Traveling opens the door to many great learning and exploration experiences, but coordinating travel with children in tow can throw a few extra hurdles your way — from finding a destination that’s family friendly to finding one that’s affordable.
Milwaukee mom Calie Herbst encountered the same obstacles about six years ago when she started looking for fun things to do with her family that wouldn't break the bank — and found that her own backyard offered plenty of great opportunities all year long.
So, she started Miltown Moms, a website that connects parents and caregivers to events and activities in southeast Wisconsin, and recently wrote a book, "Exploring Milwaukee with Kids," to help others find what the city has to offer.
The book and website include a variety of activities for different age groups — all within a 30-minute drive of Milwaukee and costs listed.
"You do not have to spend a ton of money," she said. "The thing that I love that I found in all my research throughout these years is that there are so many things to do for free in Milwaukee with kids. It's pretty incredible."
Herbst offered six ideas for creative things to do with your children in January.
Every year the Milwaukee Veterans Park hosts this free festival on New Year’s Day. While there are plenty of kites to go around, the festival also boasts ice sculpture artists that give ice carving lessons, along with free hot cocoa, coffee and snacks.
"They have all kinds of giant kites that are flying, and you can buy one there at the store if you want to join in the fun," Herbst said. "But it is like the quintessential example of a free, really family-friendly festival. A lot of people make it their tradition for New Year's Day."
Edward Davis (CC BY 2.0)
A volunteer-run organization, the rescue dogs don’t race very often, but rather travel the state for "meet and greets." On Saturday, Jan. 5 they’ll be at the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Snow Day to teach kids about how people and animals adapt to the dropping temperatures of the winter months.
"If you go on their website, you can read about each of the dogs and their personalities and how they got to acquire that particular dog," she said. "It's just a really, really neat organization."
Mark Danielson (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Winterfest activities include building igloos and snowmen, sledding and ice skating on Washington Park Lagoon. And if the snow fails to fall for this free event, arts crafts, homemade pies and guided nature walks are ready to step in.
"I absolutely love the Winterfest at the Urban Ecology Center," she said. "They just really try to get kids and families excited about the cold weather and making the most of it."
Toby Talbot/AP Photo
A Downtown Milwaukee gem, the ice skating rink opened in mid-December and runs through February or March, depending on the weather. Admission to the rink is free, but skates are available to rent in the Red Arrow Park Warming House, which also offers a fireplace and warm drinks from Starbucks. "Polar Pal" rentals are also available for little ones to hold onto as they learn how to skate.
"My favorite fun fact to tell people is that it's actually bigger than the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink," Herbst said. "It doesn't look too big when you go, but that's actually a true fact."
Michael Pereckas (CC BY-SA 2.0)
"The state's only urban state forest … you can borrow their snowshoes, you can borrow their binoculars," she said. "Their nature center has animals that you can say hello to and little educational stations … it’s such a great place."
Snowshoers have more than six miles of trails to explore within the forest, but Herbst recommends the People and Land trail — at 1.3 miles long, it’s particularly kid friendly. The state forest also offers family nature hikes throughout the winter.
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
When the weather is too frigid, Herbst recommends heading indoors for a traditional high tea experience at the iconic Milwaukee hotel, available from September to April. For kids ages 12 and under, there’s an "All Grown Up" menu available that includes warm sipping chocolate, ham and cheddar sandwiches, and chocolate tarts.
"It’s at the top of the hotel, so there's a panoramic view of the city," she said. "It's like all silver service, they have specialties that are blended just for them. It's just a really cool, very Milwaukee experience."
Lobby of the Pfister Hotel. Morry Gash/AP Photo