Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Try a Stand Up Paddleboard at the Lagoon

A stand up paddleboarder on Lake Champlain, Burlington VT
I recently visited Burlington, VT where stand up paddleboarding is all the rage.  I was wondering how hard it would be to find a spot to try it here in Milwaukee, and easily found a rental place at Veteran's Park on the lagoon.  Maybe you remember it as the place you used to rent paddle boats?  Well, now it's a franchise called Wheel Fun Rentals.  You can still find paddle boats, but now you have the access to kayaks, and stand up paddle boards too.  You can get a "daily deal" via jsonline and save 50% if you buy a voucher before Aug 17, 2013.  Pay $10 and get $20 value.

Price list and products offered for rental
They are open 10 am-sunset during the week and 9 am-sunset on the weekend.

Milwaukee Power Yoga is currently running a 5 week class that involves a combination of yoga and stand up paddle boards, similar to what you may have seen offered in Pewaukee by Koha Yoga.  These classes are offered Thursdays 6:30-7:45 and are $20 per class.  You can click on the Milwaukee Power Yoga link for more information or to preregister.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Milwaukee's Geocache Tour

The first geocache takes you to the lakefront and lagoon

I mentioned this Visit Milwaukee geocache tour in my list of Family Friendly Summer Activities,  but still hadn't done it myself.  The comments and the publicity it is getting got me totally hooked.  I'm a newcomer to geocaching, but it is lots of fun and we just use my iPhone to find caches, though a real gps device might be more accurate.  You can do it too.

If you're just getting started, you can create an account at  There are some short videos to watch that might make it a bit easier.  Then you can select the Milwaukee geocache tour, or any other geocache.  If you download the mobile app, you'll find there's a feature where you can find caches near you.  We found that there were even geocaches when we went to Japan!  This is a worldwide hobby and you may meet people from all over on your adventures.

So the Milwaukee tour has 15 different caches all around the city.  This is a good way for you to explore, as well as introduce the city to people who are visiting, or maybe spend a day with a younger person.  I do it with my son.  These are the neighborhoods where you can find a geocache:  Lakefront, Westown, Menomonee Valley, Brady Street, Clarke Square East Side, Third Ward, Walker's Point, Wauwatosa, East Town, Marquette University, Bay View, Water Street, North Point, and River West.  You don't have to do them all in a day.  Find the one you're most interested in doing (and there are user photos loaded to help you decide) and check it out.

There's another at Havenwoods State Park, and if this is your first attempt, you could start there.  They even give you a GPS to use.  Good luck on your hunt!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fascinating Front Yards and Garden Tours

We're fortunate to have some very creative people in our area.  They make the ordinary grassy front lawn look pretty lame by comparison.  Here are just a few spots I've been to lately.  The most recent was on the River West Secret Garden Tour held last weekend.  Darn it if you missed that one, but there are still a few garden tours left to see.  With the incredible rain we had early in the season, along with the sunshine now, the gardens are filled with flowers.  If you can't do a garden tour, you could take a drive to some of the unusual yards shown here in the photos.

2659 N. Humboldt in Riverwest Neighborhood
Shorewood is hosting a garden walk of seven private gardens in Shorewood. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 27. $10 at the gardens. Melinda Myers will answer questions at one of the gardens from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sponsored by the Friends of Shorewood DPW. Proceeds to go toward plantings in the village. (414) 305-8022 or

The inaugural East Side Garden Walk will feature up to two-dozen gardens in the area bordered by: North Avenue, Lake Michigan, Edgewood Avenue and the Milwaukee River
The diversity of the East Side is reflected in the diversity of its homes and gardens. The gardens, in various stages of development, will feature: native plants, annuals, perennials, roses, vegetables, shade gardens, container gardens, water features, and secret gardens
Date: Sunday, July 28
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission: Free to everyone Featured Attractions:
  • Maps for the event will be available at the North Point Lighthouse (2650 N Wahl Ave), and the Urban Ecology Center (1500 E Park Place) on the day of the tour, or click on their above link  for the preliminary map.
  • Vendors of gardening related items and Master Gardeners to answer questions located at the historic North Point Lighthouse (2650 N Wahl Ave.)
  • Educational programs, displays of rain gardens, native plants and community vegetable gardens at the Urban Ecology Center (1500 E. Park Pl)
  • Bicycle tours guided by Alderman Nic Kovac -3rd District at 9:45 A.M. from the Urban Ecology Center
    Additional Sponsors include: North Point Lighthouse, Urban Ecology Center and the Cambridge Woods Neighborhood Association
 You can also go to their Facebook page for more information.

