One of the most underrated cities for a great long weekend visit has got to be Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It has always been on my bucket list of cities to visit in the US and after a recent Labor Day weekend trip there, I’m so happy that I finally made it there. I actually cannot believe it took me so long to get there and hope to visit again some time in the future. Important to note, Wisconsin winters are rough, pretty cold with quite a bit of snow, so I definitely recommend visiting late spring thru early fall for the best experience.
Milwaukee is located approximately 90 miles north of Chicago, Illinois. You could definitely include it as part of a trip to Chicago. In fact, while Milwaukee has it’s own airport, depending on where you are arriving from, it might be cheaper to just fly into Chicago instead. This is what I did for my trip as the flights from Boston were half the price to fly into Chicago and also direct. While I’m a big advocate of not renting cars in cities when I travel, it seemed easier to get around in Milwaukee with one, so having to drive up from Chicago wasn’t too big of a deal.
So what is there to see in this midwest US city? So much, from the riverwalk to the lakefront, there are historic districts, street art, breweries, lighthouses,food and sporting events. Definitely something for all ages and interest levels.
The heart of Milwaukee, the RiverWalk takes you along the Milwaukee River thru the different neighborhoods of the city. It’s similar to Chicago’s riverwalk but on a much smaller scale. Spamming over 20 blocks along over 3 miles the riverwalk connects three of the city’s neighborhoods: Downtown, Third Ward and Beerline B.
There are so many ways to enjoy the Milwaukee RiverWalk:
- Go for a walk or run along the RiverWalk
- Kayak on the Milwaukee River
- Take a boat cruise on the Milwaukee River
- Catch an outdoor concert in the park
- Enjoy a meal or drink at an outdoor patio
- Browse the outdoor art gallery, RiverSculpture, located along the RiverWalk
- See the Bronz Fonz – honoring Fonzie from the popular TV show Happy Days which was set in Milwaukee. This is located downtown on the RiverWalk and a great photo op!
Historic Third Ward:
Located on the southern section of the Milwaukee RiverWalk is the Historic Third Ward District. Listed on the National Register of Historic places, this was the oldest commerce hub in Milwaukee. It has a long commerce history that was able to come back even after a devastating fire in 1892 which destroyed 16 blocks and took 30 years to reconstruct.
Today, this former warehouse district has been revitalized as one of the most popular mixed-use neighborhoods of the city. In the district, you can find art galleries, shopping, restaurants and many festivals. The weekend I was there, a huge outdoor art market was being held, which was a great opportunity to check out some of the local creatives and their work.
Street art is becoming more and more popular in cities big and small across the world which makes every structure the perfect canvas! Milwaukee’s Third Ward has no shortage of street art, definitely something to check out while exploring the neighborhood.
There was even this cool tunnel that was covered in street art:
Milwaukee Public Market:
While there are many great restaurants in the Historic Third Ward, you must make sure to stop by the Milwaukee Public Market for a bite to eat while exploring the this neighborhood! Opening in 2005, the Milwaukee Public Market’s inspiration came from Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Featuring local vendors that sell prepared meals, produce, meats, seafood, cheeses and more, it’s a great way to support local small businesses.
There are so many great local vendors to grab lunch from, it can be hard to decide. I recommend walking around a few times and making note of the top vendors you want to check out. There is ample seating on the second floor of the market as well as seating outdoors.
Beer History and Tours:
Known as the Brew City, Milwaukee was once the Beer Capital of the World, so it’s no surprise that there is no shortage of breweries and beer history in Milwaukee. There are many tours that you can take including:
- Miller Brewing Company – What beer drinker hasn’t had a Miller Lite in their lifetime? Located a few miles from downtown is the Miller Brewery offering tours daily (currently tours are suspended due to covid).
- Pabst Brewing Company – Famous for Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), Pabst may no longer brew it’s beer in Milwaukee, but it has a long history in the city dating back to 1848. The former location of the brewery and many of it’s buildings are still standing and they offer history tours at the former brewery. You can also take a tour of the Pabst family mansion. To learn more about these tours, check out my post on Pabst History in Milwaukee
- Lakefront Brewery – located in the northern neighborhood of the RiverWalk, Beerline B, this brewery has been operating since 1987. The company was started by two brothers who used mostly used equipment at first, including a piece of equipment that was seen in the opening credits of the popular Laverne & Shirley TV show that they got from Schlitz Brewery. This piece of equipment can be seen on the tour. Their tour is a must, it’s rated as one of the top brewery tours in the country and is a lot of fun. The brewery includes a beer hall as well as outdoor seating along the river. Make sure to pair your beer with some cheese curds. Not only are they a must when visiting Wisconsin, but Lakefront Brewery makes some of the best cheese curds in all of Milwaukee!
If you walk along the Milwaukee RiverWalk south towards downtown from Lakefront Brewery, you will come to Schlitz Park. This is the former location of the Schlitz Brewery, which brewed Schlitz Beer, known as the “The Beer that made Milwaukee Famous”.
While the Milwaukee River goes thru the heart of the city, the city also sits along one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. There are so many great things to do along the Lakefront:
- Visit a museum – Both the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World are located along the lakefront.
- Enjoy a summer day on the beach, like the popular Bradford Beach
- Enjoy one of the many parks along the lake, popular parks include Lakeshore State Park and Veterans Park
- Get out on the water – go sailing from Mckinley Marina
- Take a walk, run or bike ride along the 3 mile long Milwaukee Lakefront Trail
North Point Lighthouse:
Located near Lake Michigan is North Point Lighthouse. In operation from 1855 thru 1994. The lighthouse stands 74 feet tall and the light was visible for 20 miles away. In 2007 the lighthouse was restored and opened as a museum. The lighthouse is currently closed due to water damage repairs being made, but it’s definitely worth visiting to take some photos of the outside and explore nearby Lake Park.
Attend a Sporting Event:
Milwaukee has some great professional sports teams. While in town make sure to check out a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game at American Family Field which is located just a few miles outside of the downtown area. Or attend a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game at Fiserv Forum located in downtown Milwaukee not far from the former Pabst Brewery.
With so much to see and do right in the Milwaukee, you probably won’t have much time to get out of the city if you are only there on a long weekend trip, but if you did have a little more time, I highly recommend checking out Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve . This hidden gem is located just a half hour north of Milwaukee but will make you feel like you are over a thousand miles south of Milwaukee. It’s the type of place that will make you truly appreciate how beautiful Lake Michigan is!
Milwaukee is very much underrated and would make the perfect spot for a quick long weekend getaway! Who’s ready to check this great city off their bucket list?
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