The beautifully wooded and secluded lakeside village of Lake Geneva was first discovered by Chicago business barons in the 19th century. Many traveled here by railroad, and built the large mansions and grand estates which still ring the water today. The lake remained a getaway spot during the Roaring Twenties, and provided a haven for Al Capone and other mobsters during the prohibition years. Visitors can explore this vibrant history at Black Point Estate, or by viewing the structures from the deck of a cruise ship or while walking the leaf-shaded Shore Path.
The town has continued to be a popular vacation destination right through to the 21st century, replete with great restaurants, engaging museums, boutique shopping, luxury resorts, championship golf courses and sandy beaches. It’s connected to Chicago by US-12 and to Madison by Interstate 43, and the nearest major airport is General Mitchell International, less than an hour’s drive from the town.
The Black Point Estate, a magnificent example of Queen Anne architecture situated on 620 feet on pristine lake shoreline, encapsulates the history of Lake Geneva. It was built in 1887 by Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp as an escape from the bustle of Chicago, its tranquility guaranteed by the absence of any roads connecting the house to the rest of Wisconsin – it could only be accessed by boat, which continues to be the way visitors reach it today. Today the house and its beautiful grounds are open to the public, and it showcases one of the most extensive collections of Victorian furnishings in the Midwest.
The Riviera Beach encompasses a picturesque stretch of sand-covered beach running into the clean and clear waters of Geneva Lake, situated just on the edge of town. It’s a safe and family friendly slice of shoreline, with lifeguards on duty during the peak summer season. Swimming platforms float a short distance out, and there are swimming lessons available during the summer months.
Geneva National boasts three 18-hole championship golf courses designed by three of the game’s greatest players-turned-designers: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. Each course makes excellent use of the area’s terrain, and speckled across them are some of the finest forested and water holes in the state. While the course is pretty pricey during peak season, great deals can be found if you align a convenient day and good weather during the off season, when Lake Geneva is quiet and the courses have plenty of tee time to fill.
This chilled-out restaurant and rotisserie has a funky water-themed vibe, with mermaids and kayaks hanging from the rafters, a boat-shaped bar, and bright blue outdoor seating overlooking the lake. Both its BBQ pork and rotisserie chicken are well-loved by locals and repeat visitors alike, and the restaurant also dishes out excellent fried fish. It’s an institution in the town, open since 1971, and has frequently-changing special deals and tasty inventions.
The Grand Geneva Resort is the modern-day incarnation of Lake Geneva’s business baron heritage. It was originally opened as a Playboy Club Hotel in the late 1960s, and changed hands in 1981, remaining the town’s premier luxury resort, which today offers two championship golf courses, an executive airport, a spa, a fitness center, and an 18-run ski facility served by three chair lifts.