Between the holiday season and time off of school, kids can get a little stir crazy (and so can their parents!). We found 50 fun things that will keep your kids busy and make Winter Break memorable.
You’ll find a mix of outdoor activities, indoor destinations and even things you can do at home. And some of them are completely FREE!
In this post:
MUSEUMS & SPECIAL EXHIBITS
1. Voyage to the Deep at Milwaukee Public Museum
800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53233
Oct. 15, 2021-Jan. 9, 2022
If you haven’t checked out this new traveling exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum yet, this may be your last chance! Your kids can pretend to be submariners encountering all kinds of sea creatures in this immersive exhibit with engaging displays and hands-on activities. While you’re at the museum, don’t forget to swing by the Streets of Old Milwaukee to see it decked out in all its holiday finery.
2. Holiday Show at the Domes
524 S Layton Blvd, Milwaukee, WI 53215
Nov. 20, 2021 – Jan. 3, 2022
The Domes are all decked out for their annual holiday show with an impressive display of poinsettias and winter greenery. Plus, Santa has been known to make the occasional appearance at this holiday floral show!
3. Scrap Yard Exhibit at Jewish Museum Milwaukee
1360 N Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Oct. 8-Jan. 30, 2021
Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s (JMM) newest exhibit, Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, tells the story of scrap recycling, an industry that turns waste into raw materials. The industry has propelled American industry and innovation, and has given millions of people a livelihood and a community. The exhibit is especially family-friendly, including a number of interactive displays to engage people of all ages.
4. All Aboard at Discovery World
500 N. Harbor Dr., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Experience the wonders of the rails when you explore All Aboard, Discovery World’s new model railroading exhibit! Your little train enthusiast will be in awe of the miniature worlds in the model railroad on display. The dynamic landscape is a replica of mid-20th century Milwaukee. See if you can spot local icons like the Pabst Brewery, Usinger’s Factory, and much more. Explore the science behind trains, and learn how trains and railways have been a “model” of innovation for hundreds of years, leading to advances in industry, agriculture, and transportation.
5. Mural Tour (Free!)
Buckle your seatbelts and check out the custom MKE With Kids Mural Tour! You’ll find ten murals that will make you proud to be from Milwaukee, including this leopard on the East Side.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS DISPLAYS
6. Wild Lights, Wild Dreams at Milwaukee County Zoo
10001 W Bluemound Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53226
Dec. 1-5, 8-12, 15-23, 26-31, 2021; 5:30-9:30 p.m. (admission gates close at 8:45 p.m.)
At the Milwaukee County Zoo’s new holiday light show, bright colors and shining lights will greet guests walking along a 1-mile path filled with animal-themed light displays and decorations. Festive food and drinks will be available for purchase, and there will be a place for dropping off your unwanted holiday lights for recycling. Masking and physical distancing is still required inside all Zoo buildings.
7. Country Christmas at Ingleside Hotel
2810 Golf Rd., Pewaukee, WI 53072
Dec. 3, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022
*After* the holiday is a great time to see the lights without the line! The Country Christmas Trail features over a million holiday lights festively displayed on over a mile-long trail. Drive through the countryside and experience enchanting animated figures and holiday scenes from the comfort of your car. Wagon rides are also available.
8. Candy Corners Lane at The Corners of Brookfield (Free!)
20111 W Bluemound Rd, Brookfield, WI 53045
Nov. 27 – Dec. 31, 2021
Visit The Corners of Brookfield to experience the first year of Candy Corners Lane! Walk through dazzling pathways, enjoy over 4,000 feet of lights, a gingerbread house, a candy cane archway, magical selfie stations and more. There will also be a North Pole mailbox located in the Market Square vestibule, where kids can drop their letters to Santa. In the past, they’ve even had live reindeer visit!
9. Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights
Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, 8425 WI-38, Caledonia, WI 53108
Nov. 20, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022 (Closed Christmas Day)
Just 20 minutes south of Milwaukee, the Christmas Carnival of Lights bills itself as “Wisconsin’s biggest and brightest drive – thru” with more than 2 million colorful lights covering a 1.6-mile path through the campground. Enjoy the winter wonderland scenes from the comfort of your vehicle, or get even closer to the lights aboard Santa’s giant sleigh for an open-air experience (starting at $13 per person). Or rent a golf cart limo for up to 8 people (4 adults maximum) (starts at $75).
