One of my favorite things to do is to explore new cities with my family. So when Visit Eau Claire suggested I take a weekend trip to visit their city in the Chippewa Valley (about 2 1/2 hours from Madison), I jumped at the chance. The city has experienced a bit of a fun renaissance in the last decade or so: arts, entrepreneurship, music and culture take center stage in this decidedly very indie city.
I honestly had no idea what to expect, but was blown away by just how much there was to do for kids and for families in Eau Claire. This is the perfect midwest destination if you’re looking for fun not too far from home! You could easily spend a weekend and still not have enough time to do everything (we did a lot, and still had a lot left that we wanted to do – so we will be going back!). Below are our suggestions of what to see and do when visiting Eau Claire, WI!
Where to Go
220 Barstow Street – Eau Claire
The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire is an interactive environment for kids and their grown-ups that inspires imagination, creativity, discovery and the love of learning. It’s a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
This wonderful museum in the heart of downtown Eau Claire was a delightful surprise. With three stories of interactive fun, the exhibits inspire imagination, creativity, discovery and the love of learning. Lots of non-traditional opportunities are present in CMEC – we loved the chance to see, touch and learn.
1204 E Half Moon Dr – Eau Claire
One of the best ways to discover the intertwining stories of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley is to visit Eau Claire’s nationally recognized Chippewa Valley Museum, open year-round. The museum offers award-winning exhibits, beautifully preserved historic structures on the grounds, fun activities, a 1950’s ice cream parlor, a museum store, and more.
Open Sundays noon – 5 p.m.
During the summer months, Chippewa Valley Railroad Association offers train rides on their mini-train replica through scenic woods near Half Moon Lake. Two of the railroad’s three engines run on coal, and the 1880s-style cars and vintage train station are home to suspender-clad conductors wearing pin-striped engineer’s hats.
1814 North Oxford Avenue – Eau Claire
Since 1989, The Eau Claire Children’s Theatre has been providing quality theatrical and education experiences for western Wisconsin residents of all ages.
5150 Fairview Drive (located inside Metropolis Resort)
The Chaos Waterpark is a 35,000 square foot newly renovated waterpark located inside of Metropolis Resort and offers so many attractions: an aquatic playground (with a giant bucket at the very top the slowly fills with water and the splashes everyone below when all the way full), activity pool, lily pad climbing area, two water slides, lazy river, and whirlpool hot tub.
5150 Fairview Drive (located inside Metropolis Resort)
This gigantic indoor entertainment center has something for everyone including: the largest indoor g0-kart track in the Midwest, a 20,000 square foot trampoline park featuring ninja warrior courses, laser tag, a climbing wall, batting cages, an arcade, bumper cars, outdoor mini-golf and more. A family could spend all day here and still have things to do the next day!
Carson Park is a 134-acre peninsula nestled inside horseshoe-shaped Half Moon Lake offering both activities and excursions.
Carson Park’s Newest Playground (Near Oak Pavillion: 814 Pavillion Drive – Eau Claire)
This was quite possibly the coolest park I have EVER visited – talk about impressive!!! The park’s newest addition comes with 95 different play elements, including climbers, slides, swings, musical interaction play panels and a zip line. The city invested $500,000 to make this a kid’s interactive paradise. You do NOT want to miss visiting this park – it is amazing!
Front Porch Place – Altoona
River Prairie Park is an outdoor destination for both adults and families. This beautiful park features multi-use trails, picnic tables, canoe and kayak launch, natural playground, community garden, grass playing field, pond and outdoor event spaces. Be sure to pack your swimsuits, as you can wade around in the man-made river or run through the park’s free splash pad.
For a complete list of parks – click here.
Other places to check out in Eau Claire
102 E Grand Ave – Eau Claire
Come check out the field where Hank Aaron started his career. The Eau Claire Express return to historic Carson Park for their 25th season of exciting Northwoods League Amateur Baseball. The Express organization creates a new experience for its fans at every game. From sumo wrestler competitions to T-shirt cannons to dance-offs, there is always something fun happening at an EC Express game! There is also a bounce house area and kids zone where kids can play during the game.
300 Riverfront Terrace – Eau Claire
The Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market is located in beautiful Phoenix Park (at the intersection of Riverfront Terrace and Wisconsin Street) from May through October. At each market, live music mingles with the chatter of farmers and consumers connecting over the freshest fruits and veggies. Eau Claire vendors span a surprisingly large age range, further proof of Eau Claire’s stance that being eco-conscious is not about being born in a certain year to a certain generation but rather about embracing a healthy attitude.
330 Riverfront Terrace – Eau Claire
The beautiful, iconic structure of the bridge is enhanced with transitioning colors beginning at dusk each night. It’s a beautiful downtown must-see.
205 N Dewey St – Eau Claire
A full-on retail store featuring apparel, books, music, art prints, glassware, gifts, and more – produced by, for, and/or about people in the Eau Claire community. All merchandise evokes a sense of place in the Chippewa Valley or Wisconsin in general. Many artists, writers, businesses, and creators of the Chippewa Valley use The Local Store as a retail outlet for their goods.
105 Garfield Ave. Eau Claire
From entertaining musical performances by the award-winning UWEC music program, to weekend-long annual events, there’s no shortage of things to do on campus. When we were visiting, we got to experience their annual Chalkfest which was SO COOL!
