When you think of Wisconsin, what comes to mind? Cheese? The Packers? There’s a lot more to the state, as I’ve discovered over the past few years during my travels. Harley Davidsons, jelly beans, and streetcars are just some of the intriguing attractions in the Badger State.
Note that most of my time in Wisconsin has been spent in the southern half of the state, so that’s where my focus is for this post. I haven’t yet had the chance to check out the national forests in northern Wisconsin, but they’re on my wish list for a future road trip.
In the meantime, follow along with my rundown of Quirky Travel Guy-approved Wisconsin sights, presented in random order.
8 Cool and Unique Things To Do in Wisconsin
Harley Davidson Museum (Milwaukee)
Even people who aren’t motorcycle fans will get a kick out of the Harley Davidson Museum, where you can view 100-year-old motorcycles, which look like street bicycles with small motors. You’ll also see Harley-created military vehicles, Harley snowmobiles, and even a bedazzled, rhinestone-covered motorcycle from the Elvis era.
There are dozens of Harleys from the past several decades on display, and you can sit on some of them to create that perfect photo opportunity.
House on the Rock (Spring Green)
The House on the Rock is one of the kookiest attractions in America, so naturally it was only a matter of time before I found myself there. The story behind this place is a bit confusing. Basically, starting in 1945, a wealthy, eccentric man built a maze of rooms and buildings that contain classic toys, musical instruments, Rube Goldberg machines, a sea creature larger than the Statue of Liberty, and a giant carousel that is purportedly the world’s largest.
The House on a Rock is almost impossible to describe with words alone. Just rest assured that’s full of odd toys and decorations and things that will blow your mind.
Jelly Belly (Pleasant Prairie)
Tourists flock to the warehouse tours offered by Jelly Belly in its Pleasant Prairie facility. The coolest part of the experience is the gift shop/tasting room. There are dozens of flavors here, and you can ask for free samples of the ones you’d like to try. If you’re adventurous, try oddball flavors like cantaloupe, beer, pancakes with syrup, and cappuccino.
If you’re really adventurous, try some of the gross jelly bean flavors like dog food, ear wax, soap, and vomit. Yep, those are actual Jelly Belly flavors. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted a vomit-flavored Jelly Belly bean!
State Capitol Area (Madison)
With a bunch of cool neighborhoods and the state university campus, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison has a lot going for it. I was particularly impressed by the area surrounding the capitol building.
Within just two blocks of the capitol, you can find live music venues, pizza parlors, taverns, book stores, and attractions like the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and Madison Children’s Museum. Many other state capitals do not offer this level of excitement in the immediate vicinity. Here’s a longer list of activities and sights in Madison.
Giant Pink Elephant (DeForest)
One of the most well-known roadside attractions in America is the giant pink elephant off I-90 just north of Madison. It is literally just a big pink elephant statue in a Shell gas station parking lot.
The elephant has been here since the 1960s. It’s the last remaining of several gas station elephants in the area. For those who love quirky Americana, make sure to pull over here to get a few selfies with the elephant!
Vintage Streetcars (Kenosha)
Electric streetcars returned to the city of Kenosha in the year 2000, 68 years after they went away. The single streetcar rail line covers two miles, taking visitors from the Metra train station through the business district and over to the shores of Lake Michigan.
Kenosha’s streetcars are cool because they are painted to resemble vintage streetcars in cities where they were hugely popular in the early 1900s, like Toronto, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Kenosha is a really offbeat city!
Wisconsin Campgrounds (statewide)
Trees cover more than 40% of the Badger State, so Wisconsin camping opportunities abound. Getting a chance to relax, pitch a tent, roll out a sleeping bag and do some grilling in the forest is always a great way to recharge the batteries. I’ve been camping at a few different spots in the state and once even got to observe a deer for quite some time while I sat inside my van.
Wisconsin has roughly 4,900 official campsites across the state, serving backpackers, families, large groups, and individuals with disabilities.
Milwaukee’s Summerfest is technically the biggest music festival in the world, with nearly two weeks of live music featuring over 800 bands. The event brings in world class acts like Stevie Wonder, Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar, and Sheryl Crow.
This summer I had the chance to attend a bucket list concert when I saw the Rolling Stones at Summerfest, and it was an unforgettable experience. Pro tip for those looking to save on parking at Summerfest: Park for free in the hip Walker’s Point neighborhood and make the 20-minute walk over to Marcus Amphitheater.
Would you visit any of these Wisconsin hotspots?