Summer is perfect and yet so fleeting here in Wisconsin. So we try to stuff as much outdoor fun as possible into three months. I’m sure this will be even more intense once the kids are in school.
I’ve realized in the past year that it’s not only OK but good not to plan something for every day of the week. Our schedule fills up without a whole lot of effort, and on days when we have nothing planned I’m either relieved to have no pressure or appreciative of the opportunity for spontaneity.
On the flip side, it’s frustrating when activities we’ve been wanting to do slip off our radar because of lack of planning.
So this summer, I want to strike a balance between filling our days with friends and fun and taking a break to relax in our backyard. I want to be intentional about hitting up certain places and activities, and also leave room for impromptu whimsy. So I’m creating a list to help guide my planning in both areas, as well as a few other categories.
Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.
Weekday (non-workday) adventures with the kids and friends.
1. Milwaukee County Zoo. We got a zoo pass a few weeks ago and have used it three times already. I love our zoo as much as the kids do, and many of our friends do too, so I foresee this as a default activity on nice days.
2. Imagination Station. This fully accessible playground in Oconomowoc looks rockin’.
3. Farmers markets. Corban and I had a lovely date at the Tosa market one Saturday morning last fall, making me realize farmers markets are excellent spots for one-on-one kid time. This season I’d like to hit up Tosa again (live music, and it’s near train tracks), plus New Berlin (near a playground), Waukesha (on a river) and West Allis (huge). Here’s a map of all the markets in southeastern Wisconsin.
4. Urban Ecology Center. Playground, nature center with turtles and snakes, trails and public art. Sounds perfect (minus the snakes, but Corban will love that).
5. Fox Brook Park. This Waukesha County Park has a lovely little beach and playground.
6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.
7. Walk the Milwaukee Riverwalk and meet Peter for lunch at Bartolotta’s Downtown Kitchen.
8. Fox and Branch concert. This kid-centric music duo has a regular lineup of free concerts.
9. Wehr Nature Center. Hiked there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it is an oasis.
10. Splash pads/pools. There are a bunch of options (this map isn’t even up to date), but I’d like to try tot time at David F. Schulz Aquatic Center, Cool Waters Family Aquatic Center (they open at 10 a.m., earlier than many pools) and any splash pad in our vicinity. We just finished a much-needed session of swim lessons for Corban so I want to keep him in the water this summer.
Activities at home
Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.
11. Backyard camping. Complete with campfire and s’mores. The sleeping part could very well be disastrous, but in that case we’re only a few feet from our beds.
12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?
13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.
14. Balloon ping pong.
15. Marble race track. Judging by how much they love the golf ball tracks at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, both kids would go crazy for this.
16. Treasure hunt. Need to figure out the details of this.
17. Make popsicles.
18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.
19. Yoga. Or at least play around with some kid-friendly poses.
20. Neighborhood bonfire.
21. Outdoor movie night. After the kids go to bed.
Forget bedtime. It’s hard to resist all these fun summer weeknight activities.
23. Cheer on our church’s softball team, of which Peter is a member.
24. New Berlin Concerts at City Center. Haven’t made it to one of these free summer Wednesday night concerts yet.
25. NEWaukee Night Market. Music, art, food, etc. in the streets of downtown Milwaukee, four Wednesdays this summer.
26. River Rhythms. Free Wednesday night concerts at Pere Marquette Park. Somehow, I’ve never been to this. The lineup is excellent. (Side note, why is everything on Wednesday night?!)
Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.
27. Pewaukee Beach. Do some late afternoon beach bumming then grab dinner by the water.
28. John’s Drive-In. Just heard about this place, but a throwback spot with root beer floats sounds right up our alley!
30. Old World Wisconsin. We have never been to this step back in time. Might as well go while both kids are still under 4 (a.k.a. free).
31. Canoe the Milwaukee River. It’s worth it to join the Urban Ecology Center simply for the benefit of free canoe, kayak, bike (and more) rentals.
32. Green Meadows Petting Farm. A preschooler’s paradise.
33. Berry picking. We still have strawberries in the freezer from Barthel Fruit Farm last June. Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t mind going back this year, or heading up north a bit to pick blueberries.
34. Bastille Days. In the city of festivals, I love that this one is a true street festival, with free entertainment and a mini-Eiffel Tower. And beignets.
35. Brewers game. Would love to take the kids now that they’re old enough to get excited about it. Corban went to one (vs. Cardinals) game so far this year and loved it.
36. Wisconsin State Fair. I love everything about it.
Adult time, just the two of us or with friends.
39. Brenner Brewing Co. tour. I bought a Groupon for this, so we definitely need to check out this new-ish art-centric brewery.
40. Art Bus. Never done this, but have heard it’s a good time.
41. Biloba Brewing Co. Family-owned craft brewery in Brookfield.
42. Escape MKE. Another Groupon purchase. This is a timed mission where you’re locked in a room with a challenge to accomplish. Teamwork!
43. Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. We have tickets so need to go to a performance in June.
Because there are things I like to do that Peter doesn’t.
44. Summerfest. We’ll be out of town for more than half the festival this year, but there are bands I wouldn’t mind seeing every night that we will be in town (not that that’s feasible…). Let me know if you’re game for some music!
45. Massage. I now have two gift certificates for massages, and I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to carve out time for myself to use them. So it’s on the list.
46. Bike the New Berlin Trail. It’s been a long time since I’ve biked, but I’m itching to get out there once again.
Our kids are not at great ages to travel, but we’re doing it anyway.
47. Door County. Booked! Peter and I have our first solo getaway planned since we became parents. Can. Not. Wait. We are staying at an adults-only B&B/lodge in Ephraim, Wis.
48. Camping. Ideally, this will happen twice: mid-summer via a canoe trip on the Lower Wisconsin River (a.k.a. paradise. It is beautiful.) and early fall with a group from church.
49. Branson, Mo. Family reunion time. Waterpark. Theme park. Hiking. Cousins karaoke night. Etc.
50. Colorado. A house rental impulse buy with friends at a live auction, but I don’t think we’ll regret it.
Would you look at that, an even 50!
I know that’s a lot, and I don’t expect to do it all. I’d just like to consult this list as we plan out our summer and as we find ourselves with free days. Nothing wrong with plain old playing with toys at home or walking to the neighborhood parks, but Corban and Mara do a LOT of that, especially when I’m at work, so this is my counter to that.
Bonus: I didn’t put this on the list because we’re doing it today, but hiking and picnicking at Minooka Park is also a great summer activity!
More resources: 50 things to do in Lake Country this summer | 100 things to do in Wisconsin this summer | Things to do for free or under $5 with kids in Milwaukee | 50 family fun spring break ideas | 13 rooftop spots to check out
What’s on your summer to do list? What else should I add to mine?