PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Curly’s Waterfront Sports Bar and Grill
Gina’s Sports Dock
A family-focused Lake Country favorite packed with activity
I spent the better part of my formative years growing up in Pewaukee, and although my family didn’t call the city’s namesake lake home, a close friend’s did — and, happily, her parents still do. Some of my fondest memories from high school involve lazy, carefree afternoons on the family’s lakeside pier, moving only to refill our lemonades or jump onto the boat for a leisurely cruise. Today, our afternoons on the lake look a bit different: She now chases a toddler while cradling a newborn, and I also chase a toddler, instead with a big pregnant belly. Both our history and our new normal is why I’ll always love Pewaukee Lake. It’s a place where family ties and strong friendships are celebrated, where generations come together to catch up, unwind and relax, and form lasting memories. Here’s our guide to a little slice of paradise.
Best Family-Friendly Sports Bars
Dining on Pewaukee Lake is a no-fuss affair. No shoes? No problem. Locals frequent Gina’s Sports Dock, an uber-casual bar restaurant located on the south side of the lake. Docking your boat at Gina’s is free, though non-lake residents are welcome too. Kids enjoy the novelty that is Gina’s sandy beach, a built-in mini playground for busy bees, and the fully-stocked beach bar allows parents to happily imbibe nearby. Expect above-average bar food, including an especially juicy burger. Just east of Gina’s is another family-friendly favorite: Curly’s Waterfront Sports Bar and Grill or “The Waterfront,” as most locals call it. Curly’s is perched next to one of the lake’s more popular boat launches, so the vibe is a bit less relaxed — but lakeside casual nonetheless. Families praise the menu’s pizza and Friday fish fry, which features a catch of the day special.
Where to Anchor Your Boat for the July 4th Fireworks
Is there anything more patriotic — or, quite frankly, more quintessentially Lake Country — than watching fireworks from a boat on America’s birthday? This year’s show is scheduled for Thursday, July 4 at dusk. The fireworks are typically shot off from the small, uninhabited island near downtown and Lakefront Park, on the east end of the lake, so plan accordingly when anchoring your boat. The further east you anchor, the closer you’ll be to the action. Anchoring further west, however, provides more expansive views of the show.
Where to Admire Some of the Lake’s Priciest Homes
The beauty of lakeside living is the creative freedom given to lake residents who chose to build and/or renovate their homes. No two properties are the same, which makes cruising the lake — via boat, paddleboard, kayak or jet ski — all the more interesting. To ogle some of Pewaukee Lake’s poshest pads, head toward Rocky Point Road, on the south side of the lake. Family-friendly Pewaukee Lake is known for its multi-generational homes, as it’s not uncommon for buyers to tear down small cottages to build larger homes that accommodate their children and grandchildren, and Rocky Point Road boasts a handful of such properties. The prestigious road’s homes also feature generous lake frontage, so keep an eye out for impressive landscaping and over-the-top outdoor living spaces.
The Lake Feature Locals Love to Talk About
The eastern portion of Pewaukee Lake is home to Wilson’s Island, a 3-acre private island that includes two cottages, three piers and more than 1,000 square feet of water frontage for swimming or fishing. The island is occasionally up for sale, and was most recently listed for just under $900,000 last year. (It sold earlier this year for $670,000, according to multiple reports.)
The Go-to Rite of Passage for Kids Living on the Lake
Though entry isn’t limited to lake residents, enrollment in the Pewaukee Lake Sailing School (PLSS) is a popular choice for kids lucky enough to call Pewaukee Lake home. Programs begin for students as young as 5 years old, with adult sailing classes offered throughout the summer months as well. This year PLSS will also host the 2019 Optimist Midwest Championship, a qualifier for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, at the Pewaukee Yacht Club. Race days are scheduled for Sept. 7 and 8, so mark your calendar to watch the regattas firsthand. For more information, visit plss.org. — Jen Kent
Delafield Block Party.
