downtown Milwaukee during the holidays

10 Black Friday Alternatives for Milwaukee Families

Screw shopping. It’s Friday on a holiday weekend and you’ve got better things to do. From sports to the arts, here are some fun ways to celebrate the official kick-off of the holiday season.

1) Watch the annual tree-lighting at the Pfister Hotel

Holiday tree at The Pfister Hotel
Photo courtesy of The Pfister Hotel

Get in the holiday spirit by gazing up at twinkle lights strung on a grand 18-foot tree…while in the warmth of a cozy, historic hotel. The Pfister Hotel’s annual tree lighting event is at 5:30 p.m., with Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving just prior, followed by complimentary holiday treats, music and hot cocoa. Kids can even drop their letters to Santa in a special mailbox.

2) Tour the decorated Pabst Mansion after hours

The Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee
Photo courtesy of the Pabst Mansion

This is a good time of year to visit the former home of Capt. Frederick Pabst, founder of the Pabst Brewing Company. Between 5 and 7 p.m. is a self-guided Twilight Tour after the museum normally closes for the day, giving you the benefit of seeing decorated Christmas trees all aglow. Live music and snacks will also be provided during this open-house format. Purchase tickets here ($15 for adults, $8 for kids between the ages of six and 17).

3) Watch the Milwaukee Bucks in their new stadium

the Milwaukee Bucks
Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks

Haven’t been inside the new Fiserv Forum yet? Or want to see “The Greek Freak” in action? Here’s your chance, when the Milwaukee Bucks play the Phoenix Suns. Start time is 7:30 p.m. Grab tickets here.

4) Snag double-deals at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Kohl's Art Generation Lab at Milwaukee Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum

Each Black Friday means Member Double Discount Day in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s super-cool gift shop. You’ll find everything from housewares to jewelry, all great gifts, and the shopping experience sure beats braving your local Target at the crack of dawn. While you’re there, peruse the museum. Kids can create their own gifts in the Kohl’s Art Generation Lab, staffed by museum employees and open during regular museum hours (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). Kids twelve years and under get in free; adults pay $19.

5) Take in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at First Stage
Photo courtesy of Paul Ruffalo

This First Stage musical is perfect for all ages. Nov. 23 kicks off the season for “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” wrapping up on Dec. 26. Be one of the first to see the performance of this holiday classic based on the 1971 book by Barbara Robinson about the Herdman kids’ roles in a Sunday school’s Christmas play.

6) Visit the Milwaukee Public Museum

Milwaukee Public Museum in downtown Milwaukee
Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum

Knowing kids are off school on this day, the Milwaukee Public Museum is hosting a slew of family-friendly activities that are free with general admission ($18 for Planetarium and permanent/special exhibits; $24 includes Dome Theater). These will be on the museum’s first floor. Currently on exhibit is “Frogs!” which looks at this amphibian’s many qualities.

7) Check out the holiday-themed show dome at The Domes

Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee
Photo courtesy of Mitchell Park Domes

Flowers at the Mitchell Park Domes’ Show Dome take a holiday twist — based on Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol — the “Scrooooge! Holiday Floral Show” (from Nov. 19 to Jan. 6, 2019). This is the perfect indoor activity to remind you of warmer days ahead, thanks to the aroma of fresh flowers. Admission is as follows: adult, $7; children between six and 17, $5; and children five and under, free.

8) Learn more about that turkey you just ate

This pop-up talk, hosted at Falk Park in Oak Creek from 1 to 3 p.m., features naturalists from Wehr Nature Center in Franklin exploring the fascinating world of turkeys. Crafts, short hikes in the park and educational information about the turkey population are all part of the fun. Admission is free; parking runs $3.50.

9) Enjoy free admission to Waukesha County Parks

Between Nov. 23 and Nov. 25, all eight Waukesha County Parks that normally charge a fee to enter are waiving admission, which is a great opportunity to get outdoors and perhaps check out a park for the first time. Annual stickers for vehicles run $32 so this is a significant savings if you don’t have a sticker. Find the list of parks here.

10) Take a trolley ride in Downtown Cedarburg

From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday, including on Nov. 23, free trolley rides take people up and down the historic district of Downtown Cedarburg. One thousand luminaries (artificial lights in paper bags, casting a soft glow) are a festive touch. You don’t even have to shop: consider enjoying hot chocolate or hot cider at Fiddleheads, inside an 1860s Cream City brick building.



A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine),, and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.