Between the years 2010 and 2015, I visited just about every children’s museum, public museum, history museum, and discovery center in the state of Wisconsin (with the exception of the Northwood’s Children’s Museum in Eagle River and the relatively new Wausau Children’s Museum in Wausau).
This story is the culmination of many road trips, side trips, and overnight trips. When applicable, I’ve listed other “must see” attractions within the same city/region. Also, I’ve given some suggestions as to the most kid-friendly places to stay in each city. Enjoy and leave a comment if you have a suggestion or recommendation of your own.
Madison: Madison Children’s Museum
We were among the first Madison citizens to enjoy the brand new state-of-the-art Madison Children’s Museum when it opened in 2010. This three-story building sits on The Capitol Square in the heart of the Isthmus. Highlights are live animals in the Rooftop Ramble, a giant climbing structure called Possible Opolis, and the Wilderness for kids five and under. If you have winter weather wall climbers, put them in this giant hamster wheel! Roman Candle Pizza operates a small cafe on the main floor (before the reception desk), but you are within walking distance of State Street and many other dining venues.
Where to Stay: Probably the most fun places for families to stay in Madison are the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Madison West, Madison, Wisconsin, United States and the Country Inn & Suites Madison-West, Middleton, Wisconsin, United States (these two hotels have the best water parks/indoor pools).
While You’re There: Don’t miss the Henry Vilas Zoo, Olbrich Gardens, the Wisconsin Historical Museum, and the network of kid-friendly museums and attractions scattered around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus (read this story). Make sure you eat at Ella’s Deli.
Green Bay: The Children’s Museum of Green Bay
Located on the edge of the Fox River in the downtown business district, the Green Bay Children’s Museum is a sweet single-story space perfect for toddlers and elementary-age kids. Highlights for us were the Under Construction Zone (building and breaking), climbing through the Digestive System, and catching magnetic fish near the Sailboat and Lighthouse corner. The museum has both a large arts and craft room and a large-motor room near the main entrance.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, Green Bay, United States (we liked the multiple pools with waterslides), but many people also enjoy staying at the Tundra Lodge Resort & Waterpark, Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States.
While You’re There: As long as you are in Packer Territory, you might want to go on the official Lambeau Field tour. In warmer weather, check out Bay Beach Amusement Park and the New Zoo, as well as the National Railroad Museum (although this one has a few more indoor options).
Stevens Point: Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum
You can find the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum on the main drag in downtown Stevens Point. The museum services families throughout Central Wisconsin, including Plover, Marshfield, Waupaca, and Wisconsin Rapids. The two-story historic building houses exhibits like Simple Machines, Down on the Farm, Life in a Pine Log, and the Robin’s Nest for toddlers and crawlers. There’s a small coffee cafe located near the main entrance; I’m not sure if this is affiliated with the museum, but we enjoyed kid-friendly snacks (them) and a cup of strong coffee (me) after our museum visit.
Where to Stay: We’ve stayed at the Hampton Inn Plover Stevens Point, Plover, Wisconsin, United States in the past (there’s a warm, indoor pool), but know other brand hotels in the area also have similar indoor pools and amenities.
While You’re There: In Stevens Point, we also like the Schmeekle Preserve and the Museum of Natural History on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus. Find more ideas in this story.
Milwaukee: Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
Betty Brinn is Milwaukee’s Children’s Museum. The modern, circular building is spread out over two levels and inn four different galleries (and two outdoor balconies, which we didn’t experience during out wintertime visit). This was one of our first children’s museums to visit in Wisconsin, so I’m sure many exhibits have changed in the past years. But, it looks like the Home Town exhibit still remains; our kids loved pretending to do real world jobs like driving a bus or delivering mail at the post office. One nice thing about the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is its proximity to Lake Michigan and many other walk-able attractions (see below).
Where to Stay: Milwaukee has a ton of hotels and lodging options, but my favorite suggestion for families on vacation is The Country Springs Hotel, Waukesha, Wisconsin, United States with it’s large indoor waterpark.
While You’re There: Betty Brinn is within an easy walk to Discovery World (don’t miss this) and the Milwaukee Art Museum. A bit further in to downtown, you can’t go wrong with the Milwaukee Public Museum with its IMAX theater and planetarium.
Fond du Lac: Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac
The Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac moved into a larger facility in 2013; adding more exhibits, classroom space, and 10,000 square foot outdoor space. As you might expect, many of the exhibits are centered around activities on and around Lake Winnebago (example: sturgeon spearing shanty in the photo above). I like the open feel of the museum (all one one floor), and that kids can explore activities like real-world professions, life in other countries, transportation, construction, and money/finances.
Where to Stay: My favorite place to stay in Fond du Lac is at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, United States in the heart of downtown. Breakfast includes an omelet bar and there’s a large heated indoor pool in the building’s lower level.
While You’re There: Greater fond du Lac has lots of options for kids, including the Fondy Sports Park and Lakeside Park. Road America has some great adventure options (zip line, go-karts, and all-terrain vehicles) and Little Farmer and Mauer Farms are not to be missed in the fall. Find more ideas in this story.
