Seven Spots for Family Fun in Menomonie
from candy to dragons to the real Wakanda, there’s much to explore
Confession time: I’ve lived in and written about the Chippewa Valley for more than 20 years, but I’ve spent precious little time in Menomonie. Sure, I’ve attended shows at the Mabel Tainter, gone to events at UW-Stout, dined at restaurants, and explored a few parks, but I haven’t ever made Menomonie a destination for more than quick visits.
I decided to change that on a recent summer Saturday when my 8-year-old daughter and I found ourselves searching for something to do. We found something – in fact, lots of somethings – when we made the short drive from Eau Claire to Menomonie. If you’re looking for some fun family-oriented activities of your own, here’s a list of the spots we visited in the course of one afternoon.
1. TED’S PIZZA
306 Main St. E • If there’s one place I’m particularly embarrassed about never having visited in Menomonie, it’s Ted’s Pizza. The pizzeria has been around since 1970 – which is longer than I’ve been around! – so I don’t have much excuse. We soon discovered why Ted’s has been in business for more than half a century and is frequently ranked among Volume One readers’ favorite restaurants in Menomonie: The pizza is delicious, with square-cut pieces (much like those at venerable Sammy’s in Eau Claire), perfectly crisp crust, and savory toppings. We arrived hungry and departed with full bellies and leftovers (which were so delicious they barely survived the trip home).
2. C&J’S CANDY STORE & SCOOP SHOP
332 Main St. E • Our visit to Ted’s was very nearly delayed when we parked our car and almost made an immediate detour into C&J’s, which is right down the block. Yes, it’s a cliché, but my daughter was like a kid in a candy store (and, honestly, so was I) when we finally stopped in after lunch. The shop, nestled inside a circa 1880 downtown building, is a labyrinth of shelves and displays chock full of every variety of sweet treats you can imagine, and many more that you’ve never dreamed of. In addition to a range of familiar American favorites (from Skittles to Nerds to Jelly Bellies), C&J’s boasts candy from more than 60 countries, from German chocolate to Chinese White Rabbits to genuine Turkish delight, as well as loads of toys and gifts. If that’s not enough to raise your blood sugar, they also hand scoop Wisconsin-made Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream.
3. DRAGON TALE BOOKS
216 Main St. E • One of the newer business in downtown Menomonie, this charming bookshop opened Dec. 31, picking up the baton for local readers from Bookends on Main, which was located next door. As the father of a dragon-obsessed daughter, Dragon Tale Books was a must-see – and not just because of the enormous “dragon tail” that runs along the ceiling. Dragon Tale Books certainly didn’t disappoint: There were, indeed, books about dragons on the shelves, and plenty more fiction and nonfiction titles for readers of all ages. We even collaborated on a dragon-themed coloring page, which is now hanging at the checkout. (We’re both very proud!)
4. RASSBACH MUSEUM
1820 John Russell Road • A short drive took us from the world of fantasy back to reality when we arrived at the Rassbach Museum, home of the Dunn County Historical Society. Amid the displays about the region’s long history – from nearly 10,000-year-old projectile points to recreated Prohibition-era speakeasy – there’s plenty to keep kids engaged. Our guide was quick to show us the Dunnville General Store, part of an exhibit devoted to Caddie Woodlawn, the children’s book based on a real girl who grew up in Dunn County in the 1860s. He also led us to the museum’s not-so-hidden gem: Fulton’s Workshop, a 5,000-square-foot technology exhibit and maker space named in honor of Fulton Holtby, an inventor and professor. Whether you want to marvel at a Rube Goldberg contraption or create one of your own, Fulton’s Workshop is an amazing place to hang out with kids.
5. LION’S GAME PARK
Game Park Road • Just down the road from the museum is an attraction I’d seen literally hundreds of times but never visited: the Menomonie Lions Club Game Park, which can be glimpsed from nearby Interstate 94. It’s a perfect place for a stroll on the shaded trails that border enclosures with small herds of bison, elk, and white-tailed deer. Highlights included being able to get within a few feet of a couple of shaggy bison (thank goodness for the fence) and watching a bull elk gallop toward us across a field (a truly majestic sight, but in retrospect, he was probably trying to get away from flies).
6. WAKANDA PARK
909 Pine Ave. E • Not to be confused with the fictional African kingdom of the same name, this is a beautiful 100-acre park along the shore of Lake Menomin. There’s an 18-hole disc golf course, six ball diamonds, playground equipment, one of those cool old lion’s head drinking fountains, and the very awesome-looking Wakanda Waterpark, which has waterslides and other elements to help visitors cool down – our one big regret of the trip was we didn’t bring our swimsuits. If you’re interested in something a little more off the beaten path, literally and figuratively, Wakanda Park is also home to some of the only Native American effigy mounds in the northern half of Wisconsin. Past the disc golf course on the south edge of the park, on the edge of a ridge and almost enveloped by trees, you’ll find a market atop the most prominent of the mounds, which were built as long ago as 1,000 years, making them by far the oldest human-made structures in the Chippewa Valley. And, as you might guess, Wakanda Park’s name is Native American in origin – to the Dakota, it means “an omnipresent, invisible life force.”
7. ‘CASTLE’ PLAYGROUND
615 24th Ave. W • At my daughter’s request, the last stop on our journey was a visit to the playground at River Heights Elementary School. Take it from an 8-year-old: This playground is pretty amazing. From the front, it resembles an imposing, two-story wooden castle, complete with towers and parapets where you can imagine medieval archers ready to rain down fury upon the invading hordes. As you can gather, it’s a place that sparks a lot of imaginative play. In addition to the castle, there’s a Viking boat, a climbing wall, and plenty of other elements to help stretch little bodies and minds. Playing hide-and-seek in the castle was a whimsical ending to a fun-filled family day in Menomonie.