Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Green Bay
Familiar yet different. Growing up in the Midwest where you can get to six states in a matter of hours, borders get a bit hazy when you’re looking for a random weekend getaway. Green Bay and Chicago are on different sections of Lake Michigan which lend themselves to a number of similarities but plenty of differences too. The watery landscapes are similar, you’ll still be greeted by that Midwest niceness and that amicable accent. It felt like home to me, but there’s plenty to offer a first-timer too.
Wisconsin has a number of options if you’re looking for somewhere to escape. Madison is the capital and Milwaukee’s the biggest metropolis, but Green Bay is the oldest settlement and the most well-known thanks to the Packers, which are basically synonymous. Oddly though, most people don’t know much beyond that. As one of the oldest teams in the NFL and the last small-town team in America, the whole city rallies around them in fanatical fashion you truly have to see to believe. The stadium is the city’s most famous landmark, but there are plenty of other quintessential and unique Midwest experiences to have in Green Bay (even when it’s not football season).
Take Advantage of Your Surroundings
The Midwest gets a lot of flak for being flat, but the lake is quite a beautiful backdrop. The De Pere Riverwalk connects Voyageur Park, the Fox River Trail, and downtown De Pere to the previously inaccessible Locktender’s Island through a well-landscaped pathway that showcases Wisconsin’s maritime history along with local wildlife and locks of love on the locks. There are kayak and SUP rentals to take down the breezy bay or bikes to ride along the waterfront.
The Botanical Garden is another one of the most photogenic spots in Green Bay. With secret gardens, ruins, a scavenger hunt for the kiddos, and an adorable hobbit house bathroom, you could spend all day getting wanderfully lost in the well-manicured gardens. Their current exhibit, Butterflies & Blooms, has over 400 colorful winged friends fluttering around in magical fashion.
It’s Not Easy Being Cheesy
The dairy state is known for their (wait for it…) legen-dairy cheese and although they’re trying to dispel the perception that they only have cheese, beer and brats (there are plenty of other food options too), you seriously could eat cheese 47 different ways (and all are delicious). The signature product is the cheese curds (they’ll squeak if they’re fresh), which you can even get from Scray’s drive through (yes, drive through cheese and ice cream is a thing), but it’s also a versatile food group with mac and cheese, dipping sauce for French fries and pretzels, cheddar dogs, nachos, grilled cheese, French onion soup, cheeseburgers, blue cheese steak sauce, cheesy bread, and cheddar popcorn just a few of the tasty treats. Scray is a fourth-generation, family owned artisanal cheesemaker where you can see the production process as it’s happening. They’re especially known for their smoked Gouda and aged cheddar.
Other local delicacies to seek out include a mish-mash of cuisines brought over by the original immigrant settlers. Booyah is a one-pot chicken and vegetable stew/soup that was introduced by the Belgians. Kringle is a deceivingly simple-looking Danish pastry actually takes three days to make and 37 layers that taste like a croissant meets a donut in the shape of a pretzel. Uncle Mike’s Bake Shop is the king of Kringle winning all the awards and offers a variety of flavors, including sea salt caramel pecan, the local favorite (but personally I preferred raspberry cream cheese). Old-school Supper Clubs are also a popular Wisconsin tradition with a handful scattered around Green Bay. For more new school dining, coffee flights (affogato!) and bubble waffles from the Exchange are one of the hip, new hangouts with artichoke dip and waffles a surprisingly delicious concoction.
Have Nostalgic Summertime Fun
Although it may be the only professional team, football’s not the only sport in town. The minor league baseball team, the Booyah (named after the soup) plays at the brand-new Capital Credit Union Park which hosts baseball, soccer, and concerts and events. Tickets start at just $8 for the backyard picnic area, while club seats will set you back just $45 which includes a full buffet dinner (soup and all) and three drinks, a steal for a night under the stadium lights. Even if you don’t care about baseball (guilty), it’s pretty entertaining that they have a dog to their balls and crowd participation games, and really anything can be made entertaining with alcohol.
Bay Beach Amusement Park is another cheap and nostalgic summertime outing (although I was picturing Bayside High from Saved by the Bell the whole time). A retro amusement park set along the lakeshore; you can ride vintage rides like the swings and tilt-a-whirl for .25 a ticket. Their wooden roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin was modeled after Elvis Presley’s favorite coaster in Memphis and the most you’ll pay is $1 a ride which makes it a super affordable family attraction.
