Today’s Bayfield, WI City Guide comes to us from Juli Anne Patty, a freelance writer who spent many summers writing in the northern woods of Wisconsin, spending as much time in Bayfield as she could justify. For the moment, she lives in Jackson Hole and travels (even when she can’t afford it), finding stories and home in many places along the way. Today she shares with us the beauty and wonders this Wisconsin city has to offer. Thank you so much for this wonderful guide, Juli! –Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump…
photo by Eric Carlson
If apples truly do keep doctors away, then Bayfield, Wisc. might be America’s healthiest small town, at least during its annual Apple Festival which draws more than 50,000 visitors. The rest of the time, though, this is a sleepy seaside town that just happens to be sitting in the center of the Midwest. Victorian homes perch on a hill that rolls gradually to the town’s aquamarine Lake Superior waterfront. It’s a city of fewer than 500 people, but its charms, including the treasured Apostle Islands, are no secret. Somehow, Bayfield manages its thriving tourism industry without becoming commercialized or overcrowded, but while also developing a rich dining and shopping scene to equal its scenic appeal. Perhaps that’s because of Bayfield’s location, more than an hour from any major airport. You have to make a little extra effort to get there, but Bayfield is worthy of every minute.
Follow this Google Map to find all of the listings below.
Unless you’re visiting during the winter months, almost everything in downtown Bayfield is in walking distance, no matter where you choose to stay. Thanks to the enthusiastic and growing tourist crowd, Bayfield has the full range of lodging options, from classic Victorian charm to practical family-perfect condos, many of which are owned and operated by local hotel owners, making it easy to find ideal accommodations.
Renovated in 2013, the Bayfield Inn offers economical streetside rooms as well as lakeside rooms, some with Jacuzzis, and the Inn’s rooftop lounge is one of the best places to take in the evening. The proprietor also operates several condos and several of the adorable cottages scattered around town.
The Seagull Bay Motel is known for lake views at economic prices, as well as warm, hometown customer service. The hotel is several blocks from downtown, but a well-maintained gravel trail makes a lovely walk to shops and restaurants in the warm months. Standard hotel rooms and condo units available.
A bed and breakfast tucked right into downtown, Harbor Hill House is a family-owned Victorian inn where you can enjoy the best breakfast view in town. Be aware that some rooms have shared baths. For larger groups, the whole house can be rented for parties of six or more.
If you’re looking to go classic, the Old Rittenhouse Inn is the grand dame of Bayfield lodging. Stay at the Victorian Inn, the hillside mansion, the cozy, private cottage or in the Rittenhouse condo, and enjoy quiet elegance with a beautiful view.
Maritime history is a crucial part of Bayfield culture, evidenced by the fact that the community brought back the Bayfield Maritime Museum after it closed during the slow economy. Run by a dedicated volunteer base and charging no admission, the Maritime Museum offers a quick but engaging look into the community’s rich, and sometimes treacherous, relationship with its inland sea.
Whether you’re interested in ghosts, architecture or local history, Bayfield Ghost and History Walks is a great way to get your fix. The costumed guides deliver well-crafted presentations that are engaging enough for all ages.
The Bayfield Area Recreation Center is the perfect place to work off some of the fried fish and apple pie you don’t want to miss in Bayfield, and it’s also a great place to warm up after a long cross country ski or snowshoe expedition.
Sometimes all you need to complete your vacation, particularly an active outdoor vacation, is a relaxing massage, but it’s got to be a good massage. That’s the thing about Superior Body Massage and Spa: everybody is good. Whether you’re looking for shiatsu or a sports massage, they’ve got a therapist who will make your muscles hum.
If you’re a water person, or a beauty person, or both, and the weather is warm, you have to get out on the Lake. Options, thankfully, abound. Cruise around the Apostle Islands (Apostle Island Cruises), ferry to Madeline Island for the day (Madeline Island Ferry) or kayak with Living Adventures. If you’re an angler, ask around town about fishing: fishing guides and charters are plentiful, and locals all have their favorites, which they’re happy to share.
You might also try an activity you might not associate with Lake Superior: SCUBA diving. The sandstone cliffs and caves that give the Apostle Islands such unusual beauty have mirror images beneath the waves, and Lake Superior’s infamous, sometimes violent weather have created a labyrinth of shipwrecks that attract SCUBA divers worldwide. Superior Adventures is the only SCUBA outfitter in the area, and they also offer snorkeling and kayaking trips and equipment.
