Destination: Bayfield, Wisconsin

As the days grow hotter, we Rollerbag Goddesses dream of a sunny spot by the water. A place where breezes off the lake cool our skin, where the pace is slow and the days are long and languid. 

Bayfield, Wisconsin may be the elixir we seek.

Bayfield, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.

There’s a lot you could do in Bayfield. Even better, in Bayfield, you don’t have to do anything at all. That seems to be the attitude of locals, and if you stick around long enough you might be able to adopt it as your own personal mantra as well. 

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Bayfield is the northernmost and smallest city in Wisconsin, with a population of 611. In spite of the small population, a healthy tourism industry keeps a number of restaurants, bed and breakfasts and hotels in operation throughout spring, summer and autumn. 

Your table at Greunke’s in Bayfield is ready.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.

What to do in Bayfield
The water, of course, is the big draw, particularly for sail boating and fishing. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also offers sightseeing opportunities including lighthouses and beautiful rock formations; visitors can charter a private boat or take group tours. Scuba diving is also offered in Bayfield, in addition to kayaking and canoeing. 

After you dry off, head to Big Top Chautauqua, a non-profit performing arts association which offers about 70 performances throughout the summer, including musicals, lectures and concerts. There, you can watch national performers under a canvas tent that seats 900, set against a backdrop of evergreens with a view of Lake Superior. 

Orchards and farms surround the Bayfield area. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Orchards and farms surround the area, offering tours and opportunities to pick your own fruit berries in the summer, and apples and pears in the fall. Hauser’s Superior View Farm is also home to Bayfield Winery, Ltd., which offers free samples of its elixirs and homemade jams and jellies. 

If you really want to explore the lush countryside around Bayfield, try hiking or biking one of the many trails or parks surrounding the town. If golf is your thing, bring your clubs one course in particular boasts panoramic views of Lake Superior. With a setting like Bayfield, you may not even get flustered when you miss that putt. 

You can also charter a sail boat. We chose Manitou Classic Sailing Charters for our excursion; it’s a wonderful way to experience Lake Superior. Fair warning: after  a few hours on the lake chatting with Captain Bob Bloecher, you’ll consider taking a sailing course, selling your house and exploring the world with your own sailboat. Or, at least, joining him in the winter when he’s working in the Florida Keys. 

An easy daytrip from Bayfield, Madeline Island is even more laid-back (is that possible?) than the mainland. For a five dollar ferry ticket one-way, you can enjoy island life for a day, rent a scooter or leisurely stroll around the small commercial area. 

Gift shops and art galleries are also located in Bayfield. But, the best part about going to Bayfield is that it’s perfect beautiful, peaceful and unspoiled (some say it’s like Door County, Wisconsin, before it became Door County), so if you don’t feel like doing a thing, fine. No one will wag their finger at you for it, because chances are, they’re not doing a thing either.

Where to eat and drink in Bayfield

The town of Bayfield itself is quaint with several excellent restaurants, the majority of which offer a relaxed atmosphere. 
Greunke’s Inn in Bayfield. If it’s good enough for Jennifer Aniston…it’s good enough for
any Rollerbag Goddess. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Greunke’s First Street Inn serves food all day, and its claim to fame is the number of famous faces who have popped in for a meal or a drink over the years: among them, J.F.K. Jr., Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Once you step inside you’ll understand the draw: home-style cooking in a relaxed atmosphere, with funky memorabilia covering most of the walls and the ceiling. Fish boils are offered June through August. You might want to try the Whitefish livers, a local specialty offered here and elsewhere in the region. Greunke’s is a short walk to the lake and a quiet park along the shore of Lake Superior. 

For breakfast, check out The Egg Toss, which has a half order of eggs benedict on the menu that will keep you full well past noon. Greunke’s has fabulously enormous omelets. For a more modest portion, Bayfield Country Coffee Company has excellent java try the Perfect Storm, their trademarked coffee, which is so popular, they find hard to keep in stock. They also offer a continental breakfast bar. 

Maggie’s in Bayfield. Don’t let the kitsch fool you, the food is great.
Try the polenta fries. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

For lunch and dinner, Maggie’s hosts hundreds of pink flamingoes, creating a festive atmosphere that’s also family-friendly. Food portions are substantial, and the food itself is excellent. Try the polenta fries. Be prepared to wait for a table. 

A few flamingos hanging out at Maggie’s.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Wild Rice restaurant is known for its upscale offerings this is probably the only place in the area where you’ll consider dressing for dinner. 

If you’re on Madeline Island, take a seat at Lotta’s Lakeside Café, where wicker seating creates a casual atmosphere, and you feel underdressed next to the food. Quesadillas come accessorized with a fresh flower. Whitefish is perched atop greens and dressed in béarnaise sauce. And, I don’t know how they do it but Lotta’s has elevated humble tofu to an entirely new level, placing it among food royalty. 

The tofu at Lotta’s. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Before catching the last ferry to the mainland, stop in a Tom’s Burned Down Café, a unique watering hole with outdoor seating and a mosaic of political and artistic graffiti, well, everywhere. 

Seemingly perpetually under construction, Tom’s Burned Down Cafe may never be complete,
and that’s just part of its charm. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

I’ve been to Tom’s Burned Down Cafe many times – live music, decent food, and entertaining people watching to be had. On this particular visit, in spring, locals told us Tom’s would be open the night we were in La Pointe, the lone town on Madeline Island, but no dice. As we eyeballed the place, two locals showed up and offered to let us sit around the campfire at their home instead, so we did. That’s how laid-back it is in the Bayfield area. 

The Groove Haus offers live music and libations.
Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Back on the mainland, the Groove Haus Bistro & Brew offered live music on the weekends when we were in town, again in a casual atmosphere.

Where to snooze in Bayfield

There are many bed and breakfast options, inns, condos and hotels in the area. During area festivals and celebrations, rooms may fill, so book early. Gruenke’s, where we stayed, offers affordable rooms in a historic setting, some with shared bathrooms. Wachsmuth House, a bed and breakfast, has friendly hosts and generous breakfasts. For the more adventurous, camping is offered around Bayfield and also on Madeline Island. 

Whatever your preference: relaxation or a day of outdoor activities, home-cooking or elegant dining, roughing it or cozy accommodations, Bayfield can meet your requirements. Keep in mind the town swells considerably during festivals, so if a quiet escape in Wisconsin’s northland is what you’re after, aim for the dates in between. Either way, you’re bound to feel laid-back in Bayfield.

Bayfield hosts events and festivals throughout the year. For more information, log on to 

Big Top Chautauqua 
Greunke’s First Street Inn 
Madeline Island Ferry 
Hauser’s Superior View Farm 715-779-5404 
Lotta’s Lakeside Café 715-747-2033 
Maggie’s 715-779-5641 
The Egg Toss Bakery Café 715-779-5181 
Wachsmuth House 715-779-0137
Manitou Classic Sailing Charters 612-850-2981

Much of this article was originally published in Coulee Region Women magazine, and is republished here with permission. 

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, foodie and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Creative Commons License
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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