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Green Bay Scores for Refreshing Weekend Getaway

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

There are places that come to mind before Green Bay, Wisconsin when I think of a rejuvenating getaway. But that’s just what I got when I wandered north in search of something different after months of Covid confinement.


It was more than just the fresh northern air and friendly people that did it for me. I found a lively craft brewing scene complemented by better restaurants than I remember from my last visit. I found an array of the kind of outdoor activity I was looking for as we still navigate the coronavirus. I found clean, comfortable, reasonably priced lodging. And I was pleasantly surprised when I wrapped up my visit at the National Railroad Museum, allowing me to think happy thoughts about my recently deceased, train-loving father for a few hours, imagining how much he would have enjoyed walking through the spectacular exhibits with me.

Green Bay is most famous for the Packers, of course. And football fans can certainly get their fix from a visit and tour of the fabled Lambeau Field. But it’s also a pleasant landing spot for a relaxing, economical visit.


It started when a travel industry colleague suggested Green Bay as a spot worth writing about. I hesitated, as one does in a global pandemic. But we quickly started putting together an itinerary that would allow me to keep my distance, knowing that I could drive rather than take any sort of public transportation. Spurred on by the allure of simply being somewhere other than my house, I made my plans. Would it have been more fun with my wife and kids? Certainly. We’re a biking family and would have hit the trails every day. But I’d been with my wife and kids 24-7 for months. This was alone time, and Green Bay gave me everything I needed without making me feel guilty for over-spending on such self-indulgence.


You can get to Green Bay from Chicago via interstate highways, and my drive started with the usual mad dash out of the city. But I’d left earlier than needed precisely so I could jump off I-94 just short of the Wisconsin border. It was back roads for the rest of the way, and I was rewarded with one striking view after another as I wandered up and down gentle rolling hills. Much of the Midwest is flatland. And the corn and soybean fields are spread like green and brown fitted sheets. But Wisconsin, shaped millions of years ago by the marching and retreating glaciers, is an expanse of bumps and valleys. The geometric lines of planted fields and pastures meet each other at angles, framed by red barns and silver silos, and laced by the two-lane roads and two-track driveways. Every turn paints another landscape, and I was relaxed and thirsty when I finally approached Green Bay from the south.


I headed straight for the Stillmank Brewery, which is located in a quiet neighborhood south of downtown. This I took as a good sign. I’m wary of craft breweries that look more like themed restaurants – places where too much of the budget goes toward interior design rather than beer quality. Stillmank is a brewery first, with a modest but friendly tasting room. Still nervous about social distancing, my plan was to grab a beer and sit at a picnic table outside. But the place was all but empty on a Sunday afternoon, so I masked up and found a quiet corner all to myself. First up on the tasting list was Hazy Dayz, a hoppy New England IPA that hit the spot. Although not a fan of Strong Bitters, I sampled Wisco Disco simply because of the name. It’s a great name. Speaking of great names, I was among the first to sample 2020 – Welcome to the Shitshow, a concoction made in honor of the strange year we are living in. The beer was better than the year.


I should pause to note that, while my Hazy Days was a pleasantly full pilsner glass, all other samples were just that, samples. This is important to note because my next stop was Badger State Brewing Company. Again, I was pleased to find that this is a brewery first and a tasting room second. It also boasts a large and comfortable outdoor beer garden, where I enjoyed a Coffee Stout. Again, I was pleased to find that this is a brewery first and a tasting room second. It also boasts a large and comfortable outdoor beer garden, where I enjoyed a Coffee Stout.


For dinner I chose The Turn because it offered a patio. It’s a glitzy sports bar featuring a variety of virtual games in large simulator bays – a great spot for a group outing. And my Spotted Cow, from the New Glarus Brewery in Southern Wisconsin, was a perfect complement to a well-made Caesar salad with grilled chicken.


I was staying at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, which is attached to the Oneida Casino. I’m as eager to play a few hands of black jack as the next guy, and the casino was equipped with plexi-glass partitions and lots of hand sanitizer. Still, I was content to hang in my very comfortable room and rest up for golf the next day.


Thornberry Creek at Oneida is billed as “the official golf course of the Green Bay Packers,” and the team logo adorns the grass just off the fairway on the first tee. It was easy to accommodate my Covid-driven request for an unaccompanied round on a Monday morning, and the course did not disappoint. The Rick Jacobsen-design courses take advantage of the rolling terrain, lush greenery, and meandering lakes and streams. The challenge brought out the best in this high-handicapper, and I was pleased to write a 92 on my scorecard when the round was done. My reward was a delicious club sandwich and a cold beer in the clubhouse afterward.


One of Green Bay’s great benefits is location. It’s accessible by air into the neatly efficient Straubel Airport. But it’s a relatively short drive from Chicago, and it’s far enough north to feel, well, far enough north. It’s also perched at the gateway both to lovely Door County, and the rustic North Woods. But the city itself is not without its geographic appeal. While one might think of it as coastal, sitting astride the beautiful bay it is named after, downtown Green Bay feels more like the river town it also is. City planners have done an excellent job of turning the Fox River waterfront into a fun, pleasant community gathering spot. In my bike ride along the river from the Broken Spoke bike shop, where owner George Kapitz will be happy to fit you out with a bike rental, I saw couples enjoying late afternoon cocktails in Hagemeister Park, a young family enjoying cooling splash-pad fountains, and plenty of solo walkers, joggers and bikers. It was easy to imagine the place hopping on a summer evening, enjoying live music that is a regular feature.


Across the river from the trail are two of the city’s many breweries, Copper State https://www.copperstate.beer/ and Titletown. I picked Titletown so I could check out the rooftop bar, and wasn’t disappointed. The spacious 5th-floor taproom opens on to an expansive patio, with views of downtown and the river.


The most pleasant surprise of my trip was the National Railroad Museum. With a playground and actual train ride, it’s very kid friendly. But I was more interested in the impressive collection of actual train cars and locomotives. As the son of a railroad historian, I spent a good deal of my childhood observing trains with my dad, who died earlier this year. Standing next to a mighty Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive – longer than two city buses and heavier than a Boeing 747 – it was easy to imagine why my father fell in love with steam engines as a boy. And right next to it in the museum is what I consider to be the most beautiful locomotive ever made, the Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 electric.


If you are all interested in trains and train travel, this museum is worth a stop. Green Bay also offers a nice selection of outdoor activities, from the aforementioned Fox River bike trail, to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a well-maintained park that features several nice walking trails and learning opportunities. A number of small companies offer fishing charters.


Could I have visited a larger city with more things to do? Of course. But for a relaxed, enjoyable, economical getaway, Green Bay hit the spot for me.


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