Back in late October 2022, my wife and I both heard on the news that National Geographic had listed Milwaukee as one of their “30 Places to Visit in 2023.” Our initial reaction was of slight disbelief. We had both lived there for over a decade prior to moving to Texas. We never really thought of Milwaukee as a place to vacation. But as we both really thought about it…just MAYBE…
I moved to Milwaukee in January 1999 for work. My wife moved there a few years after for the same reason. When you are there just to live and work, it is easy to overlook some of the great things your city has to offer. This was also well before we had children, so many of the fantastic family friendly Milwaukee offerings weren’t even a thought!
While compiling our list of fun things for families to do in Milwaukee, we relied on our own experiences from our years there. We also utilized our “phone some friends” and picked the brains of friends that still live there. Many of those friends have kids themselves today.
This list will contain some of the best, coolest, and most fun things for families to do in Milwaukee. When doing our research, we definitely realized that Milwaukee will be added to our list of vacation places. We hope that reading our summary will entice you to do the same!
- Betty Brinn’s Children’s Museum– First opening their doors in 1995, Betty Brinn’s Children’s Museum has grown to become a proud showcase of Milwaukee. It draws families from all over southwestern Wisconsin and beyond.
Betty Brinn’s mission is to allow families to have a place to learn through hands-on play and encouraging creativity and imagination. The museum has 6 unique exhibits. The 6 exhibits are:
- Let’s Play Railway
- Home Town
- Science CITY
- Pocket Park
- Be a Maker
- Discovery World Science and Technology Center– This place is FUN! I personally came here for team building events for work and remember having an AMAZING time. Similar to Betty Brinn’s, Discovery World encourages people to learn and stimulate their mind through interactive and hands-on exhibits and displays.
This museum is over 120,000 square feet. This space is filled with an aquarium, learning labs, a cafe, and exhibit space. An example of some of the brain stimulating exhibits are:
- Automation Everywhere
- Great Lakes Future
- Innovation Station
- Les Paul’s House of Sound
- Physics and You
- Virtual Explorer
- Milwaukee Muscle
- And many more!
- National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum– Yes, you read that correctly! Anyone who is a sports enthusiast knows how much bobbleheads have grown in popularity over the years. They claim to have the largest collection of bobbleheads in the world. Their collection is not just sports related. They have bobbleheads that run the spectrum of all genres and interests.
In addition to providing a fun and quirky collection to look at, their mission is to educate as well. They house a nationwide calendar of bobblehead giveaways. They show the history of the bobblehead. They have an exhibit to demonstrate how bobbleheads are made. If you are looking for a lighthearted and fun museum, this would definitely fit that bill!
- Harley-Davidson Museum– Whether you are a fan of motorcycles or not, a visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum is a must stop. Milwaukee was the birthplace of this iconic American brand, and the city is incredibly proud of this fact.
The museum holds the largest collection of historic, classic, and current HD motorcycles on the planet. There are two floors of exhibits. The dining experience is top notch (and delicious). The entire campus is 20 acres and designed to stroll and admire at your own pace.
- Milwaukee County Zoo– Founded in 1892, the Milwaukee Public Zoo has continued to grow and improve over the years. Currently, the zoo sits at 190 acres and is home to over 2200 animals.
In addition to the thousands of animals, the Milwaukee County Zoo has additional attractions to thrill the whole family. There’s the carousel, pony rides, safari train, Sky Adventure Zip Line and Ropes Course, and Sky Safari. The zoo is open year round. Depending on the season, they have different activities. Their winter zoo lights program is fantastic.
- Henry Meier Festival Park– Also known as Summerfest grounds, this downtown Milwaukee park is situated right along the shores of Lake Michigan. They have cultural and musical events throughout the Summer and Fall. Some include German Fest, Polish Fest, Irish Fest, Black Arts Fest, Pride Fest, and many more. The crown jewel festival is Summerfest. This music festival attracts some of the greatest musical talent on the planet. The festival grounds hold ten stages for bands to play.
