Nestled on the southwest banks of Lake Superior, Bayfield is one of Wisconsin’s best summer destinations. What began as a village built by lumbermen and railroad barons has evolved to become a vibrant community of artists, sailors, and fishermen that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
As a former commercial fishing village, the small harbor town (year-round population of about 475) is filled with nautical influences. Residents and tourists alike sail and paddle, restaurants bring in fresh fish daily, and local music always seems to be in the air. Some call it “the best little town in the Midwest”.
With a superlative like that, you may find yourself itching to stay a night. So here’s a few of our favorite spots if you have just 24 hours to spend in Bayfield. Though, frankly, we never found that to be enough ourselves.
Even before you land, the drive up in early summer is beautiful – brilliant purples of blooming lupines line the two-lane highway welcoming you to Wisconsin’s northernmost peninsula. The Bayfield Inn is a good place to stay, with a bit of yesterday’s charm with today’s amenities. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s located in the heart of town. The Inn offers a variety of rental styles from hotel rooms to vacation homes to accommodate groups of all sizes. Request a lakeside room to wake up to the rhythm of water lapping in Bayfield’s harbor and a spectacular view.
7pm Dinner and Dessert
Treat yourself to a 5-course dinner at Landmark Restaurant at Rittenhouse Inn. It’s housed in a late 1800s Victorian mansion, but don’t worry – the vibes are casual. But save room for dessert because after dinner, you’ll walk it off down Rittenhouse Avenue, lined with quaint brick and sandstone buildings, and head for The Candy Shoppe. They’re famous for their wine bread, a Croatian pastry that got its name from the leftover fruits made from winemaking. And top it off with scoop of ice cream. You’ll soon feel the effects of a food coma so you can get a good night’s rest.
If you’re like most warm-blooded Americans, you start the day with a cup of coffee. So check out the warm and welcoming Kickapoo Coffee Bayfield and grab a cold fusion iced coffee made with local maple syrup. They just opened, but already have character thanks to the old, worn floor they kept in place.
Walk the Brownstone Trail. The 3-mile trail heads south out of town on an old railway corridor, hugging the lakeshore’s brownstone cliffs above the water. Then take a short drive out of town to Blue Vista Farm where you can pick your own raspberries, blueberries or apples, depending on the season.
1pm A Lake Superior Style Lunch
Enjoy a rooftop lunch at The Bayfield Inn. They’re known for two things: their whitefish tacos (made with local caught fish) and expansive view of Lake Superior. On a good day you’ll see the 21 islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore anchored in the distance. As time slows to a crawl, as it often does in northern towns, watch boats drift in and out of the harbor and the Island Queen ferry return from Madeline Island.
3pm Wander Through Town
Explore the stacks of Apostle Islands Booksellers, known for their impressive collection on, you guessed it, Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. Stroll through the area’s rich maritime history, dating back over 150 years, at Bayfield Maritime Museum. The museum, housed in a refurbished boat storage facility, showcases seafaring artifacts, Bayfield’s commercial fishing history and boat building traditions from a bygone era.
5pm Sunset Sail
The lake beckons. Cap off your 24 hours by raising anchor and setting sail at the golden hour. Local sailing outfitters, like Manitou Classic Sailing Charters, offer sailing experiences from 1 hour to a full day. Before departing, gather a few local favorites for a picnic on the boat. Get some local smoked lake trout from Bodin Fisheries – if the fishing boat just arrived to the dock – and your drinks from Bayfield Wine and Spirits. Then, with the wind in your sails and a glass of wine in your hand, watch the sun set on the first of many adventures to Bayfield.
Becca Bartling and Elizabeth Gering are the curators of Northerly Collective, a social media-based Adventure Guide and Journal with a focus on Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Based in Manitowish Waters, they use their love of the Northwoods to inspire you to enjoy the simple moments in everyday life, connect with the people around you, and explore wherever you find yourself in this world.