10. Candy Cane Lane (Free + Donation)
West Allis between 92nd-96th St. and between Montana and Oklahoma Ave.
Nov. 26-Dec. 26, 2021; Monday-Thursday 6-9 p.m., Friday 6-10 p.m., Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.
See Candy Cane Lane before it goes back to the candy cane ether. Grab some hot cocoa to go, and drive over to this brightly lit West Allis neighborhood. You’ll enter to find a winter wonderland with candy-cane wrapped trees, and over 300 houses full of festive holiday lights. You can drive or walk through. Don’t forget to leave a donation for the MACC fund!
11. Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival (Free!)
Nov. 18, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022
For 23 seasons, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival has made spirits bright in the city of Milwaukee with its animated sculptures, interactive displays and twinkling street décor. Take a stroll or a drive and experience the brilliance of more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown’s parks and streets, including Pere Marquette Park, Cathedral Square Park, Zeidler Union Square, and sparking chandeliers on E. Wisconsin Ave.
12. Lights on Glen Cove (Free!)
Off Janesville and Glen Cove Ct. in Muskego, WI
Marvel at over 35,000 LED lights synchronized to holiday music from 87.9 FM. The lights run every night starting at 5 p.m. and running through 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. Check the website before you go to make sure it is still running. This is a private residence.
13. Winter Wonders at Boerner Botanical Gardens
Nov. 19, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022, 5-10 p.m. (Line opens at 4:30 p.m., Last entry at 9:30 p.m.)
Gather family and friends for a spectacular drive-through holiday lights with more than one million LED lights! The route is about 1.5 miles long, and you can even drive by Santa! The 2021-2022 show has been re-designed by theatrical lighting designer “Laser Bob” Mullins and his talented team and improved from last year with additional displays and even more lighting to highlight the natural beauty of Whitnall Park.
14. Winter Wonderland in the Garden District (Free!)
6th & Howard in Milwaukee, WI
Dec. 7, 2021 – Jan. 6, 2022, nightly at dusk (5-11 p.m.)
It’s Winter Wonderland at the Garden District Community Garden at 6th and Howard in Milwaukee. There is no fee, and you can walk through or drive by at any time. It runs through January 6th.
15. Kids2Kids Christmas Wonderland
Corner of Highway 60 and Cheyenne at 1150 Cheyenne Avenue, Grafton, WI
Nov. 26-Dec. 30, 2021 (closed Dec. 24-25)
Sunday-Thursday, 5-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m.
Kapco’s Kids2Kids Christmas Wonderland is Wisconsin’s ultimate drive-thru holiday experience. Guests of all ages will enjoy millions of lights, two mesmerizing light tunnels, hundreds of inflatables and holiday décor pieces, a live nativity scene. Proceeds from Kapco’s Kids2Kids Christmas Wonderland are utilized to provide new toys to children in need and facing adversity. All guests are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy(s) that will be contributed to a child in need in our community.
16. Christmas at Shalom Wildlife Zoo
1901 Shalom Drive, West Bend, WI 53090
Nov. 20-Dec. 31, 2021, 1-8:30 p.m. (last car admitted at 7:30 p.m.)
In the warmth of your own car, drive slow, relax and enjoy the wildlife and the unique holiday displays and decorations. The entire zoo is lit up with special LED lighting for the night time drive-thru. Wildlife viewing is good day or night. After the holiday drive-thru, enjoy entrance into the petting zoo and a crackling campfire.
17. Noel Indoor Light Park (Wisconsin State Fair Park)
Exposition Center, 8200 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, WI 53214
Nov. 27, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022
Skip the cold and start a new family tradition this year at the Noel indoor light park! This family-friendly event will transform 90,000 square feet into a magical winter wonderland, complete with over one million sparkling lights, interactive displays, festive food and drink, daily live entertainment and locally-made gifts and stocking stuffers. Be on the lookout for Disney princesses, light gardens and selfie walls. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be there, too! Purchase your tickets online to score big savings.
18. Magic of Lights at American Family Field
1 Brewers Way, Milwaukee, WI 53214
Nov. 24, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022, 5-10 p.m.
