Lake Geneva with tweens and teens

Connecting with tweens and teens is like many other aspects of parenting — very important, and also easier said than done. With my teen daughter, one of the best ways to get her to put down her phone and really engage is to take a trip with her. There’s something about getting both of us out of our routines that opens up the conversational flood gates with her. It’s even better if it’s a road trip, as adolescents do some of their best conversing in the car, when no one is making prolonged eye contact with them.


She and I recently did a quick overnight trip to Lake Geneva, and I came away feeling more connected to her than I have in a while. Lake Geneva is less than two hours from Chicago, but it feels like a resort town that’s a world away. It’s close proximity makes it a really doable option despite busy summer schedules and limited funds. It’s a great place to enjoy a mini-break with your mini-me. (Just don’t tell your teen that. Many don’t take kindly to phrases like “mini-me.” Because they’re teens.)


What to do


Does your teen rarely see you stepping out of your comfort zone? Change that by ziplining at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. It is exciting enough to please thrill seekers but not so crazy that parents will be incapacitated the following day. With eight zip lines among the 100 acres of trees, there’s a lot of beauty and variety. The racing zip was our favorite. My teen thought she had me beat by a mile but I came on strong at the end. It wasn’t enough to beat her, but I loved that she laughed and said, “I should’ve known better than to count you out.”


You may not realize how much you needed a selfie with your kid and a camel until you’ve visited Safari Lake Geneva. Just five miles from downtown Lake Geneva is a unique conservation-focused ranch that is home to bison, camels, ostrich, yaks, miniature zebu and more. Guests can feed the animals, who are more than happy for the snack, and guides share fascinating information and answer questions.


It goes without saying that the heart of Lake Geneva is the lake, which is the fifth largest freshwater lake in Wisconsin. The best way to take it in is from the water, where you can appreciate not just the size of the lake (it’s big!) but also the stunning old homes that line the shore. Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers a few options. The Mailboat Tour is unique — this is one of the last places mail is delivered by boat. And get this … the boat never stops! The carriers are just that fast. This tour is a good way to get a “wow” out of your kid.


Where to eat


“What’s on tap?” isn’t often a question that teens can legally asked, but at Sprecher’s, the root beer — one of four sodas on tap — is amazing. The menu at this Wisconsin favorite is extensive and features German favorites like brats and jaegerschnitzel. If your kid isn’t feeling adventurous and goes with the chicken tenders, know that you’re not alone.


Get off the beaten path a bit with a trip to the Next Door Pub, which has personal pizzas perfect for teens and a wide array of options for parents not in a pizza mood. It’s a little outside of downtown, so a good lunch option to hit if you arrive in the morning and want to grab lunch before launching into activities.


Save some space for dessert, because there is no shortage of cute ice cream shops around town, and the resort-like feel makes it seem wrong to not have some. My girl and I swapped cones halfway through and it’s safe to say that while the ice cream was delicious, I enjoyed the down time and chance to be with just her even more.


Where to stay


The Harbor Shores is in a great location. It’s just a few steps from Sprecher’s, a couple blocks from downtown Lake Geneva, and very close to the Riviera. There’s also a Gino’s East if deep dish is the way to your teen’s heart.


I loved that we had a room with a balcony facing the lake. In the morning, I quietly used the coffee maker and then snuck out on the balcony where I savored the view and some quiet time to myself while my teen slept in a bit. (Fear not, she did get up in time to take advantage of the free breakfast so we were fueled up for a day of fun.)


When traveling with adolescents, remember that they have different circadian rhythms and accommodating those with a bit of extra sleep often makes the trip more enjoyable for all parties.


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