Wausau may have one-fifteenth the population of Milwaukee (the largest city in Wisconsin by population), but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. As much as anywhere else in the Badger State, Central Wisconsin is proud of its heritage, its arts, and the land on which it has risen. With that in mind, here are the best attractions and events in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Other than festivals, art in Wausau is at its best at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the Center for Visual Arts. The Art Museum provides free access to a sculpture garden as well as rotating exhibits, and is internationally recognized for its permanent Birds in Art exhibit. The Center for Visual Arts also provides free exhibits and engages the community with art classes for both children and adults.
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Marathon County Historical Society (MCHS)
The MCHS aims to connect the community with its historical roots “through education, preservation, research, experiences, and entertainment.” Formed in 1952 by those who felt Wausau’s history was being lost, the MCHS now houses the Woodson History Center and the Yawkey House Museum, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Other than Our Stories: The History of Marathon County, their current exhibits include Rural Electrification: An Outlet for Change, and Pieces of the Past: Quilts Tell a Story.
With Bull Falls Brewery, Red Eye Brewing Company, and Great Dane Pub and Brewery Company, Wausau boasts its very own beer. The Bull Falls Brewery offers over 10 different types of beer, including Irish Red Ale, Bock Lager, and Oatmeal Stout. The Red Eye Brewing Company is a great place for a meal in addition to their beer options, with restaurant, bar, and patio seating. Other than typical bar space, The Great Dane provides a private events space for up to 75 people, a banquet hall for up to 300 people, a Beer Garden, and games such as billiards, shuffle boards, and darts.
The Grand Theater | Courtesy of Jacklyn E. Grambush
Across from the 400 Block in the center of downtown Wausau, The Grand Theater serves 17 counties in Northern Wisconsin with over 300 events per year. Managed by the Performing Arts Foundation, The Grand provides musicals (such as Jersey Boys), theater, concerts, acrobatic performances, and the percussion troupe STOMP. Striving to connect the community with the arts, The Grand also offers educational opportunities including the Aspirus Arts in Education Series and the Artist Residency Program.
Not only does Wausau celebrate its local scene through events like the Beer & Bacon Festival and the Festival of Arts, but its central location in the state also makes it an ideal location for larger gatherings, like the Wisconsin Valley Fair and the Kayak/Canoe Midwest Freestyle Championships. Observing the change in seasons in style, Wausau offers the Summer Kickoff Weekend, Harvest Fest, and Winterfest. The city also recognizes its local, global community with the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival and Hmong Wausau Fest. All in all, it’s difficult to visit Wausau without something or other going on!
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The city of Wausau promotes the arts like crazy—including music. Concerts on the Square is an annual, free music series that takes place from 6–8 p.m. on the 400 Block every Wednesday during summer. The local Wausau Concert Band also provides free music to the community in Marathon Park for an hour every Thursday evening of summer. If you can’t make it during the week, Jazz on the River is available all summer from 5–7 p.m. on Sundays. A non-free music event, the Big Bull Falls Blues Fest, is a two-day event on Fern Island and is Wisconsin’s longest-running blues fest.
With Halloween creeping up, some may be interested to find out that Wausau has quite the concentration of paranormal activity. The Wausau Paranormal Research Society follows these unexplained phenomena, categorizing 16 locations on their site as haunted, including The Grand Theater, the Wausau Club, and the Marathon County Historical Museum. There are those who theorize that the focus of energy is related to the above average amount of granite and quartzite in the area.
The 21 acres donated by Robert W. Monk now house a climbable Treehouse, the Kitchen Garden and Potager (for the “seed-to-table” experience), the Wildflower Woods and Memory Garden, and the Meditation Garden. The Monk Botanical Gardens also host several events, including the Eats for Tweets; which has nothing to do with Twitter. Participants help feed the garden birds and get to create two bird ornaments—one to take home and one to decorate the garden.
With nearly half the state of Wisconsin used for farmland, you can bet that Wausau has some top-notch farmer’s markets. From early May until late fall, the Farmers Market of Wausau runs every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. until they’re sold out. Supporting environmentally-sustainable practices, the tradition brings local farmers, bakers, and producers to the heart of downtown Wausau. Around the same time of year, Wausau Events provides the weekly Marketplace Thursdays from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. on the 400 Block. With live entertainment, produce, and art, the Marketplace supports handmade goods.
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With 37 city parks within the 18.27 square miles of Wausau, not to mention forests, gardens, and a nearby mountain, the opportunities to connect with nature in Wausau are great. Highly recommended are the Fall Colors, Isle of Ferns, and Wausau Whitewater Park. Fall Colors is a limited opportunity to ride the ski lift to Granite Peak, allowing participants to admire the brilliant changing colors of the leaves during the fall season. The Isle of Ferns is a wonderful area in which to hike, and even make a great setting for a wedding. Then there’s Wausau Whitewater Park, a top U.S. training site for canoeing and kayaking.
The first Thursday of each month during the spring and summer brings performing and visual arts, as well as a scavenger hunt, to downtown Wausau. Organized by the River District, First Thursdays have been a state-wide awarded event. Themes are encouraged and fun activities provided, drawing the community to engage with local businesses. First Thursdays promotes both local economy and an empowering sense of community.
Wausau receives on average five feet of snow per year; that’s more than twice as much as the average U.S. city. Paired with all those opportunities to connect with nature, winters in Wausau are anything but boring. There’s cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, curling, ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tubing, and sledding. Make sure to check out Rib Mountain and Sylvan Hill Park in particular.