West Bend city in Wisconsin stands proudly as the county seat of Washington County.
The city owes its existence to the creation of a highway that connected Fond du Lac and Milwaukee back in 1845.
What was once a rest stop in the middle of the highway became a popular destination right on the banks of the Milwaukee River, and thus West Bend was born.
Its name is one of its unique attributes since the name “West Bend” refers to the Milwaukee River's sharp west bend in the area.
Modern-day West Bend is an attractive location, thanks to its connection to nature, rich history, and fun activities.
Interested to know more about this place?
Here are the 15 best things to do in West Bend, Wisconsin, that definitely deserve to be on your bucket list:
Get Up Close and Personal with Animals at the Shalom Wildlife Zoo
Have you ever heard of “America’s largest petting zoo”?
That’s the proud reputation that Shalom Wildlife Zoo in West Bend flaunts to its visitors.
Located along Shalom Road just north of downtown West Bend, Shalom Wildlife Zoo is home to over 75 animal species and more than 750 animals.
Some of the animals you’ll find here include camels, ostriches, bears, deer, tigers, and foxes.
Snaking the zoo is four miles of road that you can walk on or travel around using your car; you can also rent a golf cart that can seat up to 4 people.
True to its branding, the zoo lets you pet some animals and feed them using the zoo’s supplies.
There’s also a snack shack nearby (appropriately named Grizzly Grill) where you can buy hamburgers and beef franks in case you’re hungry.
Shalom Wildlife Zoo hosts multiple events throughout the year, and you just might be in luck to attend one the next time you visit!
Celebrate Art History Art at the Museum of Wisconsin Art
The bustling city of West Bend is built around art, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art is a testament to that fact.
Since its founding in 1961, the museum has gathered an estimated 500,000 visitors each year in its location at Veterans Avenue.
The museum boasts a permanent collection featuring works by more than 300 artists and which spans 200 years of art history.
For the art lover and those who just want to be visually pleased, you’ll be happy that the museum also has over 5,000 artworks in different media.
Throughout the year, the museum also hosts different themed exhibits, some of which are part of the permanent collection while others are for a limited time only.
Other than artworks, the Museum of Wisconsin Art also houses a shop for products and gifts, as well as art classes for children, adults, or families.
Spend a Relaxing Time at Regner Park
At the heart of downtown West Bend stands Regner Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces.
The park is located along North Main Street and features facilities that cater to families, friends, and those who are visiting alone.
A swimming pool can be found in the middle of Regner Park, as well as a splash pad for children.
During winter, the park also opens an ice skating rink which is popular for figure skating and ice hockey.
If you want to sweat out, you’re in luck because you’d also find playgrounds, trails, tennis, soccer, softball, and baseball facilities here.
For families and friends who’d like some private space all for themselves, Regner Park also offers rental services in its different lodges, pavilions, and other buildings.
Test Your Geocaching Skills at the West Bend $1,000 Cache Ba$h
The city of West Bend prides itself on being the geocaching festival of the Midwest with its annual West Bend $1,000 Cache Ba$h.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS technology, and here at West Bend, the geocaching competition can land you the sweet $1,000 top prize.
The event takes place around West Bend and attracts geocachers from across the world.
There are fun activities for new and experienced geocachers alike, such as a cache hunt which earns you more raffle tickets for the top prize.
Complete beginners are also welcome because the event offers geocaching lessons for beginners.
Watch Performances at The Historic West Bend Theater
Walk along North Main Street just beside the Milwaukee River, and you’ll find one of West Bend’s most precious gems—The Historic West Bend Theater.
Although it was originally built in 1929, it was restored only in 2020 to provide education, cultural awareness, and entertaining performance and visual arts.
This historic theater gathers the entire community together to watch events such as concerts, games, movie screenings, and documentaries.
Watch out for their events list if you’d like to watch some stand-up comedy, theater performances, or general shows.
Overall, watching a performance in The Historic West Bend Theater is sure to be a memorable time you’ll keep coming back to when you visit!
