I grew up in love with Detroit, infatuated with Chicago, and in awe of the communities who support the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs — so I’ve always had a bit of a thing for the Midwest. And yet, until this past summer, I’d never been to Milwaukee. Once there, I realized how terrific the city is for families, especially if you and your kids love root beer, live music, grilled sausages, baseball, motorcycles and root beer (okay, regular beer, too, but as a non-drinker, I’ll leave you to discover that side of Brew Town!) Here’s what’s on tap for you and your kids in this surprisingly great Midwestern city.
Miller Park is a feast for the senses, with the aroma of sausages coming from every corridor, a robust right field play space for kids within view of the action on the field, and of course Bernie the Brewer’s slide and the famous 6th inning sausage race. Pulling into the parking lot early before a Brewers baseball game with a portable grill, sausages, and gloves and a ball to play catch should be on any sports fan’s bucket list. After the game, treat your kids to Leon’s Frozen Custard!
The Fonz and Beer Tours
Have you introduced your kids to Happy Days or Laverne & Shirley yet? If so, a quick stop for a photo with The Fonz statue along the Milwaukee River is a must as is a tour of Lakefront Brewery. Now, it might seem odd to take a child through a brewery tour, but the process of making beer is rather intriguing and at the end of the tour, there is a very familiar bottling line for Laverne & Shirley fans. Plus, every tour ticket nets you a few samples, including Lakefront’s Golden Maple Root Beer. Yum!
I may never have indulged in an adult beverage, but I DO know my way around a frothy root beer and Milwaukee has several craft root brews you and your kids must try, including the incredible Dang! It’s Butterscotch Root Beer (which tastes like a mix of root beer and Harry Potter Butterbeer) and Sprecher’s Root Beer, which may just be the best in the world. Take a tour of that brewery too and dive into unlimited free soda samples — flavors include orange, ginger ale, red cream and root beer of course.
Harley Davidson Museum
The crown jewel of Milwaukee’s tourist attractions is the Harley Davidson Museum. This sprawling, immaculate campus houses a massive collection of old Harleys and motorcycle parts. There’s a kids’ zone, the opportunity to sit on a number of bikes, and you can even design your own custom hog! Even if you aren’t a biker, you and your kids will love this place.
A stone’s throw from Harley Heaven is The Iron Horse Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel perfect for a weekend stay in Milwaukee. You can even bring your dog to stay with your family, and they’ll be greeted with their name on the doggy guest arrivals board that sits alongside water and a dog treat bowl next to the front desk. While there, order anything to eat out on the hotel’s patio restaurant — all of it is outstanding.
Proving that there’s more to eat in Milwaukee than cheese curds and sausages, and because your doggy won’t be the only one hungry for a bite, head to Engine Company #3 for a plate of S’Mores Pancakes, Organ Piper Pizza for the pizzas (go ahead, get sausage on top!) and the Wurlitzer pipe organ, and Holey Moley for incredible craft doughnuts.
If visiting Milwaukee in the summer, you must catch at least one concert with your kids at Summerfest AND make the one hour drive north to see the Porshe, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Kia racing teams do battle on the magnificent Road America track. On the way to or from Road America, a stop in Sheboygan for the remarkable Bookworm Gardens, a free, grass-roots community play area inspired by 60 children’s books.
Outdoor adventure seekers will want to stop by one of the three Milwaukee area Urban Ecology Centers to go on a bird walk, climb a rock wall or borrow some outdoor recreational equipment.
On the way to or from the airport, make a quick stop at the roadside residential attraction known at 4531 S. Lake St. in Cudahy, Wisconsin (a pleasant 15 minute drive along Lake Michigan from downtown). This crazy house, with a green Cadillac buried in the front yard, Bob’s Big Boy statue in the back and dozens of other pop culture memorabilia pieces scattered about, may end up being your kid’s favorite memory from your weekend in Milwaukee!
— Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.
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