Often overshadowed by nearby Chicago, Milwaukee is the hidden gem of the Midwest.
It’s a big city with a small-town feel, friendly people and a rich history. This lakefront destination has plenty to offer when it comes to affordable vacations for families with young children:
Explore the Riverwalk
Stroll the promenade that borders the Milwaukee River to get a feel for the distinct neighborhoods in the downtown area. During the warmer months, you can enjoy outdoor dining at the sidewalk cafes and beer gardens, or hop on a tour boat.
Don’t forget to stop by the Bronze Fonz near the corner of Riverwalk and Wells Street to pose for a thumbs-up picture, a nod to the sitcom Happy Days set in 1950s Milwaukee.
Get Wild at Milwaukee County Zoo
This zoo is perfect for families with young children. It’s incredibly spacious and houses more than 3,000 animals. Kids will love the Safari Train that runs May through September or the Sky Safari for an aerial view of the zoo.
There are tons of family-friendly exhibits and educational shows in the Northwestern Mutual Family Farm area as well, which includes a playground for the youngest members of your family. The Zoo is located a few miles west of the downtown area.
Hike the Seven Bridges Trail in Grant Park
Located in South Milwaukee, this trail has some of the best hiking around. You would never know how close you are to a metropolitan area in this natural oasis. The trail will lead you to the shore of Lake Michigan, offering plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
It’s easy enough for little legs at just one mile for the main loop.
Tour Sprecher Brewery
Of course, Milwaukee is known for its beer, but its root beer is world famous, too. Learn about Old World brewing traditions as you tour the lager cellar and brewhouse, then choose from 20 beers and 10 sodas to enjoy in the beer garden. This is a perfect activity for families who want a taste of Milwaukee’s German heritage.
Explore Nature at the Mitchell Park Conservatory
When the temperatures drop, head to the Mitchell Park Conservatory (known to locals as “The Domes”) to warm up and learn about diverse plant life. Visit the Tropical Dome for a taste of the rainforest, the Desert Dome for a collection of cacti and succulents and the Floral Show Dome for a seasonal exhibit of flowers.
Have a Cone at Leon’s Frozen Custard
Milwaukee loves its frozen custard. You can taste some of the best the city has to offer at Leon’s Frozen Custard. Founded in the 1940s, it’s practically a Milwaukee institution. They also offer hot sandwiches, a full soda fountain, malts and shakes.
If you want to do the full frozen custard tour, you should also stop by Kopp’s and Gilles. All three stands are Milwaukee landmarks.
Get Hands-On at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is an educational experience geared toward kids ages 10 and under. The interactive exhibits promote literacy, math, art and science. Kids are having so much fun that they don’t realize they’re learning.
Wander the East Side Neighborhood
One of my favorite ways to get a feel for the city I’m in is to wander its neighborhoods. Check out the Upper East Side neighborhood for a glimpse of some of Milwaukee’s historic mansions and its proximity to Lake Michigan.
Play at Lake Park
When the kids need to stretch their legs, Lake Park is the perfect spot. Start your time there with a picnic lunch, then let the kids climb on the playground. If it’s cold out, head to the outdoor ice rink for a perfect Wisconsin winter activity.
Visit Lake Michigan
You can’t do Milwaukee without visiting its Great Lake. Rent a bike from Veterans Park and ride the six-mile Lakefront Trail. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the warmer months, relax on Bradford Beach or rent a paddleboat in Veterans Lagoon, which is right off Lake Michigan.
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