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MKE Traveler: La Crosse

Photos: Explore La Crosse, Bob Good, Jason Ray Photography

Oct. 2018


Nestled along the Mississippi River and framed by majestic bluffs teeming with wildlife, La Crosse is the perfect weekend escape, especially as the trees turn vivid and cooler temps make outdoor activities a joy. The thriving college town is home to Wisconsin’s most legendary Oktoberfest celebration, which runs from Sept. 27-30 this year. But La Crosse boasts a sophisticated side too, with upscale accommodations, dining and nightlife options. So head west, MKE travelers. A memorable visit awaits.

Where To Stay

Architecture buffs will want to take a drive down King and Cass Streets to admire the elegant and historic homes. Want to spend the night in one? Sleep like royalty in Cass Street’s Castle La Crosse Bed and Breakfast, which offers beautiful, unique rooms in a three-story Romanesque mansion. Formerly known as the Castle on Cass, this home was built for a local lumber baron in 1891 and has been restored to its original grandeur to serve as a luxurious bed and breakfast.

Castle La Crosse Bed and Breakfast

Downtown’s Charmant Hotel is a boutique-hotel delight. Located in a renovated candy factory, the Charmant’s blend of historic charm, upscale amenities and prime location makes it a sweet place to stay.


What to Do

No trip to La Crosse is complete without a drive up Grandad Bluff. At the top, the views of the city, the Mississippi River and neighboring Minnesota are a photographer’s dream. No wonder, the 800-plus acres of Hixon Forest near Grandad Bluff are popular year-round for hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowshoeing on more than 20 miles of trails. Cruise the mighty Mississippi aboard the La Crosse Queen, an authentic paddlewheeler that also offers pizza, brunch and dinner cruises. And since this is October, the Ghosts of Historic La Crosse walking tour, led by professional storyteller Michael Scott, will delight history, architecture and paranormal buffs alike.

What To Sip And Savor

Enjoy your morning coffee and a sweet or savory crepe at The Root Note, where sustainably-sourced food and drinks will fuel you for a day of adventure or a leisurely stroll down to Riverside Park to wile away the day. Grab lunch at Bodega Brew Pub, which offers tasty noshes ranging from baked artichoke dip to flatbread pizzas that you can wash down with one of Bodega’s 400 varieties of bottled beer and 20 tap selections. A scoop of homemade ice cream at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor, a 1930s-style soda fountain, makes a perfect anytime snack.

Come dinnertime, La Crosse features dining options to suit every taste and taste bud, whether you’re in the mood for casual dining, old-school charm or a modern culinary masterpiece.

Got a barbecue lover in your group? Piggy’s Restaurant features authentic smokehouse barbeque, fresh seafood options and fabulous desserts. Fish-fry fans should head for the Red Pines Bar & Grill, which boasts a rustic, northwoods feel, the best lake perch around and stunning views of Lake Onalaska.

If you’re feeling a bit fancy, Charmant Hotel’s on-site restaurant features French-inspired cuisine. Start with the herbed goat cheese and Amish honey, share an entrée (or two) from a carefully curated menu, then end with crème brûlée.. At Lovechild Restaurant - perfect for date night, as its name suggests - try the bruschetta, sweet potato agnolotti and cinnamon-sugar doughnuts with lemon curd for dessert, all served in an elegant, relaxed atmosphere.

Not ready to end the evening? Grab a nightcap at the Starlite Lounge, a swanky, retro-themed bar complete with live jazz and an extensive martini menu.


What’s Next?

As winter weather approaches, La Crosse is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream with miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshowing, and great downhill action at Mt. La Crosse. Indoor activities more your speed? Indulge your inner buckaroo when professional championship bull riding returns to the La Crosse Center Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Or ignite your holiday spirit at the La Crosse Center’s 55th annual Holiday Fair, which runs Nov. 15-18. 


This story ran in the Oct. 2018 issue of: