This post presented in partnership with Stevens Point Area Convention & Visitor Bureau.
STEVENS POINT – The Stevens Point area has come a long way since its logging days.
Where once mills lined the Wisconsin River, now there are parks with free concerts. Plus, there’s world-class golf, a respected university and 27 miles of Green Circle walking and biking trails that loop through the region.
Walls around the area are enlivened by some great murals, including my favorite, painted by local artist Jessie Fritsch and picturing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with the names of dozens of groundbreaking women. (You can use this site as a guide to see all the area murals.)
The region is also a hotbed of craft, with nearly a half-dozen breweries, a winery and a distillery ... many of which are (or will soon be) within walking distance of one another in the walkable Stevens Point downtown that’s lined with historic buildings, including the 1920s Hotel Whiting – still the tallest building in the city center – designed by Milwaukee’s Alfred Clas.
These businesses are part of the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective and they all partake in the Craft Pass program that offers rewards, deals and prizes.
But this spot in beautiful central Wisconsin also remains rooted in both its past – with a range of interesting historical sites open to the public – and its rural setting amid dairy, corn and potato farms.
Just an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Milwaukee, the Stevens Point area should definitely be on your list of easy and rewarding getaways. Here are some tips from two recent visits.
Where to stay
The Inn at SentryWorld, 501 Michigan Ave. N., is THE home base in the Stevens Point area since it opened in March 2022. It is adjacent to the SentryWorld fieldhouse and events center, and the well-known golf course – both of which date to 1982, when they were founded by the John Joanis, then-CEO of Sentry Insurance, whose headquarters is across the road.
Arizona-based Swaback Architects designed the 64-room boutique hotel in a style that’s sort of Southwest meets lodge meets Prairie Style.
Both rustic and modern, lodge-like and luxurious, the hotel gazes out over the waning holes of the course which, in 2023, will host the USGA’s U.S. Senior Open.
If you’re a golfer you’ll surely want to get a round in, especially since there are two incredible snack bars on the course – all drinks and snacks are included in course fees – but also to get a chance to play the famous 16th “Flower Hole,” which is adorned with more than 33,000 flowers (and a few sand traps ... beware).
The rooms are comfortable and well-appointed and they all boast outdoor spaces and bathrooms that I’d say might make Kohler blush, but they’re mostly fitted with Kohler fixtures.
There are some great dining options on site, and the fieldhouse – available to guests at no extra cost – has tennis and volleyball courts and a golf simulator. The Inn itself also has a fitness center.
An Outfitter in the lobby has bikes and other gear for rent, along with snacks and some clothing for sale.
Arrive to smiling staff, who will greet you with a welcome drink, and soon you may get to meet the lobby dog (applications still being accepted).
Where to eat
Ruby Coffee Roasters, 1410 3rd St., is unbeatable for morning refreshment. The cafe opened in the heart of downtown Stevens Point in 2019 and focuses as much as possible on the organic, local and sustainable ingredients. The coffee is great – so great that Food & Wine called it the best in Wisconsin – but miss the pastries and sweet crepes at your own peril. You can also feast on heartier fare, too, like avocado toast, French toast, burgers, a breakfast BLT, a skillet bowl and more.
Mama Elda’s, 1828 Plover Rd., which opened in an outlot building in a Plover strip mall in December 2021, is a revelation. Take a seat in what looks like it used to be a fast food joint and prepare yourself for some top-notch Mexican, including delectable tacos and quesadillas that seem almost like giant empanadas. But, wait, an entire wall of the family-run place showcases the wares of the bakery side of the business, with fruit-filled pastries, chocolate covered treats and even gluten-free churros.
McZ’s Brew Pub, 178 N Main St., in Rosholt offers more than a half-dozen brewed-on-site beers – including when I visited a mix of ales and lagers as well as a maple porter, a stout and even a rauchbier – and some really tasty pizzas. There are also some sandwiches, flatbreads and salads on the menu.
The homey place has a sweet pup that will welcome you, and owner Kate Zdroik takes your order, pours your beer, cooks your food and delivers it to your table. Located in a former IGA grocery store on Rosholt’s small Main Street since 2017, McZ’s has a friendly small-town vibe and the day we visited, at least two other tables were occupied by town groups (one from a local church) holding meetings.
Feltz’s Dairy Store, 5796 Porter Dr., in a rural part of Stevens Point, is connected to the family's dairy farm, which has robotic milking and barn cleaning systems that are interesting to observe. Just a few yards from the cows is the entrance to the store, which sells all kinds of cheese, milk, butter, ice cream, maple syrup, beer, wine, sausage and other products. The deep fried curds – a mix of white and yellow – are about the best I’ve had anywhere. If you visit on Saturday, you can get a tour of the dairy farm at noon.
Belts’ Soft Serve, 2140 Division St., has been dishing – and coning – up ice cream since 1981 from a pair of walk-up windows at this small stand south of downtown Stevens Point. There are malts, shakes, sundaes, smoothies, slushies in a variety of flavors, including a flavor of the day, and plenty of candy inclusions to spice things up. It’s the place to be on a warm summer’s evening, but remember to bring some scratch as it’s cash only.
Main Grain Bakery, 1009 1st St., in downtown Point recently opened a sandwich shop next door and it’s stellar, which comes as no surprise to the artisan bakery’s customers, who were already wowed by the top-notch bread and treats emanating from the ovens. There’s a wide range of sandwiches on different breads featuring some meats but a lot of local veg, too. Don’t miss out on the hearty Wisconsin chowder, and if it’s a Wednesday be sure to grab a chocolate hazelnut sourdough sweet roll.