For the first time ever, American Family Field will host the Magic of Lights, a drive-through experience that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own vehicle. The themed light displays that include Prehistoric Christmas, Big Foot Monster Trucks, the 12 Days of Christmas, Toyland and the Enchanting Tunnel of Lights. New in 2021 is the Illuminating Mega Trees: 40 feet of dancing lights synchronized to popular holiday tunes. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. Don’t wait – the more popular dates tend to sell out quickly!
RING IN THE NEW YEAR
19. New Year’s Eve at Noon (Betty Brinn Children’s Museum) – CANCELLED
801 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Dec. 31, 2021, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
*** Due to staffing shortages related to COVID-19, this event has been cancelled. ***
Welcome 2022 with the return of the BBCM’s family-favorite New Year’s Eve at Noon event! There will be a dance party, an appearance by the Museum’s Artist-In-Residence Wes Tank and a ball-drop ceremony at noon. Create DIY noisemakers in the Be A Maker space. Face masks are required for ages 3 and older. Advance reservations are encouraged.
20. New Year’s at Noon Balloon Drop at Sky Zone – Greenfield
4940 S. 76th St., Greenfield, WI 53220
Dec. 31, 2021, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Five, four, three, two … NOON! Wear the kids out way before the last few minutes of 2021! For $20.22, enjoy 120 minutes of jumping and join in a grand countdown, complete with a balloon drop grand finale.
21. New Year’s Eve + Midnight Countdown at the Hoan Bridge (Free!)
Dec. 31, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022
Count down to 2022 with the Hoan! If your kiddos are still awake at midnight, then find a spot with a clear view of the Hoan Bridge. There will be a 10-second countdown to midnight followed by a festive light show.
22. New Year Night Hike (Schlitz Audubon Nature Center)
1111 E Brown Deer Rd, Bayside, WI 53217
Jan. 2, 2022, 6-7:30 p.m.
Celebrate the start of the new year with a crisp, January night hike at Schlitz Audubon. Meet at the stone bench in front of the Nature Center and hike the Central Wetlands Loop through prairies, wetlands, and woodlands to Mystery Lake and the Maple Grove. At the end of the hike, enjoy a toasty fire, sip hot chocolate, and share dreams and goals for 2022. All ages welcome; children must be accompanied by an adult.
Members: $10 per person | Non-members: $15 per person
23. First Day Hike at Hawthorn Glen (Free!)
1130 N. 60th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208
Jan. 1, 2022, 1-2 p.m.
Ring in the New Year with the First Day Hike (Jan. 1, 1-2 p.m.). Hawthorn Glen is near the border of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, and it offers a hiking loop that’s the perfect length for little legs. Postings along the way teach you about the history and wildlife around you. There are stairs to climb at the back of the property for a good view, and a fun hill for the kids to slide down. There’s also a small playground and sandbox. When snow conditions permit, you can rent toboggans and cross country skis.
CAMPS & SPECIAL EVENTS
24. Kids’ Corner Magic Show at Southridge Mall (Free!)
5300 S. 76th St., Greendale, WI 53129
Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, 1-2:30 p.m.
The Kids Corner event series at Southridge Mall offers a lot of fun, hands-on activities for kids. Each event usually centers on a particular theme for that month or season. Past events have included music, stories, crafts, and STEM projects. This month’s event will feature a family-friendly interactive magic show by Jester Fun Entertainment, followed by complimentary winter and holiday balloon twisting. Located on the lower level outside of Macy’s.
25. A Charlie Brown Christmas by First Stage
The Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Nov. 20-Dec. 26, 2021 (select dates and showtimes)
Come home for the holidays as First Stage brings this treasured holiday classic to life. Join Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang as they learn the true meaning of Christmas. The live play production features 11 young performers in two different casts. Recommended for families with kids ages 4 and up.
26. Cool Fool Kite Festival (Free!)
Veterans Park, 1010 N Lincoln Memorial Dr., Milwaukee, WI, 53202
Jan. 1, 2022
Soar into the New Year at the Cool Fool Kite Festival, hosted by Gift of Wings. This family-friendly event takes place every New Year’s Day at Veterans Park along Milwaukee’s downtown lakefront. Bring your own kite or purchase one from Gift of Wings, the store onsite. Lessons and demonstrations in ice sculpting will also take place, as well as horse and buggy rides. Free coffee and hot chocolate are provided at the event to help you keep warm.
