Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee
Welcome to summer in Milwaukee! Despite the rumor, it’s probably not true that in summertime, the city tilts toward Lake Michigan. But there are a lot of attractions to be explored along the lakefront—and beyond.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
If you’re the parent of younger children, your number one destination should be the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which has hands-on, interactive exhibits designed especially for kids 10 and under. Pocket Park, a pretend urban park, is a perfect place for infants and preschoolers to explore. At It’s Your Move, younger school kids can jump around on a giant, interactive board game. At the Home Town exhibit, older kids role play life in the real world, such as customizing a kid-sized motorcycle or reporting the news “on location” in front of a green screen.
Infants to age 10. Admission: adults and children age 1 and older, $8; seniors (age 55 and older), $7; children younger than 1 year, free.
For older children, just across the street from Betty Brinn is another must-see, the Discovery World science and technology center. This striking, 120,000-square-foot lakefront facility includes interactive exhibits, the Reiman Aquarium, movies in the Digital Theater, live theater shows and learning labs. At the Composer Kiosk, you can program a song for the Music Factory, or, at the Visualizer Kiosk, create fantastic light displays. In the Kohl’s Design It! Lab, you can use tools such as a laser cutter and vacuum formers to create 3D products.
Infants to age 17. Admission: adults, $18; children 3-17, $14; children under 3, free.
(S/V) Denis Sullivan
Also part of Discovery World is the (S/V) Denis Sullivan, the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century, three-masted Great Lakes schooner. Completed in 2000 by professional shipwrights and nearly 1,000 volunteers, this modern educational sailing vessel offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich maritime history of the Great Lakes.
All ages. Day sail admission: adults, members $40, non-members $45; children 17 and younger, members $35, non-members $40; children 2 and under, free.
Just a little south of Discovery World is the Summerfest Grounds (officially called Henry Maier Festival Park), home of the summer-long smorgasbord of fairs and festivals that have earned Milwaukee the nickname “City of Festivals.” The flagship event is Summerfest, the “world’s largest music festival,” an 11-day extravaganza with over 800 bands and 900,000 visitors. There are other events on the grounds almost every weekend. Two of the most family friendly are Festa Italiana, with world-class performances and mouth-watering food, and Irish Fest, celebrating all aspects of Irish culture. Visit Milwaukee has a complete listing of summer fairs and festivals throughout the area.
Urban Ecology Center
There is also plenty of family fun to be had away from the lakefront. About a mile west is the Riverside Park branch of the Urban Ecology Center, on the Milwaukee River. This nature center offers a variety of family programs, including geocaching, birding adventures, astronomy and feeding animals in the native Wisconsin animal room. There is a free equipment lending program for members that includes canoes, kayaks, fishing equipment and bicycles.
Toddlers to teens. No admission fee; some modest fees for individual programs; $45 family membership.
Oak Leaf Trail
Use those bicycles to explore the Oak Leaf Trail, which runs past the Center. This 108-mile, multi-use recreational trail encircles Milwaukee County (countyparks.com). Its well-marked trail segments connect all of the major parks in the county park system with a “ribbon of green.”
Milwaukee County Zoo
No visit to Milwaukee is complete without a visit to the Milwaukee County Zoo, one of the country’s finest zoological attractions. Throughout the spacious 200 wooded acres, you’ll find over 2,000 mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish in specialized habitats. Always popular with kids are the Zoofari Train, Sky Safari and Sky Trail Explorer Ropes Courses & Zip Line. So is Kohl’s Wild Theater, which presents conservation-themed theater performances using drama, songs and puppetry.
Toddlers to teens. Admission $9.50-$14.25 depending on residency and day of visit.
A rainy day needn’t spoil your fun, thanks to five indoor adventure parks in the Milwaukee area. Three of them offer a variety of bouncing experiences. Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Waukesha bills itself as the world’s first indoor trampoline park. Among the fun options are WOW—the weightlessness of bouncing, flipping and landing in a pit filled with 8,000 foam cubes. Sky Zone also has an open jump, a SkySlam court, SkyRobics fitness classes, a Foam Zone, Ultimate Dodgeball and Ultimate Volleyball.
In addition, Helium Trampoline & Climbing in New Berlin has 130 trampolines, glow dodgeball, Mount Helium Rock Wall, big air bag, gladiator joust beam, lazer maze, hurricane simulator and nine-feet-tall Human Hamster Balls. Bounce Milwaukee in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood offers laser tag, rock climbing, adrenaline zone racecourse and Moebius combo with superslide, jumping area and tunnel. There is also an inflatable sports arena with over 700 square feet of space to bounce, throw, jump and score.
Play Zone in Germantown features the Play Zone golf simulator, rock climbing wall, archery, air hockey, foosball, billiards and remote-control race cars. Younger guests will enjoy a bounce house, giant tree house and indoor play equipment with a slide and a construction area. Light Speed Go Karts, Laser Tag & Arcade in Greenfield features eco-friendly electric go-karts that go up to 25 miles per hour on a specially designed 1/10th mile horseshoe-shaped track. There is also a 4,500-square-foot, multi-level laser tag arena plus classic arcade games such as Skee Ball, Tic Tac Toe, Sonic the Hedgehog and Dance Dance Revolution.
After all this fun and excitement, you’re likely to be hungry. A family favorite is Blaze Pizza in Brookfield and Bayshore Town Centre, specializing in made-from-scratch dough and artisanal ingredients. Milwaukee’s Friday fish fry custom is best celebrated at Fish Fry in the Parks, in the beautiful surroundings of Brown Deer, Grant and Whitnall Parks. And no meal is complete without yummy treats from Kopp’s Frozen Custard, in Glendale, Greenfield and Brookfield.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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