The pandemic has touched pretty much every place, but a recent visit to Lake Geneva suggests that though this beloved Wisconsin resort, which draws heavily from Illinois, has maintained its rhythm and vibe.
In fact, according to Visit Lake Geneva President and CEO Stephanie Klett, Walworth County/Lake Geneva tourism generated $156.6 million more in 2021 than in 2020. That's even up $10 million over the non-pandemic year of 2019.
Tourism-related employment, she added, is also up over 2020 (6,846 vs. 5,895), though it continues to lag 2019 (7.252).
On a beautiful, sunny and warm midsummer day, the streets downtown were full of folks window shopping and eating, and the lake thrumming with pleasure boaters, some jet-skiiers and the comings and goings of cruise boats.
Riviera Beach was busy but not overcrowded and that seemed to be the case most everywhere. Lake Geneva was definitely alive and feeling visitor friendly.
Here are five great reasons to get back to Lake Geneva.
1. Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark at Grand Geneva
Located in just minutes from downtown, Timber Ridge is on the sprawling Grand Geneva resort property, with views over farm fields – we watched a farmer cutting and bundling hay – and the resort’s stables.
The rooms are like small apartments, with a complete kitchen, living room (with fireplace), bedroom, bathroom and balcony downstairs and another bedroom and bathroom lofted above on a balcony.
The Moose Mountain Falls waterpark – ranked fifth in USA Today’s recent Readers’ Choice 2022 poll for the country’s best indoor waterparks – has it all, too. There are two big tube slides, a lazy river, an outdoor pool, an indoor/outdoor hot tub and cabanas that afford privacy and added comfort. While the kids went down the 35-foot slides about 18 times each (literally), I lazed in the hot tub, on a tube in the river and in the cabana. Bliss.
Like downtown, the 50,000-square-foot water park was being utilized, but it was not packed and frenzied and so there was space, there were available floaties, the lines for the slides weren’t endless.
Timber Ridge also has an arcade, mini golf, a shop, a restaurant and, in the waterpark, a snack bar. And when I needed to get a bit of work done, the welcoming lobby bar at Grand Geneva was just a quick, free shuttle ride away.
"While both Grand Geneva and Timber Ridge are year-round resorts with seasonal offerings, summer is always a popular time with families taking advantage of school being out and enjoying the warm weather and summer activities,” said Jesse Kearns, Resort Manager at Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark.
2. Geneva Tap House
The recently opened tap house – at 252 Broad St. in the Geneva Theater building – has a whopping 50 self-serve taps from which to choose. While most are craft beer, there are also a couple macros, wine, hard seltzers and ciders available too.
Inside the big open space, with table seating, a patio and a balcony – which also has some TVs showing soccer while we were there – customers could order snacks while checking out the array of brews, dispensed using iPourIt technology that tracks the ounces poured using a radio-frequency identification wristband.
This is a fun way to try a variety of different beers.
3. Lake Geneva Cruise Lines
Departing from the Riviera Docks right Downtown, the Cruise Line offers a variety of cruising experiences on Geneva Lake, including the fun mailboat cruise in summer which finds teens leaping off the boat to deliver and back on without the vessel ever stopping.
There are also informative and relaxing sightseeing tours, cocktail and dinner cruises and more.
Adccording to FJ Frazier, Chief Operating Officer, Gage Marine, which operates the line, the business hasn’t yet gotten back to 2019 numbers, but did rebound last year.
“We have kept pace with the strong demand for Lake Geneva Cruise Line tours we had in 2021,” Frazier said. “We are fortunate to not have any staffing challenges this year and attribute this to our strategic recruitment plan. We started recruiting much earlier this year (February) and implemented an employee referral bonus program.”
4. Topsy Turvy Brewery
The brewery, which opened in July 2020, is housed in the neogothic former First Baptist Church at 727 Geneva St., just a block of the town’s Main Street and serves a wide variety of brews.
The brewhouse is in the basement and there brewer Justin Kirsch, from the Chicago area, crafts brews in a variety of styles, but with an eye toward always having some good sessionable options on the tap list.
When I visited, I noted a couple blonde ales, a couple hazy IPAs, a pale ale and a double pilsner, along wth a couple seltzers.
5. Big Foot Beach State Park
The Big Food Beach campground and beach are just a couple minutes from downtown and are both quite nice. At the beach, 1452 S. Wells St., you’ll often find boaters standing in the water next to their vessels enjoying a beer and company on hot days.
As I’ve noted previously, at the campground, which is open until mid-October, the sites and the park are quite nice. The beach is narrow and runs right along a fairly busy road, but is still popular.
Plus, there’s Ice Castles in the winter, the stunning and recently restored Yerkes Observatory in nearby Williams Bay, the great pies and sandwiches at Lake Geneva Pie Co., the ice cream and fudge at Kilwin’s and much more to lure you to Lake Geneva. What are you waiting for?
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.