Meet the Natives
Green Bay has a rich Native American history. The Oneida tribe migrated from the east coast, establishing the oldest and longest democratic society in North America. They helped influence the Constitution and were majorly into agriculture, focusing on the area’s three sister products: corn, squash, and beans. You can get an introduction to their way of life through a variety of cultural experiences from village re-enactments to tasting traditional food like corn soup, wild rice, and pumpkin bars, many of which are for sale at the Oneida Market along with white corn meats, cheeses, teas, herbs, homeopathic remedies, and aromatherapy.
Smoke dance performances are another impressive way to experience the Tribe through song and dance. Originally created to get them hyped up for war, pow wows are still held regularly and open to the public. They’re both spirituality-based parties and musical competitions. They also offer village tours where you can see how they lived in traditional longhouses, which each housed five clans under one roof to log cabins made out of a train trestle where they were migrated to after the European settlers in the late 1800s.
Get to Know the Other Locals
The NEW Zoo (Northeast Wisconsin, not brand new) is an AZA accredited facility which means they are a non-profit dedicated to wildlife research and field conservation. Beyond the normal exhibits, they have a number of unique hands-on and behind the scenes animal experiences with proceeds benefiting the mission. I did paint with the penguins (much better than paint with wine, although I don’t know why the two are mutually exclusive), but they also offer paint with giraffes (the most majestic of models), personalized feeding opportunities, and after-hours wildlife encounters like sleepovers at the zoo.
Attached is the Adventure Park, which has a dual zip line, high ropes course in three difficulty levels, fat bike rental, and ski/cross country trails for winter for a full day of excitement.
Root for the Home Team
You can’t come to Green Bay and not pay homage to the Packers. The only sports team to sell public stock giving most of the town co-ownership, that really changed the dynamic of the program with 360,000 local shareholders. You can watch them practice for free during the pre-season and the players will even ride kids bikes around town, making it feel like an inclusive community event. Titletown, next door, was built just for the fans, which has a replica field, playground, and entertainment complex with an ice rink and such that all can use. They’re even building townhomes as part of the expansion for those that want to live at the stadium (yes, they’re that obsessed).
Celebrating their 100th anniversary, you can go on a behind the scenes tour of the longest continuously operating stadium in NFL, which is pretty cool (even as a Bears fan). You’ll learn interesting tidbits like how they’re credited for coining the term “tailgating,” that they played the coldest game in NFL history and although people call them the “frozen tundra,” it isn’t really accurate as their field is heated underneath by fiber and sand like a European soccer field, how their uniforms are custom sewn by a staff of four tailors to perfectly fit each player, and how you can never go in the locker room because the players are always there (most teams practice elsewhere). The Hall of Fame is basically a love letter to legends like Vince Lombardi, Reggie White, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers for the years of tradition and the lore. And at least they give credit where credit’s due: noting that only the Bears are the only team to have more hall of fame players than they do.
Uncover Local Treasures
Green Bay has a number of entrepreneurs and passion projects unique to the area. For the gearheads, The Automobile Gallery was founded by the guy who invented the touchless car wash, a combination museum/gallery that used to be his personal collection of over 100 vintage beauties. You can see about 75 at any given time from one of the first electric cars to what was deemed the third ugliest in the world, a race car, and “daily drives of the times” as old as a 1912 Maxwell.
Across the street, Captain’s Walk Winery is one of seven local wineries housed in an almost 200-year old historic home. Known for their Italian reds and sweet fruity wines, sip and swirl to your heart’s content from the signature Midwest Moscato’s to drier dinner blends. You can tour the facility and see wine and hard ciders being made in the cellar right beneath your feet or relax in the upstairs ship themed lounge. It’s also the first stop on the haunted Green Bay ghost tour. If you’re more of a beer person, there are a handful of local breweries and taprooms around, Copper State being one of the favorites (hello Peanut Butter Porter).
Where to Stay: Aloft Green Bay
The millennial-centric Marriott chain offers fresh, vibrant vibe that’s intended to feel like a contemporary version of your own home. With amenities like a 24/7 gym, indoor pool, and craft cocktail bar, you can relax and unwind with easy access to downtown.
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