Eat and Drink
The Candy Shoppe is a quintessential, quaint, small town sweets stop, but it’s nothing like average. Part bakery, part candy store, part ice cream purveyor, Candy Shoppe is the answer to the question asked by everyone on Bayfield’s streets: Where is that delicious smell coming from?
Almost as popular for its panoramic view as for its locally inspired and sourced menu, the Old Rittenhouse Inn is where to go for classic, upscale dining. Plus, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (hours vary by season), so it’s easy to fit a taste of the Bayfield high life into any schedule.
Ethel’s at 250 is a favorite seasonal spot for pizza. Local owners Sally and Bill Heytens offer pizzas with a local twist, like the lemony garlic whitefish pizza and the Bayfield Special: Canadian bacon and apples.
Maggie’s a.k.a. The Pink Palace, is kitchy, fun eating, like a Key West beach shack transplated in the Midwest. It’s great place to get a sense of the local culture. Another plus: they offer lunch and dinner year-round, giving guests a chance to enjoy some beachy summer fun even after hanging up their snowshoes.
Located in the Bay Front Inn, the Pier Plaza Restaurant delivers a solid menu, but what’s even better is enjoying a Wisconsin beer or a local-strawberry or raspberry daiquiri at the bar. Go for happy hour , take in the view, and you’ll undoubtedly get to know a few locals too.
If happy hour turns into a whole happy evening, the Egg Toss Bakery is the place to go the next morning. Lake Eggs Benedict (with local smoked trout), buckwheat pancakes and homemade local strawberry jam could cure almost any ailment, even a little too much fun the night before.
Before you head out for the day, particularly if it’s chilly, stop at Big Water Coffee Roasters . A warm cup of their delicious house-roasted coffee is the perfect thing to have in hand as you tour the town. Big Water offers a tasty lunch, including vegetarian and vegan options, as well.
Bayfield is inhabited and frequented by a large literary and artistic population, thanks to the Madeline Island School of the Arts, and Apostle Island Booksellers caters to that crowd. This isn’t the place to find every book you might want (though they’re happy to order, and always helpful),but it’s the perfect place to discover an amazing book you didn’t even know existed. Go here for local information, maps, and tips, too.
Tucked away on a back street, What Goes Round is a cozy, brilliantly curated used (and some new) book store filled with all kinds of literary treasures. Enjoy free coffee, helpful staff and, in the warm months, a sweet little stone courtyard.
Next door to What Goes Round is Stone’s Throw, a gift store to get lost in. Here you’ll find whimsical gifts and home goods, as well as two stories of handcrafted items of all kinds: ceramics, glass, paintings, fiber arts and jewelry.
Cabins and home rentals can be the best bet for families set on an island stay. The Madeline Island Chamber of Commerce offers the most extensive and updated listing. Camping is limited on the Apostle Islands, and reservations are a good idea.
You’ll find traditional inn rooms, condos and cottages at The Inn on Madeline Island, a favorite spot for weddings, family vacations and an autumn dinner by the water. (The Pub at the Inn is one of the few places to have dinner in the off season.) Much of the lodging on the island might be considered Northwoods kitsch, possibly even outdated, but if a more contemporary room with upscale amenities is what you’re seeking, check out the Inn’s newly renovated Lightkeeper’s Lodge.
If you’re planning to be without a car on Madeline Island, Ferry Landing Suites is a convenient lodging option, located – you guessed it – steps away from the ferry as well as most of the island’s restaurants and shops. Condo-style units have full kitchens, and most have lake views, making Ferry Landing a great place to kick back and stay a while.
Madeline Island School of the Arts, offering a variety of fine arts, craft and writing classes from May-September, is the reason many people visit the area. The school, which includes renowned meals and modern lodging for students, is located on a restored dairy farm, surrounded by bike and hiking paths.
You’ll find a number of trails around the mainland and some of the islands, too. Bayfield County maintains a helpful (and printable) map map of the trails in the region.
Even if you bring a car across on the ferry, a rented bike or moped makes an excellent way to get an intimate tour of the island.
Take the Madeline Island Ferry over to Big Bay State Park. Open year-round, the park has a beautiful beach, perfect for a summer picnic, and you can hike more than seven miles of trails.