27. Winter Adventure Days at Urban Ecology Center
Dec. 27-30, Jan. 3, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
School is out and it’s time to play! Join the Urban Ecology Center for a fun, active day of playing in the park. You’ll take a look at what makes Wisconsin Winters special through crafts, games and so much more. You might learn about native animals or how to showshoe. Bring a bag lunch, wear a mask, and dress appropriately for the weather. Space is limited and registration is required. For grades 1-6.
28. Bow Wow Blizzard Camp at Wisconsin Humane Society
4500 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53208
Dec. 29, 2021, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Come in from the cold and warm up with some fuzzy friends at the Wisconsin Humane Society Milwaukee Campus. This one-day camp provides a wonderful way for kids (grades 1-6) to learn all about the Wisconsin Humane Society and ways that they can help critters of all different shapes and sizes. There will be fun activities offered, including crafts, games, an Adoption Avenue tour and even a chance to meet some of the animal guests! Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is $55 per camper.
29. Rockin’ Jump Brown Deer
9009 N. Deerbrook Trail, Brown Deer, WI 53223
Rockin’ Jump is extending its hours for Winter Break, so you can let the kids get some wiggles out. Besides trampolines, there are climbing walls, basketball hoops, a zip line, a ninja warped wall, parkour blox, and a Junior Jump Zone exclusively for kids 6 and under.
HIKES & NATURE CENTERS
30. Mequon Nature Preserve (Free!)
8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097
Mequon Nature Preserve rests on over 444 acres and offers five miles of trails, an observation tower, and an observation platform. There are three parking lots to start from, like a choose-your-own-adventure book. To climb the observation tower, park in the parking lot on Swan Rd. and follow the trail around Pat’s Pond. There’s also a new natural playground right next to the main building! There’s also a new natural playground right next to the main building!
31. Wehr Nature Center Waterfall Hike
9701 W College Ave, Franklin, WI 53132
Yep, this waterfall is right here in Milwaukee County. You’ll find it at Wehr Nature Center in Franklin. Take the Lake Loop, which runs along the shoreline of Mallard Lake and right to this waterfall into the Root River. You can also explore the short and flat “Family Friendly Trail” which will take you through beautiful woodlands. You’ll see lots of birds, and you may even come face to face with a wild turkey.⠀
32. Lake Park Hike (Free!)
3233 E. Kenwood Boulevard
Truly beautiful in any season, the paved winding paths of historic Lake Park will bring you gorgeous lake vistas, rocky ravines, impressive statues, and the charming North Point Lighthouse.
33. Retzer Nature Center (Free!)
S14W28167 Madison St, Waukesha, WI 53188
Even for the littlest feet, Retzer Nature Center’s “Adventure Trail” is filled with majestic pines, picnic tables, and is very short. You can also explore “Vista Trail” where you’ll get a good view of Waukesha, and the “Nature Trail” where there are boardwalks and babbling brooks. There is also a nature center that is open.
34. Snowshoeing (Free + Snowshoe Rental)
If you can walk, you can snowshoe! We rounded up a list of places that are great for snowshoeing with kids. Don’t have snowshoes? You can borrow from the Urban Ecology Center if you’re a member.
35. Ice Skating at Red Arrow Park (Free + Skate Rental)
920 N. Water St., Milwaukee
Grab your skates and head to Slice of Ice at Red Arrow Park! Downtown Milwaukee’s outdoor ice rink is free to use when you bring your own skates. Affordable skate rentals are also available. Other rentals include penguin and polar bear pals for kids just learning to skate, and ice sleds for those with mobility impairments. Open until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, so you can celebrate on the ice!
To find other ice skating locations in and around Milwaukee, click here.
36. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Rides at Apple Holler
5006 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant, WI 53177
The horse-drawn sleigh ride experience at Apple Holler’s family farm will make you feel like you stepped inside of a glistening winter snow globe. Enjoy the snow-covered orchards and 100-year-old hardwoods while you listen to the clopping of the Amish Haflinger horses (reservations required). Afterward, enjoy s’mores around a campfire and a cup of hot cocoa or warm apple cider.
