If you love Milwaukee and motorcycles, the Harley-Davidson Museum, at 400 W. Canal St., is a must-see. Parents may think kids will not get much out of the experience, or that exhibits are hands-off. But, I am happy to share that my 8-and-9-year-old boys and I experienced the contrary and had a fun experience.
Setting out: Revving up for adventure
Being familiar with the love-of-the-open-road brand, and having exposed my boys to various family-friendly motorcycle events, I knew there would be opportunities to share the history of Harley-Davidson’s early years. I was right; historical exhibits include one of Harley’s oldest bikes and stories of Harley’s contributions to World Wars I and II.
The museum’s layout and design also provide plenty of learning opportunities. For example, at the colorful tank wall, we found the sleek tanks prominent during each of our birth years, and those of other family members, and compared their similarities and differences.
Interactive elements: Hands-on Harleys
My boys are at the ages where they are fascinated with learning how things work by spinning, tweaking, pulling apart and putting back together. To dispel the no-touch myth, the Museum has incorporated several hands-on and interactive elements for families like mine.
We spent quite a bit of time in the Engine Room, located on the second floor. Here you can learn and see the evolution of Harley-Davidson engines, test your balance and motion skills on their simulator equipment, and measure sound using arm power to achieve the signature rev of Harley-Davidson’s V-twin engine.
Another area my boys enjoyed was the Evil Knievel Daredevil video jumping game located on the first floor. The objective is to become Knievel, find the prime jumping velocity, successfully leap over a pool of sharks and land without falling.
Other family-friendly interactive options include Imagination Station, where kids can put on biker gear and pretend to ride, and a Build-A-Bike interactive display where visitors can custom design their own digital Harley-Davidson.
The payoff: Going hog wild
Saving the best for last, on the museum’s lower level we had the opportunity to sit on at least a dozen different Harley-Davidsons in the Experience Gallery. Motorcycles include the Harley Street and Trikes, as well as an adorable scooter. Parents can rest easy knowing each motorcycle is stable and securely affixed to the floor so the kiddos can’t tip over.
The exhibit is enhanced by showing larger-than-life video scenes of riders in various scenarios along some of the most iconic routes in America. To be honest, this is fun for young and old visitors and a great photo opportunity. When we visited, we saw several adult visitors light up and smile when sitting on each motorcycle.
To round out the visit, the museum invites all guests to sign their memory book. My boys documented their favorite museum moments, and we enjoyed reading notes from worldwide visitors.
Some things to remember
• Pricing is a tad higher than other local museums, so plan ahead to take advantage of every exhibit the museum has to offer.
• Changing exhibits are available to view with your admission in a separate building on the museum campus.
• Although the motorcycles in the Experience Gallery are hands-on, you’re not allowed to touch the motorcycles in other exhibits.
• There is free parking, but it could be difficult to find a spot during the lunch hour when many come to eat at the on-campus restaurant, Motor. So plan accordingly.
Ideas for a successful visit
• Check out the museum’s website to map out the exhibits you and your family want to visit.
• The museum’s restaurant Motor offers a children’s menu.
• The two-story museum offers elevators for strollers and handicap access.
• The Hank Aaron State Trail is accessible on the museum campus for more exploring before or after your visit. Check out the website for more information and maps.