If you came up to me and asked, “What’s a city that has a local feel with a hipster flair but still very much has a family vibe?” my answer would be Eau Claire, a Wisconsin town of 70,000 that sits just beyond the Minnesota border. This city holds a special place in our hearts – my husband and I both grew up there – so from the mouth of a girl who knew EC in the 80s, I can tell you firsthand how far it’s come and how truly awesome it is still becoming.
Now that we live in Minneapolis, road tripping to Eau Claire has become a vacation – a GREAT one with kids! We decided to spend a couple winter nights being a “tourist in our old town” and everyone had such a memorable time. We already can’t wait to go back in the warmer months and do all of those fun adventures too.
Because this is a family adventure blog, you’re going to hear everything from the POV of a parent (duh). But I DO want to say that Eau Claire is also a booming spot for couples, girls trips, foodies, and art lovers. For today though, you’ll learn the best kid-focused and family-friendly spots to dine, play, visit, and stay.
Where to Stay?
Let’s start with lodging. Sure, kids love any hotel swimming pool they can get their hands on, but we wanted to knock our kids’ socks off so we spend our two nights at Metropolis Resort.
Metropolis Resort is located directly off Highway 94 (if you’ve ever driven east from the metro, you’ve probably seen their go-kart track, zipline, or bright green signage). This resort hotel was built with kids in mind. Don’t believe me? Then explain why once you’re inside you have access (for additional fees) to a trampoline park, a huge arcade, laser tag, virtual reality, a Dairy Queen, go-karts, and bumper cars. The waterpark is always included with your stay! See? Told you so. Kids. Kids love this place.
Our rugrats could’ve spent all weekend buzzing around the various entertainment spots within the resort. But we also wanted to make sure we took in some of the city, so we spaced out our time as best we could. We divvied it up by doing the arcade and waterpark all afternoon and evening on Saturday and hit up the trampoline park and go-karts on Sunday. The open time was to be used trying restaurants and activities around town.
Registered hotel guests have waterpark passes included in their stay, so if that’s what you want to stick to, I say that’s plenty. Chaos Waterpark was a decent size for our group. My 11-year old did the waterslides on repeat (they have one tube slide which is pitch black, and a relatively slow-moving body slide), the teenager played water basketball, and our 7-year old enjoyed the lazy river and the lily pads. There is also a toddler area with all sorts of spraying fun – plus a hot tub and lots of general seating and party rooms to rent out. What I noticed was that most, if not all, of the water throughout the park did not exceed 3 or 4 feet in depth. So the super littles would still wear life jackets, but it certainly wasn’t a place where you will A) lose your kids or B) have to worry about drop-offs or deep ends. Please still watch your children though. And play with them. The water was warm enough and I saw lots of parents doing the tube slides with their kids. The tube slide offers single and double tubes but it proved quite difficult to find a double. You have to be 36″ to ride the body slide and 48″ to ride the tube slide (alone. You can ride it with an adult at 36″). All height requirement information can be found online here.
The hotel rooms are nice. We had a room close to the lobby area and that got a little loud at times, but everything is clean and well cared for. Our room had a pull-out sofa, but I would recommend bringing an air mattress in lieu of that. We watched a lot of hotel TV and the kids love just chillin’ in a room that isn’t their own eating snacks they don’t usually get at home. And considering all the amenities the hotel offers, I was surprised at how easy it was to get from here to there. Everything was a quick walk (which was convenient when you’d forget a pair of goggles or need to grab some money for a DQ blizzard.
What to Do at Metropolis Resort?
While passes to Chaos Waterpark are included with your hotel stay, there are plenty of other awesome adventures to enjoy right inside the hotel and passes are available to save money and get in plenty of hours of play time. You can pay for each activity individually but passes are definitely the way to go if you plan on doing more an a couple things.
What can you get for a Play Pass? You can choose either a 3 or 5 hour play pass which includes all attractions plus non-ticketed arcade games (this does not include the trampoline park). Jump passes for only the trampoline park are available, or you can get combo passes which allows trampoline play, all attractions plus non-ticketed arcade games. Prices look like this (as of March 2023):
- Jump Passes: $35/2 hour pass
- Play Passes: $44/3 hours or $49/5 hours
- Combo Passes: $49/3 hours or $54/5 hours
- FULL DAY PLAY AND JUMP PASSES ARE AVAILABLE FOR HOTEL GUESTS for $59/person
See all updated pricing information on their website here.
So what ARE the attractions?
With the play passes, you get access to Action City and their indoor bowling, virtual reality, go-karts, bumper cars, laser maze, laser tag, and all arcade games that don’t provide tickets. I played so much Crossy Road that I thought I was going to dream about chicken roadkill. The go-kart line gets really long so we actually waited until bright and early when Action City opened to do them and beat the Sunday crowd. Those wound up being my kids’ favorite part too! You have to be 54″ tall to drive and 40″ tall to ride with an adult. Single riders will get a lot faster than doubles because there are far fewer double cars.
I do have to say that I most enjoyed the trampoline park. Considering the space, there is a really big variety of jumping activities to do – basketball, open jump, dodgeball, ninja courses, airbag stunts, jousting, an indoor play area, and a slack line. Lots of parent seating was available too, but I always recommend jumping with the family because it’s good exercise (just kidding…I jump because it’s stupid fun). Grip socks are required ($3).
