When to go:
You can find something to do in Milwaukee any time of the year, but the city really comes alive in the summer with festivals, street parties and live music in the parks. From June to September there are nine different ethnic festivals at Henry Maier Festival Park, as well as the world’s largest musical festival – Summerfest. It has held this title, certified by the Guinness World Records, since 1999.
September is my favorite month in Milwaukee because the weather is consistently warm, but not too hot, with an average temperature of 71 degrees. You’ll be able to enjoy the outdoors and the last few summer parties. But, if you visit during the last two weeks of October, catch the popular Milwaukee Film Festival and enjoy the changing leaves on the trails in one of the 150 beautiful parks that make up the Milwaukee County Park system.
How to get around:
After much debate, Milwaukee finally has a streetcar. The Hop currently only has one route connecting the East Side to the Third Ward, but it’s quiet, clean and free until November 2019 (thanks to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino) See the route and schedule here.
Milwaukee’s bike share program is named after our funny nickname for a drinking fountain. The comfy, sky blue bikes are quick and easy to check out and return at one of the many conveniently placed kiosks around town. Better yet, traveling on two wheels offers a distinct perspective of the city.
Milwaukee by Car
Milwaukee is also easy to navigate by car if you can remember that the lake is always east. Parking is ample on the street. Check the signs to see if you can park free for two hours or pay for your meter through the MKE Park app.
Where to go:
Milwaukee historian and author John Gurda dubbed Milwaukee a city of neighborhoods for good reason. Each little enclave has its unique flavor, so be sure to visit a few. If you only have a day or two, stick to these three dense ‘hoods so you can cover a lot of ground.
Grab a cup of coffee at Colectivo at the intersection of Lincoln Memorial Blvd and Lafayette Hill. The strong coffee, from-scratch eats and people watching on the huge patio make it a perfect café. The historic building was actually once the Milwaukee River Flushing Station.
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s striking architecture has become an icon of the city. In addition to the beautiful collections of classic and contemporary art, marvel at the “wings” of the Burke Brise Soleil opening at 10 a.m., flap at noon and close with the museum at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. on Friday).
Discovery World Science and Technology Museum is a great, family-friendly spot with interactive exhibits and an aquarium where you can get up close and personal with stingrays.
If it’s June-August, you will likely see a festival in full swing at the Henry Maier Festival Park. But if you aren’t up for battling the crowds, take a leisurely stroll or bike around the loop jutting into the lake behind the festival grounds that is Lakeshore State Park. Wisconsin’s only urban state park has a paved trail and is filled with native prairie.
Historic Third Ward
The Historic Third Ward is the trendiest and most walkable neighborhood, brimming with boutiques, galleries and restaurants. It’s been dubbed the SoHo of Milwaukee. Grab a metered street spot or pay $5-10 to park in a surface lot and meander up and down Water, Broadway and Milwaukee streets.
Start at the Milwaukee Public Market to find local provisions like Anodyne Coffee, and original Milwaukee apparel and accessories at Brew City. The lobster roll at St. Paul’s Fish Market or tacos from Margarita Paradise are my favorites, but take a lap around the entire market before you decide on what to eat.
With a good mix of large retailers like West Elm, Lululemon, Anthropologie and Pendleton, and locally-owned boutiques like Milworks, Lela, MKE, MODA3, Inspired and The Home Market, The Third Ward is a shopper’s paradise.
This neighborhood, just south of the Third Ward, has transformed into an eating and drinking mecca, with everything from breweries and distilleries to innovative restaurants.
It’s connected to Central Standard Distillery if you prefer spirits, but I also like Great Lakes Distillery that offers an informative and interesting tour. Urban Harvest and Mobcraft also have tours, taprooms and tasty brews.
What to Eat:
This restaurant was an innovator with both the small plate and farm-to-table dining movement in Milwaukee. Their interesting and variable menu of international tapas will allow you to sample cuisine from all over the world, made with fresh, local ingredients.
Don’t be scared off by the seemingly strange menu (or the giant, naked picture of Burt Reynolds) at this “snack bar.” There’s a rotating mix of raw bar items and gourmet comfort food, including cheese fries that will blow your mind.
This is as close to authentic Spanish cuisine as you’ll get in Milwaukee. I favor the tapas over the paella. Go with a group so you can try one of everything – you won’t be disappointed.
This tiny spot only has about six tables and typically a handful of dishes on its daily menu, but the portions and the flavors are huge. They don’t take reservations, but the tables turn over quickly and the friendly bar staff will take care of you while you wait.
While Milwaukee Magazine has the best Milwaukee news and happenings, you can also find things to check off your Milwaukee bucket list in my new book 100 Things to Do in Milwaukee Before You Die. Find me on Facebook or Instagram to learn more.