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Milwaukee Family Friendly Fun

Submitted by on March 22, 2010 – 8:04 am6 Comments

Visit Milwaukee

Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated! Who out there doesn’t think of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and start humming tunes from Happy Days in their heads?  Happy Days was primarily filmed in a brewery and a restaurant (with the greasy hair that made The Fonz, The Fonz!), and Milwaukee is still known for its brew and brat. Stoop down to about three feet tall, and you’ll be amazed to find Milwaukee has oh so much more!

Regardless of the time of year or your road-trip budget, Family Friendly options in Milwaukee are plentiful. One of the safest, big cities in the country, Milwaukee is a wonderful place to live and to visit. Known as the “City of Festivals,” it seems like the celebrations there never end (from Bastille Days to Summerfest and even the Wisconsin State Fair).

Known for its architecture, safety, and urban revitalization, Milwaukee is a city bustling on the weekends almost as much as any given work day. Explore, eat, sleep, and play—here are some kid-friendly ideas when planning your next Milwaukee adventure.

What to Do?

Walk Under a Waterfall at Discovery World

Discovery World, literally jutting out from the lakefront atop Pier Wisconsin, connects innovation, science, technology, and the environment (embodying the persona of Milwaukee many ways). A “hands on” environment, kids are encouraged to compare simple machines, “pet” a sturgeon, or watch the harmonic oscillation of a guitar string. Be sure to ride the glass-wall elevator to the lower level (and don’t tell your kids descending into a fresh-water aquarium is the last stop).

If you visit Discovery World in the summer, be sure to peek out the window for the S/V Dennis Sullivan (a 137-foot recreation of a three-masted Great Lakes schooner that doubles as a floating classroom—enough motivation to get any kid to swab the deck, er, finish their chores). Different admission packages are described on the  website, and the museum can also be home to summer camp for school-age kids.

Hanging Out at the Betty Brinn Children's Museum

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is a wonderful, magical, place for young kids (say, ages ten and under). It’s also a place where a parent or a grandparent can play and everyone smiles along with them (say, ages one hundred and under).  Chartered by a mission to help children establish their self-esteem, work well with others, and develop fundamental skills, these transformations occur under the guise of fun.

With a gallery for every direction (North, South, East, and West), plan to spend at least half a day exploring the different-themes (Betty’s Busy Backyard, located in the South Gallery, is a safe area designed for infants and toddlers under age three). Tables are available in the lobby for picnic lunches and be sure to check the website for information on special exhibits, events, and the date of the next Neighborhood Night (offering free-admission for the entire family).

West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe at the Milwaukee Public Market

The Milwaukee Public Market, a hip-and-trendy indoor public market, is just one reason Milwaukee may not be one of the best-kept secrets in the Midwest for much longer. Located three blocks west of the Summerfest grounds, the Milwaukee Public Market hugs the northern border of the Historic Third Ward. Occupied by Wisconsin vendors including bakers, roasters, confectioners, florists, cheese producers, the market is sustainable and a friend of the local business economy.

It’s hard not to wander up and down and around the market perimeter, perhaps sipping a latte or nibbling on a fresh-baked cookie. If your family is comprised of picky eaters, shop from different vendors and carry your meal up to the second-floor eating area. This birds-eye-view of the market will keep you people watching and planning another spin around the floor. Dates, times, and cost for special events and cooking classes are easily found on the front page of the Milwaukee Public Market website. With free WiFi and a pleasant, open atmosphere, the market is a great find any time of year.

Where to Stay?

Crossing the Ropes at the Paradise Landing Waterpark, Hilton Milwaukee City Center

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown, the Hilton Milwaukee City Center is one hotel your kids will never forget. If the chandeliers don’t dazzle them, the overly fluffy bath towels and chocolate squares left on the pillow might do the trick. Because the hotel is connected to Milwaukee’s extensive system of sky walks, you can easily jaunt (or stroller) through attached Midwest Airlines Center and then off to the rest of downtown. If you’re feeling lucky, venture over to The Shops of Grand Avenue and toss a few pennies into the old, elegant, fountain on the West side of the mall.

The Hilton Milwaukee City Center is also home of the Paradise Landing Waterpark, the first indoor water park of its kind in America. Well suited for toddlers and elementary-age kids, life guards are plentiful and the water is warm. Tropical in theme, the three story Jamaican village has a snacks, refreshments, an arcade, four water slides, and quite possibly the largest hot tub in the city. Visit the website for coupons, promotions, and even a virtual 360 degree tour.

What to Eat?

If you’re hungry for kid-friendly food while in Milwaukee, consider these venues: Palermo’s Pizza, the Lakefront Palm Garden, and Miss Katie’s Diner. Unique in a special way, each deserved a dedicated Road Trips for Family Feed Me review.


  • Tom Graber says:

    To really get the true Milwaukee experience you must go to a Friday Fish Fry! Almost every bar, restaurant, pub, tavern and even many churches have the. Tradition is to have the fish served with potato pancakes, rye bread, cole slaw and tartar sauce but many types of fish are open to the fish fry as well as other sides like french fries. For a complete list of all of the fish frys in Milwaukee, check out It is a list of every fish fry in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties. Over 550 fish frys in all!

  • MD says:

    Cute article, but will someone please tell me what Milwaukee can do to get over the whole Happy Days/schlemiel, schlamazel thing? Is there anything? Is it a lost cause? I suppose if a world-class art museum amongst a sea of other museums, a summer full of festivals and James Beard award-winning chefs (who DON’T cook brats) doesn’t do it, nothing will.

  • Julie says:

    MD. Great point. I toyed with Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World and even Bonnie Blair. And, yet, the Fonz lives on. Point me to a three-year-old with an affinity for Frontenac grape juice and a Calatrava-inspired Lego kit and let’s see if they want to hit the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music after nap time. And, at dinner if they ask for a brat instead of a hot dog, my job here is done.

  • AC says:

    MD, I get what you’re saying, but think about the demographics of this site. Parents frazzled from being on the road for six hours with kids. And knowing that, planning the trip anyway for the experience. Milwaukee has changed a lot in the last 20+ years. The revitalization is amazing. But from personal experience, I don’t want to take a three year old to MAM or attempt to dine at Sanford. Don’t get me wrong, those are great places, but the younger offspring won’t and can’t appreciate it as much as mom and dad – it would quickly turn into a exercise in frustration for the kids, parents, and all the other patrons in the vicinity. If articles like this get people into Milwaukee, I’m all for it. Then they can see what a great city it is and all of the wonderful things to see, like MAM…

  • MD says:

    Hmmm… I think my point was lost here. I am not suggesting taking a 3-year-old to the Art Museum. I am merely pointing out great things about a revitalized city that I wish had pushed us beyond the old Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley schtick.

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