We all know our city’s big attractions, but today, I’m sharing a special list of 10 hidden gems right here in our backyard.
After years of exploring Milwaukee with my family and hearing from readers about their experiences, I’ve gathered a mix of spots that are just perfect for kids and families, yet often fly under the radar.
From quirky little hideaways to peaceful outdoor escapes, each of these places offers something unique without the usual crowds. Whether you’re a long-time local or new to our city, these gems are sure to surprise and delight your family.
Let’s dive in and discover what Milwaukee has been keeping secret!
1. Manfred Olsen Planetarium
1900 E Kenwood Blvd #139, Milwaukee, WI 53211
Looking up at the night sky has always been fascinating, but the Manfred Olsen Planetarium takes this experience to a whole new level.
Hidden away in the UWM Physics Building, this planetarium offers an educational and awe-inspiring journey through the cosmos. Ideal for both kids and adults, it provides a unique opportunity to learn about stars, planets, and galaxies in an interactive environment.
The planetarium hosts various programs and shows that cater to all age groups, making it a perfect educational outing for families to explore the wonders of space.
Dive into our full blog post for all the stellar details, showtimes, and tips for your visit.
2. Don’s TV & Repair
1100 S 1st St, Milwaukee, WI 53204
In the heart of Milwaukee’s southeast side lies a hidden gem that’s more than meets the eye: Don’s TV & Repair, a playful and secretive speakeasy disguised as an old-fashioned TV repair shop.
This unique destination is a treasure trove of nostalgia, especially for those who cherish the 90s.
The build-your-own milkshakes are a hit, especially with options to add a boozy twist for the adults.
And let’s not forget their famous Fruity Pebble Pancakes – a delightful blast from the past that both kids and parents will adore.
The interior, with its 80’s rec room feel, is adorned with vintage electronics and nods to retro brands, creating a perfect backdrop for a family dinner or a parents’ night out.
Their menu offers kid favorites like burgers and friends with generous portions.
Head over to our full blog post for a detailed review, recommendations, and how to score your secret entry into this nostalgic nook.
3. Koz’s Mini Bowl
2078 S 7th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204
If you’re looking for a unique and enjoyable family outing in Milwaukee, Koz’s Mini Bowl is a must-visit. This local gem offers the nostalgic fun of duckpin bowling, a smaller, more accessible version of traditional bowling that’s perfect for all ages.
The atmosphere in this retro spot is welcoming and family-friendly, with groovy music and a down-to-earth slightly gritty character. and you’ll be charmed by the manual pin resetting by the dedicated staff.
Plus, it’s the last duckpin bowling establishment in Wisconsin, making it a unique and historic part of Milwaukee’s entertainment scene.
4. Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club
2721 S Calhoun Rd, New Berlin, WI 53151
Choo-choo! Next stop: the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club.
This hidden gem is a delightful mix of history and hands-on fun, perfect for train enthusiasts of all ages. Located at 2721 South Calhoun Road, New Berlin, this club features an extensive display of toy trains and interactive scenes that bring the railroad world to life.
Kids can become junior conductors, operating smaller train setups and exploring the mechanics of motion. And it’s not just for the little ones – adults will find themselves mesmerized by the intricate displays and nostalgic charm.
Open mainly on weekends, with a suggested $2 donation, it’s an affordable and engaging outing for the whole family. And keep an eye out for their special events like the annual open house for an even grander experience.
Curious to learn more? Head over to the full blog post for all the details and tips to make the most of your visit to this enchanting spot.
5. Swing Park
1737 N Water St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Swing Park, located under the Holton Street bridge, offers a unique and industrial play experience in Milwaukee. Known for its swings made from recycled materials, it’s a spot that brings a different kind of playground fun.
The park features a variety of swings, including a baby swing and an accessible one, ensuring that there’s something for everyone in the family.
However, parents of little ones should be aware that Swing Park may not be ideal for very young children. Its proximity to a busy street and the presence of sand can make for a less-than-ideal environment for tiny tots.
Additionally, while the park is a fascinating urban space, it’s important to note that there have been instances of crime in the past. For this reason, visiting during daylight hours is advisable for a safer experience.
Swing Park is conveniently located within walking distance of several key Milwaukee attractions like the Riverwalk, Brady Street, Water Street, and the southeast end of Riverwest. It’s a great stop for families looking to explore the city, especially when combined with nearby neighborhood events or destinations.
Please note that the park undergoes periodic maintenance due to its unique location under the bridge, so it’s a good idea to check its availability before planning your visit.
6. Shady Lane Greenhouse Nursery
W172N7388 Shady Ln, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051
Shady Lane Greenhouse and Nursery is a delightful destination for families in Milwaukee looking to add a touch of green to their lives. This charming greenhouse is renowned not just for its vast array of quality plants and flowers, but also for its unique attractions that appeal to both adults and children.
What makes Shady Lane particularly special for families is the huge model train setup, a feature that consistently captivates both kids and adults alike. It’s a perfect combination of a gardening paradise and a miniature wonderland.
With events like the End of Summer Train Jamboree, and amenities like toddler-sized chess pieces and mini-golf, there’s plenty to keep the little ones engaged.
7. Fox River Park & Paradise Springs
Fox River Park: W264 S4500 River Road Waukesha 53189
Paradise Springs: W374 S8640, County Rd N, Eagle, WI 53119
Fox River Park in Waukesha is a natural wonderland for families, boasting a unique, award-winning playground nestled between its scenic picnic areas.
