Most visitors can find something to capture their attention at the well-done Wisconsin Maritime Museum. The museum sits on the shores of Lake Michigan in the city of Manitowoc, long known as a ship-building center. Admission ($12) includes a guided tour of the WW II sub U.S.S. Cobia tied up alongside the museum. The main level contains incredibly detailed model ships: schooners, riverboats, tugs, freighters. After seeing those delicate objects, it's a bit startling to walk into the steam engine exhibit, which contains the massive 1911 triple expansion marine steam engine that once powered a car ferry across the Straits of Mackinac.
The lower level is largely dedicated to the Wisconsin-built boat gallery and contains a varied selection of watercraft built in the state (kayaks, pleasure boats and more). The permanent exhibit gallery teaches you about how the lake and rivers shaped communities, businesses and families. In the latter gallery, you can stroll through a re-created 19th-century downtown, complete with boardwalk, and look up at a full-size cross-section of a schooner. (It's huge.) Kids aren't forgotten: There's a waterways room, where kids can steer boats through a model waterway, see how a lock works, play with nautical games and puzzles, and more.
The best part of the museum might be what lies outside: the U.S.S. Cobia. The 45-minute tour takes you throughout the immaculately restored sub, decked out as it would have looked in 1945 (look for the modest pin-ups). The tour is fascinating, and gives you a real idea what it would have been like to have been aboard a sub back then. Finish your visit with a trip up to the museum's roof, where you'll get an expansive view of the surrounding land.