I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin but didn't spend much time in Milwaukee until recently when I got to spend a weekend exploring with my sister and an extended trip there for work. With just over 600,000 residents, it's a vibrant city that celebrates its roots and diversity with a parade of summer festivals and is seriously beer-happy. There are major construction projects revitalizing the city's skyline and a new street car, called the Hop, that covers most of Milwaukee’s East Town and Historic Third Ward areas, with additional routes planned for 2019.
Whether you're in town for work, visiting family and friends, tapping your toes to the music as Summerfest, you'll be amazed at all Milwaukee has to offer. I hope you have time to explore a few of my favorite museums, devour some of my favorite foods, and enjoy a cold beer at one of many craft breweries, beer gardens, or brewing giants.
Eat | Restaurants
Dorsia | Who needs a flight of beer when you can have a flight of pasta? They have 10 pastas on their menu and you can build your own flight to try your favorites. There were two of us and we tried a 5-pasta board and there were lots of leftovers for the next day, an added bonus.
Morel | If a girl who doesn't like mushrooms is begging you to go to a restaurant called Morel, you don't have much of an arguement. Aside from the amazing food experience you'll have, you'll also feel like family by the time you leave. If you live in Milwaukee, add this place to your list and get here.... well, yesterday. Say hi to Joe as well - he's the guy behind the bar who will make you feel right at home - and see if he'll even whip up a Bee's Knees for you.
Sweet Diner | Can't go wrong with a place that serves Eggs Benedict all day and doesn't skimp on hollandaise sauce, therefore you can't go wrong with a visit to Sweet Diner.
Cafe Hollander / Cafe Benelux | European-inspired sister restaurants with good food, good beer, and good service. I prefer Cafe Hollander (get the Pretzel Breakfast Sammy if you're there for brunch), but it's a little further from downtown.
Merriment Social | A chic neighborhood restaurant with a good selection of shareables and traditional items. Their menu changes seasonally, but almost always includes their delicious Merriment Burger. In the summer, their garage doors open to provide fresh air for the main dining room.
Mader's Restaurant | Walking into Mader's is like stepping off the plane in Germany - Bavarian decor, staff in traditional attire, classic German fare, and beer served in steins. You can't go wrong with anything on their menu, but be sure to get an order of Reuben Rolls to get started.
Comet Cafe | A popular, cozy, and eclectic spot for comfort food; offers a wide variety of vegetarian/vegan options.
The Wicked Hop | Another spot in downtown's Historic Third Ward that serves up a fantastic weekend brunch and a mean bloody mary. In the summer, enjoy sitting on their street-side patio and watching the streetcar (the Hop) pass by.
BelAir Cantina | With six locations in Milwaukee (and one in Madison) you're never far from BelAir Cantina - so you're in luck. It's one of my favorite spots to grab a margarita and tacos with friends. Here, you order tacos a la carte, but if you order three, you get rice and beans. My go-to tacos are: Korean Beef, Fried Avocado & Bacon, and Roasted Brisket.
Frozen custard is a part of the culture in Milwaukee - it's enjoyed year-round, with family, friends, and strangers, after a ball game or anytime you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth. The preferred place to grab custard is the one in your neighborhood, but you won't be disappointed with any of the following spots:
Leon's Frozen Custard
Kopp's Frozen Custard (Multiple Locations)
Gilles Frozen Custard
Northpoint Custard (Closest to Downtown)
Oscar's Frozen Custard
Fred's Frozen Custard & Grill
Celebrate | Bars & Breweries
Black Sheep MKE | If you're in town on a Monday, you're in luck. Their Monday "Board Meetings" feature $10 cocktail boards (four mini craft cocktails) and $10 cheese boards. It was the perfect pick-me-up after a long day of actual meetings.
Lakefront Brewery | There's a lot of great beer in Milwaukee, but Lakefront Brewery has arguably the best taproom in town. They offer a few different tours, serve great food, and the beer is a plenty. You've got to at least try their Funnel Cake Ale - it's so unique!
Camino | A local watering hole featuring craft beer and upscale bar fare. We stopped in for drinks after dinner at Morel and it was the perfect night cap.
Up Down MKE | You'll want to have some quarters in your pocket when you show up - there's more than 60 vintage arcade games and pinball machines. They also have patio games for their rooftop patio, three skee-ball alleys, and a variety of Nintendo 64 games for you to play!
Nomad World Pub | A local watering hole that's a popular spot for watching soccer and having a beer.
Movida | If you're wanting a craft cocktail - this is your place.
Foundation Bar | If tropical tiki drinks are your thing, then this is your place - it won't disappoint.