The park’s highlight is the 33-foot side-by-side slides, ingeniously built into a hillside. Designed with natural play in mind, the park features climbing boulders, a spiral sandbox, and a special area for smaller children.
Beyond the playground, the park is a haven for nature lovers with its butterfly garden, rain garden, and trails for hiking, biking, and rollerblading. With an admission fee of only $4.00 per car, it’s an ideal spot for a full day of outdoor adventure.
Just a 20-minute drive away is Paradise Springs Nature Area in Eagle, Wisconsin.
This enchanting nature area, with its stunning freshwater spring, observation deck, and waterfall, is a testament to Wisconsin’s natural beauty.
The paved paths make for an easy, family-friendly hike under a mile, perfect for a quick yet memorable visit.
The area also holds historical significance, once being a summer resort for Milwaukee’s elite and home to a spring water bottling plant.
While Paradise Springs is about a 50-minute drive from Milwaukee, it pairs perfectly with a trip to Fox River Park, which is just 20 minutes away. This combination offers a full day of natural exploration and historical intrigue, ideal for families looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors.
779 N Front St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
For families seeking a dining experience with a twist of intrigue and fun in Milwaukee, the Safehouse restaurant is an unmissable destination.
This unique eatery is not your typical restaurant; it’s a thrilling adventure for both kids and adults, complete with secret passageways and interactive elements.
One of the highlights at Safehouse is the “Disappearing Booth” – a special seating option where the booth literally turns around and opens up in a completely different space. This unforgettable feature is sure to amaze your kids and make your dining experience extra special.
The Safehouse offers more than just a meal; it’s a playful escape into a world of espionage and mystery. Remember, finding the restaurant is part of the adventure, as it’s hidden away for diners to discover.
For all the covert details on how to access the Safehouse, what to expect, and tips to make the most of this unique experience, check out our full blog post.
9. Mitchell Airport Observation Area
Budding aviators can watching airplanes take off and land at Mitchell Airport Observation Area located on the 1200 block of E. Layton Ave.
This spot offers a front-row seat to the hustle and bustle of air travel. Kids (and adults too!) will be thrilled to see the planes soar into the sky and glide in for landing right before their eyes. It’s not just fun; it’s a learning experience about the wonders of flight.
Tune into 88.5 to hear aircraft communication.
And what could make this outing even more delightful? Ice cream, of course! Just a short drive from the observation area, grab some delicious frozen custard from Culver’s.
10. Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee, Inc.
215 E. National Ave. (built into a Canadian Pacific Railway bridge that spans the street)
Built in 1916 by the Milwaukee Road as a bridge station, this location was abandoned and converted into the Railroad Club’s venue in 1936.
It is the longest running model railroad club in the same location in the United States.
Many of the original features are still intact, including subway tile, tin ceiling panels, and some steam heat fixtures. The models inside are built to ¼-inch scale, with some dating back to pre-WWII.
The club is open to visitors the last Sunday afternoon of each month, between about 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If that day falls on a holiday, or within a four-day weekend, the club is not open, and it is not open during severe weather events in winter.
Call ahead to confirm hours.
11. Secret Garden, Tippecanoe Library
3912 S Howell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207
Nestled within the grounds of the newly renovated Tippecanoe Library lies a hidden treasure – the Secret Garden. Inspired by the enchanting world of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 classic, “The Secret Garden,” this outdoor space is a retreat for storytelling and imagination.
A generous gift in honor of former City Librarian Paula Kiely, thanks to Barbara Stein, the Secret Garden is a special enclave designed especially for children. Here young minds can wander and families can enjoy peaceful moments together.
12. Concord General Store
N6485 County Rd. F, Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Hidden in plain sight along County Rd. F in Oconomowoc lies a delightful surprise – the Concord General Store.
At first glance, it might seem like just another gas station, but a closer look reveals a charming, family-friendly destination. Here, you can indulge in organic snacks, savor local coffee, and best of all, enjoy a free visit to their adorable petting zoo.
This unique spot is a joy for kids and adults alike, where you can interact with friendly ponies, goats, and pigs. There’s no admission fee, making it an ideal stop for families looking to add a touch of adventure without any extra cost.
Whether you’re on your way to Madison or just seeking a fun, local outing, the Concord General Store promises a memorable experience.
12. Lynden Sculpture Garden
2145 W. Brown Deer Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53217
Sprawled across 40 acres of serene parkland, lakes, and woodlands, this outdoor art museum is a visual feast, boasting over 50 monumental sculptures. It’s a must-visit destination for families and art enthusiasts alike.
Among the collection’s highlights is the whimsical and colorful ‘Des Vaches: Mo, Ni, Que’ cow sculpture by Swiss artist Samuel Buri, a playful and eye-catching piece that adds a dash of whimsy to the natural landscape.
The garden’s expansive grounds offer plenty of space for children to run around and explore, with magical trees to hide in, and a plethora of frogs and turtles to spot. The vivid sculptures, like the bright polka-dotted cows by the pond, are sure to captivate visitors of all ages.
While admission is free, making it an accessible outing for everyone, visitors are reminded to be respectful of the art; climbing on the sculptures is not allowed. Also, note that the garden lacks formal paths, so wearing suitable footwear is advisable.
And there you have it, a glimpse into some of Milwaukee’s most captivating hidden gems for families!
From whimsical gardens to interactive museums, there’s always something new and exciting to explore in our city.
Don’t miss out on the endless possibilities for family fun in Milwaukee. Subscribe to our newsletter and get your hands on an exclusive list of “100 FREE Things to Do in Milwaukee” – your ultimate guide to budget-friendly adventures in the city.