Fond du Lac serves up affordable, active family fun
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For families who want a nature-centered getaway destination with mid-size-city amenities, Fond du Lac is a solid choice. Only an hour from Milwaukee, the car ride isn't too brutal for young kids and yet it really feels "far away" from the city. Plus, the prices, particularly in restaurants, are noticeably cheaper. Bonus.
"For families considering a road trip, Fond du Lac really shines," says Craig Molitor, president of the Fond du Lac Area Visitors Bureau. "It's easy to get to from Milwaukee, your money will go a long way and who doesn't love a lake?"
On a recent weekend visit to Fond du Lac, located at the foot of Lake Winnebago, we stayed at the Country Inn Suites. We had stayed in a Country Inn before in Freeport, Ill., and both times, found the experience to be top-notch for a chain of low-cost hotels.
We love having access to such a well-maintained pool and whirlpool and the complimentary breakfast goes well beyond "continental." It even includes a make-your-own waffle station which was well received by the kids.
One of the best aspects of our trip was how active we were both indoors and out. Fond du Lac has many beautiful parks with lots of recreational options. Our favorite was Lakeside Park, which we visited twice.
During our first trip, we climbed to the top of the lighthouse, which is the symbol of Fond du Lac. The lighthouse is open every day, weather permitting, from 8 a.m. to sunset and, after climbing about six flights of stairs, offers a gorgeous view of the lake and the park.
During our second visit to the park, we crossed the numerous bridges, hung out on the gazebos, watched families of geese and rode on the carousel, the small train and the "whip ride." There's also a large playground, petting zoo, canoe rental, soccer fields, a baseball diamond and a concessions stand. There really isn't a park like this in Milwaukee, but there should be.
Lakeside Park is an absolutely awesome setting for taking family / sibling photos. We have many from our visits that are definitely "framers." Someday, we'd like to return to the park in winter. We were told there's a magnificent holiday lights display and that Rudolph finds his way to the top of the lighthouse.
Another high point of our trip was visiting The Octagon House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featured as a haunted house on the History Channel show, "Hidden Passages."
We called ahead to arrange a tour with the quirky and likable owner, Marlene Hansen, a former circus trapeze artist / dancer / costume maker who bought the house in 1975 for $25,000 without ever stepping foot inside.
The eight-sided house was built in 1856 by a carpenter and fur trader, Isaac Brown, who was fearful of attacks by Native Americans. Consequently, he built the house with lots of hiding places – including a secret room behind a book case and an underground tunnel.
Because of the hiding options, the house became a stop on the Underground Railroad, and one secret space, behind a fake built-in dresser, still features messages carved into the walls by escaped slaves, telling other slaves where to go next and the names of people who will help them.
Hansen is a wonderful storyteller, and will offer up ghost stories if asked. She has a fantastic collection of antiques, dolls and costumes, all of which she made, and the house is very well maintained – amazingly dust free! – and decorated very carefully and artistically. Hansen offers tours, teas and even dinners in the dining room that's complete with working phonographs.
The Octagon House alone is worth a trip to Fond du Lac.
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