A lively arts and culture scene is just one of the many reasons to visit Beloit, only an hour’s drive from Milwaukee. The city recently launched its new Beloit & Beyond Outdoor Art Trail, a self-guided digital tour through 24 eye-catching public art spots. Download the tour (and the city’s cafe, taco and craft beer trails) at visitbeloit.com/passport-trails. To take in more art, you can visit the Beloit Art Center and Gallery ABBA, both of which host shows throughout the year. Most of the exhibitions are free and open to the public – and both galleries offer pieces for sale as well. And the Wright Museum of Art has a collection of 6,000 works – including paintings by Picasso and Rembrandt – from over 129 countries. Beloit’s cultural offerings extend beyond visual art, too. The Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra performs classical and pop concerts through the year, and the Beloit Civic Theatre has been staging productions in the city for over 90 years, offering three shows every season.
This fall, Elkhart Lake is hosting its second annual Elktoberfest, Sept. 29-Oct. 1. The three-day, family-friendly event celebrating German heritage and tradition kicks off on Friday with a stein social at the outdoor dining area of Siebkens Resort from 5:30-8:30 p.m. A live polka band will be playing, and the resort will serve plenty of Oktoberfest beer options. (Plus, Elroy the Elk, Elkhart Lake’s mascot, will be strolling the event and snapping selfies with the crowd.) On Saturday morning, the Farmers and Artisans Market opens in the village square, with dozens of vendors selling local food and handcrafted goods. That’s followed by the Elktoberfest Wine & Beer Run, a 5k with root beer, craft beer and wine available for runners. After that active morning, the day takes off with an all-day party at SwitchGear Brewing Co. For a child-friendly alternative, head to Village Park’s root beer garden, open from noon-3 p.m. The venue will offer children’s activities, games, bounce houses, a petting zoo, and pumpkin and face painting. That evening, Shore Club Resort is hosting a brat-eating contest and German potato cook-off, as well as live music on the resort’s lakeside lawn.
The Fox Cities go all out for autumn. Consider timing a getaway for Sept. 29-30, when Appleton is hosting License to Cruise and an Octoberfest celebration. License to Cruise, on Sept. 29, is a classic car show that brings 400 vintage rides to Appleton’s downtown, and the Octoberfest celebration on Sept. 30 is a day full of live music, food and, of course, plenty of beer in the heart of Appleton. And there’s plenty to do after those events end. Explore Appleton on the Fox Trot Trail, a 2-mile loop through the city’s downtown and riverfront, with 16 historical landmarks to see along the way (bit.ly/foxtrottrail). The Neenah Historical Tour is a self-guided tour (downloadable at bit.ly/neenahtour) that takes you through downtown Neenah and Doty Island. Along the way, you’ll pass through Riverside Park, which boasts some of the best fall colors in the area. Hortonville’s Cuff Farms hosts Fall on the Farm events on weekends in autumn, with pumpkin picking, wagon rides, apple cider donuts and caramel apples and kids activities. Plus, the farmers markets in downtown Appleton, Neenah and Kaukauna run through mid-October.
Head west to the Mississippi River for a weekend getaway to the La Crosse region. The area offers plenty in terms of fall color. In the second week of October, you’ll see unbeatable foliage at Grandad Bluff’s 600-foot high perch overlooking the river valley. Or take a scenic leaf-peeping drive down the Great River Road, or head to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s church nestled in over 100 acres of beautiful woodland. You’ll also find a lot to enjoy in the region’s food and drink scene – Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau serves up delicious vintages with beautiful views of the bluffs, and Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse crafts award-winning ales and lagers with generous sampling at its tasting room. Dinner at Onalaska’s Red Pines Bar & Grill offers festive flavors to savor in a lakeside, rustic dining room, while The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern highlights seasonal American cuisine, including fresh seafood. And if you’re looking to spend the night, consider Charmant Boutique Hotel in historic downtown La Crosse.
Oconto County is the place to enjoy the great outdoors. For prime leaf-peeping, time your visit for late September or early October – and make Mountain Fire Lookout Tower your first stop. The restored 1935 steel tower stands 100 feet tall over a thick forest, with an unbeatable view of the colors below. Want to really break a sweat? Make the 2-mile hike to Butler Rock, an outcrop that’s the highest point in the county. Oconto County also offers hundreds of miles of scenic trails open to ATV riding with an easy-to-get pass (bit.ly/atvpass). To get a feel for the city of Oconto, consider visiting on Sept. 23 for Harvest Fest, a daylong celebration on Main Street with local vendors, activities for kids, food, drinks and live music. When it’s time for dinner, you have plenty of options for nourishment. Oconto County’s two supper clubs, Maiden Lake and Weatherwood, both offer classic Wisconsin fare in scenic, nostalgic dining rooms. For a sweet treat to cap your trip, head to Sweet Memories Candy Shoppe in Lakewood, which has an original 1959 vintage Coke machine and plenty of homemade candies.
