There’s one place in the Upper Midwest that many Minnesotans love to hate. There’s no reason to despise this modest city of just over 100,000 friendly residents. These neighbors tend to their yards, enjoy artistic and cultural events and support their local sports teams. And yet many Minnesotans continue to grumble about this lovely destination less than a five hour drive away, visiting it only begrudgingly if they have reason. That reason is professional football because I’m talking about Green Bay, Wis.
As a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan who has called Minnesota home for more than two decades, I understand the rivalry. As a season ticketholder to Lambeau Field, I have seen my fair share of Packers-Vikings escapades (including Randy Moss’ faux mooning and two ties in recent years). As a frequent visitor to Green Bay, I encourage anyone who hasn’t explored the area to give it a chance. Here’s a Green Bay game plan for a quick weekend trip or midweek getaway:
It’s impossible to mention Green Bay without connecting it to football, to the Packers and to Lambeau Field. So I won’t. Celebrating its 100th season this year, the Packers are a BIG DEAL in the area, which means big business. The team’s history and footprint in the area loom large and there are plenty of ways to geek out on that fandom. From behind-the-scenes tours of Lambeau Field that get you on the field and into a luxury suite (but not in the players’ locker room) to shopping for Packers-branded items from jerseys to Crock-pots to toothbrushes at the 21,500-square-foot Packers Pro-Shop, immersing yourself in the franchise can be overwhelming and expensive. But there are alternatives. Walk around the exterior of the stadium and tailgating parking lots for free, or check out the new Titletown District for free entertainment. And if you’re lucky enough to have tickets to a home game at Lambeau, save plenty of time to park on a nearby residential street, walk to the stadium, hope for a deafening jet plane flyover at the end of the “Star Spangled Banner” at kickoff and cheer on your team.
EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS
Wisconsinites pride themselves on enjoying the great outdoors. They’ll remind you time and again that Lambeau Field is an open-air stadium, no retractable roof available. There are parks to bike and hike, beaches to swim, forests to explore.
Do not miss a visit to Bay Beach Amusement Park, one of Green Bay’s absolute gems. Located on the shoreline of the bay the city is named for, the municipal park features about a dozen rides such for ages toddlers to adults. For the children, there are trains that traverse the grounds and pint-sized rides. For teens and adults, there’s a giant slide, merry-go-round, flying swings, the Zippin Pippin roller coaster and a new Ferris wheel that offers views of the bay. Far from a tourist trap that has seen better days, this affordable park continues to upgrade and expand yet maintain its charm (but the secret is out and it is a popular spot on weekends). Tickets are just 25-cents each and most rides are 2-3 tickets. A few years back I bought $10 worth of tickets and we’re still using them up. Other bonuses: parking and entry are free; the tickets don’t expire (or haven’t in years) and there are plenty of picnic areas to pack a lunch and enjoy the day. The nearby Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and Nature Center are worth a visit too and make for a full day of entertainment. If the animal lovers in your group are looking for more, consider the NEW Zoo (Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo) on the grounds of the Brown County Reforestation Camp.
CONSIDER THE CULINARY SCENE
Every destination has its signature foods, Green Bay included. Booya, a version of chicken stew, is on the menu at many restaurants as well as a popular dish offered at weekend church picnics and fundraisers. Cheese curds come in a multitude of varieties on many menus too (white cheese, yellow cheese, jalepeno-flavored and many combinations beyond that). Of course there are signature brews with taprooms like Hinterland Brewery and Titletown Brewing and novelty concoctions like the outrageous Bloody Mary that I sampled this summer on a media tour at Anduzzi’s Sports Club. There’s an emerging wine culture to the north of Green Bay bordering on Door County, including 44th Parallel Wineries. I can’t recommend the few distilleries yet in the area, however.
There are foods that I always pack a cooler for too to bring back across the border like they are contraband because they are so specialized. If you’re going to Lambeau, stopy by Kroll’s for a burger. Make sure to stop at Chili John’s for remarkable chili, Zesty’s Frozen Custard for heart-stopping cheese curds and frozen custard cones and shakes, Uncle Mike’s award-winning kringle (come hungry as you’ll fill up on the free samples before you even buy anything), and Aldo’s Pizza, which many residents and visitors have been calling their favorite pizza place for more than four decades. Many of these locations do offer shipping options in case you finish up your purchases on your trip home.
If you want to live like a local, consider Green Bay’s Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from May to October. Rivaling St. Paul’s popular attraction, Green Bay’s robust market features more than 150 vendors spread out along six blocks offering produce, gifts, pet products, and live music.
Overall, there’s a lot to love in Green Bay. After a visit, those Minnesotans who love to hate the city may have a change of heart.
Amy Nelson is the editor of Spaces.