Get away to Wausau, Wis., and discover the natural beauty, cultural attractions and excitement of this idyllic North Woods escape.
If your idea of paradise includes picturesque scenery, iconic shopping and immersion into culture, there’s no need to leave the Midwest.
Located in the heart of north-central Wisconsin, the Wausau area is an idyllic place to enjoy nature, adventure and culture. Encompassing the towns of Wausau, Rib Mountain, Schofield, Rothschild, Mosinee, Kronenwetter and Weston, the greater Wausau area enjoys the fortunate combination of big-city amenities with the look of the Great North Woods and the feel of small-town hospitality.
“The tall pine trees bordering the mighty Wisconsin River and the presence of Rib Mountain create an inviting setting that instantly relaxes you,” says Tracy Baltz, director of marketing with the Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB.
Before you start planning your weekend getaway to Wausau, here are 10 top destinations you’ll want to explore.
1. Jefferson Street Inn
(715) 845-6500 | jeffersonstreetinn.com
Located in the heart of Wausau’s River District, Jefferson Street Inn is a full-service boutique hotel. The adjacent Washington Square building has a fine selection of shops and restaurants, while the city square directly across the street has open-air concerts and events.
“Upon first arrival, guests of the Jefferson Street Inn often comment on what a remarkable find this is,” says Debbie Rice, the Inn’s general manager. “Our goal is to deliver service that is warm, welcoming and beyond-the-expected. Some might call it Wisconsin-friendly; we call it our mission.”
2. Wausau’s River District
(715) 845-1328 | wausauriverdistrict.com
A pleasing blend of shopping, dining and entertainment await inside renovated 19th century buildings. From beautiful jewelry to custom artwork and delectable treats, Washington Square and Third Street abound with interesting nooks to explore.
“Here you can explore the banks of the Wisconsin River and take in the area’s scenic beauty,” Baltz says. “Or, wander through the distinctive shops. The fun continues after dark with lots of entertainment options, like Concerts on the Square, on Wednesday nights from June through August.”
Baltz has more than a few recommendations for must-see stores. Check out Nicole’s Boutique to find the latest trends in designer denim, accessories, jewelry, shoes and evening wear. High-quality pet foods, treats, toys and accessories are available at Katzenbarkers Natural Pet Food. Campbell Haines Menswear features fine suits, sportswear, accessories and formal wear. Evolutions in Design is known for its distinctive fresh flower arrangements and gifts, while The Northwoods Goldsmith creates custom pieces of fine jewelry.
3. Back When Cafe
(715) 848-5668 | backwhencafe.com
Enjoy an upscale menu prepared with fresh herbs and local, organic ingredients. Located on historic Third Street in Wausau’s lively Downtown River District, the Back When Cafe has built a reputation for providing seasonal farm-to-table fare in a casual, welcoming environment.
“If your visit with friends or business colleagues in Wausau includes plans for a memorable dining experience, it’s a good bet your local hosts will suggest Back When Cafe,” Baltz says.
An extensive list of wines and microbrews, along with full cocktail service, add to the sophisticated, yet casual fine dining atmosphere.
4. Center for the Visual Arts
(715) 842-4545 | cvawausau.org
Explore regional and national art exhibits in The Center for Visual Arts’ multiple galleries. Handmade items are available for purchase at an on-site gift shop.
“It’s perfect if you’re looking for a gift with a story,” Baltz says. “You can find jewelry, pottery, glass and fiber art.”
5. Grand Theater Performing Arts Center
(715) 842-0988 | grandtheater.org
Experience part of an extensive schedule that includes musicals, ballets, concerts, national acts and Broadway plays. This impressively restored 1927 Greek Revival theater is the anchor of Wausau’s Artsblock, a series of arts venues that include the Center for Visual Arts.
“It’s a memorable venue,” Baltz says. “Every year has a season full of wonderful entertainment.”
The main stage and galleries also are available for social events, including wedding ceremonies and receptions.
6. Rib Mountain State Park
(715) 842-2522 | ribmountain.org
One of the oldest rock formations on earth, Rib Mountain stands proudly in the middle of the Wausau region. The name “Rib” comes from a combination of the mountain’s history and the area’s Native American heritage.
“There’s evidence that rock formations, estimated to be a billion years old, were at one time submerged below a great inland sea,” Baltz says. “The nature trails meander through the park’s rocky outcroppings, offering fun places to climb or sit and enjoy the views. It’s also a wonderful place to observe deer, woodchucks and a variety of birds at close range.”
Hike high above the treetops; marvel at the surrounding natural landscape; or golf at a 32-par, 1,900-yard course. Come wintertime, enjoy some skiing at Granite Peak Ski Area, which boasts 75 runs and four terrain parks with a combined 35 jibs.
“The views are breathtaking,” Peterson says. “And it only takes five minutes to get to the park from Jefferson Street Inn.”
7. Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
(715) 845-7010 | lywam.org
Expand your horizons by exploring a collection of nearly 5,000 works of art, including paintings, graphics and sculptures and decorative arts. The collection is primarily focused on birds, making this museum an ideal place to get in touch with arts and nature.
“No visit to Wausau is complete without a stop at this museum,” Baltz says. “The Woodson Art Museum is truly a local treasure and has garnered an international reputation for the finest collection of avian art, which continues to attract thousands of art enthusiasts each year with its “Birds In Art” exhibition.”
8. Yawkey House Museum
(715) 842-5750 | marathoncountyhistory.com
Step back in time and experience this mansion and its period furnishings, all restored to their original grandeur. The centerpiece of the Andrew Warren Historic District, the Yawkey House is also home to the Marathon County Historical Museum.
“It’s a time capsule with its beautiful stained-glass windows, art glass lighting fixtures and many of the original family’s furnishings,” Baltz says. “It’s a great example of a wealthy lumberman’s house between the years of 1908 and 1915.”
9. Bull Falls Brewery
(715) 842-2337 | bullfallsbrewery.com
Wausau’s first distributing microbrewery features quality craft beers that contain authentic German ingredients and names like Hefeweizen Ale, Holzhacker Lager and Oatmeal Stout. Visitors can sample beers in The Tap Room or enjoy live music and special events held throughout the year in the beer garden.
“You can also take a tour at the newly expanded canning facility and take home some of their beers,” Baltz says.
10. Dells of Eau Claire Park
(715) 261-1550 | co.marathon.wi.us
Pack your camera for Kodak moments among the rocky outcroppings and beautifully designed bridges of Eau Claire Park, which straddles the Eau Claire River 20 miles northeast of Wausau. Spend the night in the park’s group or individual campgrounds.
“The beautiful rock formations are a magnet for summertime nature enthusiasts,” Baltz says. “Who can resist climbing among the water-worn rocks or cooling off in one of the many swimming holes?”