The 12 Best Things to Do in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Downtown Skyline
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Cream City, Brew City, Milwacky, the Mil — whatever you call it, the bottom line is that Milwaukee is a great all-American town with plenty to do, see, eat, drink and discover. The Potawatomi Tribe originally populated this eastern Wisconsin region on the hospitable banks of Lake Michigan, calling the territory “Mahn-ah-wauk” (translating to “council grounds”). Later in the 1800s, an influx of German and Polish immigrants quickly established the booming community as a manufacturing powerhouse, with lasting echoes of their homeland cultures still alive and present today.

Now, Milwaukee shines as a welcoming modern metropolis, home to a winning combination of museums, architecture, theater, sports, dining, green spaces, shopping, festivals and outdoor recreation. If you're thinking of spending a few days exploring this vibrant city by the lake, here are 15 of the best things to consider doing during your visit.

01 of 12

Explore the City's Art Scene

Milwaukee Art Museum

Amy Lynch

Address
700 N Art Museum Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202, USA
Phone +1 414-224-3200

On the Lake Michigan waterfront, the majestic Milwaukee Art Museum makes a striking first impression with its stark white façade capped off with the iconic Burke Brise Soleil “wings” that flap open and closed at several intervals throughout the day. Inside, guests can wind their way through more than 40 galleries spread across four floors inside the 341,000 square-foot facility, housing an encyclopedic collection of more than 30,000 pieces. German Expressionist works, folk and Haitian art, decorative pieces and post-1960s American art are just a few of the highlights you’ll find here. The museum also claims one of the world’s largest collections of works by acclaimed floral artist Georgia O’Keefe, a Wisconsin native.

02 of 12

Raise a Glass

Miller beer products

Amy Lynch

Home to the Miller, Pabst and Schlitz companies, as well as a thriving craft brewing scene, it goes without saying that Milwaukee is a beer-drinking town. It’s not difficult to sample some of the wares; you’ll find beer on the menu pretty much wherever you go. For a deeper dive into Milwaukee’s brewing heritage, Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery offers a beer history tour that details the origins of what was at one time the largest brewery in America. Meanwhile, the historic Miller Caves reveal a fascinating look at how and where beer was stored underground back in the 1800s. And teetotalers don’t need to miss out on the fun—in addition to a range of year-round and seasonal beers, Sprecher Brewery also produces a tasty line of non-alcoholic craft sodas and flavored sparkling waters to sip at its on-site taproom before or after a family-friendly tour of the facility.

03 of 12

Order an Updated OG Cocktail

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

Visit Milwaukee

Address
1579 S 9th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204, USA
Phone +1 414-383-2620

If mixed drinks are more your jam, get into the spirit(s) at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, the oldest establishment of its kind in Milwaukee. Since 1938, this old-school hang has been pouring, stirring and shaking up delicious adult beverages for a discerning clientele. The bar was rebuilt after a devastating fire on St. Patrick’s Day in 1971, reemerging stronger than ever. If these walls could talk! Interestingly, there’s no formal drink menu here. There are a few recipes you can feel free to order by name, but it’s much more fun to simply tell the expert mixologists about your personal likes and preferences, and then let them customize a cocktail just for you. Cheers!

04 of 12

Sample Delicious Dairy Treats

Kopp's Frozen Custard

Visit Milwaukee

You’re going to need to eat something to soak up all the beer, booze and soda. The big three must-eat items in Milwaukee? Cheese curds, butter burgers and frozen custard (this is the dairy state, after all). Bite-sized pieces of soft cheese served plain, breaded and fried, or atop French fries à la poutine, cheese curds pop up at restaurants all over town, but the offerings at Lakefront Brewery, Camino and Buckatabon Tavern are all reliably delicious. Insider tip: the tell-tale hallmark of a good fresh cheese curd—it “squeaks” against your teeth when you bite into it.

Founded in 1936, Solly’s Grille is where you’ll find the original old-fashioned butter burger, sandwiches slathered with a heart-stopping schmear of real butter to melt into the meat. For dessert, frozen custard kicks regular ice cream up a notch with an egg/dairy base and a thick, velvety smooth texture. You can’t go wrong with a sundae, milkshake or a straight-up cone at any Kopp’s location.

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05 of 12

Eat, Eat, and Eat Some More

Sherman Phoenix

Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s bursting at the seams with all kinds of great restaurants. If you can’t make up your mind, or if you want to taste a bunch of different local specialties, the Milwaukee Public Market is a one-stop shop for breakfast, lunch or dinner. With dozens of vendors under one roof, customers can nibble and nosh their way from one end of the market to the other, enjoying café fare, beer, wine, Southern favorites, seafood, pizza, salads, soups, baked goods, tacos, vegan cuisine, cheese and more.

The Sherman Phoenix food hall/incubator has given the Sherman Park neighborhood a safe and welcoming location to gather as a community after a fatal police shooting in 2016. Inside this modern commercial space, visitors can get to know more than two dozen Black-owned small businesses, including Purple Door Ice Cream, Sauce and Spice Pizza, Buffalo Boss, and Funky Fresh Spring Rolls. Later this year, be on the lookout for 3rd Street Market Hall to up the ante with even more food producers, games, activities and event spaces when it opens in mid-2021.

