Some Wisconsin destinations – like Summerfest in Milwaukee or the EAA AirVenture in the Oshkosh – become annual traditions because of their magnitude and ever-fresh approach, but these one-time or first-time events and attractions also aim to earn your attention.
Centennial celebrations for two native sons happen this year. Orson Welles (responsible for the 1941 film “Citizen Kane” and 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast) was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha. Les Paul, father of the solid body electric guitar, was born June 9, 1915, in Waukesha.
The Welles anniversary party stretches nearly one month in Kenosha, where film critics, scholars, historians and others explore various aspects of the man’s life and work. Highlights include film screenings, a stage production of “War of the Worlds,” narrated walks of Green Ridge Cemetery (burial site of Welles’ parents, grandparents and great-grandparents) and puppetry troupe tributes. For details about these and other Citizen Welles Society of Kenosha events, May 6-31: citizenwelles.org, visitkenosha.com, 262-654-7307
Just over the border, Woodstock, Ill., hosts the Orson Welles’ Centennial Festival because he lived there eight years while attending Todd School for the Boys after his parents’ divorce and mother’s death. For more about the May 6-23 events: welleswoodstock.com, visitmchenrycounty.com, 815-36-6177
Two works by Welles also figured prominently into this month’s Wisconsin Film Festival, April 9-16, an annual event where 150 independently produced titles are shown at eight venues. wifilmfest.org, 608-265-2933
Les Paul hoopla is ongoing in Waukesha, especially since 2012, when Gibson Guitar Corp. designated the city as the eighth GuitarTown in the world. That means 10-foot-tall painted molds of guitars soon come out of hibernation and take their places as public art. Friday Night Live, June to October, adds live music outdoors.
Waukesha County Museum’s newest permanent exhibit, “The Wizard of Waukesha,” features rare guitars, Les Paul awards and personal possessions. lespaulexperience.org, 262-521-2859
The inventor, born Lester William Polsfuss, lived in Waukesha until age 17. He is buried in the city’s Prairie Home Cemetery. visitwaukesha.org, 262-542-0330
The Wisconsin Maritime Museum, Manitowoc, presents its first Sub Fest on July 10-12. The event is a nod to the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine that is docked at this Lake Michigan port city.
Expect fireworks over the Manitowoc River, a nautical art show from the U.S. Navy at Rahr-West Art Museum, a reunion of military veterans who worked on submarines and a trio of classic sub movies: “Run Silent, Run Deep” (with a visit from actor Jim Bates), “Destination Tokyo” and “Operation Petticoat.”
The museum recently opened Treasures of NOAA’s Ark and Wisconsin’s Underwater Treasures, two new temporary exhibits. Artifacts from the first explain the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Wisconsin show concentrates on findings from shipwrecks in the area. wisconsinmaritime.org, 920-684-0218
New at Wisconsin Dells this year is the Manticore, a vertical swing with 12 arms and 12 double seats at Mt. Olympus Theme Park and Water Park. The thrill ride is 140 feet tall.
The area’s first aerial adventure park, Heightened Adventures, is a six-acre woods with a zip line and aerial obstacle course that opens at Chula Vista Resort. Explore on your own or with a guide.
The Dells, known for its over-the-top waterparks and other attractions, also boasts a revamped dinner theater (The Palace), more turf for soccer and other athletic matches (at Woodside Sports Complex) and distillery news (Wollersheim Winery opens a distillery for brandy, whiskey and gin; Driftless Glen adds a restaurant at the Wisconsin River, where chefs use house-made spirits in cooking) wisdells.com, 800-223-3557
Little Potosi, in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, is best known for the National Brewery Museum. Now the Great River Road Museum of Contemporary Art gives us another reason to detour off of U.S. 151. Artwork is inspired by the Mississippi River and its wildlife, terrain and freewheeling spirit. Open on Fridays through Sundays during summer. greatriverroadmoca.com, 608-763-2440
Long-ago craft techniques are taught during Gifts of Mother Earth, a folk art workshop series this summer at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, near Baraboo. Teachers from Little Eagle Arts Foundation make birch bark baskets on July 11, black ash baskets on Aug. 29 and Iroquois raised beadwork on Sept. 5. Space is limited to 20 students per session. Call 608-253-4142 for details.