Looking for a destination with a winning combination of New England charm and Midwestern hospitality? Port Washington, Wisconsin, offers the best of both worlds.
A quaint small town, home to 12,000 residents, Port Washington sits pretty on the shores of Lake Michigan, conveniently located just 30 miles north of Milwaukee.
“Because of our location, we get many daytime visitors from surrounding areas to spend time by the lake, eat at one of our great restaurants or shop our historic downtown,” says Kathy Tank, executive director of the Port Washington Tourism Council. “Overnight visitors usually stay for a long weekend.”
The history and heritage of Port Washington
Founded in 1835, Port Washington holds the distinction of being the first manmade harbor in the United States and also claims the largest concentration of pre-Civil War buildings in Wisconsin.
“We are part of the newest National Marine Sanctuary — the Shipwreck Coast — created to preserve our many historic shipwrecks,” Tank adds. “There are so many great stories surrounding the shipwrecks. Barbara Joosse, a well-known children's book author and Port Washington resident, just published a book called ‘The Fishermen, the Horse, and the Sea’ about a local commercial fisherman's family.”
Capitalizing on Port Washington’s colorful maritime history, the sanctuary designation provides valuable resources that will allow the tourism council to make the shipwrecks and their intriguing stories more accessible through boat excursions and interactive exhibits.
Waterfront fun and recreation
The lakefront remains a year-round attraction, featuring fantastic scenery, the Port Exploreum maritime history museum, an iconic 1935 Art Deco lighthouse, and plentiful kayaking and fishing opportunities. Or hop on two wheels to explore the Ozaukee Interurban Recreational Trail, 30 miles of paved bike paths traversing the greater Port Washington region. The local preserves and parks are popular for additional outdoor adventures, particularly in the fall when the foliage comes alive with color.
“We’ve evolved from mostly fishermen and empty-nesters with an interest in history to an expansive tourism market that includes savvy foodies and young people who visit to pursue our outdoor opportunities,” Tank says.
Discover food and shops downtown
Elsewhere around the walkable downtown, visitors can discover unique shops, restaurants and a summer beer garden that overlooks the lake.
“For a city of our size, we have a great dining scene with very diverse types of food, and all our restaurants are locally owned,” Tank points out.
Whatever your reason for paying a visit, you’ll find Port Washington prides itself on rolling out the red carpet to make all guests feel welcomed.
“What I hear from visitors — in addition to loving the city, its amenities, attractions and beauty — is how nice, friendly and helpful the people they come into contact with are,” Tank says. “This includes shopkeepers, restaurant staff and residents they meet on the street or in the park. It definitely creates a warm, positive experience.”
For more information on what to see, do and eat on your visit to Port Washington, Wisconsin, go to visitportwashington.com.