Appleton: The Building for Kids
Appleton has a wonderful children’s museum; discovering The Building for Kids was a highlight of our grand journeying around the state. Exhibits are spread over three, floors and feature water tables, an art room, and stations for imaginary play. We loved the Discovery Tree with its tree forts, climbing nets, and places to “hang” out. Younger kids can crawl around in the Happy Baby Garden (here’s your big chance to capture your own Anne Geddes style photos).
Where to Stay: In the past, we’ve enjoyed the indoor pool at the Comfort Suites Appleton Airport, Grand Chute, Appleton, United States. Our room was also large and comfortable and we enjoyed the free popcorn and cookies available in the lobby.
While You’re There: Plan to spend a full weekend exploring all of the kid-friendly attractions in Appleton and the Fox Valley. On your list should be the Paper Discovery Center, the Weis Earth Science Museum, the History Museum at the Castle, Barlow Planetarium, and the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve.
La Crosse: Children’s Museum of La Crosse
A three-story behemoth, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse is one of the larger children’s museums we encountered in Wisconsin. Looking at the museum web page, some great new additions have happened since our last visit. Highlights for our kids were the River and Bridges water exhibit on the lower level, floating scarves through the Whoosh twisty tubes, and scaling the Mt. LeKid climbing wall. The museum is located in the downtown district, and within a short walk of restaurants and shopping (we like The Pearl ice cream parlor and soda fountain).
Where to Stay: La Crosse has a small handful of hotels with indoor swimming pools. We recommend the Courtyard Hotel La Crosse Wisconsin, La Crosse, Wisconsin, United States and the Holiday Inn La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, United States; both are a short walk to downtown and the Mississippi river waterfront.
While You’re There: La Crosse has lots of options for vacationing families. In the summer you can take in a minor league baseball game, visit the zoo, and explore many of the area playgrounds. If you go, visit the Dahl Auto Museum (older kids) and Shenanigans indoor fun park. Of course, drive to the top of Grandad Bluff for your mandatory souvenir photo. Find more ideas in this story.
Sheboygan: Above & Beyond Children’s Museum
The Above & Beyond Children’s Museum sits at the corner of North 8th Street and Niagara Avenue in the heart of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Visitors have access to the first two levels of the three-story brick building and, like The Children’s Museum of Green Bay, much of the experience centers around a nautical theme. In warmer weather, look for flowers and vegetables growing in the Urban and Children’s Garden on the north side of the building. Our kids loved exploring the Sky Crawl tunnels hanging above visitors on the first level, the button-controlled Siegl Miniature Circus, and the U.S.S. Efroymson and adjacent lighthouse gallery. During our visit, we purchased popcorn
Where to Stay: Hands-down, the best place to stay in Sheboygan is the Blue Harbor Resort, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, United States.The resort features a 54,000-square-foot entertainment area and waterpark, as well as a heated outdoor pool and plethora of scheduled activities for kids and families. We liked walking along the Lake Michigan lakefront and the shops lining the south pier boardwalk along the Sheboygan River.
While You’re There: While the Above & Beyond Children’s Museum is within walking distance of the downtown business district, the Mead Public Library, and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the attraction you don’t want to miss is Storybrook Gardens on the edge of town. Trust me. Learn more in this story.
Eau Claire: Children’s Museum of Eau Claire
The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire was our first Wisconsin children’s museum. The facility is a bit on the smaller side, but is organized in a way that facilitates eight permanent exhibits and a rotating special exhibit space. Our kids enjoyed the Waterworks area and the Kidstruction Zone. During our visit, they were still small enough to enjoy the Toddler Park area. Regionally-themed exhibits include the Family Farm and a Northwoods-themed pretend camping and fishing gear called Under the Wisconsin Skies.
Where to Stay: Your best bet for lodging in Eau Claire is Metropolis Resort, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, United States as it is connected to both Action City Family Fun Center and the Chaos Indoor Waterpark. Alternately, the Plaza Hotel and Suites Eau Claire, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, United States has a large pool and small indoor arcade.
While You’re There: While you are in the Chippewa Valley, make sure to visit the Chippewa Valley Museum at Carson Park, the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp, and Action City Family Fun Center. In warmer weather, kids will love playing at Phoenix Park and the Irvine Park Zoo. Learn more in this story.
Honorable Mentions: Cities without Children’s Museums
Oshkosh has nice options with the EAA AirVenture Museum, the Public Museum, and Menomonee Park. Learn more about what to do in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in this story.
Nearly all of the museums in Kenosha are affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. Learn more about what to do in Kenosha, Wisconsin in this story.
Children’s Museum in Hayward?
P.S. As you may have noticed, links to individual hotels and resorts in this story are connected to an affiliate account on HotelsCombined.com. If you book a room through this link, I will earn a small commission. Writing this story took a lot of work and is the combined result of years of travel throughout the state of Wisconsin. I have stayed at all of these places at one point or another and can recommend them all.