Parents wishing to get a way for the weekend with the kids without spending a fortune and without having to hear "are we there yet?" more than once or twice during the car ride should consider a trip to Milwaukee's northern neighbor, Sheboygan.
The city is a mere hour away and yet it harbors a quaintness coupled with unique, kid-friendly opportunities that make it feel like you've really gotten away.
For families visiting Sheboygan, lodging is a no-brainer. Blue Harbor Resort offers 182 reasonably priced rooms along with 64 two-to-four-bedroom villas. Prices vary greatly, but during the off season (winter), a family can get a room with water park passes for $99 a night.
Blue Harbor recently renovated, adding a new lobby, two new restaurants (one features a Starbucks cafe) and upgrades in every room including updated flat screen TVs, new mattresses, bedding and linens. There's also a spa and conference space.
"Each room has an all-new look," says general manager David Sanderson.
There are enough choices in the room styles that families with one, two, even three or more children, can find a room that suits their needs. Recently, while visiting with three children, we were pleased to find that the Boathouse Suite has a special space for exactly three kids. Often when traveling, hotels accommodate the four-person family and additional family members have to sleep on the couch or a pull-out. It was nice that each kid could sleep in an actual bed in the fun room.
By Memorial Day, Blue Harbor will introduce a new putting green, bocce ball courts, and an expanded pool deck with an outdoor bar.
The best part of Blue Harbor is its proximity to the lake. The restaurants, and half of the rooms, overlook the massive Lake Michigan and Blue Harbor does what it can to bring the lake into their resort.
"The location here is incredible. It has a Cape Cod-like feel to it. The lake is beautiful to look at and also brings opportunity to our guests," says Sanderson. "Blue Harbor guests can walk for about a mile on the beach in either direction of the resort. And it's worth it to come here just to watch the sunrise in the morning."
Tacking on the John Michael Kohler Art Center before or after a water park visit is a must if visiting Sheboygan, especially with kids. The not-for-profit art center does not have an admission price, but donations are greatly appreciated. (There is a donations box when you walk in, so have cash on hand if you plan to donate.)
ART-ery is a staffed, kid-friendly, drop-in activity space where kids can make-and-take an art piece or make-and-contribute to a large project.
"Whatever the exhibition, the ARTery offers a light-filled, kid-friendly space with related hands-on projects so that young folks—and their grown-ups—can try their hands at artmaking," says the center's Shirah Apple.
Plus, the galleries lend themselves to kids' enjoyment, including Caroline Lathan-Stiefel's massive "Drawings-in-space" made almost entirely from fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) and the three-dimensional "Collapse" by Anna Hepler that's a massive bouquet of inflating and deflating finger-like "balloons."
"The Line Unleashed" is a fun installation that has brightly colored lines zigzagging throughout the facility: on the floor, the walls, even the ceilings. And kids must visit the restrooms (which they are good at doing anyway) to see the artistic sinks, walls and toilet bowls.
ARTspace, the cafe inside the art center, offers healthy and affordable kids' meals, too. They also have delicious bakery, particularly the banana bread.
The John Kohler Arts Museum, opened in 1967, is a nationally acclaimed visual and performing art complex that continues to provide the public with innovative contemporary art. It's truly a Wisconsin gem.
The Above & Beyond Children's Museum is a cute, colorful space offering a lot of hands-on experiences, too.
On the first floor, there's a large treehouse kids can climb inside, a rope "sky crawl," a giant pin screen featuring more than 72,000 movable parts, a magnet table and a pipe organ called a "whompamaphone."
Upstairs, there's the Siegl Miniature Circus featuring a massive circus wagon filled with movable, highly detailed, hand-carved circus characters. There's also a vintage grocery shop, doctor's office and rainforest room for toddlers.
The third floor features a giant black board, a shadow box, a pretend school house and a craft area offering workshops like wildseed "bomb" making, maple syrup taffy creating, holiday events and more.
The cost is $5 per person, free for members, and the hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sundays.
For family-friendly dining, we found Faye's Pizza to be particularly accommodating. The pizza joint is a classic; it has been around since 1957.
The pizza dough is made fresh everyday, all of the veggies are hand chopped, the sauce is a secret family recipe and the sausage is made locally. However, the most kid-accommodating aspect of Faye's is it offers build-your-own, 6-inch mini pizzas for $4.75. Kids can pick up to three toppings from a lengthy list of options.
An adult-version is available, too. Personal-sized, hand-tossed, 10-inch pizzas cost $6-10, depending on how many toppings are added. A cheese and sausage, for example, is $6.75. Deep dish pizzas cost a little more.
Dinners (lasagna, chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi, baked ziti, etc.), along with subs, soups and salads are also available. Wednesday nights offer all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs for only $6.99. It includes salad, garlic bread and a drink.
Faye's has a casual atmosphere featuring lots of windows that fill the space with natural light. It's the epitome of family-friendly dining.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.