The hilly Driftless Area is one of Wisconsin’s most scenic escapes. Richland Center, in the heart of the rugged region, takes full advantage of its landscape as the foliage bursts into color every fall, with events, shops and more. On Oct. 7, Richland Center hosts the Canyon of Lights Parade, a nighttime parade through the center of town. And autumn in the Driftless means apples! Oakwood Fruit Farm opens its 180 acres of orchards and vineyards to visitors, who can enjoy over 20 varieties of apples, fresh cider, homemade caramel apples and more. Also consider a stop by Driftless Curiosity at Keewaydin Farms, a 200-acre ridgetop farm near Viola that hosts classes, workshops and frequent events. Its third annual free Día de los Muertos Celebration on Oct. 7 brings traditional decorations to the farm and offers hands-on workshops in Mexican folk art.
Sheboygan (aka “the Malibu of the Midwest” for its surfing scene) is a jewel on the lakefront. The city’s sunny summer attractions are well-known, but it’s also a fun stop in autumn. Sheboygan is home to two observation towers with remarkable views of the surrounding wilderness. The Broughton Sheboygan Marsh Park tower is 80 feet tall, while the Parnell Tower rises another 60 feet above the highest point in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Broughton also has a great camping area nearby worth an overnight. For hiking, consider James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden or Maywood Environmental Park, both of which offer a nice variety of paths to explore. If you’re traveling with kiddos, swing by Bulitz Pumpkin Farm, where the family will find wagon rides, a petting barn and refreshments. And a fall trip to Sheboygan wouldn’t be complete without some apple picking at Pigeon River Apple Orchard, a family-owned spot that’s been growing since 1951. Before you go, you’ll want to stop by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a nationally renowned visual and performing arts complex. It features rotating contemporary art exhibitions and events – and you may have already heard about its award-winning, artist-designed washrooms. In 2021, JMKAC opened its Art Preserve just a few miles west of the center – the world’s first and only museum dedicated to artist-built environments, like those of Milwaukee’s Mary Nohl and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. The two destinations are must-see cultural gems.
A Sparkling Spot
On a trip to the Door Peninsula, consider a stop by Door County Rock & Gem, a unique store with a stunning collection of geodes, crystals and minerals. The pieces make for striking decor, and the store also sells jewelry and fossils. Pick up an eye-catching souvenir to bring home, or a gift for a loved one.
Fall is a great time to explore the Midwest. You can enjoy beautiful scenery, outdoor adventure and delicious dining with a trip to southeast Nebraska (visitnebraska.com). Here are just a few destinations to check out.
Tree Adventure at Arbor Day Farm
This family-friendly tree-top village spans three acres with treehouses, suspended bridges and forested trails that kids will love exploring. In the fall, Arbor Day Farm also hosts apple picking in its orchard.
Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari
This safari is a 4-mile drive-through adventure, with elk, bison, antelope and more roaming the grounds.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
This state park offers scenic hiking and biking trails, camping, rock climbing, an arts and crafts center, and even a 40-room lodge to stay the night (The lodge balconies have incredible views of the Platte River valley).
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
Explore this expansive collection of military and space artifacts and planes, including F-105 and XF-85 jets and many restored missiles and rockets.
SEPT. 15-17, SEPT. 23-24 | NEBRASKA CITY
It’s all apples all the time at this two-weekend-long festival, which attracts as many as 80,000 people every year. To celebrate the apple harvest, you’ll find apples nearly every way – cider, candy apples, pie, fritters and much more. Plus, the fest includes a classic car show, flea market and even bull riding.
Luxe Resorts and Hotels
Head to the Theater District for a staycation at this stylish spot. The destination hotel has six in-house art galleries, plus delicious dining and drink options, including ARIA, serving artisanal American cuisine, and Giggly Champagne bar. Saint Kate’s immersive artist-designed guest rooms are even featured in the upcoming season of “Hotels by Design.”
This Egg Harbor escape is nestled in the heart of Door County. It boasts fantastic views of the surrounding foliage, with an outdoor bar and patio overlooking the bluff above Green Bay and the award-winning Carrington restaurant on-site. A quick drive from dozens of destinations, The Landmark is a great headquarters for a weekend on the Door Peninsula.
You have two options for a memorable stay with Potawatomi. You can stick close to home with Milwaukee’s beloved Potawatomi Casino Hotel, or head to the Northwoods for a weekend at Potawatomi Casino Hotel Carter in Wabeno. Both casino hotels offer a wide variety of table games, delicious dining and luxurious accommodations.
Plan the perfect trip for you with a professional on your side. Jillian Gibas, the founder of JLJ Travel, creates customized itineraries around the world for her clients. She helps travelers book out personalized plans in advance, with insider tips and expertise that clue folks into lesser-known spots to check out. Here are three of her recommended trips for autumn:
“The sweltering temperatures from the summer are subsiding and the tourist crowds are thinning. Plus, fall means harvest season at the wineries and olive groves!”
2. U.S. National Parks
“Our national parks take on spectacular new beauty in the fall when the colors begin to change. A personal favorite of mine is Grand Teton National Park where you get to see unbelievable fall foliage contrast with snowy mountain peaks.”
3. The British Isles
“There’s something undeniably cozy about fall in the UK and Ireland – misty mornings, medieval castles, charming countrysides and warming up with a hearty meal and a pint next to a roaring fire in a pub.”