Admire the Public Art Scene with the West Bend Sculpture Walk
By the time you’ve made some exploration around West Bend, you probably would’ve already noticed some of the amazing public sculptures in the city.
These are all part of the city’s artistic identity that invites tourists to explore the long history of sculptures in West Bend.
With more than 40 public sculptures on display across various media such as metal, stone, and other materials, the West Bend Sculpture Walk is popular among art enthusiasts and the general public alike.
Some of the more well-known installations include the Labyrinth Earth Garden in Regnar Park, which is a great place for meditation and the iconic Musical Frog Trio just outside the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Other sculptures you should visit include the bas relief of Lady Justice and the wooden Pixel Topo.
All of these sculptures can be found scattered throughout West Bend, making for a casual and self-paced tour around the city.
Feel the Holiday Spirit with Enchantment in the Park
From its founding in 2009, Enchantment in the Park has consistently delivered the true holiday spirit among locals and tourists in West Bend alike.
Held in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Enchantment in the Park aims to wow the crowd with holiday light displays, music, and other performing arts; the event attracts around 50,000 visitors each year.
The different activities can be enjoyed on foot, in your car, or in one of the horse carriages that roam Regner Park, where the event is held.
In particular, carriage rides are one of the most popular activities, and if you want to try it out, you can expect a long line.
The spirit of the holidays is the spirit of giving, and the organizers hold donation drives that help area charities and restock food pantries across Washington County.
Shop at the Downtown West Bend Farmers Market
During select months of every year, West Bend hosts a large gathering of vendors.
Known as the Downtown West Bend Farmers Market, North Main Street gains a new dimension of life every Saturday as vendors hawk their wares for everyone to purchase.
The event brings businesses, clubs, churches, and agriculturists together to form one of the largest markets in Wisconsin.
You’ll find a wide assortment of shopping choices such as vegetables, prepared foods, fresh fruit, coffee, and agricultural produce like eggs, milk, and honey.
Gracing the atmosphere are local musicians who perform throughout the day and entertain customers.
If you want some fresh products for your home while having a grand time in West Bend, keep your eyes out for Downtown West Bend Farmers Market!
Find Your Next Favorite Wine with The Wine Hop
Springtime is the perfect time to go outdoors and be grateful for the blessings of nature, and that’s when you should also participate in The Wine Hop.
The annual event is a tour that takes place around West Bend and is premised on letting you taste a variety of wines from over 20 wine stops.
The types of wine you get to taste vary, but you can be sure that there’s a brand new favorite for you to indulge in.
If you’d like to get ahead of the rest of the participants, get the VIP ticket that lets you start the tour early and gives you other perks like a redeemable coupon and a free ticket to the raffle.
The raffle itself contains wine, wine glasses, and gift cards and is an especially popular highlight of the event.
Bring your friends along and find your next favorite wine!
Witness the Downtown West Bend Kayak 5K
Milwaukee River cuts across the heart of West Bend and serves as a popular destination spot among tourists.
Since 2019, an annual kayaking competition has been held on its waters—the Downtown West Bend Kayak 5K.
The kayaking route stretches over 5 kilometers from Zodiac up to Quaas Creek Park and is divided into youth and adult categories.
For spectators, there are designated viewing spots on top of bridges or in the parks by the Milwaukee River, giving enough space for you to witness the physical prowess of the participants.
At the finish line, there are food stalls for hungry watchers and participants.
The fun doesn’t stop when the winners have been declared either because there are post-race events such as yoga.
Have a Great Time at the Washington County Fair
One of the best highlights during your stay in West Bend is the annual Washington County Fair held every July.
The fairgrounds are beside the County Highway, bringing fun and joy to the residents of Washington County since 1858.
The fair itself brings livestock to the center stage as it features horses, poultry, rabbits, goats, swine, and other farm animals.
There are also home environment classes such as knitting, crocheting, and taking care of houseplants.
No fair is complete without fun and something to fill your stomach, so there are indoor shops and stalls as well as carnival rides outside.
