Just a short drive across the Illinois border is charming Geneva Lake. Known for its crystal clear waters, the former infamous Playboy Club, and a cameo in F Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” Geneva Lake is not a place to be missed. Three lovely towns are located along the lakeshore: Lake Geneva, Fontana, and Williams Bay. No trip to the lake is complete without a visit to each of these spots on the lake, and therefore in this guide, you will find recommendations for spanning all of these picturesque towns. Having grown up in Lake Geneva, Sarah and I fancy ourselves experts on our hometown and unofficial advocates of our favorite places around the lake.
Where to Stay in Lake Geneva
If you’re looking for a hotel right on the lake, check out the Geneva Inn! Its stellar location is a short walk or ride to downtown Lake Geneva and is situated in a charming, quieter corner of the lake near Big Foot Beach State Park. The Geneva Inn has a great restaurant on the first floor and offers a shuttle service around the area.
The Abbey is located in Fontana and is in the perfect location to walk to the Fontana Public Beach or to walk yourself home from Chucks. It has a great pool and is safely away from the main tourist traps on the Geneva Lake.
Bella Vista Suites is located on the shore of Geneva Lake within walking distance from the heart of downtown Lake Geneva. It features a charming spa complete with a Himalayan salt sauna and has a private pier for guests. It is also connected to the Baker House which is the perfect place to enjoy a sunset cocktail.
Things you must see in Lake Geneva
The best way to see Geneva Lake is (as you may have guessed) by water! You could take a cruise on my favorite vessel the Lady of the Lake, rent paddleboards or kayaks, or if you are a captain in your own right you can rent a boat from one of the many companies downtown.
* Please note renting a boat is not for the faint of heart (or beginners). If you have no prior experience operating a motorboat I would advise caution with this option, especially on a busy summer weekend. Some of the boat rental companies do offer the option to hire someone to drive the boat for you. You can call in advance to see if they offer this option.
Not a water fan? No worries! There is a beautiful lakeshore path spanning the entire lake that occupies appx. 5-foot easement directly in front of the lakeshore which takes you over 20 miles around the lake.
* Ready to walk? Great, we’ll see you out there, but please remember to respect the properties and privacy of lake residents while you do. Stay on the clearly marked lakeshore path to avoid trespassing. Also please keep in mind that there are very few public restrooms available along the lakeshore path.
Delaney Street has a piece of my heart, every time I visit I manage to find a new treasure. A popular place to stop for a snack is the homemade fudge shop, Kilwins. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Thursday, stop by the farmer’s market located in downtown Lake Geneva outside Horticultural Hall.
The Lake Geneva Public Library was part of an estate that was gifted to the city in 1894 by Mrs. Mary Sturges to be used as a public library and park area. The building was designed by James Dresser, a student of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The library has a reading area overlooking the lake which is the perfect place to curl up with a book.
Lake Geneva is known for being surrounded by some great golf courses. A few of the best known public courses are Hawk’s View and Grand Geneva. There are also a few driving ranges in the area if you don’t have the time for 18 holes. As I am just beginning my golfing career I truly hope that you don’t see me out there...
Where to Eat & Drink in Lake Geneva
Or as I like to call it Daddy’s East. I’ve been a patron of Daddy Maxwell’s for as long as I can remember. Daddy Maxwell’s is the perfect igloo shaped local diner complete with homemade donuts, mouthwatering pancake specials, and the best eggs benedict around.
Locally-sourced ingredients are central to Simple’s mission of “changing the world one bite at a time.” Simple has creative, delicious, and picture-perfect food. It is open for breakfast and lunch daily. They make all their bread fresh at the adjoining bakery next door where I’m sure you can also find some snacks for your journey home.
The Coffee Mill is a great place to grab a pick me up or hole up and get work done. They have a great selection of customizable drinks and local treats. It’s located walking distance from the beach or the Abbey Resort in Fontana.
My family has been frequenting Supermercado America for as long as I can remember to get the most amazing homemade guacamole. This secret of this hidden gem got out and they have recently expanded their restaurant seating because of the demand.
Two Sister’s Thai is a short drive from Fontana and is a great little hole in the wall with mouthwatering Thai food. My family loves to get take out from here and our all-time favorite dish is the cashew nut chicken.
Did you make it in town in time for Thursday wine night? Half-priced bottles of wine are the game accompanied by mouthwatering food (my favorite is the duck!) and the perfect playlist to get your weekend off to a great start.
Friday night fish frys are quite famous in Wisconsin, but there is truly nothing like a good fish boil. Fitzgerald’s is strictly cash-only and is a clear local favorite with a steady line out the door on a Friday night. It is a short drive from Lake Geneva in Genoa City, but it is well worth the trip.
Another Friday Fish Fry favorite of mine is Foley’s. In classic Wisconsin-style the portions are big enough to last you several meals, the corn chowder is to die for, and the Jameson and Ginger’s are perfectly poured.
Gordy’s is a classic lake hangout located on the shore of Geneva Lake in Fontana. They have amazing french fries which I would happily eat for any meal. At night Gordy’s transitions into “Club G” filled with great music and even greater people.
A lovely place to grab a cocktail during sundown is Pier 290. It’s located on the water in William’s Bay and has a fantastic outdoor area complete with a huge porch and fire pits.
All great nights begin (and end) at Chuck's with my favorite bartender Jack. This local favorite usually dons a stellar cover band on summer Saturdays and is also known for having some of the best burgers in the area.
Day Trips from Lake Geneva
While Lake Geneva itself can be a day trip location from Chicago, there are several places you can go from here.
During the summer there is literally music in the air. One of the most popular concert venues near Lake Geneva is Alpine Valley. Alpine Valley is the favorite venue of many major artists and regularly hosts concerts for Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, and many others. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key Music on the Lake is a stunning venue, appropriately named as the concerts take place just steps from the water at George William’s College.
Winter is ski (and snowboard) season at the lake. There are two ski hills in the area: Alpine Valley or Grand Geneva. As a lifelong skier, I prefer Alpine Valley because the hills are a bit larger than Grand Geneva’s, but for kids or beginners, Grand Geneva is a great choice.
Getting Around Lake Geneva
As Lake Geneva is (obviously) on a lake, my preferred mode of transportation is on water. Hop on a paddleboard, hop on and off the cruise boats, or dock your boat at Gordy’s or Pier 290 to grab lunch.
While Lake Geneva does have Ubers they are few and far between resulting in crazy surcharges at the end of a night out. There are a few cab services in the area. My favorite is Senior Cab - ask for Goldie, she is an angel!
People often ask where my favorite place to travel is. No matter where I go in the world or the amazing places I see, the answer is always the same - Lake Geneva. There is no place quite like Geneva Lake, and you have to see it to believe it. The people are friendly and unpretentious, the homes are elegant, and there is no shortage of charm. It’s no wonder that literary greats, socialites, and travelers from the around the world have been inspired by and continue to flock to the shores of beautiful Geneva Lake.