You’ve almost certainly heard its name, and yet you probably know virtually nothing about it. Known by locals and by sports fans worldwide as “Titletown”, it’s more than cheese and beer and football (although that’s a compelling combination). Green Bay, Wisconsin, isn’t generally considered a travel destination, and that’s exactly what makes it a great one.
“…don’t be surprised if Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the next Austin, Texas, or Asheville, North Carolina.”
Nestled at the southern tip of the western arm of Lake Michigan (known as the Green Bay), the city maintains a magical combination of urban convenience and culture with a small-town feel. For those from neighboring cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago, it provides a break from the hustle and bustle of the larger metropolitan areas without sacrificing convenience. For those visiting from the more rural parts of the northern Midwest, it offers the energy and excitement of a populated city center without the intimidation of the urban crush.
In the style of the celebrated city river walk locations across the U.S., Green Bay boasts its own downtown waterside scene, known as City Deck. The northern end of the 20-mile long Fox River Trail parallels the river for which it is named and travels directly through the heart of downtown Green Bay. Separating the city’s old town East Side from it’s more modernly developed West Side, the Fox River acts as both the figurative and geographic center-line for the city.
Lining the shores of the Fox in the downtown section of Green Bay are the city’s swankiest shops, trendiest restaurants, hippest bars, and poshest apartments, interrupted now and then by the occasional park or scenic shipyard. On the East Side bank between the Walnut and Dousman drawbridges is City Deck, the downtown area’s outdoor gathering hub.
During the warmer months, City Deck plays host to a number of free social activities like community yoga instruction and live music. The spacious outdoor patio area (complete with outside bar) of downtown Green Bay’s iconic Hagemeister Park opens onto the heart of City Deck, offering a scenic view of the river and the passersby.
In addition to occupying the southern tip of the picturesque Green Bay with access to all of the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan, downtown Green Bay also sits at the meeting point of the Fox River and the East River, just before they empty into the bay. All of this water lends itself to a vibrant maritime culture and natural aquatic environment.
Nearly as soon as the ice breaks on the Fox River in the Spring, the apartments and restaurants put their docks in the water to give boaters a place to tie-off. Upriver folks and folks from across the lakes congregate in and around Green Bay to take advantage of the city and the calm waters surrounding it. Fishing, boating, kayaking, skiing, and shipping — it all passes through downtown Green Bay.
Getting Around Town
One of the first immediately noticeable things about Green Bay is how well suited the downtown area is to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Everywhere you look there are citizens on skates, on Segways, on skateboards, and on foot. Road bikes, fat bikes, mountain bikes, and cruisers sit hitched outside of nearly every building.
The almost complete lack of traffic in Green Bay seems so mysterious as to almost be alarming. It really is pretty unbelievable for a city its size. Nonetheless, the downtown streets could not be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and skaters, and parking is always a breeze. Aside from at least three huge public parking decks each no more than a block from the center of town, Green Bay has metered public parking, open parking lots, and spacious customer parking for many of its businesses. To top it all off, public parking downtown is free in the evenings and on weekends.
A Rich Football History
Of course, the main reason that everyone seems to know the name of such a small, quiet city is that it is home to the world-famous Green Bay Packers. Winners of multiple Super Bowls and of Championships prior to the birth of the Superbowl, the Packers have earned Green Bay the nickname “Titletown, USA”, and the history of football pride is more than evident. Lambeau Field, dubbed “The Frozen Tundra” during Green Bay’s harsh NFL winters, is a bucket-list visit for any true NFL fan, and its hard to find a better NFL icon than the statue of Vince Lombardi, after whom the Superbowl trophy is named.
The Packers influence doesn’t stop at the stadium, though. Unlike any other team in the NFL, the Packers are owned by the city itself (instead of by an individual mogul, family, or investment group). This translates into a sense of pride in and familiarity with the team that is unique among professional sports teams. Downtown streets are named after players and coaches, and statues of former team members dot corners and parks all across town. The pride in Packerland is palpable.
Beer, Cheese, and Beercheese
When you visit a city in the middle of America’s Dairyland and near the country’s historic beer brewing capitol, its hard not to enjoy yourself. Not everyone can enjoy a basket of cheese curds or a pint of local beer, but for those who can, Green Bay can seem like a slice of pure heaven. It won’t destroy your pocketbook either, as even the swankiest Green Bay establishments maintain small-town food and drink prices.
You don’t have to go to a bar or a restaurant in Green Bay to get some of their fabled cheese curds, even the local and national fast food joints carry them as side orders there. Need to wet your whistle after a day on the water, an afternoon at the stadium, or a belly full of some tasty curds? Downtown Green Bay boasts an impressive number of bars, each more comfortable and enjoyable than the next.
Perhaps Green Bay’s greatest success is its ability to maintain that small-town attitude and atmosphere. The people are friendly and unassuming. There is no big city attitude, and random violent crime or street crime is nearly unheard of. Despite the impressive amount of alcohol consumption, there is never a problem with fighting or vandalism.
The citizens of Green Bay are quiet and respectful, but also open and friendly. You’d have to look pretty hard to glimpse the city’s seedy underbelly, if it has one at all. Green Bay folks seem much more interested in good clean fun, warm company, and a couple of cold brews to wash it all down with.
The Perfect Compromise
Green Bay isn’t the glitzy urban mega-metropolis, and it isn’t the quiet country getaway. It is somewhere comfortably in between those two extremes. It’s got some of the benefits of each and the major drawbacks of neither. It’s affordable, uncrowded, convenient, and trendy. It may not be on your travel radar yet, but don’t be surprised if Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the next Austin, Texas, or Asheville, North Carolina.