Summers in Milwaukee are hopping with festivals, events and social gatherings of all types.
With so many choices, it’s sometimes hard to decide what to do with your time. So, I’ve put together my top ten picks of places to go with families.
My picks are based on the adventures I’ve experienced with my four kids. Some are a little obscure and all are worth checking out — just to get outside your routine.
Keep in mind, not every adventure is successful the first time, but the more we get out and take advantage of what Milwaukee has to offer, the easier it is the next time.
And the more kids learn about their surroundings. And the more people we meet. And the more fun we have!
1) Atwater Beach
If you’re up for a short but steep climb, Atwater Beach in Shorewood is a great place to bring your kids.
The playground at the top of the bluff has one of the best views of Lake Michigan, and is great for young kids.
The paved switchback trail leads down to a clean beach, complete with an interesting play structure in the sand.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have some knowledge of the equipment, rent a stand up paddle board and PFD from Laacke & Joys. Ride the waves so your kids can learn what Wisconsin surfing is all about.
2) Beer gardens
While it may sound like an unlikely choice for a family event, Milwaukee’s beer gardens are actually a great resource for families.
The Estabrook location has a large playground right next to the concession stand, so you can enjoy your stein of beer while watching your kids climb, slide and swing. You can also practice your daily dance party (or is that just a Storm Family thing?) courtesy of the polka band.
Wauwatosa’s Hoyt Park hosts a beer garden as well, and has lots of trails along the Honey Creek Parkway to explore with your kids. Both of these locations are close to biking trails, so ditch the car and hit the pavement if you can.
Check out the websites for information about hours of operation, concessions for sale, and guidelines about bringing your own food and beverages. Picnics are welcome! And be sure to check out the Traveling Beer Garden!
3) Hawthorn Glen and Nature Museum
I love this park because it’s semi-contained. It’s a great space for kids of all ages because it’s easy to keep an eye on very young kids, and older kids will be engaged by the trails and indoor Nature Museum.
There are two play structures, trails to explore, an open field to run in and even a tiny hill to roll down. The Nature Museum is home to animals such as snakes, fish, honey bees and even an owl. Admission is free, too!
This is also a great place for birthday parties or other gatherings, as you can rent out the fire pits or indoor space and roast marshmallows. Seasonal programs run throughout the year, so check out Milwaukee’s Recreation Department for more information.
4) Fire Stations
Check with your local fire stations to see if they provide tours. The Wauwatosa Fire Department gave us an in-depth tour when we dropped by last summer.
The friendly firefighters let our young kids sit in the fire engines and try on kid-sized gear. They even pulled a fire engine out of the garage for us to see.
Remember that firefighters are still on duty and may need to leave abruptly for an emergency. This outing would be ideal for any kids interested in firefighting, trucks or helping neighbors.
Milwaukee County has 13 locations in Milwaukee, and 14 suburban libraries, many of which offer free and drop-in storytimes (geared toward young kids) and reading programs for school-age kids.
The Central branch downtown has some of the most interesting architecture I’ve seen, so make sure to use the main entrance to view it all. There are free tours on Saturdays, and you can make an appointment for other times.
The Betty Brinn Children’s Room is complete with toys, games, computers and even a play lighthouse. The floor in this children’s section is designed by Lois Ehlert, local author and illustrator. Be prepared for metered street parking. Other communities have storytimes, as well.
The Waukesha Public Library even has a wonderful playground, large outdoor lawn and the Les Paul Performance Center (an outdoor stage) for you to enjoy.
6) Milwaukee Art Museum
While your kids may breeze through the renowned special exhibits that the Milwaukee Art Museum has to offer, they will be thoroughly engaged with the numerous family-oriented activities.
Check out ArtPacks, visit the Kohl’s Education Center and its lab and interactive exhibits, stop by for the monthly Play Dates with Art, create art on weekends in the studio, take classes or attend storytimes.
Friendly staff will teach your kids about the making of art and appreciating the process of creating it. You can purchase snacks or head outside to picnic. The family membership is well worth the cost, so you can attend unlimited free events and activities throughout the year with or without your family.
7) Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
At Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, you can find trails to hike, interactive exhibits in the lobby, access to the beach, a natural amphitheater and much more.
Kids of all ages are welcome, and most of the trails are even accessible with a rugged stroller.
Register in the lobby and check out a nature backpack full of exploration tools and guides, and pick up a brochure or check their website for numerous camps and kids programs year round.
SANC offers weekly special events where you can see some amazing wildlife and meet with naturalists to learn more about your environment. Dress for weather, bring your own snacks/water and don’t be afraid to turn over logs and look for insects (but of course leave them in their habitat unharmed).
There are plenty of chances for you and your kids to explore nature and get your hands dirty in the process! Don’t forget to enjoy the view from the observation tower, and cool off under the building’s porch while you look for wildlife.
8) St. Joan of Arc Chapel
After you’ve attended storytime at the Milwaukee Central Library, head over to Marquette’s campus for a quick visit to the Joan of Arc Chapel.
This small and beautiful structure was built centuries ago in France, restored after the First World War, eventually disassembled and transported to Marquette, and is set amidst a beautiful green space.
The grass is perfect for picnicking and general exploring, but make sure you have everything you need because there are no accommodations. The tiny chapel is nestled in Marquette’s campus, so it serves as a great way to get downtown with your kids, while being surrounded by lawns and walkways and students playing Frisbee.
It’s also a great opportunity to talk history with your older kids. Short tours are available for those interested, and use metered street parking.
9) Urban Ecology Center
The Urban Ecology Center has three locations in the Milwaukee area (Riverside Park, Washington Park, and Menomonee Valley), and all offer lots of programming and special events for kids of all ages.
By becoming a member, you can borrow kayaks, canoes, fishing poles, skis, snowshoes and more for outdoor fun. The Riverside Park location even has a rock wall!
The Urban Ecology Center is also a great resource for local and sustainable food.
Get information about local CSA partners, learn to cook food harvested from their gardens, or attend a potluck dinner at the monthly Friends of Real Food gatherings. If you’re interested in getting your kids outside and involved in the Milwaukee community this summer, connecting with the UEC at any branch is a great place to start.
10) Your neighborhood
Pack a lunch and take a walk to find a bench or small green space. Make a checklist of things to discover (a red house, a white fence, a black dog, three birds, a neighbor’s “Free Little Library,” a garden, etc.) and meet your neighbors along the way.
Take a camera and have your kids choose an item that you’ll photograph. Pick out and try a new local business, introduce yourself, and learn about the history of your neck of the woods.
Attend a free concert at one of the many Milwaukee County Parks near your home. Then, when you’re a pro at walking around exploring, head to a new neighborhood and do the same!
Amber Storm is a blogger and mother of 4 children. In her blog, MilwaukeeByStorm.com, she hopes to inspire others to get out and participate in their community and meet their neighbors. This list was originally published by MetroParent in May 2014.