An outline of Brett Favre’s hands on a wall at the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame draws me forward like a goofy kid. Snapping a laughable shot of my puny fingers within the legendary quarterback’s 10 ⅜-inch handspan, I message my son: “And this is why I never moved beyond our squishy yellow Nerf football.”
You don’t have to be a Packers fan or even follow football to enjoy the lively history and fun facts in these exhibits (“3,000 pounds of cheese curds consumed on game day!”). From the humble start of football leagues (drawing on brawny meatpackers in Green Bay, Wis., 100 seasons ago) to the evolution of uniforms and gear, the museum is an intriguing tribute to a sport that’s tightly knitted into American culture.
In a vintage living room exhibit, a hefty TV console plays footage from long-ago matchups, including the famed 1967 “Ice Bowl” — the coldest game in NFL history. The commentary and cadence of the announcers evokes memories of 1970s family rooms with jars of peanuts, cans of Hamm’s and Pabst beer and uncles shouting with excitement.
As small groups line up for guided tours of Lambeau Field, some visitors vibrate with giddiness to be on Packers turf. The city of 100,000 residents — the smallest by far to have an NFL team — shines as an underdog among corporate Goliaths. The Packers stay afloat thanks to individual shareholders from the local area and beyond.
“We are proud to say we have 360,000 owners,” said our guide, Joe Neidenbach, who has held coveted season tickets since the 1980s.
“Notice anything?” he asks our group as we gather in the stands.
It takes a few seconds before it clicks. “No advertising!” blurts one of the men.
Metal bench seating gleams silver as it encircles the field, snugging right up to the edge. “They’re climate-controlled,” Neidenbach jokes. “They get really hot on a sunny day and really cold on a winter one.”
Across the street from Lambeau, the new Titletown development — anchored by a supersized imaginative playground, Kohler Lodge and Hinterland Brewery — draws people together and encourages them to stay, play and relax.
In early fall I climb more than 75 steps to the top of the man-made Ariens Hill for a sweeping view of Titletown play areas that opened this year. Parents cheer as siblings run a 50-yard dash, with a digital timer clocking their speed and flashing the winner. A 9-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother clamber across a football-shaped jungle gym. A father and son toss a ball on a public football field that lights up as the sky darkens. Outside the brewery, young adults debate between pingpong, lawn bowling and cornhole.
As the weather cools, campfires will be lit, and Ariens Hill will become a snow-tubing hot spot once the snow flies. Even without snow, the hill has a way of coaxing a visitor’s inner child. I watch a young man grin, stretch out onto the grass, and go happily rolling down the hill.
The 47-acre Green Bay Botanical Gardens blends themed areas, such as herbs, peonies, hosta, daylilies and evergreens, with art and permanent sculptures. The visitor center hosts hands-on classes from vegetarian cooking to Ukrainian egg decoration. The annual Garden of Lights, with more than 250,000 holiday lights, runs from Nov. 23 to Dec. 30 (1-920-490-9457; gbbg.org).
The charmingly vintage Bay Beach Amusement Park ranks among America’s oldest amusement parks. Rides include the Zippin Pippin, a replica of Elvis Presley’s favorite wooden roller coaster. Parking is free, and rides cost as little as a quarter. It opens weekends in May and then daily for the summer season after Memorial Day (1-920-448-3365; green baywi.gov/445/Bay-Beach). Next to it, Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary has trails through 600 acres (1-920-391-3671; baybeachwildlife.com).
Enjoy views of Lake Michigan with a 32-mile drive to Algoma, where Von Stiehl Winery offers tastings of hard apple cider, apple or cherry bounce, and wines infused with local fruit (vonstiehl.com). Ahnapee Brewing, a few houses away, welcomes visitors with snacks, pizza and rotating brews such as a chocolate milk stout served in an impressively converted two-stall garage (ahnapeebrewery.com).
Where to eat
With indoor and outdoor seating, Hinterland Brewing makes it easy to linger over bourbon barrel-aged beers, a signature Packerland Pilsner, a wheat beer with Door County cherries, or a stout made with local Luna coffee. Nosh on fried cheese curds, wings, wood-fired pizzas, beef brisket chili, Friday fish fries or buttermilk fried chicken with beer mac-and-cheese on Sundays (1-920-438-8050; hinterlandbeer.com).
Copper State Brewing pairs good brews (beers and Copper Rock Coffee) with creative kitchen fare that excels in the use of crumbs and ingeniously engineered powders. Think seared scallops over grapefruit and carrot purée and dusted with gingersnap crumbs; tangy deviled eggs with crispy bits of dehydrated beer foam. For dessert, the butternut squash cake is loaded with extras such as sage crème anglaise, candied squash seeds, maple buttercream, cranberry purée and fried sage (1-920-489-8575; www.copperstate.beer).
For sweet diversions, try an award-winning pretzel-shaped kringle from Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe. Their version of the state’s official pastry has 36 buttery layers, takes three days to make and comes in more than a dozen flavors (unclemikesbakeshoppe.com).
Where to sleep
Kohler, known for its luxurious bathroom fixtures and swanky American Club in Kohler, Wis., opened its 144-room Lodge Kohler at Titletown in 2017. Some stadium-facing suites include patios and outdoor fireplaces for gameday entertaining. The Leaps and Bounds Cafe features Packers memorabilia, while Taverne in the Sky frames Lambeau Field through its windows while serving a deliciously smoky wild rice soup and wood-fired sturgeon. Kohler Waters Spa specializes in hydrotherapy and a hydro-massage pool (1-855-395-7638; lodgekohler.com).
Green Bay has about 4,500 hotel rooms, plus rental homes along Lombardi Avenue and in nearby neighborhoods. Two-night minimums are common during home-game weekends.
Travel 275 miles east from the Twin Cities. Follow Interstate 94 to the Chippewa Falls exit, and continue on Hwy. 29.
Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1-888-867-3342 or greenbay.com.
St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) wrote “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”