Set on the coast of Lake Michigan, the city of Milwaukee and its surroundings are full of great – and inexpensive – things to see and do with kids.
With its wide choice of attractions both in the city itself and located nearby, Milwaukee is a great place to head for a weekend of sightseeing and exploration. If you’re planning a family vacation here and would like to start planning your itinerary now, we’ve picked out some of the best places to earmark that are both child-friendly and easy on the wallet.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Spread across three buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan, including the stunning Quadracci Pavilion, the Milwaukee Art Museum is the city’s flagship cultural venue. As well as housing a collection of over 30,000 works, spanning 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, and American decorative arts, the museum also offers a variety of programs and resources for children and families, including workshops, talks by renowned artists, and ‘make your own masterpiece’ activities. Kids 12 and under go free.
700 North Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee / Fri-Sun 10am-5pm Thurs 10am-8pm Closed Mon-Weds
Lakeshore State Park
A haven for lovers of the great outdoors, Lakeshore State Park in the heart of downtown Milwaukee is packed full of great activities and attractions that go down a treat with kids. Fishing, boating, hiking and biking are all on offer in this expansive urban oasis, and there’s even a small beach and accessible paved trails that link to Milwaukee’s other lakefront parks, as well as the Hank Aaron State Trail, in the event of your little ones needing a change of scenery. Entrance to the park is free.
500 North Harbor Drive, Milwaukee / Mon-Sun 6am-10pm
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
Since opening its doors in 1995, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum has become one of Milwaukee’s most popular family attractions Brimming with interactive exhibits and displays, the museum has been created with the aim of inspiring and educating children, encouraging hands-on learning, and developing key skills, self-esteem, and the ability to work with others. Highlights include ‘Let’s Play Railway’, a train-themed area which challenges kids to solve problems, share and take turns. Entrance is $12 for both adults and children.
929 East Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee / Thurs-Mon 9.30am-4.30pm Closed Tues-Weds
Technology and freshwater sciences are the focus of this huge 120,000 square foot facility situated on the banks of glistening Lake Michigan. Fun and educational experiences, interactive exhibits, and a world-class Aquarium teeming with all manner of exotic marine life do their level best to light the spark of curiosity in your kids, and, who knows, perhaps even inspiring them to become the world’s next generation of engineers, designers, scientists and innovators. Children up to age 17 can enter for $16 and those under 2 are free.
500 North Harbor Drive, Milwaukee / Weds-Sun 9am-4pm Closed Mon-Tues
The North Point Lighthouse
Since 1855, the North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park on the East Side of Milwaukee has stood tall, overlooking the waters of Lake Michigan and beaming out its light to help ships and watercraft navigate the Great Lake safely. Today the 74-foot lighthouse is a popular attraction with kids and adults alike, and a much-cherished beacon on the city’s landscape. In recent years, it has been preserved and restored to its early 20th century charm and is open to the public for guided tours and visits. Children can join tours for just $5 and kids under 4 are free.
2650 North Wahl Avenue, Milwaukee
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
Located in the centre of the Milwaukee downtown theatre district, The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts plays host to a diverse programme of performing arts shows throughout the year, providing families with plenty of opportunities for a fun afternoon out. Among the groups to feature at the venue are the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Ballet Company, First Stage Milwaukee, and Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. The philanthropic goals of the venue also mean that show tickets are never too pricey.
929 North Water Street, Milwaukee / Sun-Thurs 12pm-5pm Sat 12pm-9pm
Holiday Folk Fair International
This fun-packed annual fair provides attendees with a chance to witness ethnic displays, exhibits, and demonstrations, along with music and dance performances, storytelling, food sampling, and a bustling marketplace. A mobile art experience allows kids to take part in fun projects, plus grow and learn through art, while a children’s chess tournament is held on the Saturday of the event. Children can attend the fair at discounted rates, with those under six going free.
Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center / November each year
For a week-and-a-half each summer, the lakeside Henry Maier Festival Park is the place to be for music lovers. With over 800 acts playing on 11 stages, you’ll find alternative, rock, country, R&B, pop, reggae, and more, from national headliners to up-and-coming indie bands. A festival ticket grants you access to all of the ground stages, while the entirely redeveloped Northwestern Mutual Community Park keeps kids enraptured all day, with performances by magicians, jugglers, dance groups, puppets and more. A child ticket is $6 (ages 3-10) and free for children 2 and under.
The Henry Maier Festival Park, 200 North Harbor Drive, Milwaukee / June-July each year
Milwaukee County Zoo
There are few more reliably popular family activities than a day out at the zoo and Milwaukee is home to one of the best anywhere in the region. Featuring over 2,000 animals across some 190 acres, the zoo provides countless opportunities for education, outdoor activity and family fun. Highlights include the lion, tiger and penguin enclosures, plus an enthralling sea lion show, while pony rides, miniature train rides and a carousel add to the smorgasbord of kiddie delights. Entry tickets for children aged 3-12 is $11.25 and kids 2 and under are free.
10001 West Bluemound Road, Milwaukee / Mon-Fri 9.30pm-2.30pm Sat-Sun 9.30am-4.30pm
Harbor View Plaza
While it’s always tempting as a parent to drag your kids around cultural attractions in the hope that you’re nourishing their brains, sometimes children just need to let off steam. Harbor View Plaza is a superb waterfront public park featuring an eye-catching playground structure designed to look like shipping containers, a water play area that allows kids to explore the physics of water flow and cool off on hot days, and a canoe/kayak launch and dock from which intrepid types can navigate the waters of Milwaukee’s inner harbour.
Great Lakes Research Facility, 600 East Greenfield Avenue, Milwaukee / Mon-Sun 7am-10pm
Wisconsin State Fair
State fair’s are a time-honoured tradition across the US and Wisconsin’s contribution to these agricultural showcases is among the biggest. Taking place in Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee, the fair dates back to 1851 and today welcomes over a million revellers every year. Visitors can enjoy a range of educational programs on agriculture and renewable energy, milking demonstrations and more, plus live stage music and comedy, amusement rides, and several marketplaces selling a wide range of wares. Be sure to try the signature food item – the world-famous Original Cream Puff, which has been sold at the event since 1924. Tickets for kids aged 6-11 are $12 and under 6s go free.
Wisconsin State Fair Park, West Allis / August each year
Boerner Botanical Gardens
A fragrant herb garden, a daylily path, a serene rock garden with trickling streams and waterfalls, a regal shrub mall, an expansive arboretum, and a bog walk are just some of the attractions you’ll find at the pristinely-kept Boerner Botanical Gardens. Positioned a short drive outside of Milwaukee in the Village of Hales Corners, the dozen themed gardens provide a calming antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city for adults and kids alike. And with all of the gardens coming into bloom at varying times of the year, there’s always something different to see with each visit. Tickets are $6 for kids aged 6-17, and free for 5s and under.
9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners / Mon-Sun 8am-7pm
By Paul Joseph