Equally magnificent in both summer and winter (truly, people do visit in winter), the Apostle Island Sea Caves display the transformational relationship between waves, winter and the islands. Boat is the best way to explore the caves in summer (kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe for the most intimate exploration), but if you’re lucky enough to be there when an ice bridge has formed, you can even hike or snowshoe to some of the closer caves.
Eat and Drink
Probably the best bar food in Bayfield, certainly with the best view, the Beach Club is the perfect post-adventure stop when you’re island hopping. Lake Superior whitefish tacos are an easy favorite.
Marv n Stewart is an eclectic little gift shop filled with the perfect gifts for everyone and probably something you can’t live without as well. You’ll find handmade soaps, upscale home goods and local art, but only during the warmer months. The owners operate their Palm Springs sister shop in the winter, so be sure to check their Facebook page (link above) for current hours.
Madeline Island is famous for its resident artists, so be sure to stop in some galleries while you’re there. Bell Street Gallery and La Pointe Center Art Guild and Gallery display work in a variety of media from throughout the region and offer some of the most unique gift shopping you’ll find.
photo by Bayfield Chamber of Commerce
If hot, homemade muffins delivered to your room sounds like nirvana, the Thimbleberry Inn Bed & Breakfast is the place for you. Hosts Sharon and Craig Locey maintain a welcoming, cozy inn and offer some of the best Bayfield-area travel tips you can find.
A grand, restored mansion is your home at the Pinehurst Inn, where you can find upscale amenities like in-room whirlpools, fireplaces and an on-site spa. The Inn is part of Travel Green Wisconsin, a Wisconsin’s sustainable travel certification program, and offers organic (and delicious) breakfasts.
Rent a bike at Bayfield Bike Route, and ask these experts for recommendations on where to ride based on difficulty level and sights. A few options include the lakeside Sand Bay Loop Bike Trail (27 miles); the forested and hilly Star Route Road Bike Trail (20 miles) and the paved Brinks Road Bike Trail (40 miles) that takes you through the Chequamegon National Forest. You can pick up at map at the Chamber of Commerce or Bayfield Bike Route, and Bayfield County maintains a great online cycling resource as well.
The Apostle Highlands Golf Course might not offer the world’s most challenging golf course, but it’s certainly a beautiful one. Play its wide greens, surrounded by lake views, and then unwind on the patio at the Apostle Highlands Bar.
Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua is the place for music lovers. When the weather is warm, they lift the ten sides, and spectators spill out onto the hills around, sometimes beneath the Northern Lights. National musical acts make stops at Big Top Chautauqua, and you can enjoy plays, lectures and the locally created Tent Radio Show all summer long.
Hike or ski, depending on the season, at Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area. The trails are dog-friendly, unlike many trails in the area, and the ski area even has a freestyle park that’s created and maintained by local volunteers.
Eat and Drink
You can’t leave Wisconsin without sampling some of its famed, indigenous Wild Rice, but the restaurant the restaurant by that name offers more than just a regional treat. Its menu and architecture are both inspired and inspirational, offering an experience that’s much more than the name suggests.
Easily the best view of any of Bayfield’s restaurants and bars, the Portside Bar and Restaurant is the perfect place to be at sunset. Whitefish livers, fresh daily, are a much-debated local delicacy that would provide the perfect ammo for one-upping your foodie friends.
During Apple Fest, Hauser Superior View Farm Hauser Superior View Farm is one of many well-traveled stops that offers shuttles to and from town, hayrides and pick-your-own opportunities. But Hauser’s is also worth a stop for any gardener and anyone who enjoys homemade jam, jelly or caramel … which is everyone, isn’t it?
All organic blueberries and apples are just one of the special things about Blue Vista Farm Blue Vista Farm, where you can also take classes like wild harvesting and attend farm dinners. This is a small farm run by a family that’s so committed to protecting the small-farm concept, they sold the development rights to the Bayfield Regional Conservancy to shield it from future development.
photo by Bayfield Chamber of Commerce
Notable Bayfield people
Schoep the dog
Lori Schneider – mountain climber/motivational speaker
France Austin Miller – artist/watercolor painter
Dede Eckels – artist/potter
Brian Kerr – metal sculptor
Dennis McCann – writer/journalist
Jerry & Mary Phillips – owners of Rittenhouse Inn B & B
Jim Webster – chef at Wild Rice Restaurant
Mary Rice – local heiress/artist/restaurateur/philanthropist
Kim West – business owner Bayfield Inn
Frank Montano – Red Cliff tribal member/musician