Photo by Chris Rand
Downtown Green Bay skyline
The downtown riverfront at night
Few Minnesotans know much about Green Bay, other than the fact that it is the home of the Vikings archrival Green Bay Packers. But if you look past football, you’ll see that Green Bay—home to roughly 100,000 people, making it the third largest city in Wisconsin—has evolved beyond its storied football past to become a relevant Midwestern metropolis.
An easy four and a half hour drive east of the Twin Cities, a weekend getaway in Green Bay is a nice alternative to your typical cabin retreat. With the Fox River running through the center of town, watersports are a viable option during the summer months, and the nicest of hotels hover at about $100 during the off-season. The straight shot on Highway 29 from I-94E (the exit just past Menomonie comes up fast, so pay attention) offers plenty of stops along the way where you can load up on Wisconsin cheese and local beer—some of which, such as the award-winning and highly coveted New Glarus, is available only once you cross the border.
Upon arrival in Titletown, you’ll quickly see why football has been at the heart of the city for decades. Located just off the highway, towering over the homes that surround it, stands Lambeau Field. The second tallest building in Green Bay, the stadium, along with the hospital and the nearby cathedral, is one of the more recognizable components of Green Bay’s so-called “skyline.” Even if you bleed purple, a trip to Green Bay wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Lambeau for a photo and a beer. Whether you choose to peruse the Packers Hall of Fame is up to you, but a New Glarus Spotted Cow at Curly’s Pub, located within the atrium of the stadium, is a must. Hold your appetite, however, because across the street from Lambeau is the locally famous Kroll’s West Restaurant. Throw caution (and your cholesterol) to the wind and order the cheese curds, a butter burger, and a chocolate malt—your taste buds will be in grease- and dairy-filled ecstasy. For a healthier option, a mere three miles east toward the river is Green Bay’s most notable organic eatery, The Urban Frog. Be sure to pick up a pack of its peanut butter energy balls for snacking during the remainder of your trip.
With the requisite football stop out of the way, the rest of your time in Green Bay should center on the company you plan to keep. If the kids are in tow, head east to get “all shook up” on Elvis Presley’s favorite rollercoaster, which was transplanted from Memphis, Tennessee, to Green Bay in 2011. Located within Bay Beach—a 1950s-era amusement park that has no parking fees, no admission fees, and rides for a mere $1—stands the Zippin Pippin, along with old-school swings, giant slides, a Tilt-a-Whirl, and a Scrambler. For a more zen retreat, hit the Botanical Garden of Green Bay or plan a walk along the 25-mile recreational Fox River Trail that runs parallel to the south-to-north-flowing river. (Impress other walkers with this local fun fact: The Fox River is one of the few rivers in the world—the Nile is another—that flows in this reverse direction.) For a closer look at the river, hop aboard the Foxy Lady Yacht, which makes daily trips down the river and has dinner and drink cruises in the evening.
If you prefer land over sea, Green Bay’s notable Titletown Brewing Company, located along the river in a restored railroad depot, is the perfect spot to stop and sample some locally crafted brew. And in true Green Bay fashion, there’s a giant Packer statue, which will soon be repainted to honor the recently retired (and Dancing with the Stars champ) Donald Driver, alongside the patio. Just across the street is another popular Green Bay brewery and restaurant, known for its hoppy IPA and fresh, multicultural approach to fine cuisine. Hinterland, the first in a growing line of restaurants to start to push the envelope in local dining, supports local farmers and offers such fare as elk meatballs, a stout barbecue-glazed pork loin, and a Wisconsin cheese and charcuterie plate—natch. The kitchen and this new caliber of food were so well received that chef Ben Raupp recently left Hinterland to open S.A.L.T., another foodie favorite, in the nearby town of De Pere. One bite of those loaded fries—complete with melted cheese curds and bacon gravy (hey, no one ever said it would be a healthy weekend!)—and you’ll wish you never had to leave.
At least until football season starts.
Where to Stay
Hotel options are of the generic sort, but some provide more local flair than others.
Hyatt on Main: Located in the heart of downtown Green Bay within walking distance of nightlife and restaurants such as KoKo’s and the Black & Tan Grille, this recently remodeled hotel is the closest you’ll find to luxury in the city. 333 Main St., 920-432-1234, greenbay.hyatt.com
Radisson Hotel: Across from the Green Bay airport, this hotel is also conveniently attached to the Oneida Bingo and Casino, which is run by the Oneida Tribe. The hotel has a corresponding lodge-like lobby and newly renovated rooms, creating the perfect rustic yet modern setting. 2040 Airport Dr., 920-494-7300, radisson.com
Comfort Suites: Ideal for families, the Comfort Suites water park splash area is enough to keep the kids busy while you unwind from a day of rollercoasters and river rides. 1951 Bond St., 920-499-7449, comfortsuitesgb.com
Tundra Lodge: You know you’re close to Lambeau when the streets are named after former Packers. This lodge-like hotel, located on Lombardi Avenue, boasts an indoor water park that rivals those found in the Dells, but with a special Northwoods flair. 865 Lombardi Ave., 920-405-8700, tundralodge.com
Make your trip educational by dropping in at these notable historical stops.
Hazelwood Historic House Museum: Built in 1837 along the Fox River, the home was constructed with nautical transit in mind. Guides give a thorough history of the nearby Fox River’s role in the trading industry through the story of the family who owned the home for more than 100 years. The jury is still out on whether or not the house is actually haunted.
Heritage Hill State Park: Located along the Fox River, the 50-acre park includes paved roads leading to several authentic buildings—including five on the National Register—and is filled with volunteers dressed in authentic clothing from Green Bay’s beginnings. Don’t miss the Fur Trader’s Cabin, where kids can play with real pelts and talk to a trader about how fur trading improved the relationship between the Native Americans and the white settlers in the area.
Meyer Theatre: Ghosts have been rumored to live among the textured plaster walls, elaborate gold-leaf-clad columns, and colorfully painted statues at this Spanish–styled theater downtown. In the theater’s heyday, it hosted Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Cash. If you appreciate the likes of the Twin Cities’ Heights Theatre, a trip to the Meyer Theatre is a must.