In addition to the music, there are dozens of vendor booths selling wares and food. During the cultural festivals, the booths will sell food and drink from those cultures.The smaller stages will have cultural musical acts as well. There is also the new Northwestern Mutual Community Park that offers open play most of the calendar year. Hours and access may be limited during festivals.
- American Family Field– While the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t our team of choice (we are Chicago Cubs fans to our core), American Family Field is a great place to catch a baseball game. With a retractable dome, you can catch a game regardless of weather. In Texas, we are used to the dome being closed all summer due to the heat. In Milwaukee it is closed in the Spring due to the cold!! There are plenty of activities inside the stadium to keep the kids occupied. There is a TGI Fridays restaurant that allows a view of the field so you can enjoy a meal while taking in the game!
- Beaches- If visiting during the warmer months, Milwaukee has some great parks and beaches. The two beaches, Bradford Beach and McKinley Beach are both located close to downtown. Bradford Beach is the larger of the two and features beach volleyball and several restaurants.
Rest and Sleep
Milwaukee has some interesting and unique hotels beyond the usual. We will list some of the best, highly rated hotels that Milwaukee has to offer.
- The Brewhouse Inn and Suites– Located inside the old Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery, this historic complex offers a unique aspect for your stay. Breakfast included.
- Aloft Milwaukee Downtown– Located downtown and right on the Milwaukee River. Indoor pool. Bicycle rentals right out the front doors.
- Iron Horse Hotel– Located adjacent to the Harley-Davidson Museum, this highly rated hotel features rooms that have a very industrial feel. Exposed brick and duct work, metal accents, motorcycle themes.
- Potawatomi Hotel and Casino– located close to the ballpark in the Menomonee River valley, this hotel offers outstanding views to the downtown skyline.
- Fairfield Inn and Suites Milwaukee West– Closest hotel to the ballpark. This hotel is very highly rated and offers free breakfast.
There are many more hotels available, particularly by the airport (about 20 minutes south) or the suburb of Brookfield (about 20-30 minutes west). I focused on hotels that are in or near to the attractions listed in our review. You can search for all Milwaukee hotels below.
Eats and Treats
Milwaukee has some really unique, delicious, and fun dining establishments. While Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole may be known for its beer and cheese, there is a whole lot more to eat and drink when visiting Milwaukee (though beer and cheese is really REALLY good)!
- The Safe House– A spy themed restaurant and bar, it is very family friendly during the day. Upon entry, you will be asked if you know the password to get in. Don’t worry if you don’t know it. You will just need to do a special test to make sure you aren’t a spy. You are encouraged to investigate the restaurant while waiting for your food to see what intel you can uncover.
- 3rd Street Market Hall– With several food vendors under one roof, you are encouraged to try different culinary delights. This is also good for families that can’t decide what to eat. The Market Hall has you covered. Once you’re done eating, head over to the gaming hall for shuffleboard, TopGolf, Nintendo, cornhole, and more!
- Classic Slice- Pizza joint known for its huge slices. Located in the Bay View neighborhood, this place is plenty family friendly.
- Kopp’s Frozen Custard– Come for the burgers, stay for the frozen custard. The burgers are juicy and flavorful. They also have chicken sandwiches. If you have never had frozen custard…imagine an extra rich, extra creamy ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla are always available. Specialty flavors change daily. You can see what flavors are available on their website.
- Organ Piper Pizza– Huge organ. Delicious pizza. Arcade. Indoor merry-go-round. Lots of kids. Lots of noise. Bring the aspirin and have a beer…but your kids will love it!
So There’s Lots of Things For Families To Do In Milwaukee. What Now?
Well, if you are anything like us, it is time to start planning that trip! One of the other great things about Milwaukee are its great, very walkable neighborhoods. Areas like Bay View, Brady Street, East Side, Wauwatosa (west suburb), The Third Ward, River Walk, and more have shopping, cafes, patios, and more for strolling along and trying different bites and drinks. And you’ll find the people are extremely friendly!
Use our guide, plan that trip, book your hotel, and create your perfect Milwaukee itinerary!
Here are some other Midwestern trips we recommend!