Don't forget Alice's Garden is open every day.  It's 2 acres of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  If you have never been there during the peak summer months, you are truly missing out.  It's free.  You can bring a blanket or chair for a number of events on their calendar, or just go to walk the labyrinth that is full of healing plants.  They offer yoga, drum circles, cooking classes, gardening tips, and much more.  Every Wednesday there are guided walks through the Labyrinth.

Here are a few more fun yards you can drive by.  I keep these in mind when we have out of town visitors.  Lots of fun and laughs.
The Boat House at 3128 Cambridge.  You can see more photos at JSOnline

Corner of E. Lake Dr and Armour in Cudahy features Big Boy, the Hamburglar, and lots of bowling balls

The "witch's house"  at 7328 N. Beach Dr. in Fox Point filled with Mary Nohl's statues

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Some Biking Classes and Rides to Consider

I have always enjoyed riding a bike, but really never felt comfortable riding in traffic until I had to take a course while working for the Dept. of Transportation, through the League of American Bicyclists.  I learned so much that made me more aware of how to ride in traffic, and also made me a better driver around bikes, especially where there are a high number of bikes like in the campus areas of Milwaukee.  Now that there are so many bike lanes being added, a course in how to use them and how to bike in general would be a good idea for anyone.

The urban ecology centers offer a plethora of opportunities for biking.  I'll put an excerpt from their latest newsletter.  WP- Washington Park, MV- Menomonee Valley, RP-Riverside Park:

Pedaling Programs

Pedal Through Washington Park
If you're new to cycling, this is a great way to start! You'll learn safe cycling skills on the paved paths of Washington Park and its surrounding neighborhood.

Saturday, July 27th | 10 a.m. - noon
Click here for more info and to register.

Savvy City Cycling for Ladies (MV)
Hosted by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and targeted specifically at female riders, this class will begin with an indoor review of street riding best practices before heading outside for on-bike skills practice. We'll finish with an optional ride through the newly-opened Three Bridges Park after the class. BYOB(bike) and helmet, or borrow one from the Center. Gain the skills and confidence to go by bike!

Tuesday, July 23rd | 5:30 - 7 p.m.
Click here for more info and to register.

Tour de Ecology (RP)
Take a tour of all three branches of the Urban Ecology Center by bike! Riders will pedal along the Oak Leaf and Hank Aaron trails and return via city streets. Stop at each branch along the way and learn what makes each one unique!

Saturday, August 17th | 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Click here for more info and to register.

Bike the Hank Aaron State Trail (MV)
Explore the Menomonee Valley (including the brand new Three Bridges Park) via the Hank Aaron State Trail and discover all the Valley has to offer!

Saturday, August 24th | 10 - 11:30 a.m.
Click here for more info and to register.

Savvy City Cycling and Bike Tour (RP)
Put your new cycling skills to use! This class will begin indoors to review best street riding practices and then head outside for an on-bike skills practice and a relaxed ride to explore routes and trails found within 5 miles of the Riverside Park.

Saturday, September 7th | 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Click here for more info and to register.

Bike Kids of Wisconsin also has summer programs that are still ongoing.  Click on their link to see what a standard week looks like and what your child can learn.  It is all about biking, but more about using a bike as a means to have adventures.  Watching their Facebook page this summer has been fun because you can see how the bike camps make kids more independent and build confidence.

Another place you can go for rides with other cyclists is the Blue Ribbon Bike Rides every Tuesday night at 6 pm.  Meet at the Roman Coin, 1004 E. Brady St.  Hosted by Adam Baus, director of "The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes", they explore Milwaukee's bike lanes, trails, and streets.  A new route every week.  Helmets and Lights heavily encouraged.  And if you feel confident, you can join the Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes in August.

Tuesday is Ladies Night at the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective, another great resource for classes or help in doing maintenance on your bike.  Meet from 6:30-9 at 2910 W. Clybourn.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cool Off!

Summer heat is finally here and the humidity is high.  Do you have a local place you like to cool off?  We're checking out a different place each day this week.  Our favorite so far has been Schulz Aquatic Center at Lincoln Park.  If you go before noon with kids aged 7 and under, you get a deal on admission ($3.50 per person) and can use the pool all day.  The first 2 hours are in the shallow end of the pool (10am-noon), and then the rest of the pool is opened to the public at noon.  This might be a good chance to borrow a kid if you really want to cool off!  The older kids LOVE the slides there.  You have a choice of using a tube or sliding down on your own.  There is only one innertube for double riders...last year there were a few more, so that was disappointing for parent who want to ride down with younger kids.  You have to hang out and wait for the tube if you are desperate to ride double.

