This is a surprising city, especially if you’re like me and have never been to the state of Wisconsin, much less to its largest metropolitan area.
** Stay in the downtown core. I found a good rate at the Hyatt Milwaukee Downtown, which is across from Pere Marquette Park (where there are free Wednesday River Rhythms evening concerts in summer.)
The Hyatt is close to the Milwaukee Riverwalk, plus the Pabst Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. One of my biggest regrets was waiting too long to get a ticket to the Rep’s comedy “Guys on Ice,” set in a northern Wisconsin ice shanty. I know zero about ice fishing, but it sounded like a hilarious way to learn about it while sitting in a nice warm theater seat.
Other hotels I considered included the swanky Pfister – with an “artist in residence” in the lobby – or the Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Downtown which is in a gorgeous historic building. While walking along the river I noticed the Residence Inn Milwaukee Downtown, which is also in an historic building (the old Gimbel’s Department Store) and is smack-dab on the water.
** Enjoy the Milwaukee River. You may need to navigate some stairs, but both sides of the river have walking routes and the signage is outstanding. It’s quite simple to find your way around.
If you’d rather paddle, you can rent kayaks or canoes for a different way to see the Milwaukee River .
Just south of Wells Street, don’t miss a chance to say “Aaayyyyyyy” to the Bronze Fonz, a statue of Arthur Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler in the 1970s TV series “Happy Days” set in Milwaukee. The life-sized artwork reveals that Winkler is a short guy, but he certainly filled the screen as a larger-than-life character.
** Spend time in the Milwaukee Public Market. I had only planned to swing through the Market, grab breakfast and a coffee, then find a place to hang out with locals for a Green Bay Packers football game, but I ended up staying several hours.
The market is not a big sprawling one like Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, so it’s easy to shop, eat, and wander. There are TONS of food options: soups, imaginative sandwiches, custom salads, Thai, baked goods, seafood, cheese and brats (of course) and yes, very good coffee at Anodyne.
The Spice House held my attention for quite awhile, even though I’m the laziest cook ever. They even have spice sets based on Milwaukee ethnic neighborhoods.
There was no need to leave the Market to find the Packer’s game, since the flat screen TVs in the upstairs eating area were showing the game, to the groans of yellow-and-green-clad locals as their team lost to the Detroit Lions.
** Wander the Historic Third Ward. When you look on a map for how to walk down the Milwaukee River to the Public Market (located on the edge of the Third Ward) it looks like you’re going to have to go under a freeway. I heard that this keeps some visitors from walking down to the Ward, but they shouldn’t worry; I walked it, and the path under the freeway overpass is wide, clean, and safe.
The Third Ward is full of interesting old buildings that now house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, pubs, and studios where you can drink beer and paint. I watched skateboarders trying new tricks near the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, poked around in the shops, and made plans to return for a Sunday Bloody Mary Brunch tour with Milwaukee Food & City Tours.
** (Bonus) See the Milwaukee Art Museum. This was one of my top priorities for things to see in Milwaukee, but unfortunately it was closed for extensive renovation and wouldn’t reopen until after my visit. It’s a stunning building right on Lake Michigan, with a distinctive winged covering, plus a big Georgia O’Keefe collection.
If that sounds lame, then there’s always the option of admiring the chrome and horsepower of hometown Hog heroes at the Harley-Davidson [motorcycle] Museum.
Milwaukee is a lot more than beer and foam cheese hats, although they’ve raised both to an art form. Have you been there? What are your favorite places? Please do share down in the comments….
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