresh meals together and a special bonfire on the last night make this retreat unique. Participants often keep in touch well after they’ve returned home. You can find out more about the retreat here.

Busy moms like me will appreciate the peaceful environment of the WELL Salon and Spa. It boasts Himalayan salt lamps in every treatment room as well as a Himalayan salt whirlpool. The salt is thought to neutralize the harmful effects of modern-day devices that make us anxious and tired. I can’t say for sure if it was the Himalayan salt, but after my massage and time in the sauna and whirlpool, I certainly felt rejuvenated.

Despite all of the elegance, the resort is family-friendly. Older kids will love the Junior Escapades program, which offers opportunities for horseback-riding, a rock wall, dance classes, Top Chef competitions, basketball tournaments, photography, fitness games, Mommy and me yoga and nature exploration.

If you want to feel like you’re at a resort like the one in "Dirty Dancing," sign up for a "Grand Experience" like a the professional magic show, a golf clinic, and various Scavenger Hunts.

You can enjoy these workshops, the spa or the high-end restaurants while your kids play in the Kids are Grand childcare facility located right next to WELL Salon and Spa. The large, colorful space was filled with the latest toys, a movie library and staff members who were friendly, thoughtful and accommodating. (I called to check on my son three times in one hour, and no one seemed the slightest bit annoyed.)

But perhaps the highlight for the kids is the rustic Timber Ridge Lodge and huge Moose Mountain Falls Water Park, just a five minute trolley ride from the Grand Geneva. For my toddler, the trolley ride was its own adventure. But we were in awe of the large indoor water park, boasting 35-foot-high water slides, a 500-foot lazy river and a large toddler area. If you choose to stay at Timber Ridge, you get four water park passes that are good for your entire stay. You can check out more about Timber Ridge here.

With all that Lake Geneva offers less than an hour away from the city, maybe it’s time for Milwaukeeans to look south for their "up north" vacation.

Calie Joy Herbst Special to
Calie Herbst is a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools and editor of She received a Bachelors in Spanish and Sociology from UW-Madison and a Masters of Teaching Spanish from Marquette.

She has travelled extensively through the Spanish-speaking world, but her favorite place in the world is Milwaukee. She lives in Bay View with her husband, two year old son, Hudson and her two dogs. She and her family love to check out the latest events in Milwaukee and spend time at their cabin in Winter, Wis.

In her free time, her ideal self enjoys doing yoga, reading one book a week, and cooking with organic, local foods. Her real self just ends up watching terrible reality television.