Wisconsin’s fourth largest city, Kenosha, is home to 100,000 Wisconsinites. A midway point between Milwaukee and Chicago, Kenosha is conveniently located on both the Metra rail line and lies between Interstate 94 and the majestic Lake Michigan shoreline.
With a charming, walkable, downtown featuring free parking, inexpensive dining, and lots of places to shop, learn, and play, Kenosha is an ideal location for an affordable family vacation. The Kenosha Area Visitors Bureau, located at 812 56th Street is a fantastic resource for planning a trip to the region.
What to do:
A regional source for farm-fresh produce, baked goods, meats, eggs, cheese, and locally-made arts and crafts, the Kenosha Harbor Market runs all year long (indoors at the Rhode Center for the arts October to mid-May and outdoors near the Kenosha Public Museum in the warmer months). The largest of several farmer’s markets in Kenosha, make sure to visit the Harbor Market if you are in the downtown area on a Saturday.
Affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, the Kenosha Public Museum a fine art and natural history museum showcasing Wisconsin’s cultural and geological transformation. Spread out over two floors, admission to the museum is free. Highlights for families are an interactive trading post and a field station/activity area with hands-on activities for kids of all ages. If visiting the Kenosha Public Museum, leave time to explore the nearby sculpture walk at Harbor Park and the Civil War Museum (another of Kenosha’s Smithsonian affiliates, but perhaps better suited for older kids).
A museum unlike many others, the Dinosaur Discovery Museum is unique in it’s focus on making the connection between birds and meat-eating dinosaurs. Featuring the evolution of the theropod in the main exhibit on the main floor, make sure to watch the two video documentaries—How Do We Know Dinosaurs Existed and Dinosaur Behavior—for a better appreciation of the museum’s role in modern day paleontology Kids will want to venture to the lower level for hands-on activities (but arrive more than 30 minutes before closing time if you want to take part in a dinosaur dig).
Home to the largest municipal recreation facility in North America, families visiting the Kenosha area will want to leave time to visit the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex. Youth, adult, family, and senior day passes are available at resident and non-resident rates, and admission includes access to the aqua arena and 17,000 square foot indoor waterpark. A nice option, particularly in the winter months, remember to toss a few beach towels and athletic shoes in your suitcase.
Out towards the Bristol countryside, the Pringle Nature Center is a fantastic resources for Kenosha residents and visitors. Located in the nearly 200 acre Bristol Woods County Park, the nature center building is open from 9AM-4PM Tuesday through Sunday. Offering books, exhibits, and living and preserved animals, families can stay in the confines of the nature center or wander out onto the nature trails with snowshoes and a nature backpack (both available for rent for a small fee). The Briston Woods County Park is the site of picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills and playgrounds perfect for a road trip leg stretch/lunch break.
A primary mode of transportation in Kenosha from 1903 to 1932, electric rail and nostalgic electric street cars still make a 1.7 mile loop through downtown. With stops along the 54th and 56th streets and a loop out onto the harbor walk, riding the streetcar is a “must do” on your trip. Fares range from $2.50 for an all day pass to free for kids ages four and under, five different streetcars comprise the historic fleet that represent the legacy of the streetcar in North America. Check the Kenosha Transit Center website for schedules and fares.
A popular attraction in the Kenosha Area is the free tour of the Jelly Belly Visitor Center in nearby Pleasant Prairie. Tours run from 9AM-4PM and take visitors on a 35 minute warehouse tour on the Jelly Belly Express, a brightly colored passenger “train.” Tours focus on the history of the gourmet jelly bean in America and end in the Jelly Belly Candy Store where each person receives an edible souvenir. You can also purchase bags of Belly Flops, the cleverly-named beans that didn’t pass bean-shape inspection on the assembly line.
Where to eat:
Serving up Vienna Beef products since 2003, Trolley Dogs on 6th Ave in downtown Kenosha is an affordable dining venue for the hot dog lover in your family. With toppings like banana peppers and celery salt, it’s no surprise Trolley Dogs appeals to the Chicago crowd. If you visit with younger kids, make sure and order the Octo-dog on Gold Fish crackers for $2.25 and sit under the electric trolley that circles the dining room on a ceiling high track.
With a backdrop of downtown Kenosha and the harbor, the Breakwater Bar & Grill is located at the Kenosha Yacht Club. Open to members and the general public, the Breakwater Bar & Grill offers some of the best outside seating around. With upscale pub food and fancier evening entrees, the nautical-themed dining room and wood-paneled bar puts you in the spirit of dining on the water. Placing the children’s menu in the inside cover of a board book, kids can do more than color while their meal is prepared.
Where to stay:
With a population of 100,000 residents, one would expect a variety of lodging options in Kenosha. Located near Interstate 94, our family stayed at the Best Western Executive Inn. Centrally located between attractions in Pleasant Prairie, Bristol, and along the waterfront, the Best Western Executive Inn has a nice indoor pool (and, as we all know, this is what kids really care about). Parents will appreciate the complimentary breakfast and plethora of nearby restaurants.