Sail, kayak, paddle boat, hike and more in Milwaukee, WI.
Beaches. Renowned art institutions. Endless fun for kids — and just a gas tank away from Cincinnati. Milwaukee: a getaway destination with much more to offer than the beers that make it famous. Established in the era when water reigned for travel and industry, Milwaukee offers breathtaking views of Lake Erie, along with cruises, sailing, kayaking, paddle boating, and the ultimate tribute to her heritage, an outing aboard the Sailing Vessel Denis Sullivan.
On the evening of our maritime adventure, clouds darkened the sky and white caps crashed and rolled in the lake. We barely made it out of the dock when rain began to fall. The professional crewmembers rallied us, and invited any willing participants to grab hold of the heavy ropes and help heave up the sails. As the sails filled, the boat’s speed increased and we rocked deeply into the water and watched it toss over the sides. We shivered and huddled with other passengers, experiencing a vivid immersion of what it must have been like to have worked on a sailboat or endured an historic voyage. In reality, we were never really in any danger, or very far from land, and the crew docked us without incident.
We disembarked at the Discovery World Museum. The interactive science and technology center actually features a replica of Denis Sullivan. Kids can check out the close quarters, take a turn at the wheel, and get the feel for nautical life without weather’s uncomfortable intrusions. The water theme continues in Discovery World’s aquarium and interactive water conservation area, and more interactive displays allowed me to create toys, run in a hamster wheel, and even lie on a bed of nails! Also, for music lovers, Discovery World features “Les Paul’s House of Sound,” with historic guitars and hands-on musical activities.
Another unique Milwaukee experience is the Harley-Davidson Museum. Our tour took us from the very first motorized bikes that William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson tinkered together, to the iconic hogs of the 70s, to today’s legendary motorcycles. Along the way, we saw the bikes’ uses and innovations in military settings, the changing eras reflected in advertisements, and the tracks of dangerous races where oil spills made the banked curves fatal. We also took time for some fun photo opportunities and hopped on display models of scooters, motorcycles, and passenger sidecars.
We took even more photos at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. The 185-acre stretch of natural habitat along the shore of Lake Michigan gave us glimpses of bluebirds, ducks, herons, muskrats, frogs and turtles. Hiking trails range from rugged to easy, with some that are nicely paved and stroller-friendly. The beach forbids swimming, but a nearby area allows visitors to dive in. We collected rounded stones made smooth by rolling waves, and enjoyed the smell of wildflowers and the sight of cattails dancing in the breeze.
All this activity made us hungry. Naturally, we indulged in Wisconsin cheese, and especially savored the squeaky, flavorful cheese curds, but we also sampled a few of the ethnic restaurants scattered in Milwaukee’s German, Italian and Mexican neighborhoods. The city has many upscale dining options too, but families shouldn’t miss the Safe House. It’s a little tricky to find, tucked into an alley, with just a small sign overhead. And once you find it, entry isn’t all that easy — if you don’t know the password, the doorkeeper demands that you perform a task. Once we got in, we toured the spy-themed restaurant, taking in movie memorabilia and also a tribute to genuine heroes of the Cold War. The building is also home to the nation’s Press Club, and we had fun reading the autographs of journalists and cartoonists, along with signatures of U.S. Presidents and celebrities. Lastly, we enjoyed a magician’s sleight of hand tricks, and of course, good food and fun drinks.
Discovery World Museum
500 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-765-9966 • discoveryworld.org
The Safe House
779 N. Front St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-271-2007 • safe-house.com