Green Bay is widely known as Titletown in honor of its hometown Packers’ 13 national championships and four Super Bowl victories. Aside from pro football, the Wisconsin lakefront city truly dazzles during the holiday season.
5-Dec-22 – I anchored my visit at the grand Hotel Northland, which opened in 1924 and underwent an extensive renovation in 2019. The 160 guest rooms are thoroughly modern, but the lobby maintains its gilded Art Deco features to exude the charm and elegance of yesteryear.
Near the front entrance is a bronze fedora, reminiscent of the one worn by the Green Bay Packers’ beloved coach Vince Lombardi. Rub it and wish for the same good fortune he had.
Within the hotel are two restaurants: The Walnut Room, an upscale restaurant and bar with an extensive wine list, and the casual beer-centric Poke the Bear.
After checking in, I headed for Titletown, also the name of a 45-acre public park and entertainment complex opposite Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, on Ridge Road.
That’s where a galaxy of white lights sparkles alongside a temporary ice-skating rink, and a sloped greenspace known as Ariens Hill is open for tubing. Keep an eye on the western facade of the Lambeau Field stadium. That’s where the nightly Winter Jubilee Light Show – a colorful animated program of lights, lasers, fireworks, and music – is projected every half hour, usually between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.
Time for a warm-up? At Titletown, the onsite Hinterland Brewery welcomes you with handcrafted brew and contemporary American vittles. Or you can duck into the lobby lounge of the four-star Lodge Kohler for refreshment and park yourself beside a mesmerizing fire pit on the outdoor terrace. Better yet, schedule an appointment at the Kohler Waters Spa for a body treatment and indulge in the hydromassage pool.
Another stop on my itinerary was the National Railroad Museum and the Festival of Trees. The museum displays 70 locomotives and rail cars, mostly indoors. Among them are some of the nation’s most significant rolling stock, like the enormous Union Pacific 4017 Big Boy. Big Boys were the world’s largest coal-fueled steam locomotive built in 1941, and only 25 were manufactured.
You can walk through portions of the command train of former President Dwight Eisenhower when he was a general in Europe during World War II. I’m sure the accommodations were quite comfortable at the time, but they certainly seem spartan today.
Mingling among the trains are more than 40 holiday trees that are adopted and adorned by various Green Bay businesses and organizations. The Captain’s Walk Winery tree was decked in wine bottles and champagne flutes. The Brown County Historical Society tree was hung with Barbie doll ornaments and accompanied by storyboards illustrating Barbie’s magnificent evening wardrobe throughout her lifetime. The Festival of Trees is included with your general admission ticket.
Holiday lights will drench you in glad tidings
The Green Bay Botanical Garden immerses you in glad tidings at the WPS Garden of Lights, the annual nature-inspired spectacle of holiday light. Walk along the gentle paved pathway through gardens and forest illuminated by dozens of displays such as a rainbow-hued tunnel of lights, decorated trees and trunks, and animal and floral figures fashioned from strands of tiny lights. I was especially enamored by the “swans” that appeared to be floating on the pond and the “vegetable garden” tended by a “scarecrow.”
Yet another Green Bay holiday tradition plays at the historic Meyer Theatre, where house thespians Let Me Be Frank Productions puts on a different comedy musical each year. The 2022 show, A Frank’s Christmas, is a heartwarming tale centered around the Elf on the Shelf and a poor shoemaker. The troupe’s founder, head writer and overall madcap, Frank Hermans, is cast as Franky Fruitcake. Other characters are named Amy Angel Food, Patty Cakes, and Pauly Pockets. I can only imagine the hijinks.
Meyer Theatre opened in 1930 as a glamorous vaudeville house and movie palace, and hosted the likes of The Beach Boys, Liberace, Louis Armstrong, and Roy Rogers & Trigger on its stage. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down. Local business leaders came to the rescue, and a major restoration project to the building and original 572-pipe Mighty Wurlitzer organ was completed in 2002.
For a picturesque daytime stroll, I checked out Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a 600-acre urban nature preserve that cares for more than 5,000 injured, sick, and/or orphaned animals and birds each year. It was founded in the late 1930s with a single man-made pond for waterfowl rehab and grew from there.
Take the Wildlife Habi-Trek Trail for outdoor viewing of native Wisconsinites like wolves, cougars, coyotes, deer, and wild turkeys. Smaller species like opossum and chipmunks reside indoors at the Woodland Building. The Web of Life Trail follows a large pond where a floating boardwalk links to a scenic waterfall. You’re likely to find hundreds of ducks basking in the late fall sunshine and awaiting handfuls of shucked corn you can buy to feed them. The sanctuary is free and open year-round.
For a stylish woman who loves her shoes, Seroogy’s kitchen elves make a three-inch chocolate stiletto decorated with a pastel edible flower and filled with chocolate candies. The 11-ounce ensemble runs $19.95.
A tour of Lambeau Field and Packers Hall of Fame shares the fascinating history of how a once-scrappy team became Super Bowl champions. It’s a great tour, even for someone like me who was born without a sports gene. It’s the Packers Pro Shop that captures my interest.
Larger than many grocery stores, the shop is packed with Packers apparel and memorabilia.
For the Packers fan on your gift list, The Greatest Story in Sports: Green Bay Packers 1919 to 2019, a four-volume set in a leatherette sleeve by Cliff Christl, seems like a bargain for $100.
Another shopping find is the quirky Assemblage Studio, where you can buy vintage goods, unusual bits, and pieces that someone can make into something someday, and a gallery of inspired art for sale.
Whew! All this merriment is making me hungry and thirsty. Luckily, the Aardvark Wine Lounge is right across Pine Street from Hotel Northland, where I’m staying. It’s a sweet deal. Choose your wine from an array of dispensing machines lining the walls of the intimate lounge, insert your credit card, fill your glass from the spout, and make a toast. Accompany your sip with selections from the small plates menu of charcuterie, bruschetta, and sweets.
I’m always a fan of the Wisconsin supper club genre, where a hearty meal typically includes homemade rolls and a relish tray. The historic Union Hotel and Supper Club, with a legacy that dates to 1883, delivers just that with over-the-top holiday glam in its dining rooms.
Republic Chophouse is a sophisticated but casual dining option offering artisan preparations of meat and seafood and an eclectic wine list. Taverne In The Sky is Lodge Kohler’s 5th floor, featuring open-flame rotisserie fare and up-close views of the Packers’ stadium.
Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen except where noted otherwise.