Live music is also present with the performance of bands and other music icons, giving the fair its characteristic festive atmosphere.
Near the end of the celebrations is grand fireworks show that leaves fairgoers awestruck and wraps the fair for next year.
If you time your visit right, be sure to attend the Washington County Fair!
Eat and Drink at Riverside Brewery and Restaurant
The banks of the Milwaukee River offer some of the most scenic spots in West Bend, and it’s no wonder that it’s also a great spot to build a restaurant.
The Riverside Brewery and Restaurant sits at a prime location along South Main Street and offers customers scrumptious and fancy dining options.
The highlight of its menu is its steak and seafood offerings which are best paired with your choice of pasta, salads, or soups.
Or, if you want something lighter, they got you covered with their sandwiches, paninis, wraps, and burgers.
Cap off your meal with some sweet dessert options like chocolate cake and pies.
For those buying for their families, Riverside Brewery and Restaurant also offers curbside pickup for special meals.
As far as special meals go, they have daily specials that bring variety to their menu.
As a brewery, they have seasonal drinks and signature brews like beer, ale, and weiss beer.
Admire Nature at Lac Lawrann Conservancy
In the northern outskirts of West Bend, just along Schmidt Road, you’ll find some green space that’s amazingly close to the bustling city.
Welcome to Lac Lawrann Conservancy, a 145-acre nature preserve built in 1955 by the late Lawrence and Ann Maurin.
The conservancy features different types of terrain such as wetlands, a native hardwood forest, prairies, and red pines.
It’s home to more than 300 species of plants and over 200 species of birds, such as owls, ducks, and herons, as well as other animals like deer, beavers, and badgers.
The conservancy is a popular destination for running and hiking, or skiing during the winter, and attracts around 5,000 visitors each year.
If you like, the Lac Lawrann Conservancy also has rental spaces for your family or group of friends, such as in the Maurin Center.
Explore History at the Tower Heritage Center
West Bend is a city that boasts a unique and interesting history that you can explore at the Tower Heritage Center.
This museum is located at South 5th Avenue and was formed by different mergers with other local museums throughout its history.
The Tower Heritage Center prides itself in its exhibits that cover the history of the West Bend area from the Ice Age to modern times.
Stepping into the museum can really feel like going back in time.
To make the most out of the experience, participate in one of their guided tours that take you around the courthouse and the jailhouse.
For something more interactive, try the scavenger hunt in the 27-room Zinn Dollhouse!
The Tower Heritage Center offers visitors an experience that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Shop Gifts at Savoring Thyme
Any trip is incomplete if you don’t get to take home some souvenirs, memorabilia, or gifts for your family and friends.
Savoring Thyme is a proudly women-owned shop that you can find along North Main Street and has on its shelves various products and gifts.
Got a green thumb?
Head to their gardening section to pick your choice of tools, yard decorations, and greenery.
You can also expand your wardrobe with their boutique clothing, such as skirts and dresses, purses, and accessories.
Food is always a great gift choice, and Savoring Thyme offers specialty food items such as private-label jams and coffee.
If you’re unsure what gift you’d like to give, they’ll gladly ask you some questions about the gift recipient and help you choose something.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Visit the Wisconsin Automotive Museum
To the southwest of West Bend, you’ll find the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in the neighboring Hartford City, about 17 miles away.
The museum prides itself in its exhibits of transportation history and in being Wisconsin’s largest auto museum.
Since it opened in 1986, the museum has steadily accumulated cars until the number has reached over 115 vehicles.
Other than classic and vintage automobiles, the museum also hosts Kissel-made luxury cars and special displays.
There are also events occasionally held in the museum, which are also usually geared towards vehicles and automobiles.
Fun activities, fun places, fun everything—with West Bend’s unique blend of nature and the arts, it’s a popular destination that won’t leave you disappointed.
Its wide variety of events and things to do and captivating culture, as well as its proximity to some of the major cities in Wisconsin, is an inviting feature that many would want to keep coming back to.
Visit West Bend, Wisconsin, today!