37. Tubing at The Rock
7900 Crystal Ridge Dr., Greendale, WI 53129
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, The Rock allows guests to ski, snowboard, or just slide down the tubing runs.
38. Tubing at Wilmot Mountain
11931 Fox River Rd, Wilmot, WI 53192
Grab a tube and let gravity do the rest! Wilmot Mountain provides tubes to go down the hill and two surface conveyor lifts to take you back up. There are 22 tubing lanes, each more than 1,000 feet long. You can also ski, snowboard, and more at Wilmot Mountain. When you need to take a break and warm up a bit, head to the tubing lodge for refreshments.
39. Tubing at Sunburst
8355 Prospect Dr., Kewaskum, WI 53040
Just 30 minutes northwest of Milwaukee, Sunburst offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in three terrain parks. Their claim to fame is that it is the world’s largest tubing park with over 45 lanes. It was even recognized by USA Today as one of the top ten tubing parks in the entire country. After a long day on the slopes, you’ll appreciate their fresh food café serving up artisan sandwiches and salads, plus Starbuck’s coffee and espresso drinks to help you warm up.
40. Sledding (Free!)
Hit your favorite sledding hill, or switch up your regular routine! We have a comprehensive list of the best sledding hills around. Check it out!
PARKS & PLAYGROUNDS
41. Kayla’s Playground (Free!)
Franklin Woods Nature Park, 3723 W. Puetz Rd., Franklin, WI
Look at it this way: The colder is it, the more of the playground you’ll have to yourself! Kayla’s Playground is a must-visit. Check out the full review here.
42. Imagination Station (Free!)
100 E. Forest St., Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Imagination Station is a huge, universally accessible playground in Oconomowoc. It is located in Roosevelt Park and features rubberized surfacing, therapeutic swings, multi-sensory activity structures, musical components, one entrance and exit for added safety, and more!
43. Possibility Playground (Free!)
554 N Lake St Port, Port Washington, WI 53074
Possibility Playground is a huge playground that blends the line between learning, therapy and playtime. It sits in Upper Lake Park in Port Washington with a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. You can enjoy the charming downtown of Port Washington and visit the marina or lighthouse while you’re there.
44. Harbor View Plaza (Free!)
Great Lakes Research Facility, 600 E Greenfield Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53204
Check out the play area and tower at Harbor View Plaza. It’s all decked out at this time of year!
45. “Community Spirit Park” at Cathedral Square Park (Free!)
520 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Nov. 18, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022
Over 100 evergreens have sprung up on the square. Wind your way through the forest of trees and pay close attention to each tree’s décor. More than 50 area schools and businesses share their wish for the season with handmade ornaments and garlands. Plus, check out the park’s Singing Tree, which blinks to singing, music and clapping in real time.
46. Dream Park in Kenosha (Free!)
3100 14th Ave., Kenosha, WI 53140
Bundle up and head to the 15,000-square-foot Dream Playground, Kenosha’s first fully accessible playground. More than 3,000 volunteers worked to raise support and construct this amazing playground. It’s fun in all seasons!
47. Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary (Free!)
1660 East Shore Drive, Green Bay, WI 54302
The Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay is open every day for hiking and wildlife viewing – and it’s free! If you’re in the Green Bay area, you can also check out Wequiock Falls, a waterfall that actually freezes in the winter!
48. Henry Vilas Zoo (Free!)
702 S. Randall Ave., Madison, WI 53715
This is a 28-acre free public zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. Owned by the city of Madison, the zoo charges no admission or parking fees. It receives over 750,000 visitors annually. The zoo houses an African lion, chimpanzees, a red panda and more!
49. Story Time in the Galleries: At Home (Milwaukee Art Museum)
Jan. 1, 2022, 10:30-11 a.m.
Don’t miss out on virtual story time! The Milwaukee Art Museum is bringing the storytelling home with this monthly YouTube event. Each session begins with a look at a Museum artwork and ends with a related activity.
50. Holiday Cooking With Kids
Have you checked out Milwaukee’s very own food blogger and cook book author, Philia Kelnhofer? Her website sweetphi.com is packed with seasonal ideas that your kids will love, including a hot cocoa recipe, sugar cookies that won’t lose their shape, and iced Bailey’s coffee for the adults in the house.