Bryant's Cocktail Lounge | Milwaukee's oldest cocktail lounge serves a variety of vintage cocktail; home of the Pink Squirrel, Blue Tail fly, and the Banshee, all popular drinks back in the day!
Milwaukee County Beer Gardens | One of my favorite seasonal traditions, open between April/May and October, with live local music and lots of good beer. There are a number of permanent beer gardens and a Traveling Beer Garden that has two simultaneously running tours traveling throughout the Milwaukee County Park System.
** A few tips: A lot of beer gardens request that you bring your own pint glass - but most will allow you to "rent" one while you're there. None of the beer gardens allow grilling, but some allow you to bring your own food while others have food available to purchase. Share your table - beer gardens are built around community! Relax | Coffee Shops
Collectivo Coffee (LOVE their Lakefront location)
Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.
Holey Moley Coffee + Doughnuts
Peter Sciortino's Bakery
Play | Things to Do Get Outside / Explore the City - Sample local goods at the Milwaukee Public Market - Walk the Riverwalk, a 2-mile stroll through Downtown - Ride the Streetcar, it's free! - Take as selfie with the Bronze Fonz - Climb to the top at the North Point Lighthouse and Museum - Watch the wings open and close at the Milwaukee Art Museum - Tour the home of Milwaukee's pioneer brewing family at Pabst Mansion - Learn something new at Milwaukee Public Museum - Pet a sting ray at Discovery World - Swing your leg over the saddle on a bike at the Harley Davidson Museum - Release your inner child at the Betty Brinn Children's Museum - Experience a desert oasis, a tropical jungle and floral gardens... all in one afternoon at the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (Domes)
Cheer on a Local Team - Milwaukee Brewers (MLB) - Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) - Milwaukee Admirals (AHL, affiliated with the NHL's Nashville Predators) - Marquette Golden Eagles (College) - Milwaukee Panthers (College)
Entertainment and Live Music - Summerfest - the world's largest music festival! - The Pabst Theater - Turner Hall Ballroom - The Riverside Theater - The Back Room @ Colectivo - The Jazz Estate - Caroline's Jazz Club - Miller High Life Theatre - Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino ** Throughout the summer, you’ll find free outdoor concerts almost every night of the week - everything from popular local cover bands to classical ensembles.
City of Festivals Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, for good reason. Each year, you'll find entertainment, cultural, and street festivals to enjoy throughout the summer. A few of my favorites include:
Summerfest - the world's largest music festival!
Wisconsin State Fair - make sure you try a cream puff!
Indian Summer Festival - tap your toes to the beat of the drum jam!
Bastille Days - catch the light show on their 43-foot Eiffel Tower replica!
Festa Italiana - take a romantic gondola ride!
German Fest - cheer on your favorite pup at the dachshund derby and enjoy a stein... prost!
Polish Fest - get ready to polka!
IndiaFest - savor some authentic Indian cuisine!
Irish Fest - the world's largest celebration of Celtic music & culture!
Mexican Fiesta - celebrate to the sounds of Mariachi!
Scottish Fest / Highland Games - see working sheep dogs in action!
PrideFest - come together for a weekend of fun entertainment!
Milwaukee Air & Water Show - sit in awe along the city's beautiful lakefront as you watch the air show!
Street and Neighborhood Festivals: Brady Street Festival, 5th Street Festival, Pabst Street Party, Garfield Avenue Festival, Locust Street Festival of Music and Art, Cedarburg Strawberry Festival, Center Street Daze, TosaFest, Bay View Bash, Harbor Fest, Chili'n on the Avenue, and others!
Stay | Hotels Iron Horse Hotel | 500 W Florida St, Milwaukee, WI 53204 "An upscale hotel geared for business travelers and motorcycle enthusiasts alike"
Loft-style guestrooms with full-tile walk-in showers and rain dome shower heads
On-site motorcycle parking and bike wash station
Four on-site dining options that I'd visit even if I wasn't a guest
The Pfister Hotel | 424 E Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 "A downtown Milwaukee icon for more than 125 years with a Victorian art collection that rivals any other hotel in the world and an artist-in-residence program that has been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally."
Your choice of stay: lavishly appointed guestrooms or charming historic suites
Blu, a martini and wine bar with panoramic views, located on the 23rd floor
Indoor pool overlooking the city
The Kimpton Journeyman | 310 E Chicago St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 "A place you want to be, whether you live in the area or are just passing through"
Rooftop restaurant and bar with glass walls, cabana-style seating, giant Connect 4, shuffleboard, and other large-scale games.
A yoga mat in every room, free of charge
Custom-designed PUBLIC bikes to borrow for a ride around town
Hilton Milwaukee City Center | 509 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53203 "An Art Deco property that remains on of Milwaukee's most vibrant downtown hotels"