Photo courtesy of Delafield Area Chamber of Commerce
Photo courtesy of First Weber Lien Team
A natural beauty ringed by upscale feasting and fun
With its clear waters, Waukesha County’s breathtaking Nagawicka Lake is a natural Wisconsin treasure. The word “Nagawicka” means “there is sand” in Potawatomi and Ojibwe, and the lake lives up to its name, with several sandbars to the west of St. John’s Island. Officially located within the city of Delafield and the village of Nashotah, and spanning 981 square acres, the 90-foot-deep lake also offers fantastic swimming and fishing opportunities — it’s home to perch, bluegill, crappie and large and small-mouth bass — and is also ideal for sailing.
Eat Your Way Around The Water
The Waukesha County lake community that surrounds Nagawicka, spanning from Delafield to Hartland, is home to a flourishing restaurant scene. Among its offerings:
• Fill your boat-day coolers effortlessly with handcrafted subs, sandwiches and wraps from Nashotah’s Picnic Basket, a year-round local favorite.
• Seven Seas Seafood & Steak, 1807 Nagawicka Road in Hartland, is a family-owned fine-dining restaurant serving a variety of steaks and seafood dishes, including tuna carpaccio and seared scallops, and elegant desserts such as a flaming coffee sundae. Purchased by the Weissgerber family in 1981, and the only full-service restaurant and banquet facility on Lake Nagawicka, Seven Seas, with its verdant gardens, offers guests over 500 wine selections — and a breathtaking lake view.
• Delafield’s Fishbone’s Cajun & Creole Restaurant features Southern-inspired fusion dishes such as jambalaya ya-ya, blackened crab cakes and ragin’ Cajun pasta. Situated on Nagawicka Lake’s shores, the restaurant is a favorite spot of Emily Heller, public communications coordinator for the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use. “I love their sangrias during the summer months,” she says.
• In 2016, Amy Quinn opened her restaurant, Belfre Kitchen in a former Presbyterian church built in 1868. Using locally sourced ingredients, Belfre serves hearty lunch, dinner and brunch fare such as avocado chicken salad, ribeye steak and omelets.
Good Times Come Naturally
This year’s Delafield Block Party, a two-day celebration of music and food, will be held from 5 p.m. to midnight July 12 and 13. The event will include food vendors, live music and a beverage tent serving beer and wine — the perfect way to keep the fun going after a day on the water. But if your idea of a good time is a bit more earthy, outdoor enthusiasts can find recreational activities aplenty at Naga-Waukee Park. Part of the Waukesha County parks system, the park offers visitors spectacular Nagawicka Lake views from a boardwalk, a swimming beach, a playground, several wooded hiking trails (featuring diverse wildlife and bird species) and a boat launch. “Boaters find the launch a great access point for a day on the lake, as well,” says Heller. And if you’d like to stay awhile, visitors can camp in the park’s woods for just $18 a night or $36 for group sites.
Live Large and Luxurious
The Nagawicka Lake shoreline is dotted with a variety of housing, from converted cabins to multimillion-dollar mansions. Milwaukee realtor David Price, who owns a property on Nagawicka Lake, says that 14 properties with prices ranging from $200,000 to $2.9 million are for sale on Nagawicka Lake. Nashotah Avenue in particular contains some of the lake’s most spectacular homes with phenomenal lake views. The area has a rich history, attracting some of Milwaukee’s wealthiest businesspeople, including the Harley-Davidson founders. “The barons of Milwaukee moved out here first,” Price said, adding that the relatively short commute (35 minutes from Milwaukee), and less traffic congestion than that of a bigger city, make the Nagawicka Lake area appealing to many who live in the Metro Milwaukee area. — Catherine Jozwik
The Good Land’s truly great lake
Whether you take in the gorgeous lake vistas from Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge, the shores of Bradford Beach, one of the myriad parks along its shoreline — or, if you’re really lucky, your own waterfront home — Lake Michigan is Metro Milwaukee’s glistening crown jewel. Some twelve million people live along its shores — more than one third of Wisconsin’s total population, scattered among 11 shoreline counties. Boasting Henry W. Maier Festival Park, yacht clubs that cater to every sort of water lover (even those without a vessel), glorious walking and biking trails, and some of the most coveted homes in the metro Milwaukee area (more on that on page 56), Michigan more than any other local body of water arguably belongs to each and everyone one of us. Here are a few ways to make the most of that this summer:
Bradford Beach Treats
Known for decades as the place where Milwaukeeans go to beat the summer heat, Bradford Beach has become a city hot spot both literally and figuratively. Lean back with a Knockout Lemonade cocktail and Lake Superior whitefish taco at The Dock, the new restaurant housed in the iconic Bradford Beachhouse. Take a dip in the waves under the watchful eye of a lifeguard, or join a beach volleyball league for a challenging workout or sporty summer social activity. Nature lovers take note: 224 species of birds have been spotted along this stop on the Lake Michigan Flyway.