JSOnline did such a good job at listing absolutely every cooling off place, that I'll just put the link here so you can find some options in your neighborhood.  Hope you survive the summer heat!!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bookworm Gardens Day Trip

Bookworm Gardens is in Sheboygan, WI.  A friend of mine who is great with children told me that I had to go check this place out, and finally I did.  I will try not to gush too much about it, but I have to say it goes very high on my list of "OHMYGOSHWHATAFANTASTICPLACE!!!! "

Each little piece of the garden is right out of a book
If you like botanical gardens and enjoy reading children's books, this will please you on so many levels.  It is 2 lovely acres of wooded gardens with plenty of shade, picnic tables, and even a bridge over water filled with colorful fish.  There is no formal entry fee, but the recommended donation per person is $5, and they have donation boxes in several locations.  They do this so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy it.

Visitor hours are May 1-October 31, Monday - Saturday 10-4 PM, Sunday 12-4 PM
Tuesday and Thursday evenings open until 8 PM from June 15-August 31.

There are pathways through the garden that lead you to different book areas.  You can pick up a laminated children's book from a little book box, and sit in the shade and read it to your child (or just yourself), and then explore the garden space where it is located.  There are dress-up opportunities, pretend tea parties, and even toys and stuffed animals.  The gift shop has bathrooms, air conditioning, water fountains, and a wide selection of children's books and rocking chairs too.

I took my son and grandson.  They climbed into the wagon (Little House on the Prairie), hid in Pooh's treehouse, checked out Farmer MacGregor's shed (Peter Rabbit), and raked the garden and served tea at the Japanese house.  I think the favorite place was the bridge where you get an up close view of koi and other varieties of fish.

If you're interested in plant identification, there are also plenty of plaques telling you the species or variety of plants used throughout the garden.  You don't really need a child to enjoy this lovely space!

Books can be found in these little book boxes throughout the park

Landscaping is spectacular and was done with donations

There are lots of hints about what book is being presented

Jack and the Beanstalk

Gift shop has a relaxing reading room

Monday, July 15, 2013

Work happening on the Milwaukee River Greenway

Many groups have been working since about 2010 to expand the riverfront trails along the Milwaukee river.  It's fast becoming a reality and you can see work happening now, with new trails potentially opening later this year.  You can take a virtual tour of the proposed greenway that is currently being made.  To view projects by parks/regions, you can go to the link at Milwaukee Greenway.  Most of these trails have existed for years, but this year some were under water.  Others are being moved off of private property.

A few months ago, I saw the new trees planted along the river on the Milwaukee River Parkway.  Then
I hiked a portion of this near the Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center and saw the work that is happening near that park with the clearing of overgrowth.  It's exciting to see so many new trees being planted, as well as finding new trails.
Many new trees planted on Milwaukee River Parkway
There hasn't been a lot of information published about the ongoing work, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.  You really just need to get out there and see it for yourself.  One thing that has upset many bicyclists, is that the new trails won't allow bikes.  This trail will be just for pedestrians.  It does run parallel to the Oak Leaf trail in many spots.  After seeing what the heavy rains did to erode the trail, I can't imagine it would be a good place for bikes at this time anyway.  I encourage you to go take a look!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Many Ways to Enjoy the Milwaukee River Walk

I last wrote about the River Walk back when it was still frozen over.  Now it's summertime and the outdoor seating is available all along the river.  This might be a good time for you to check out the river again.  There's a list of businesses where you can start, or choose as destinations.  Be sure to check this link before you make your plans, because it has a lot of additional business links that can help you check opening times, specials, and events.  They also have addresses so if you are unsure where to find something, this may help.

Of course, I'm partial to the riverwalk section in the Third Ward, but the walk is actually 3 miles long, and includes sections along the beer line, the downtown, and the third ward, which can be seen on this map.  You don't really have to have a destination in mind.  If you don't mind all the street crossings, this is a great place to take a walk and get some exercise.

If you want to try some food along the way, the Milwaukee Food Tour is a great way to experience the river walk and third ward.  They walk a total distance of 1 mile and each stop is about 15-20 minutes.  I've done their photo walk tour and learned a lot about the culture and architecture of the buildings on the route.  Expect more than just eating.  This program receives excellent reviews.  You can buy tickets at their website.

