Summer’s long, sun-filled days (and nights) coax tons of free activities in Milwaukee, from outdoor concerts to movies on the lawn. Whether you like to pump some adrenaline or chill on the beach, there’s an activity for you—and there’s no cost to do it.
Listen to Music Outside
Nearly every neighborhood hosts an outdoor-concert series during the summer months. Among the most popular are Chill on the Hill in the Bay View neighborhood (Tuesday evenings in Humboldt Park) and Jazz in the Park in downtown Milwaukee (Thursday nights in Cathedral Square). If you’re looking for one in a particular neighborhood, an Internet search should pull it up—or check out the neighborhood association’s website or Facebook page.
View Outdoor Sculptures
New in June, this al-fresco art installation of 22 works will be up until Oct. 21. Twenty-one artists were tapped to create the larger-than-life pieces and they are located in the downtown-Milwaukee corridor along Wisconsin Avenue between North 6th Street and O’Donnell Park.
Go to the Museum
Three of Milwaukee’s biggest attractions—Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee County Zoo—waive their admissions one night per month. This includes the summer months. The Milwaukee Art Museum is free the first Friday of each month and the Milwaukee Public Museum costs nothing the first Thursday of each month. If you’ve got kids, then a good day to visit Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., when it’s free. And, finally, The Domes cost nothing to enter between 9 a.m. and noon on Monday with proof of county residency.
Stroll at a Street Festival
Summer is street-festival season in Milwaukee and there are still quite a few options remaining in July and August. The best part is that they are entirely free to enter. North America’s largest French festival—Bastille Days, in Cathedral Square in downtown Milwaukee—is centered around a replica Eiffel Tower, featuring beignets dusted with powdered sugar, wine tastings and live music. This year’s dates are July 13-16, 2017. Brady Street Festival shuts down Brady Street on Milwaukee’s East Side to car traffic, filling the space with food/drink vendors, music stages, outdoor yoga, a rock-climbing wall and arts/craft vendors. This year the date is July 27, 2017.
Watch a Movie in the Park
Just like music concerts are held in Milwaukee County parks, so are films during the summer months. All selections are family-friendly and there are even some Hollywood blockbuster hits like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “La La Land.” You can bring your own food and drink, and of course a blanket or comfy chair. The movies are dog-friendly, too.
Hit a Night Market
Currently a hit both abroad and in cities across the U.S., open-air night markets celebrate the long, warm evenings with food and drink stands, artists selling their wares and other trinkets. This year’s dates for the NEWaukee Night Market are June 14, July 12, August 16 and September 13. The market is held in downtown Milwaukee, on West Wisconsin Avenue between 2nd and 4th Streets, from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Admire Vintage Cars
Summer is a great time to travel to Milwaukee’s outlying communities on the lake, and that includes Pewaukee (also home to Pewaukee Lake). On Wednesday evenings, a group of classic-car collectors and restorers show off their vehicles at Point Burger Bar, where I-94 meets Hwy. F in Pewaukee, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. This is called Wednesday Night Classics. Food, drinks and music round out the fun.
See Shakespeare in the Park
Normally a ticket to a Shakespeare show is costly—but not during the summer in Milwaukee. Thanks to Optimist Theatre, each July there are free theatrical performances of Shakespeare’s plays at the Peck Pavilion in downtown Milwaukee, behind the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The 12-show run of “Much Ado About Nothing” is between July 6-22 and dates are posted on the website. All shows begin at 8 p.m.
Kick Back at the Beach
Lake Michigan’s beaches charge nothing to access and you’d be surprised how thrilling they are. At Bradford Beach on Milwaukee’s East Side are volleyball courts on the sand—the beach often hosts competitive tournaments—as well as a custard stand, food vendor and Tiki hut. Bring your chair, towel and umbrella and it’s the perfect day at the beach!
Enjoy Art at Gallery Night & Day
The quarterly Gallery Night & Day includes a July weekend (this year, it’s July 21-22). Wander in and out of art galleries in the Third Ward neighborhood that stay open late on Friday night and remain open all day Saturday, with live music and snacks and drinks available at most.