When I tell people that I live in Port Washington, they often look at me like I just said I own a condo on the far side of the moon and commute to downtown Milwaukee via the now-defunct space shuttle.
I understand that Port Washington, located on the northern cusp of Ozaukee County, can feel like it’s a world away from many Brew City area residents’ daily lives. I get that the news stations report the weather here because it’s soooooo far north that it’s basically so the kids know what Santa’s up to. But I promise you it’s really not *that* far – a quick and easy zip up I-43! Get off at Exit 100, at the lighthouse gas station, and I also promise you that it’s more than worth the drive.
I grew up in nearby Grafton, and as a small-town gal I’m used to people asking me, with squinted and disdainful eyes: “So…what do you do for fun?” I enjoy coming up with the answers they are clearly expecting. “Cow-tipping. Moonshine-making.” But in reality, though Port Washington has a modest population of just over 11,000, there is a lot to do up here, especially thanks to a thriving downtown area that has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the last few years.
The real reason Port Washington has my heart is that it boasts an abundance of two things that make my world go round: coffee shops and playgrounds. If you stash your car in the municipal parking lot next to the historic Pebble House (which doubles as a visitor’s center), there are a handful of each right within walking distance. I’m equally devoted to Java Dock, 116 W. Grand Ave. (where there’s a handy kid’s corner in the upstairs seating area) and Smith Bros. Coffee House, which offers beautiful views of the lake from its location at the old Smith Bros. Fish Shanty at 100 N. Franklin St. In addition to an amazing cup of coffee, you can also find fresh-made bread, bakery and much more at Daily Baking Company in the historic Boerner Mercantile Building at 211 N. Franklin St.
If the kids need to work out some extra energy, Port has a truly fantastic offering of parks, open spaces, beaches and more – see a list at the Parks and Rec page. My hands-down favorite, however – the veritable holy grail of Port play – is Possibility Playground, located in Upper Lake Park. This all-abilities playground has a pirate ship, lighthouse, sandlots and countless other amazing features that encourage sensory integration, motor skills and child-parent interaction. This playground was built in 2008 by a crew of over 2,000 volunteers, and you can read about its unique history here. Side note: I also LOVE that there is an area specially designed to be safe for toddlers – you don’t realize how hazardous most playground equipment is until you have an 18-month-old who has no fear of breaking her neck.
When your little one’s tummies start to rumble, grab lunch at the Dockside Deli, 218 E. Main Street, Beanie’s Mexican Restaurant, 102 E. Grand Ave., Tello’s Grill and Cafe, 200 W. Grand Ave. or Yummy Bones BBQ, 201 N. Franklin St. For dessert, hit up CoCa LeNa at 327 N. Franklin St. or the Chocolate Chisel, 125 W. Grand Ave. (be sure to get a souvenir chocolate “fish”!). If your kids aren’t much for sweets, check out Broadway Popcorn, 322 N. Franklin St.
For some quiet reading time while you digest, head to the W.J. Niederkorn Library, 316 W. Grand Ave., which has a fantastic children’s area that offers more than just a well-stocked catalog. My daughter is obsessed with the train table and tot-sized reading nook, and there’s also a neat little sitting area right off the entrance with a breathtaking wall mural and super-fun playhouse. The Niederkorn also has a great offering of family friendly events like movie matinees, story times and kids’ clubs.
If you haven’t totally exhausted your kids get, check out the Port Exploreum at 118 N. Franklin St., where permanent and seasonal exhibits tell the story of Lake Michigan’s past and present.
In other words, P-Dubs isn’t just for Fish Day, Milwaukee. If you’re up for a 30-minute drive with literally one turn, you and the kiddos can enjoy a few hours exploring all Port has to offer…but I seriously doubt you’ll be able to limit it to just two.