Forty minutes north of Milwaukee  is Port Washington, a littoral Lake Michigan community that links up with east-central Wisconsin. Port Washington put itself into the history books with its quixotic anti–Civil War draft riots, when mobs took over the courthouse and trained a cannon on the lakefront until the army showed up and quelled the disturbance.
Part Great Lake fishing town and part preserved antebellum anachronism, Port Washington, a declination backing off the lake, is known for its enormous downtown marina and fishing charters.
Farther north is Harrington Beach State Park, unknown to most outside of the Milwaukee area, which is too bad. It’s got great lake and limestone bluff views, an abandoned limestone quarry and quarry lake, and hiking trails, some a bit treacherous. A new campground here relieves a serious need for public camping along Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline.
You can stroll along the breakers, snapping shots of Port Washington’s art deco lighthouse, now a historical museum. Another renovated lighthouse is home to the Port Washington Historical Society Museum (311 Johnson St., 1–4 p.m. in the summer).
The Eghart House (same hours) on Grand Avenue at the library is done up in turn-of-the-20th-century style. Also along Grand Avenue, what’s known as the Pebble House, site of a tourist center, was painstakingly arranged of stones scavenged from the beaches along the lake.
Franklin Street, dominated by the thrusting spire of St. Mary’s Church and various castellated building tops, rates as one of the most small town–like of any of the Lake Michigan coastal towns. Upper City Park, on a bluff overlooking the water, affords wondrous views of the lake and horizon.
Port Washington claims to hold the world’s largest fish fry annually on the third Saturday of July, though it’s got a couple of in-state rivals for that title.
Port Washington offers lots of B&Bs, including the huge shingle Victorian Port Washington Inn (308 W. Washington St., 877/794-1903, www.port-washington-inn.com , from $125), a gorgeous structure that gets kudos for its environmentally sound practices.
Plenty of good food is available in Port Washington—every place will have a decent fish selection, if not a particular specialty. The Fish Shanty (100 N. Franklin St., 262/284-5592, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $5–18) specializes in seafood and serves a killer lemon pie. Bernie’s Fine Meats Market (9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat., closed Sun.) on North Franklin is a good place to scout out Wisconsin-style smoked meats—especially sausage varieties.
Fantastic is the newest: Wind Rose Wine and Martini Bar (262/284-4800, 5–9 p.m. Sun.–Tues., 5–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat.,dinner daily $16–24). Superb steaks and salmon.