Racine is a beachfront town in Wisconsin, south of Milwaukee. It’s less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago, and only 40 minutes south of Milwaukee. Sandwiched between two cities, I’m surprised how often it’s overlooked. We discovered it a couple summers ago, looking for a place to hunt sea glass, and we were hooked! Racine has amazing beaches, a cute downtown, waterfront restaurants, a great zoo and more! Looking for a quick getaway from the city, or just roadtripping through the upper midwest? Try these top 5 things to do in Racine!
Racine has 2 access points for Lake Michigan beaches- Zoo Beach and North Beach. You can walk the shoreline between the two, although it’s quite a distance.
As it’s name suggests, Zoo Beach is located right by the Racine Zoo. From the (free) parking lot, there a several sets of stairs down to the beach, so be prepared if you’re carrying alot of gear. The staircases have some lovely sea glass murals. Zoo Beach is my favorite of the two. It’s less crowded and feels more natural, plus it offers some amazing sea glass hunting! Until surprisingly recently, towns used to dump their garbage into Lake Michigan. Between that, and all the shipwrecks, there is a ton of sea glass, and even sea pottery, washing up on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Some areas have none, while at others, like Zoo Beach, you would be hard pressed not to find any!
A few practical tips on Zoo Beach- there aren’t any restrooms, or lifeguards. Also, the shoreline has a decent drop shortly off the beach. It’s nothing to be scared of, but don’t be caught off guard by the sudden drop.
North Beach is in town, and offers a wide expanse of sand. Beach volleyball, restrooms, and even a tiki bar, are available. It gets much more crowded, but if you’d like to pretend you’re not in Wisconsin, this is your best bet. The tiki bar, North Beach Oasis, has potted palm trees, food and alcohol, and live music.
I love this little zoo! Sitting on a bluff along Lake Michigan, you can see the water and actually hear the waves in parts of the zoo. It might be small, but don’t discount it. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it’s home to rhinos, giraffes, tigers and much more.
The highlight, to me, is the giraffe feeding! For just a few dollars, sign up to feed the giraffes at various times throughout the day. The gentle giants will lean down, stick out their long blue tongues, and take the veggies offered to them. I love it! I guess I’m a kid at heart, as we’re the only adults without children every time we’ve done it!
Another favorite? The very friendly orangutan at the primate house. He was especially taken with my sister, following her along the exhibit! You can easily spend most of the day wandering the zoo. They have a snack bar with burgers, brats and so on. Check their events page for special after hour events. From live tribute bands, to anima encounters, a Zoo Brew and more, they keep Racine partying!
Wind Point Lighthouse
Built in 1880 by a Civil War brigadier general, the lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also still an active lighthouse, guiding ships even in the age of GPS and radar. Tours are offered during the summer on select days, and private tours are also available.
It’s 144 stairs to the top, where you’ll be rewarded with a birds eye view of the surrounding area. On the way down, you’ll have to climb through a hatch onto the stairs. It freaked me out, but thankfully my tour group was fun and supportive, calling encouragement and offering helping hands!
The lighthouse is surrounded by a flower garden, and just beyond is a small beach. The Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, but a lucky couple lives onsite as the keepers. This interview is really intriguing, and offers a sneak peek into the keepers’ quarters. I’d love to act as a lighthouse keeper one summer!
Lake Michigan Pathway
Racine has quite a few bikes trails, but the most impressive is the 9.8 miles of the Lake Michigan Pathway. It passes North Beach, the harbor, downtown, and the zoo. A nice, paved trail, it’s perfect for biking or hiking along the lake. If 9.8 miles isn’t enough for you, the trail connects to the Kenosha County Bike Trail System.
Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings
Frank Lloyd Wright lived in Chicago, and you can visit his house in Oak Park today. I highly recommend it, if you’re in Chicago! He designed a number of structures in the area, including the SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower and Wingspread in Racine. The administrative building was his largest commercial project, while Wingspread is a beautiful estate home originally built for the then president of SC Johnson. Wingspread would be Wright’s last prairie style design, built in 1939.
Both places offer tours by appointment, but things are been ever changing with COVID. Be sure to call or check their websites for the latest. Even if you can’t tour the buildings, it’s worth driving by them. Wingspread’s exterior, in particular, is beautiful.
So, there’s my recommendations for the 5 things to do in Racine! It’s a great summer escape, easily accessible. Looking for more ideas around Lake Michigan? You might enjoy these activities in Michigan!