06 of 12

See the City From a New Angle

Milwaukee Kayak Company

Visit Milwaukee

Address
Milwaukee Riverwalk, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Milwaukee’s lakefront and riverfront are the lifeblood of the city, providing commerce, recreation and spectacular scenery. The three-mile RiverWalk skirts the Milwaukee River as it flows through the Historic Third Ward, Downtown and Beerline B, but visitors can also venture off dry land and see the city from a new angle via boat, kayak, pedal boat or stand-up paddleboard. Sightseeing cruises ply the waterways and when the waves are up, Lake Michigan even lends itself to fresh-water surfing. If the weather’s nice, Bradford Beach attracts summertime crowds for volleyball, sunbathing and tiki drinks.

07 of 12

Get Your Motor Running

Harley Davidson Museum

Amy Lynch

Address
400 W Canal St, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA
Phone +1 414-287-2789

Milwaukee’s motorcycle culture starts with Harley-Davidson, and The Harley-Davidson Museum, which honors the iconic brand, is a great place to get your bearings. Whether you’re a hardcore motorcyclist, an easy rider or just daydreaming about the idea of a bike, there’s something here to hold your interest. Among the permanent and temporary exhibits, you’ll find Serial Number 1, the very first H-D motorcycle to roll off the production line in 1903, along with a colorful wall of gas tanks, racing memorabilia, all sorts of custom beauties, and a gallery full of vehicles you can pose on for photos. On Thursdays through the summer, bikers cruise in to enjoy food, drink and free live music for a weekly concert series (check the website to confirm dates before you go). Time your visit accordingly, and you might even get to take a demo ride.

08 of 12

Scare Yourself Silly

the Pfister Hotel

Visit Milwaukee

With so much history, it should come as no surprise that Milwaukee is supposedly haunted by a number of lingering spirits. Hosted by costumed narrators, Gothic Milwaukee leads 90-minute Haunted Historical Walking Tours to share the spooky tales of departed residents and guests who’ve never really left the city. The downtown excursions trail past notorious spots like City Hall, the RiverWalk and The Pfister Hotel, believed to be the most haunted location in the city—with ghost sightings and stories to prove it.

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09 of 12

Celebrate the Evolution of Work

Grohmann Museum rooftop

Amy Lynch

Address
1000 N Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, USA
Phone +1 414-277-2300

Aptly sited on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus, the Grohmann Museum houses an enlightening collection of art that celebrates the scope and evolution of human work. Galleries spread throughout three floors showcase works and artifacts depicting and honoring all manner of industry and trade. Make sure to look down and appreciate the gorgeous mosaic-tiled floor in the entryway, and don’t miss the stained-glass murals in the domed atrium or the bronze sculpture garden on the rooftop.

10 of 12

Root For the Home Team

Fiserv Forum

Visit Milwaukee

Address
1111 Vel R. Phillips Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53203, USA
Phone +1 414-227-0504

In downtown Milwaukee, the landmark Fiserv Forum opened in 2018, hosting Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles home games during basketball season, along with major concerts, hockey bouts, boxing matches and other events throughout the year. Anchored by the architecturally stunning arena, the 30-acre neighborhood that surrounds the facility is poised to grow into a full-fledged mixed-use district in the coming years, complete with restaurants and entertainment venues, green spaces, commercial businesses and residential housing.

11 of 12

Snap a Selfie with The Fonz

Bronze Fonz

Visit Milwaukee

Address
N Riverwalk Way, Milwaukee, WI 53202, USA

Ayyyyyyyy. Television viewers of a certain age will fondly recall the wholesome antics of Richie Cunningham, Potsie, Ralph and the “Happy Days” gang from the sitcom set in 1950s Milwaukee (leading in turn to the “Laverne and Shirley” spin-off). On the downtown riverfront, the “Bronze Fonz” statue by artist Gerald P. Sawyer gives a perpetual thumbs-up for one of the best selfie ops in town. Balance it out with a sweeping panoramic view of the Milwaukee skyline from Lakeshore State Park, a hidden gem and local favorite vantage point.

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Hit a Festival

Summerfest

Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee definitely knows how to throw a party. Chances are, no matter what time of year you visit, there’s a festival happening somewhere in town. Brimming with nationally recognized artists and billed as the world’s largest music festival, the annual Summerfest is the biggie, attracting upwards of 750,000 fans over a multi-day schedule. All told, the rollicking event boasts more than 1,000 performances across nearly a dozen different stages, along with food, drinks, activities and general merriment. To capitalize on Milwaukee’s vibrant and diverse culture, other festivals on the yearly docket include Pridefest, Bronzeville Week, Mexican Fiesta, Irish Fest, Polish Fest, Bastille Days, the Milwaukee Highland Games, German Fest and the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival.

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The 12 Best Things to Do in Milwaukee