**Imagine the campus of UW-Eau Claire overtaken by a day-long firestorm of creativity and positive community energy, culminating in yards and yards of sidewalk space displaying amazing chalk artwork. That’s Chalkfest. It’s part urban art festival and part family-friendly fun. There will be food vendors, music, chalk-related games (including the popular “artist duels”) and an area for kids to do sidewalk chalk. Throughout the day, artists will create their work as thousands of visitors watch chalk drawings come to life.
Take a tour of the historic brewery in Chippewa Falls and learn about their nearly 150 years of beer brewing and six generations of Leinenkugel family history. All tours start at the Leinie Lodge®, which is filled with historical photos, vintage brewing equipment and plenty of Leinie’s wearables and collectibles to take home. Relax with friends and family, sample their award-winning beers and get the full flavor of all things Leinenkugel’s!
Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is a non- profit organization with the goal of enhancing the quality of life in Eau Claire, Wisconsin by using the arts to promote tourism, economic development, health, and education. There are over 50 sculptures on display throughout Eau Claire – it is the second largest in the United States and is a free, 24/7 exhibit, making it a perfectly budget-friendly activity!
Family Friendly Eats
2111 3rd Street – Eau Claire
This fun, car-themed restaurant has a variety of menu items the kids will love – we’re talking MILKSHAKES, too! They always have a classic car on display and welcome others to park their classic cars out front for others to see and enjoy as well. The whole place is set up like a ‘50s diner and the soundtrack playing in the background will make you long for “the good ol’ days.”
505 S Barstow St # A – Eau Claire
At the Acoustic Café, you can get your favorite sandwich, soup and coffee drink in a laid-back atmosphere. The Acoustic Café roasts its own coffee and bakes its own original recipe bread daily. What makes the sandwich is their special sauce, which includes 100% pure healthy olive oil along with a flavorful mix of spices. The Acoustic also supports local artists by showcasing special artist displays throughout the cafe and hosting live entertainment every weekend.
208 Barstow Street – Eau Claire
Located in the heart of downtown and just up the block from the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, The Plus is an old school pizza shop with the coolest vibe. In addition to awesome pizza, The Plus is also home to music, comedy and other celebrations almost every day of the year.
503 Galloway Street – Eau Claire
Ramone’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor is everything you want in an ice cream shop: hand-dipped, hand-made (by the Chocolate Shoppe in Madison, WI), and historic! If the scent of the house-made (right before your very eyes!) waffle cone doesn’t lure you in, the 24 flavors will! With award winning choices such as Fat Elvis, Iced Latte-Da (caffeinated), and Superman – you’ll find something you love, we promise! The shop is located right downtown in an old building that brings a lot of charm to the atmosphere.
930 Galloway St – Eau Claire
Aspiring home chefs and those who aspire to a career in the culinary can both find a place at the table at Forage cooking classes. They also have a “Little Hands” class for kids. Check their calendar for meal events, too, like pop-up Saturday brunches and food and wine pairing dinners.
405 Water St – Eau Claire
This bistro-style eatery is so popular that people line up outside waiting for the door to open for breakfast. In addition to their breakfast and lunch (Wednesday through Sunday), The Nucleus is now open for dinner and wine Thursday through Saturday.
1160 Menomonie St – Eau Claire
Prepare to be surprised by one of Eau Claire’s hidden gems. This family-owned, long time establishment offers their own spin on classic DQ and bar & grill style favorites featuring tacos, Chicago-style hot dogs and generous portion sizes. Unique to this location is their breakfast menu that includes organic eggs and vegetables.
4212 Southtowne Drive – Eau Claire
So much more than a coffee shop, The Coffee Grounds also offers a great wine shop, cooking, baking and kitchen gadgets and supplies a monthly rotating menu of hand-crafted sandwiches, breakfast choices, salads, soups, muffins, pastries, and house-made chocolates and truffles. OUR FAVE! They also offer an impressive 30 different house-roasted coffee-bean varieties!
Where to Stay
5150 Fairview Drive – Eau Claire
Metropolis Resort has it all! This huge complex is home to not only the Metropolis Hotel located in the center of the building but also Action City and Chaos Waterpark mentioned above! It’s the perfect place to stay if you plan on enjoying either of those attractions (and we suggest you do)! The hotel is perfectly appointed for a busy family that has spent a day exploring. The Metropolis Resort is the ONLY venue in the Midwest to feature this many attractions under one roof!
516 Galloway Street – Eau Claire
Nestled right downtown (and on the same street as The Local Store and Red’s Mercantile mentioned above), The Oxbow was recently renovated by a team of people including Justin Vernon. You might recognize him from his stage name Bon Iver. Vernon has made Eau Claire home, basing his music studio here as well as starting the growing and popular Eaux Claires music festival. The Oxbow Hotel featured design elements that pay homage to the Chippewa Valley and the growing arts scene in Eau Claire.
1515 Bluestem Blvd – Altoona
We stayed at the Staybridge Suites which was modern, clean and had all the amenities we could want! Our kids loved the pool and the outdoor courtyard; I loved the complimentary breakfast and workout facility – along with the suite setup so my kids could sleep in their own room. Our room also had a kitchen – which was helpful!