Eleven cruise ships are expected to dock in the city this season, more than double the number of cruises that visited in 2018. One of the most luxurious ships is Le Champlain, operated by the French line, Ponant. Featuring 92 staterooms, the yacht will embark on 11-day cruises from Quebec in September and October, and sail on Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Michigan before dropping anchor in Milwaukee. Both Pearl Seas Cruises and Blount Small Ship Adventures offer weeklong Lake Michigan tours, either originating in or stopping in Milwaukee. For a shorter lake cruise getaway, hop aboard the Lake Express Ferry, sailing from its Bay View pier to Muskegon and back daily.
Photo courtesy of Ponant
Queen’s Cup participant Kevin Wilcox
Quest for the Queen
She’s a venerable old Queen, but she still knows how to party. The annual Queen’s Cup yacht race is not just a challenging, moonlit sail across the lake from Milwaukee to Michigan, it’s a party anchored in tradition. The South Shore Yacht Club in Bay View has been hosting the late-June event since 1938, but the cup itself dates back to 1847 and is older than America’s Cup. The celebration begins with a pre-party at the Yacht Club the day before the race, and, after racing all night under the stars, festivities resume when crews reach the Michigan shore and the winners claim their prize.
Sip and Sail
Round up ye mateys and board Milwaukee’s own tall ship, the S/V Denis Sullivan, for its inaugural Whiskey on the Water voyage, 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 26. The adventure includes two drink tickets, a snack and spectacular views of the city’s skyline. Explore the replica 19th century Great Lakes schooner, built in 2000 by shipwrights and more than 400 volunteers. If it’s on your bucket list, you can help hoist the sails and take the helm too. You must be 21-plus to rock on the water with this crew. Tickets are $85 for Discovery World members, $95 nonmembers (subject to change). Register at discoveryworld.org.
Fun on the Fourth
The lakefront is the backdrop for a bang-up Fourth of July celebration organized by the all-volunteer Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation. Village residents and visitors begin claiming their spots along the mile-long parade route as early as 6 a.m. The parade steps off at 11:30 a.m., marching north on Lake Drive to Klode Park, overlooking the lake. Starting right after the parade, the Klode Park Festival features live music and food vendors such as Pandl’s and Doc’s Smokehouse and all your favorite fair foods. Kids enjoy getting their faces painted and playing organized games like octopus ring toss before settling in on their blankets for the Sendik’s fireworks.
The big idea is to make the joy of sailing accessible to all. Thanks to the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center, more than 18,000 Milwaukee-area children and adults with disabilities have sailed on Lake Michigan. This unique nonprofit, located at the McKinley Marina in Veterans Park, also provides “Learn to Sail” classes for adults and young people ages 12 to 17, and water safety classes for younger kids through its “Prams in the Park” program. — Nan Bialek
BIG CEDAR LAKE
History meets progress on Washington County’s biggest body of water
When I recount my favorite summertime memories, almost all of them seem to involve Big Cedar Lake. From Fourth of July celebrations with friends to kayaking with my family to dancing (knee deep in the water) to live music at the annual Barge Party, Big Cedar offers a plethora of fun both on and beside the water. With 900 acres of clear water perfect for tubing, water skiing or just floating away the day; a popular sandbar perfect for anchoring your boat or tying up with friends; a weekly, welcoming fishing club; and waterfront restaurants to recharge and refuel after an active day on the water, Big Cedar has plenty of pleasure for your lake-day adventures.
