Milwaukee – The Unexpectedly Cool Family Road Trip City
September 11, 2019
Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee, then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip. Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.
Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids
not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys. As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there. A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.
FAMILY FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE
Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers apparel. The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season, we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.
Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park. The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.
Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff. In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide. On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game. Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!
History is also featured prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a featured attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.
Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception. It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ). The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost). In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.
I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this. The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.
Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.
B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.
We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.
Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages. Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?
Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront. I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or, as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship. Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!
Eating and Drinking There
Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it felt like there was a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours, too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of family fun in Milwaukee. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels
A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising. Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.
For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect. The bar was huge, and as Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively). The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!
One of the most fun places to go in Milwauakee to eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously. The staff are all “agents”, and you’re referred to as an agent. If you wanted someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is the spot for you. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is littered with spy references, too. You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building. Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse was really entertaining. The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.
Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.
Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint, so the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant, above and beyond what you’d normally expect. Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.
BEING THERE, SEEING THERE
During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown. It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, I found the subtle hoop themes in the lobby to be especially cool.
You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence, as many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations (it also happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel).
Marquette University is also located near downtown, so pockets of neighbourhoods had a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense. Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town), so, coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys. Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm, as lots of people were zipping around on them.
Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games, where if you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill. The best part was that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way, giving us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.
THE WRAP UP
Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it. It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.
Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip, and many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.