And let’s not forget that you don’t event need to leave the hotel to get food! City Eats is the Metropolis Resort’s on-site restaurant and it was such a relaxing way to start our day. Located right outside Action City, we dined on omelettes and juice, and pancakes and coffee, all before heading to Action City just in time for open. And we could wear flip-flops the whole time! The servers were friendly, the prices were fair, and the coffee was hot.
Go Out on the Town
To go to Eau Claire and not truly SEE Eau Claire is a crying shame. This once-sleepy little city has boomed in the past decade so filling time finding adventures is a super easy task. Good food? Check. A sweet art scene? Check. Yummy coffee and drinks? Check. Kid activities? Check. Nature, water, local businesses? Check, check, check. So what did we do on our weekend?
Eau Claire has lots of outdoorsy activities and areas and can be a very active city if you choose to make it so. Winter made it harder to get outside, but we are hearty Midwesterners so snow or no snow, this family went sledding! The biggest, tallest, meanest looking hill I’ve ever seen is at Pinehurst Park on the north side of the city. Simply looking at the hill made my kids’ jaws drop to the floor. AND if you didn’t bring sleds on your vacation (understandable), don’t worry – the EC Recreation Division actually has a hut at Pinehurst Hill that rents out sleds, snowshoes, hockey sticks, and more!
Downtown Eau Claire
I’m biased because my mom has owned a hair salon in downtown Eau Claire since the late 90s and it has a special place in my heart. But it has grown exponentially in amusement and accessibility since then. Eau Claire has tons of bridges (all fun to walk across) and sculpture-lined sidewalks (all fun to look at). Be sure to pop into some of the local boutiques and grab bites to eat – and don’t forget ice cream!
We paid a visit to two of my favorite shops – The Local Store, which sells quality and unique Wisconsin merch, and Hello Adorn, a jewelry store that has expanded to home decor and even some clothing.
While we were downtown we hit up the new Children’s Museum which opened in early 2023 and has two levels of kid-friendly fun. Our youngest enjoyed it very much, so if you have little ones this is a must stop for you. Tickets are $10/person for a day of play and their water area was by far our favorite.
A short walk from the Children’s Museum is Downtown Candy – how do you not go there? So we did. They have ice cream, chocolates, vintage candy, the classics, heck they even sell wine from a local distillery. It was a fun stop and was right by the river, so be sure to check that out (Phoenix Park) while you’re on that block.
We went out for many a meal on our weekend, and I wish I had more time and a bigger stomach to go to even more places than we did! Some of our local kid-friendly favorites include The French Press (ok, this one is mom’s favorite), 44 North, and Reboot Social.
Reboot Social is located downtown and has a nice selection of food and full bars, and entertains kids with a throwback arcade, Skee-ball, foosball, and board games.
44 North is in the River Prairie district (a super fun area in the summer months) and has another arcade, but this one has ticketed games and prizes. They have deeeelicious cheese curds. Yes, that is worth mentioning. This IS Wisconsin, after all. The vibe here is very chill and fun and their craft beer selection is lovely as well.
French Press. Now this one is my personal favorite. I am an avid breakfast-eater. My mornings start best with a lovely cup of nummy coffee, especially in latte form from a cute local restaurant and that’s exactly what French Press is. Our family was just going to grab-and-go a baked good from French Press, but when we read the menu, we decided we HAD to stay and get french toast and egg scramblers and breakfast risotto. Boy, am I glad we did. If you want a tasty breakfast and you’re in Eau Claire, this will always be my #1 recommendation.
Fosters Fireside is slightly east of Eau Claire down Highway 94 but let me tell you this right now – from one friend to another – IT. IS. WORTH. THE. DRIVE. Wood-fired pizzas are a family favorite and these pizzas are just ridiculously good. The inside has a Wisconsin vibe with a huge wood fire in the back so you can watch the magic happen. In the summer, outdoor seating is a lovely way to dine as well. Oh, and there is a cheese shop attached to the restaurant because, again, you’re in Wisconsin.
Winter can feel long. We all know this is true. So why not get out of dodge and break up the monotony? Eau Claire is the perfect driving distance and there is so much to do – yes, even in the cold months!
If we had a few extra days in us, here are some of our (other) tried-and-true favorite winter spots we enjoy as a family in Eau Claire:
- The Nucleus (breakfast)
- Dooley’s (best cheese curds!)
- Court n House (get a burger)
DRNKS & DESSERTS:
- The Brewing Projekt (brewery)
- Casey’s Creamery
- Olson’s Ice Cream
- Ramone’s Ice Cream
- The Coffee Grounds
- Hike River Prairie Trail
- The Pablo Center
- Wisconsin Logging Museum
- Revival Records
- Eau Claire Children’s Theater
- Hobb’s Ice Arena (indoor ice skating)
- High Roller Skate Center (rollerskating)
- Hike Beaver Creek Reserve
We look forward to revisiting in the summer months because there is no shortage of parks, playgrounds, beaches, waterfalls, bridges, tubing, splash pads, nature hikes, and let’s not forget the adorable Farmers Market. Hope to revisit with some warm weather suggestions in a future blog. But for now, get up, get out, and enjoy Eau Claire!
Follow Visit Eau Claire or check out the Volume One website before you head out to get an idea of what’s going on during your visit.
Tell ’em Nicki and Nate sent you.