Before setting foot in Milwaukee, I mainly associated it with the following:
- The Brewers
With Bridesmaids being the most important, obviously. But even though I hadn’t been there, I had a distinct idea in my head that it would be chill. Chill AF, even. I thought it would be hearty and industrial and modern, with good food and beer. Not charming or cutesey, but a mix of fun and practical. With views of Lake Michigan thrown in.
And I was so right. Milwaukee is awesome. Kristen Wiig had already conviced me, but I loved my time there. If I had to put my finger on it, it felt a lot like a mix of Philadelphia and Minneapolis, oddly enough.
Here are the things I got up to during my visit:
Depending on what stall you’re near, the air is full of the smell of tacos, cupcakes, fresh seafood, hearty soups, or drafts of beer.
I wandered the market for an hour, eyeing all the deliciousness before picking up a hunk of bread and paired it with some Wisconsin cheese. That plus a diet coke, and I had an insanely delicous lunch for $4. But there’s something amazing for every budget. If I go back, I think I might splurge on the Oyster Bar.
Historic Third Ward – after my lunch I wandered around the Historic Third Ward, appreciating the beautiful architecture and window shopping. From their website:
“The Historic Third Ward (HTW) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Milwaukee’s oldest center of commerce and warehousing. It was also the site of Milwaukee’s most devastating fire and its most remarkable rebuilding efforts.
In 1892, “The Great Third Ward Fire” devastated 16 square blocks of Milwaukee’s vital, riverfront commerce area..Reconstruction began almost immediately and within 30 years, the district was rebuilt into the bustling and vital commerce district it had once been. Designed by local well known architects, the neighborhood’s buildings have a visual continuity that creates a unique urban expression.”
Walking through the neighborhood you get to see beautiful industrial architecture and views of the river and surrounding warehouses.
Milawaukee Art Museum – This is a fantastic museum! Their collection floored me. I went to see the special exhibit on Thomas Hart Benton (swoon), but the permanent collection, which includes over 30,000 pieces, was incredible.
I would compare it to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as far as the experience and the breadth of the collection. They basically had to chase me out at closing time. The building itself is an architectural marvel.
My only complaint is the huge collection is spread over galleries that don’t have a natural flow from room to room. I was dizzy trying to keep track of where I’d been and where I needed to go next.
Lake Michigan Shore – I took a lovely stroll along the lakefront, people watching as sailboats passed by. Kids were on rented bikes, and joggers blasted old school funk from fm radios. It was heaven.
Other Activity Ideas:
Brewery Tours are incredibly popular in the MKE. I didn’t end up having time for a one, but Lakefront Brewery is the one my Uber driver recommended if I had gone.
River Cruise Edelweiss Tour – From land, I was super jealous watching the boats go by. It’s hard to be surrounded by water and not be on it (and/or in it).
Pete’s Fruit Market – Another suggestion from my Uber driver, who told me the produce from this market is legendary.
Travel and Leisure’s Milwaukee and Lake Michigan Area Travel Guide
Visit Milwaukee – The main tourism organization for Milwaukee.
The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler writes up his visit in detail in Milwaukee’s Appeal, Vibrant and Cheap
On Milwaukee – An award winning digital magazine with reviews and stories about neighborhoods, activities, and restaurants.
Odds and Ends
Where I stayed: I used Priceline‘s “Name Your Own Price” tool and got a beautiful room at The Pfister, a four star hotel right downtown, for less than $80 a night including taxes and fees. Not the most budget of budget, but I enjoyed every minute at The Pfister. I even had an issue with being double charged, and they took care of it in one phone call.
How I got there: I drove from Toronto to Milawaukee in one day, going through Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I thought I was going to take a ferry from Musekegeon, MI across Lake Michigan, but I didn’t do my homework. The cost of the ferry and the late schedule negated the time savings, so I just drove around the lake through Chicago.
Milwaukee was the perfect summer stop. The weather was gorgeous, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and costs were half of what they can be in larger cities. I highly recommend a visit.