Soda Pop's. I'm a sucker for quirky places where singular passions reign. It doesn't hurt that I'll take soda pop from a glass bottle any day of the week over a humble can.
I'm also old enough to remember the 1980s fad of soda pop places where you could buy mix-and-match crates loaded with any flavor under the sun, from pineapple to green apple.
Those places are long gone, but Soda Pop's brings together every soda pop you can think of much like the best pubs assemble the greatest microbrews. You can find old-school Coca-Cola, Green River, Nehi orange, cherry limeade and close to 150 others. Don't miss grabbing some Sprecher root beer, a complex dark brew sweetened with a good kick of local honey. It's delicious. You can also make this one of those vacation-perfect lunch stops with the store's soda fountain. It's a great fit for an area that bustles with three (or more) generations of vacationers making summer memories together.
Feed the bears in Minocqua
Soda Pop's is in downtown Eagle River, 27 miles east of Mincoqua, the hub of all things "up north" in Wisconsin (much the way Brainerd is Minnesota's epicenter for lake vacations). It's easy to take a break from the water and go explore area towns and tucked-away treasures such as Soda Pop's.
Left: Lake Minocqua's vintage boathouses glow at sunset--the ideal time for a pontoon cruise.
Right in Minocqua and a true delight for kids is Wildwood Wildlife Park. It seems too modest of a name for what’s an impressive zoo with close to 700 animals. It has that homey feel of a place that's family-run, too, where relationships with the animals get personal. Kids love feeding ravenous goats and sheep, watching otters play, and seeing exotic animals such as tigers. The biggest stars, though, are often the bears as they swim in a pool and greedily guzzle the custom “bear juice.” It's probably the one glass-bottled sweet drink you won't find at Soda Pop's. The Wildwood folks make their own blend of juice that they bottle. You can purchase it from a vending machine and feed the bears through a secure fence ($8-$12; 715-356-5588).
Read about more of my vacations picks for a Mincoqua-area getaway--from an Objibwe living history site to some of the best pancakes you'll ever taste--at www.startribune.com/lifestyle/97669074.html.