This is also an excellent time of year to enjoy a boat ride starting along the river walk. You can rent your own pontoon boat with Edelweiss.  Rates vary by number of hours and day of week.  It can hold up to 10 passengers and you are the pilot.  You must be 23 and have a valid driver's license.

There are guided boat tours nearly every day of the week, and the emphasis of the tour changes, so be sure to find something that suits the needs of your group. There are 3 boat vendors in Milwaukee, and I've listed them below with links.  Watch groupon for local deals on boat tours too.

 Riverwalk Boat Tours & Rentals is at Pere Marquette Park.  They do pub crawls, brewery tours, and even firework tours while the festivals are on.

 Milwaukee Boat Line does the river, harbor, and lake Michigan.  They can be found on the river walk at Michigan St.

The Milwaukee River Cruise line has a line of tours that are kid friendly.  Be sure to check out the information on the Caribbean Pirate cruise if you have kids that enjoy going costumed.  The 90 minute tour includes food that kids would eat, as well as an opportunity to defend the vessel from pirates.  These tours depart from 205 W. Highland Avenue.  They also have one of the newest largest double decker sightseeing boat.

This is also the season to watch rowing clubs train.  Grab a drink and a seat and cheer them on.  Last year we watched the Milwaukee River Challenge and it was a lot of fun.  If you want to see it this September, you can find more information on the Milwaukee River Challenge link.  You can even take lessons at the Milwaukee Rowing Club.

How about renting a kayak, canoe, or standup paddle board?  Laacke & Joys rents these craft right on the river, directly behind their store.  Milwaukee Kayak Company also rents this type of equipment. You can also take a group kayak tour with Milwaukee Kayak Company.  Be sure to check their blog for some interesting information about how they got started.  Although they don't have a put-in site on the riverwalk, you can also borrow kayaks at no cost at the Urban Ecology Center, with a membership and a boat safety course.  In all cases, it's best to make a reservation to ensure you get the vessel you want at the time you want it.

No matter how you visit, the river walk is fun to see and experience during the summer.  I hope you'll find a time and way to do it with your family!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Carver Park for a little Fun in the Sun

Carver Park was recommended in a Wisconsin travel book I was reading, so naturally I was a bit curious about what made it stand out from other fantastic parks in the area.  This is a large park right next to the freeway, that kind of separates the neighborhood from the cars.

It has a large play structure unlike any I've seen around town.  If you have a kid that likes slides, this is the place to go!  I think we counted 6 different slides, but count them yourself and see what you come up with.  When I asked the kids what they liked best about the park, they all said the water play area was the best!  It wasn't turned on when we were there, because it was early in June, but it should be on now.  Bring all your beach stuff too because the play surface is sand.  There's plenty of it, but no shovels or buckets.  You'll need to bring your own.  I think a great park like this will keep your kids busy for several hours.  There are some shaded benches for parents who just want to read a book too.

You can use the playground anytime during daylight hours.  There's a nice picnic pavilion, so bring a lunch and stay awhile.  The hours for the 'water playground' are 11-5 daily.  For a schedule and locations of other splash pads and water playgrounds, check the county link or the city of Milwaukee link.

Tot Lot

Water playground

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bristol Renaissance Faire- Day Trip

This is opening weekend for the Bristol Renaissance Faire near the WI/IL border, and kids are free with every paying adult.  Adult tickets are $15 this weekend with the coupon below.  You can also check their website for deals on tickets.  This is a great way to spend the day with your family enjoying characters in costume from the Renaissance period.  I went last summer with my son and had a great time.  We already have tickets to go again this summer.

They will be open from July 6- September 2, but only on the weekends.  The faire is full of good fun.  There are musicians, performers, fairies, and the entire royal family.  You can watch a stage production.  Or maybe you'd like to play games of skill or go on rides from that era.  You can find tasty food like turkey legs, or you can bring your own picnic lunch and sit down at a table or spread a blanket.  There will be jousting- daring men on horseback!  Plan to stay at least 3 hours so you can really enjoy everything there is to see.  The grounds are quite large.  Even if it is hot, there are shade trees.  Here are some photos to give you a taste of what you could see, although the performers change from year to year.

You'll see lots of pretty ladies in costume

A variety of musicians perform at various small stages

The costumed fairies will be out dancing and playing

Try your skill at shooting a cross bow

The jousting is spectacular