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Let’s start our central “playground” tour in Milwaukee, one of the finest, undiscovered big cities in America. One reason why Milwaukee is such a fun place to visit is because it considers itself both the beer and bowling capitals of the world. Naturally, you’re going to need to tour the Miller Brewing Company, one of the largest brewing facilities in the world. We recommend you sample the wares while here. Another way to experience both the city and its suds is aboard the Brew City Queen, a pontoon boat that cruises the Milwaukee River and makes stops at some of the city’s finer brew houses. There’s also a bevy of other non-alcohol related sites that still come attached with a brew-related tag, such as the Schlitz Audubon Center, Miller Park (home of baseball’s Brewers), the Pabst Theater, or Frederick Pabst’s Historic Mansion, the beer baron’s Victorian-age domicile. But without a doubt, the best time to be in town is in late June and early July for the annual SummerFest. Ten (yes, 10!) music stages, hundreds of food vendors, and millions of visitors always add up to a good time.
Let’s head west along I-94 to the capital city of Madison. Home of the University of Wisconsin, the city is a thriving, progressive town. Visit the world famous Henry Vilas Park Zoo or the State Historical Museum located near the stunning state capitol building. Be sure to strap on your shoes and take a walking tour of the Madison campus on the shoreline of Lake Mendota. Some campus highlights include the Carillon Tower, the Washburn Observatory, and the Geology Museum.
From Madison, head north along I-90/94 to the town of Baraboo. The original home of the Ringling Brother’s circus, its heritage is celebrated at the Circus World Museum, an enormous facility and a must-see for those in search of America’s more unusual destinations. Nature lovers (and those of you who are clown-phobic) should visit the International Crane Foundation, a scientific organization and refuge dedicated to preserving the 15 species of cranes around the world.
From Baraboo, continue along the interstate until reaching the enigma that is the Wisconsin Dells. By far Wisconsin’s most popular tourist destination, “the Dells” is either an essay in summertime American kitsch or a dubious portrait of the decline of American culture; you decide. Pre-packaged family fun is the “norm” here with the Tommy Bartlett Thrill Show, the Riverview Park and Waterland, or the Dell’s Ducks Boat Tours. Oh, and the Dells is the unofficial water park capital of the world, with scores of mega-H20 parks to choose from.
From the Dells, head north and then west on I-90 until reaching the town of La Crosse, along the Minnesota border, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Once a trading post, today La Crosse is a thriving and warm city. Enjoy an afternoon walk along the banks of the mighty Mississippi at Riverside Park. Visit Granddad Bluffs that rise over the downtown area yielding stunning views of the legendary river. Finally, fill out your tour of central Wisconsin with a trip on the La Crosse Queen, an authentic 150-seat paddlewheel boat.