Bumper, Slick, Makaia, and Diego may sound like a team of superheroes, but at Oceans of Fun, they are the names of just 4 of the 11 sea lions and seals that inhabit the center's waters. Nestled in the Milwaukee County Zoo, the educational center focuses specifically on marine animals, educating visitors on their traits, their favorite places to play, and conservation strategies. Kids can feed the seals and sea lions buckets of fresh fish or build their animal-training repertoire during interactive programs; the animals also perform in shows four times daily throughout most of the year.
The Waukesha County Museum, which started in a basement room of the old courthouse in 1914, houses a more-than-2,000-square-foot repository for American history. The Memories of World War II touring exhibit pays homage to veterans, photographers, and reporters with more than 100 photos from Associated Press archives in addition to testimonies and hundreds of artifacts donated by local residents. Duck into the Greatest Generation Theater for a 20-minute film that illuminates the sagas of four local surviving WWII veterans.
Established in 1968, Midway Village Museum embodies a sprawling, 137-acre time capsule. Within the museum’s 27 fully functioning, Victorian buildings, exhibits tell the story of Rockford since its incorporation in the early 19th century. Throughout the years, the town has made history as the progenitor of the sock monkey, the launching point for aviator Bert Hassell, and home of the Rockford Peaches—an all-female baseball team fictionalized in the film A League of Their Own, though the real squad neither played in the 1943 championship nor battled a CGI dragon. Other attractions amid the barns, blacksmiths, and general stores include a dollhouse museum and a meticulous archive of Rockford’s long, proud history in the furniture industry.
Amur tigers stretch out in the sun, red kangaroos hop leisurely along, and orangutans groom each other in the shade while tree pythons and box turtles roam their tanks, oblivious of each other and everything outside. Nearby, budgies, storks, cormorants, and screech owls roost on perches and soar over the heads of their human visitors. These creatures join a menagerie of more than 250 animals—representing 76 different species—that mingle across 32 acres of natural habitat at the Racine Zoo. Together with their staff counterparts, these animals speak to the zoo’s efforts toward conservation and strengthening the bond between humans and their wild neighbors.
Though they can get up close to animal enclosures, visitors also explore more immersive wildlife education through seasonal and year-round attractions. Giraffe encounters allow guests to participate in the supervised feeding of a masai giraffe, and Animal Chats prompt visitors to ask questions of the caretakers, such as how they feed the zoo's carnivores and which of the herbivores prefer italian dressing. At the Benstead Discovery Center, guests greet reptiles and amphibians and watch fish swim in a 2,000-gallon saltwater tank. In the open-air Norco Aviary, visitors can behave as flocks of Australian budgies, rosellas, or cockatiels. Children, meanwhile, frolic across the two-story climbing structure, slides, and zipline at the PlayZoo Playground, or board a colorful, seasonal miniature express train.
All Community Events gathers together athletes of all stripes to set off on brisk, well-organized outdoor runs. In the one-mile Run the Pier jaunt, sprinters can goggle at the skyscrapers surrounding Navy Pier, dash beneath its towering ferris wheel, and reach underneath the pier to grab fistfuls of the cotton candy keeping it afloat before finishing through its welcoming arch. The World's Largest Corn Maze Run/Walk weaves through five kilometers of paths that wind through a dense cornfield, while a pair of Turkey Trots let exercise-hounds burn off calories in advance of the day's traditional feast. Though its exact date will be pinned down as the event draws closer, the Chi Town Half Marathon pits runners against 13.1 miles of verdant north-side terrain. The challenging but beginner-friendly race's March date places it well before most of the year's other major races, and provides a compelling reason to step outside during the dark, werewolf-riddled chill of winter.
A kids' firehouse sets the stage for hands-on, imaginative activities at FireZone, where actual firefighters show off fire engines, explain educational displays, and oversee games for kids of all ages. In addition to children’s parties and drop-in play sessions, FireZone runs school field trips, caters to adults with corporate training days, and rents trucks for picnics, parades, and festivals.