The Central Wisconsin Craft Collective
In addition to the previously mentioned Mc Z’s, the Stevens Point area boasts some other breweries, including some of the best and best-known in the state.
O’so Brewing, 1800 Plover Rd., founded in 2007, is located in a retail development in a former big box store in a Plover strip mall and it’s a sight. The taproom is huge and the brewhouse and barrel house are right there for all to see. There’s a couple dozen beers on tap and lots of cans – chilled and not – for purchase, too.
Point Brewery, 2617 Water St., in Stevens Point, has been operating since 1857 and is currently Milwaukee-owned. In addition to standard brewery tours, local history and beer guy John Harry offers history tours as fundraisers for the Portage County Historical Society, of which Harry is the executive director. More information on that – plus Harry’s great downtown history pub crawls – can be found here.
Central Waters Brewing, 351 Allen St,, in rural Amherst, just outside Stevens Point, is Wisconsin craft beer royalty and even if there is now a Milwaukee location, you should check out the place where it all began, alongside the Tomorrow River. Check out the brewhouse, taproom and the great outdoor seating, in season, of course. While much of what you’ll find here can also be had in Milwaukee, there will likely be a few unique things to procure, especially in the barrel-aged realm.
District One Brewing, 200 N. Division St., in Point has a large brewery and taproom just north of Downtown, and in addition to some great beers on tap and in cans– including a range of lagers (woot) – there’s also an extremely impressive bank of pinball machines and other fun to keep you interested and thirsty.
Great Northern Distilling is, ahem, still up and running in Plover but it’s tasting room has been closed since the pandemic onset, but fear not, the footings are in for owner Brian Cummins’ new location in the heart of downtown Stevens Point – right across the street from Main Grain! – and it should be open before we ring in the new year. GN makes whiskey, brandy and more and you can read all about it in this article.
Sunset Point Winery, 1201 Water St., just off the river downtown (and a couple blocks from the future Great Northern) in Stevens Point is a family affair. Though started by Racine native Kelly Guay, who attended UW-Stevens Point and went to work in the nearby paper industry as a chemical engineer (just like Cummins), Guay’s parents – Kathy and Gary Johnson – moved up from the Belle City to build out the winery and tasting room in the former Point Bakery location. And now they run the business and make the wine, which includes everything from sweet, dessert wines to fruity whites and reds to wines made from fruit.
While many wines are made from locally grown varietals, they also make what is likely Wisconsin’s only “Barolo,” with Nebbiolo juice sourced from Italy. There’s even a wine aged in a barrel that held GN brandy made from the same wine. The tasting room is welcoming and fun with about two dozen choices to sample and dangling swings for seating.
What to do
Green Circle Trail and Schmeeckle Reserve, 2419 Northpoint Dr., in Stevens Point are not the same, though they are connected. The 27-mile Green Circle Trail encompasses a number of parks around Stevens Point, and the extremely well-maintained trails are great for walking, biking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, running, dog walking and more.
We recently took a morning stroll for a few miles, starting from the trailhead at UW-Stevens Point’s Schmeeckle Reserve – right across the street from The Inn at SentryWorld. Passing through serene wooded areas, we came within just a few yards of deer. We then crossed over to Zenoff Park where we checked out the cool Stevens Point Sculpture Park pathway before turning back. It was quiet, immaculately clean, with tons of birds of all kinds and some interesting artwork, too. You can literally do the full circle around the city on the trails.
Portage County Historical Society operates a number of sites in the Stevens Point area, including the 1905 wood-frame Beth Israel Synagogue, downtown at 1475 Water St.; the 1885 Firehouse No. 2, 1949 Strongs Ave., which is the oldest surviving municipal building in the city; and Heritage Park, 2700 Madison Ave. in Plover, which contains 11 buildings, including a church which was the only one that was not moved to the site.
All three are worth visiting. The synagogue is full of interesting objects, photographs and memorabilia, offering insight into a tight-knit Jewish community in small town Wisconsin. The fire station, too, has tons of great objects and photos, plus vintage firefighting equipment. The Heritage Park’s buildings are a mix of homes, a train depot, an old schoolhouse, a caboose, a blacksmith shop, a print shop, a barn and more. Among the most interesting is a fully outfitted trailer that a Stevens Point family of performers used to travel with the circus.
Executive Director John Harry also organizes related events, like walking tours and more. Find complete details at pchswi.org.
The Food + Farm Exploration Center, powered by Farming for the Future Foundation, is currently under construction in Plover. Slated to open next summer, the center will feature fully interactive STEM exhibits, four one-acre center-pivot fields, a teaching kitchen and more to help kids of all ages learn where their food comes from, who grows it and the innovation behind food production.
Much of the plans are still under wraps, but, trust me, this is going to be pretty cool when it’s completed next summer. Think an ag-focused Discovery World, in a building designed by Milwaukee's Eppstein Uhen Architects.
Lake Pacawa Park, which is just next door, has been undergoing a big transformatrion lately and has become a community hub in Plover. Recently completed were the area’s first splash pad (a must for families!), ADA beach improvements and playground, fishing piers, interpretative walking trails, a pavilion and more. It reopened during Celebrate Plover in July and was alive with families having fun when we visited. It's also adjacent to the Wisconsin Korean War Memorial and the state-of-the-art Sentry Curling Center.
For more information on visiting and exploring Stevens Point, visit stevenspointarea.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.