Road trip: Milwaukee and Kenosha

To mark the middle of our Spring Break week, we dropped everything and headed north to Wisconsin for the day. We told the kids to bring a couple books, their cameras, and their appetites and off we went to Milwaukee with a side stop in Kenosha.

Milwaukee is about 2 hours or so north of Chicago, so it’s an easy day-trip for us to make. And why go north during Spring Break? A few reasons:

1. Cheese. Wisconsin is the happy home of seriously decadent cheese, bacon and sausage. Sure, you can buy a brick at your supermarket. But isn’t it more fun to buy a 9-year-aged sharp cheddar from a castle?


That’s the Mars Cheese Castle. Right off the interstate on the way north, it draws my family like a siren every time we head that way. If you like cheese — any kind of cheese — they have it, along with wines, sausage, etc. And who can beat a place where a giant mouse and a knight greet you as you walk in the door?


2. Bacon. Right around the corner from the Cheese Castle is a tiny little shop.


Don’t be deceived by its looks. It may not be a castle, but in my opinion, Bobby Nelson’s place has the best bacon ever. It’s huge, thick, crazy good. Makes the stuff you get at the grocery store look and taste like shoe leather. It’s a must-stop for us anytime we head north.

3. Kenosha. A town that sits right on the shores of Lake Michigan, Kenosha has an element of quirky artistry. For example, we saw fantastic murals painted on the sides of everyday buildings. Here’s my favorite:


We ate breakfast at Frank’s Diner, a local favorite serving food out of a converted vintage train car. It was profiled on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” a few years ago — and it’s ridiculous how small it is on the inside. It’s such a tight squeeze that the wait staff routinely yell out to folks waiting to be seated to move down, close the door, and (my favorite) “Cheeks against the wall!”

But the food? Fabulous. Huge enough portions to feed my teen and all of it delicious. The serving staff? Hysterical. It’s like getting dinner and show all at the same time.

There’s even a velodrome in Kenosha. Who knew?

4. Milwaukee Art Museum. The main reason we went north was to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum — specifically, their interactive exhibit on animation. They interviewed artists, editors, and directors from Pixar and showed how animators draw inspiration from great works of art. The kids could see how flip books worked and then draw their own.



They could hear about how integral the process of storyboarding is to getting the plot down — and then try it for themselves.



And the best part — they could make their own animated video using a simple background and some props and email it home. We spent hours in there.


Here’s my pro-tip for keeping school-aged kids involved and focused when they visit a museum: let them have a camera of their own to document whatever strikes their fancy. We’ve found used digital cameras on Freecycle and eBay for our younger kids, because if they lose it, drop it, or otherwise break it, it’s not a heart-breakingly expensive loss.

We then wandered the halls of the museum and let the kids take pictures. It’s eye-opening and fascinating to see what they capture.

Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum -- photo by S

Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum — photo by S

Chihuly Sighting! -- photo by M

Chihuly Sighting! — photo by M

E thought this painting of a woman looked like me -- photo by E

E thought this painting of a woman looked like me — photo by E

Everyone took a pic of the Warhol soup cans -- photo by C

Everyone took a pic of the Warhol soup cans — photo by C

Georgia O'Keefe -- photo by me

Georgia O’Keefe — photo by me

Milwaukee art museumCphotomuseum

As we were leaving, it was time for the “sails” outside the museum to close down for the evening. It’s a pretty fantastic feat of engineering and art, all right on the coast of Lake Michigan.

Museum sail

We’re planning to return to Kenosha and Milwaukee in the summer to take advantage of all the outdoor fun (like Summerfest) that they have planned.

And we’ll probably need more cheese and bacon by then, I’m sure.


About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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33 Responses to Road trip: Milwaukee and Kenosha

  1. Oh you know I love this post!!! Giving us Wisconsinites a good name with our cheese and all! You are not going to believe this though….I have never seen the Mars Cheese Castle. Is it on 41 or 43? The name sounds familiar but I know that I have never seen this building! I love the Milwaukee Art Museum and can not wait until all of my kids are of the proper age to take and spend a day there! Also, I have never eaten at Frank’s Diner. I always find it amazing how many things in my state that I often never heard of or probably overlook. We will definitely have to eat there the next time we drive through!

    • We routinely road-trip for cheese and bacon to your great state. There’s a huge difference in taste, I think.

      Mars Cheese Castle is on I-94 (on the right as you head south). It’s just south of Racine. It’s a new building, put up in the last year or so.

      Frank’s Diner is really fun — but check their website before you go for hours, etc. There’s pretty much always a line. For parties of 5 or more, you need a reservation. And it’s cash only. Great place.

      We had a blast at the museum. Can’t wait to go back in the spring.

      • go Mama O says:

        Cool – I have to agree with Melissa, I love the shout out to Wisconsin! I have never done the Cheese Castle or Frank’s Diner yet. We’ll add it to our road trip list. Great pictures! The Art Museum sure is beautiful. I took my kids there on a free admission day, but they didn’t seem old enough to appreciate it.