Fish Your Heart Out
Fishing enthusiasts organize an annual summer fishing group every Thursday night on Big Cedar Lake to get kids and families involved in fishing. From the first Thursday in May until the first Thursday in September, Big Cedar Lake Thursday Night Fishing Club patrons pay a $10 entry fee, which is used to keep the lake stocked with walleye. A shotgun start at 6 p.m. prompts eager anglers to find their lucky spot and drop their hooks, heading back in at 8:30 p.m. to measure and weigh their catch. Once a year, the group also partners with the Wisconsin Special Olympics for their annual “Take An Athlete Fishing” day. And in wintertime, club members organize a nighttime ice fishing jamboree.
Penny For Your Memories
Penny Island, originally named “Goody Island,” is a small island situated in the middle of Big Cedar Lake. According to Marquette University’s Children of Urban America Project, Kewaskum-born Gustavus Kuechenmeister was just 12 years old when he came into possession of the small plot of land surrounded by water — which he, indeed, purchased for just 10 pennies. Long a popular spot for kids to swim to and play on, Penny Island is now privately owned, leaving the islet a nostalgic landmark to point out to visitors as you boat or paddle past.
Tradition and Evolution
A nearly 150-year-old Big Cedar Lake dining institution, Timmer’s Resort was purchased by F Street Hospitality -— who also operate Milwaukee Brewing Company, Glass & Griddle, Pizza Man and the soon to open Rooftop --— in September of 2018, but the new owners say they plan on keeping the beloved establishment unchanged. Piers are available on the restaurant’s property for lake lovers to cruise over for dinner after a day on the water, and visitors and locals alike love to spend a relaxing Friday night on their outdoor patio overlooking Big Cedar with a traditional Wisconsin fish fry before them and an old fashioned in hand. The perfect ending to an evening at Timmers? Complementary s’mores fixings at the on-site fire pit. And for out-of-town visitors or local staycationers, the resort also offers cottages for rent right on the property.
For the last four years, Kasten Marine — along with co-sponsors The Olde Cedar Inn, Keith’s Marina and House of Heileman’s — has hosted the Big Cedar Lake Barge Party. Calling out to maritime- and music-lovers across Washington County and beyond, Kasten arranged for a stage to be erected on the sandbar, which shifted to the shallow area just east of Penny Island in 2018, allowing bands to hover over the water while they play a short concert on the lake. People boat, swim and paddle out to find friends and listen to live music while enjoying the fleeting summer Saturdays.
Mueller’s Linden Inn, formerly Padways, offers casual fine dining, a fully stocked bar and a dining hall equipped for any occasion or celebration, all featuring large windows that offer scenic views of Big Cedar Lake. A pier on the property gives boaters the chance to dock and walk up to the restaurant, and in the summer months, a small outdoor tiki bar is built just off the patio and strung with twinkling lights, offering patrons who want to make the summer evening last the opportunity to bask in the summer sun and sip a tropical beverage while enjoying the sound of lapping water and spectacular views of the lake. — Nicole Kiefert
Waiting for the July 4th fireworks
Jimmy the bartender at Kim’s Gourmet Pizza
Kuhtz General Store & Saloon
Italian sausage sandwich
Photo courtesy of Matt Milanowski
This sportsman’s paradise has a reputation for year-round fun.
Named for the Potawatomi and Ojibwe word for “it is small,” the village of Okauchee itself is, indeed, tiny — but the adjacent lake and its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for fun on and around the water is anything but. It’s been nearly four years since my husband and I left Okauchee behind for our empty nester chapter not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, but a trek back to Okauchee Lake, where we truly became a family, always feels like going home. This is my Okauchee Lake.
Eat, Drink and See Jimmy
Generations throughout Lake Country and beyond have celebrated big-deal days and happy milestones at the venerable Weissgerber’s Golden Mast Inn, with its award-winning menu, unrivaled lakeside dining and stellar views. Otherwise, eating your way around Okauchee is a happily unfussy affair that’s all about mouthwateringly original takes on bar-food favorites.
