When family finances get tight, the first thing to go from the budget is usually entertainment. After all, admission fees can put a major dent in your wallet when you have to pay for the entire family. Thankfully Wisconsin has plenty of exciting and enriching activities that’ll cost you no more than the price of a picnic lunch and the gas it takes to drive there.
Bring your child’s favorite book and find a comfy outdoor spot in one of the garden’s many nooks and crannies to read with them in a literary wonderland. Over 60 children’s books are represented in this picturesque garden with a literary theme. More than just a pretty garden to admire, Bookworm has plenty for kids to do, like finding hidden characters and messages from children’s tales, building fairy houses in the woods and building houses from straw, wood and brick for the Three Little Pigs.
Location: 1415 Campus Drive, Sheboygan, WI 53081
Sure, you can find beautiful forests and hiking trails in pretty much any state park in Wisconsin, but there’s nothing quite like the outdoor experience at the Horicon Marsh. With over 33,000 acres, Horicon is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S. Grab your binoculars to observe the almost 300 kinds of birds, or bring your bikes and canoes to explore places you can’t get on foot. If you prefer to walk, take a stroll on the floating boardwalks on the marsh that lets you experience the sensation of walking on water.
Location: W4279 Headquarters Road Mayville, WI 53050
Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour
Although this may not be a working candy factory, the Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour is still a fun way to spend an afternoon — after all who can beat a trip that ends in jelly beans? Hop on board the Jelly Belly Express train for a 30-minute tour that takes you down “Candy Alley” where your kids’ll delight in seeing towers of jelly beans, along with plenty of exhibits on how different candies are made. At the end your family can taste all of Jelly Belly’s unique flavors at the sample bar!
Location: 10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin 53158
Henry Vilas Zoo
With reasonable admission fees, many zoos are often an inexpensive way for families to spend an afternoon, but Henry Vilas Zoo does your family one better by opening their gates to one and all for free. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of animals to observe — the zoo has familiar favorites like seals, tigers, rhinos, lions, penguins, giraffes, camels, kangaroos, bears, chimpanzees, orangutans and more!
Location: 702 South Randall Ave., Madison, WI 53715-1665
Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts
Buying tickets to concerts, plays and museums can be an expensive proposition when you’re bringing the whole family — luckily Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts often holds no-charge performances and art shows that are open to the public. During the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee school-year, you can check Peck’s calendar for events that range from plays and dance recitals to concerts and art shows. However, some shows do charge a low admission fee, and space at free events fills up quickly, so be sure to check the box office to reserve your free tickets.
Location: 2400 East Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee, WI 53211
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary
Since 1936 the Wildlife Sanctuary in Bay Beach has been operating as an urban wildlife refuge designed for teaching friends and families about rehabilitating waterfowl. Open year-round with free admission, the sanctuary’s 700 acres provide some of the best bird watching opportunities in Wisconsin. Your family will love spending time hiking, fishing or learning together at one of the park’s animal exhibits and educational displays.
Location: 660 East Shore Drive, Green Bay, WI 54302