Explore my City with guest blogger Molly Snyder from the Family Backpack
As a lifelong Milwaukeean, I’ve found abundant adventure in my city at every age, but have loved Milwaukee the most when sharing it with my sons, Kai and Levi. As a work-from-home mom, I have the luxury of a somewhat flexible schedule and have been able to access the best this city has to offer. I am extremely grateful for that and relish the chance to share our discoveries – some of which I originally experienced when I was a child myself!
I highly recommend spending two days in Milwaukee – which is only 90 miles from Chicago – and visiting in the summer. Wisconsin has four beautiful seasons – something I love most about living in the Midwest – but there is nothing quite as magical as Milwaukee in the summertime. Winters are long and can be brutal, so by the time the last of the snow melts, Milwaukeeans are ready to party in the sunshine.
Visiting families will particularly appreciate that Milwaukee is extremely affordable (those of us who live here full time are a rather thrifty bunch) and very easy to navigate. Milwaukee is a delightful paradox that’s both working class and world class. Generally speaking, the people are friendly and down-to-earth and yet the city is home to major sports teams (Go Brewers! Go Bucks!) and internationally-celebrated arts groups including the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet and dozens of professional theater groups.
But most of all, Milwaukeeans like to eat, drink and be merry. We’re good at it, and we have the restaurants and pubs – including family-friendly pubs – to help us achieve our goal of enjoying life with people we love.
Family-friendly hotels in Milwaukee
The Iron Horse Hotel – Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and moto-pride is huge. Hence, this boutique hotel is a tribute to motorcycle culture. Built within the last 10 years, it is comfortable yet upscale, with a range of on-site restaurants from casual to fancy, both indoors and out. The decor is a mix of recycled and contemporary materials and many of the food and drink options are locally sourced. Kids – and dogs! – are completely welcome and valet parking is available.
When staying at the Iron Horse in the trendy Walker’s Point neighborhood just south of Downtown, there are many Moto (and non-moto) experiences within walking distance. The Harley-Davidson Museum is a quick jaunt over the viaduct; the Fuel Cafe is two blocks away on bustling Fifth Street and dozens of other restaurants, bars, cafes and art galleries are a short trek away. Milwaukee also has a plethora of very dependable Uber/Lyft drivers and soon, a Downtown streetcar.
The Pfister Hotel – The Pfister is a historic hotel in the heart of Downtown that is elegant and opulent yet, like Milwaukee, casual at the same time. There are numerous restaurants on site, including the affordable Pfister Cafe with classic fare (as in very kid friendly) and Blu, located on the top floor of the hotel that offers one of the best views of Milwaukee, and Lake Michigan, in the city. The Pfister also has a pool and welcomes dogs.
Staying at the Pfister provides myriad Milwaukee gems within walking distance. For family-friendly food, there’s the Milwaukee Public Market, the spy-themed Safe House and more. The world-famous Milwaukee Art Museum, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Lake Michigan are also very nearby.
La Quinta Inns & Suites – There are numerous La Quinta hotels in Milwaukee and surrounding areas. This is a very family-friendly chain featuring clean rooms, pools and a large breakfast buffet that’s included with the cost of the stay.
Family-friendly restaurants in Milwaukee
To sample authentic Milwaukee cuisine, Mexican and German eats are a must. Here are some options that will appeal to the entire family:
Botanas – Botanas offers classic Tex-Mex, bottomless baskets of free chips and salsa and a lively atmosphere. Locally owned by a Mexican-American family, Botanas has a nice patio as well.
BelAir Cantinas – A locally-owned Mexican-fusion chain specializing in “street tacos” that veer from the beans-and-meat-and-cheese taco norm.
Old German Beer Hall – This place is a casual German eatery offering bratwursts, huge pretzels, steins of German beer and sometimes live accordion music.
Mader’s – Located on the same block as Old German Beer Hall, Mader’s is part restaurant, part German museum that offers slightly upscale German dining with sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel and pork shank along with a kid’s menu featuring mac ’n’ cheese, burgers and more.
Non-German/Mexican recommended joints:
Lakefront Brewery’s Fish Fry – Anyone visiting Milwaukee on a Friday night must try the classic Milwaukee fish fry. There are hundreds of fish fries every Friday evening in Milwaukee, and most feature fried or boiled fish, a form of potato (potato pancakes are recommended), Cole slaw and bread. Milwaukee families flock to Lakefront Brewery’s fish fry for the spaciousness, a kid-friendly dance floor featuring a live polka band and a menu that offers a variety of classic fish fries along with good ol’ burgers, chicken strips and more. This is also the perfect opportunity to sample Milwaukee’s largest craft brewer’s beer. We suggest the Riverwest Stein.
Safe House – The spy-themed, James Bond-inspired Safe House is perhaps the most unique restaurant in Milwaukee. Diners must know a password to enter (if you don’t know it, don’t worry, you will eventually get in), spy-themed food and cocktails, secret spaces throughout the restaurant (moving around before getting served to check out all of the secret games and offerings is encouraged) and sometimes even an on-site magician.
Family-friendly festivals in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, all of which are very family-friendly during the day. Summerfest is Milwaukee’s most famous festival on the lake, but ethnic festivals from German Fest to Irish Fest happen on various weekends all summer long. Street festivals, church festivals and festivals for the sake of festivals crop up all season long as well.
Still want more? Check out The Family Backpack for many more kid-friendly adventures in Milwaukee!
Thanks to Molly for sharing this super-helpful guide to navigating your way around Milwaukee – the Mexican and German combo sounds perfect to me and I love a city with festivals!
About the Blogger
Molly Snyder is a writer with The Family Backpack, an online guide designed to make family vacation planning easier. She is also senior writer at OnMilwaukee and the mother of two adventuresome teenaged sons. Molly’s top travel dream is to return to Guatemala with her sons, one of whom was born in Guatemala City.
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