Because we lived just a few doors down, the hard-to-find, easy-to-love Hideaway’s chicken ranch sandwich remains a family legend that saved us on more than one “too tired to cook” night. Same goes for Foolery’s Liquid Therapy’s thick-cut, perfectly breaded calamari rings that taste best served up with lively people watching on the roomy deck. But locals also like to sneak away to Stone Bank at Okauchee Lake’s north end for a trip to Kim’s Gourmet Pizza, which pairs a trusty, something-for-everyone menu with an unbeatable small-town atmosphere, augmented by Jimmy the Bartender, who merits his own sign. “Jimmy! My favorite kind of old school bartender — chats you up while pulling a great tap,” cheers proud Lake Country doyenne Faye Wetzel. “Plus, the guy gives you a coaster that has his work schedule printed on it, so you know when to come in. And did I mention he’s handsome and wears ‘conversation shirts’?”
Down the road a bit, Kuhtz General Store & Saloon, established in Stone Bank in 1926, is an equally irresistible small-town experience. “It’s the kind of place where pickled eggs are on the bar — and there’s a rabbit hunt!” Wetzel exclaims of the family-friendly spot, which also features penny candy, plenty of boat snacks and tchotchkes of every incarnation. “The Italian sausage sandwich with chipotle sauce is my favorite — and where else can you buy candied raisins? Plus it’s the perfect porch to watch the Stone Bank 4th of July Parade!”
Lastly, if you’re lucky, you might score a slip at Hollywood’s Roadhouse, accessible by boat from the small channel that parallels Highway C (and offers irresistible monster fish and tiny turtle spotting along the way).
Even folks who’ve never set foot, motor or paddle in Lake Country have likely heard of the infamous Okauchee Tie-Up — or Party Island Tie-Up, depending on who you ask — which generally occurs the last Saturday of July. Many locals prefer to take a quick cruise through the teeming mass of revelers and then skip the added (and often tipsy) lake traffic in favor of enjoying the day on-shore. During the rest of the warmer months, Party Island — an uninhabited chunk of land at Okauchee Lake’s north end — with its shallow, sandy perimeter is a favorite spot to drop anchor or beach the boat and spend sweltering days with friends and family. Party Island fun fact: All motor boaters owe our good times to Party Island, or more specifically, to Milwaukee resident Ole Evinrude, who invented the outboard engine in 1907 in response to being unable to successfully deliver ice cream from the shore to his sweetie during a picnic on the then-public island.
You Are A Splendid Fathead
Though a drive through downtown Okauchee is a split-second thing, you’ll usually find something to elicit a smile. In the summer of 2008, a hefty tom turkey claimed the burg’s main drag for his own, challenging bemused drivers to lengthy games of chicken and compelling locals to band together to save the surly little nuisance when police threatened to shoot. But my personal favorite remains the outdoor marquee sign of Musky Mike’s Bait & Tackle shop, which moved from one side of Wisconsin Ave. to the other, but retained its blast-from-the-past charm. Via its comically named daily specials, that aforementioned sign often afforded me spectacular new insults to assign to the worst of my fellow travelers on my commute into the city, assuring tailgaters and lane deviators that they were indeed extra large fatheads and insufferable hellgrammites. Family owned and operated for almost two decades, Musky Mike’s current owners Greg and Kathy Nicklaus take pride in meeting their customers’ exacting needs, even if it’s a special order — and taking SOS calls or early-morning doorbell rings even after the shop is closed, because great fishing action is rarely on the nine-to-five."
As the Snow Flies
You see a lot less of your neighbors in the colder months, but activity on Okauchee doesn’t stop when the snow flies. Homeowners haul plows and shovels out to the ice to create hockey and ice-skating rinks, and fishing shanties turn the main lake and bays into mini cities. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers silently traverse the lake’s edges — and between the Golden Mast and Hideaway, the Okauchee IceMongers turn a patch of Bay Five into a noisy motocross course that leaves spectators in their warm homes and the surrounding bars and restaurants breathless. — Lori Acken MKE