Why Sheboygan, Wisconsin is ‘Malibu of the Midwest’ | Exploring the Midwest Podcast Episode 17
Last Updated on February 9, 2022 by Jody Halsted
When you think about a coastal getaway you likely think of places on an ocean, or maybe the gulf. But today's guest is going to introduce you to the ‘Malibu of the Midwest' – Sheboygan, Wisconsin!
Shelly Harms is the Public Relations Director for Visit Sheboygan.
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Experience the Beach Scene in Sheboygan, Wisconsin
‘Malibu of the Midwest' is a pretty lofty title to uphold, but Sheboygan lives up to it. It gets its nickname from, of all things, its surfing culture. Because of its location and particular geography, Sheboygan experiences some of the best waves on the Great Lakes, from 6- to 12-feet high. And yes, you can surf on a lake!
Surfing became popular in Sheboygan in the 1960s with the Great Lakes Surf Club. Twins Lee and Larry Williams were avid surfers and began traveling to the coasts for surfing contests. When people asked where they were from, they couldn't believe they came from Wisconsin. Fellow surfers thought Wisconsin was just cows and cheese. They didn't believe you could actually surf on a lake.
As the Williams brothers gained in notoriety, they started their own contest in Sheboygan, the Dairyland Surf Classic, which lasted from 1988 to 2012 and attracted surfers from all over the world. This really put Sheboygan on the surfing map, and it was soon coined the ‘Malibu of the Midwest.'
When to Surf in Sheboygan
Peak surfing season in Sheboygan is September through March. If you know anything about Wisconsin, you know it gets cold during this time. But that's part of the attraction of the sport–cold-weather surfing. Surfers wear wetsuits and other gear to stay warm while taking advantage of the Lake Michigan waves. Labor Day weekend is the unofficial start of the surfing season, and surfers flock to the city and the beaches.
Beaches and Waterfront Activities in Sheboygan
Sheboygan has a unique waterfront because Sheboygan River runs through it, creating essentially two different beaches. The North Beach is the big, sandy beach where the surfers hang out. It's where you can feel the ‘surfing vibe,' with fire pits, bonfires, and plenty of people. Morning, noon, and night you'll find people walking their dogs on the paved path, hanging out in front of a fire, or playing on the beach.
On the other side of the river is South Beach, which is a bit quieter. King Park is a perfect area for combing the beach, having a picnic, or watching kiteboarding and windsurfing.
Blue Harbor Resort
Situated right on Lake Michigan, Blue Harbor Resort is an impressive sight. You would be forgiven if some photos make you think of the Hotel Del Coronado in California. Built on a hill, the resort overlooks the Sheboygan River in the front, and the backdrop is the white sandy beach and Lake Michigan.
The resort offers 243 rooms, including suites and villas. Guests can eat at one of the five restaurants, from casual to high-end dining. Also included is an indoor water park, miniature golf, walking paths, and of course its own private beach.
On the other side of the river from Blue Harbor Resort is the Riverfront Boardwalk. Fishing shanties line the boardwalk, some still used for chartered fishing, and others renovated into cafes, coffee shops, olive oil shops, and women's boutiques. The area is pet-friendly, and you'll find many people walking their dogs along the boardwalk. Some restaurants that offer outdoor dining even allow patrons to bring their pets. The Riverfront Boardwalk serves as the hub of activity in the summertime.
How to Spend a Perfect Beach Day in Sheboygan
Everything in Sheboygan is so accessible because of it being on the waterfront. Park your car at the newly opened Visitor Center. Then walk, take the complimentary trolley, or rent a segway to get where you want to go. Rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak and head to the beach. Then head to one of the greenspaces downtown and listen to live entertainment or visit Fountain Park on Wednesdays or Saturdays for the farmers' market.
Take a Segway Tour in Sheboygan!
What Else Does Sheboygan Have to Offer?
If you want to get off the beach for a while, visit the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Most people are familiar with the Kohler Company that manufactures toilets, faucets, and other functional products. The Arts Center, created by the Kohler family, houses 10 galleries, a theater, an activity space for all ages and abilities, a cafe, shop and more.
But what it's most known for is its restrooms. Six artists were commissioned in the late 1990s to turn the Arts Center's public restrooms into works of art. Each one is different, and each is incredible. One bathroom even features poetry written on the inside of the toilet bowls.
Where to Stay in Sheboygan
Besides the Blue Harbor Resort, Sheboygan offers other options for accommodations. You'll find a wide range of budget, family-friendly, and business-friendly hotels withing the area, whether downtown, on the waterfront, or by the interstate.
- Grandstay Hotel — In the heart of downtown, the Grandstay Hotel sits right across from the historic Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts.
- Harbor Winds Hotel — This smaller, independent property is on the riverfront and offers direct access to the Boardwalk.
- More Accommodations — Visit Sheboygan lists all of the hotels, motels, and camping resorts in the Sheboygan area.
Where to Eat in Sheboygan
With a large number of charter fishing companies, it isn't surprising that Sheboygan has many restaurants with fresh fish on the menu. Head to the Boardwalk at about 10 a.m. when the first boats start coming in to see the trophy fish hanging from the racks.
But besides fish, Sheboygan is also known for its bratwurst. In fact, Sheboygan is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. And they have a very specific and different way of serving their bratwurst. First of all, the brat is soaked in broth and then ‘fried' on a grill, not ‘grilled.' Don't expect an oblong hot dog bun. Instead, your brat will be served on a round hard roll, complete with onions and brown mustard.
Go to Visit Sheboygan for a full menu of all of the restaurants you'll find while visiting.
Plan Your Sheboygan Getaway
Sheboygan is a unique Midwestern destination. Whether you want to try out lake surfing, just want to hang out at the beach, or stroll through a beautiful and historic waterfront district, Sheboygan has something for you.
Find everything you need to plan your vacation at Visit Sheboygan.