Vacationers typically want two things from a getaway. They want “new” as in new and fun attractions, shops and restaurants as a way to keep it fresh and feed their explorer side. And they want “old” as in charming, classic, please-don’t-ever-change to feed their nostalgic side. It’s a real feat when a destination can deliver both. Wisconsin Dells is one such destination and they do it best in their downtown river district.
So let’s start with the modern. Might be easiest to classify these as the “uptown” offerings of downtown Dells. There’s a contemporary, hip vibe that’s taking hold in the 200 block of Broadway. Here you’ll find High Rock Café, an eatery with a foodie following thanks to its ingenious seasonal menus and craft cocktails. Down the block are MACS - Macaroni And Cheese Shop that’s as far from the box version as you can get, and Monk’s Bar & Grill and Dells Distillery restaurant and bar. Across the street is CheeseCake Heaven, part deli, part bakery, with homemade goodies, including to-die-for secret recipe cheesecakes in tons of flavors.
For shopping, Alpha Beta Karma boutique brings out the best in women with its on-trend apparel, fashion-forward footwear and artisan jewelry. Winnebago Fine Goods & Gift Shop, while a staple for Minnetonka moccasins since 1949 and still one of the country’s largest purveyors of the iconic and very comfy footwear, has evolved into an emporium for casually hip clothes, especially for men.
What’s a vibrant downtown without entertainment. On warm summer evenings you’ll see crowds gathering at the corner of Eddy and Broadway to enjoy a salsa band one night, a polka band another, or maybe cloggers or a high-energy drum line another.
For grown-ups, the festivities can continue inside at Showboat Saloon, with its prohibition past, or in their open-air beer garden known as Mama’s Garage. There’s a similar indoor/outdoor combo at The Keg Bar & Grill/Baja Cantina. For family fun, try Wild Fun Zone, Wizard Quest and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.
Now for the charming. The classic boat tours of the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River, courtesy Dells Boat Tours®, depart from downtown Dells where Broadway dips to meet River Road. So do the jet boat tours. Take a turn on the RiverWalk for a preview of the scenic beauty that’s in store, and make a point to pop in the H.H. Bennett studio/historic site after to compare your cell phone photos with the photos taken by Henry Hamilton Bennett from the 19th century, considered “the Golden Age of landscape photography.” Or you can grab a bite to eat while gazing out at the river views. River Walk Pub is the very definition of a friendly Wisconsin pub, with a menu heavy on burgers and a classic Friday night fish fry.
While on the subject of food, the fudge and confection shops, one on nearly every block, will wear down your willpower in short order. Plus there’s a place called Oodlesmack Popcorn that has gourmet candy-flavored concoctions that you probably dreamed about as a kid, along with classic caramel varieties for the purists.
Bowling is classic and so is Chalet Lanes. Ditto for photo souvenirs and the old-time portrait studios. And mini golf at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf and Timber Falls Adventure Park.
The mom-and-pop hotels and motels downtown have a charm to them that’s just can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Downtown Wisconsin Dells is a walkable, wonderful stretch of all that’s good about getting away.