      • Love Wisconsin! Mars Cheese Castle is awesome — you’ll love it. Lots of sampling, silly and whimsical gifts — it’s really fun. Good cheese too.

        I think you’ll like Franks too — it’s a tight squeeze but the wait staff and line cooks are so funny and very nice. It’s a fun stop for sure.

        I really did like that animation exhibit — I think it’d be great for preschool-age on up. Cool place, for sure!

  2. You guys had a wonderful time! WOW! so lucky, all of you just packed and went on this trip together. I can’t wait for my son to be older, so we can travel like this! Cheese and Bacon: YUMMY! 🙂 & do you think the woman in the picture looks like you?

    • Traveling with the kids is a whole different world now. It used to take me an entire day to pack for a quick trip to my parents– which probably says a lot about my lack of packing skills! Now we just tell them to grab some stuff and let’s go.

      I know it’s not these are the healthiest foods, but man, that cheese and bacon is to die for. So good.

      I don’t really think that woman in the painting looks like me. I’ve got frizzier hair, glasses, blue eyes. But maybe that expression reminds her of me — I think she looks like she’s trying to find her kids in a crowd. Probably reading into that! 🙂

      • 🙂 You are right about taking a complete day to pack to go to the parents. My parents live 5 minutes away by car from our house and getting there can takes us at least 30 to 45 minutes ha!ha! (Maybe I pack too much!) 😉 I guess there had to be something about the picture that reminded him of you! 🙂

      • I think packing with kids is tricky because you have to make sure you have enough diapers, sippy cups, snacks, little toys, etc etc to get there and back without a meltdown (on the kids’ part and my own!). Plus the whole time you’re packing up, you have to keep track of where your child is. Tricky!

  3. mtetar says:

    A post of great lessons, inspiration, and worth sharing. The place is definitely a recommendation. Kindly post your next trip there. You and your family Be Blessed, Joan. Mtetar

  4. Hey! That’s my hometown. Check out Honeypie in Bayview for some killer pies and cupcakes next time. To die for!

    • Hey — that’s awesome! I love recommendations from folks who really know! And cupcakes are right up our alley (which I’m sure you guessed by the amount of sugary desserts I post about!). Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Micha says:

    Bacon!! Thanks for sharing…I love living vicariously through day-trippers!

  6. I love this post. The pictures taken by your kids are really amazing. Seeing the info about Milwaukee and Kenosha makes me long to see my grandparents in Gurnee. Have you ever ventured to Leon’s in Milwaukee for their frozen custard? This stop is a family tradition for us that dates back more years than I care to admit. When we lived in Illinois it was one of our all time favorite summer treats. Here’s the link to the location It is well worth the visit for a giant vanilla custard cone!! I can’t wait to go there in June!

    • Thanks, Renee! I have close friends who live in Gurnee (small world!).

      Leon’s, hmm? We haven’t tried that yet, but I’m making a list of places we need to go when we visit again in the summer. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. A really good idea re the cameras.

  8. daniellajoe says:

    I love road trips and your detailed description made me feel like i was on this trip too 🙂 I want to go to the Mars Castle….

  9. amyp22 says:

    I am so glad to know we are not the only family who has visited the Cheese Castle. The art museum looks like much more fun than the Harley-Davidson Museum and Jelly Belly tour. Glad you all got to get out a little.

    • Love that Cheese Castle! We visit friends in Gurnee or go to Great America …and then we head over the border and get cheese and bacon. Seriously addicted…

      I can’t tell you the number of times we have just missed the Jelly Belly tour. It’s embarrassing…. Did you think it was particularly cool?

      • amyp22 says:

        We really get a kick out of learning about interesting company facts. Our youngest and middle got the most out of it. Our teen was a little too old and slightly embarrassed that I was able to answer all the tour questions correctly.

        If you’re in the area, and have the time, it’s a fun time and free. The gift shop is fun too and there are lots of oops beans at really low prices.

      • That settles it — we have to go. Cheap jelly bellies and getting the chance to be embarrassing to my kids? I’m so there!

  10. Yay! What a great trip! As someone who was born in Milwaukee, and spent most of her life living in Wisconsin, excellent choice for spring break destination! Personally I think all spring breaks should involve cheese and bacon! 🙂

    • Kenley! You must be a kindred soul! I completely agree that “all spring breaks should involve cheese and bacon.” And we love Wisconsin — seems like any break we get, we head north!

  11. Lisette says:

    Looks like it was a fun filled day!

  12. What a fun trip! I love the pictures that the kids took 🙂 We used to drive up to Kenosha every once in a while when I lived in Chicago, you brought back fond memories! My sister-in-law also used to live in Milwaukee, and every time we visited, we would go and eat at Saz’s State House. Really good BBQ, and the best sour cream and chive fries!

    • I’m putting Saz’s on the growing list of places to check out in Milwaukee. BBQ always calls my name….

      I never realized that you lived here! (Maybe you mentioned it and I spaced it? Totally possible.) Small world!

      • I did my undergrad and med school at Northwestern…LOVED Chicago!! We’ve talked about living there, but I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to cold weather 🙂

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