While downtown Milwaukee has never been accused of being sleepy, there's always been plenty of restless energy in this vibrant corridor of Wisconsin's largest city. Now, with a new luxury hotel, revitalized Lake Michigan shoreline (including a new state park), a new streetcar line, sports arena, and highly anticipated eateries, Milwaukee is poised to continue its climb as an entertainment capital in the Midwest. If you haven't explored downtown Milwaukee within the last five years then it is definitely time to return.
The Westin Milwaukee
Wisconsin welcomed its first Westin in June. The Westin Milwaukee boasts all the goods for a luxury-minded weekend in Milwaukee, beginning with dinner in the third-floor Stella. This glass-walled dining room feels more like downtown Chicago than it does Milwaukee and flaunts stunning views. Start with cocktails in the high-ceilinged, glam bar (the “Stella Old-Fashioned” is a twist on Wisconsin’s most famous classic cocktail) before easing into dinner with a starter of black-truffle garlic knots. Dinner entrees are hearty and Italian-inspired, such as Faroe Island grilled salmon or a 22-ounce dry-aged ounce, bone-in ribeye. Pastas are crafted in-house daily. Back at the room are hallmarks of Westin’s nod to wellness with calming hues, the brand’s signature white-tea scent and super-food snacks woven into room service. This is also a pet-friendly hotel.
As of summer 2017, the Couture high-rise development at 909 E. Michigan St. on the far-southeastern edge of downtown Milwaukee (on East Michigan Street) is still in progress, but thankfully some of the nearby attractions are already open. Rare, one block away, is a relatively new high-end steakhouse with a sibling of the same name in Madison. A $19 “prime rib cart” for lunch is popular with business travelers and locals. Vegetarians can find plenty to eat, such as the “Vegetarian Farmers Market Plate” and wine lovers won’t leave disappointed (this is one of the state’s most extensive wine lists). Once its complete, this 44-story high-rise will house a lakefront stop for the streetcar, plazas, a pedestrian bridge, restaurants and retail. Six-hundred residents are expected to occupy the shiny white building.
Lakeshore State Park
Although created in 2007, this state park continues to be a game changer for Milwaukee's waterfront and if you haven’t been to Milwaukee in the next decade you will be truly surprised by this natural wonder. The admission-free, 22-acre park is dog-friendly and its 1.7-mile paved path hugs Lake Michigan. That its pedestrian-only means bicyclists, joggers, hikers and dog walkers can easily get out into nature—without leaving downtown Milwaukee. Access the park from behind Discovery World and The Milwaukee Art Museum. If you happen to be in the park during a summer weekend, you just might hear live music from an ethnic festival or Summerfest. If you like to fish then you’ll want to bring your pole.
Nearly a decade in the making, tracks were finally laid during the spring of 2017 in downtown Milwaukee as the first crucial step in launching a 2.5-mile, $124-million streetcar line. The project was officially approved by the city’s Common Council in February of 2015 and expects to welcome riders in 2018. To keep up to date on the project, visit the streetcar’s Twitter feed. There will be two phases—Phase 1/Lakefront; and a proposed 4th Street Extension.
Until the streetcar line is complete, hop on the trolley every Thursday during the summer months for an affordable price of $1. Here is a link to the downtown-Milwaukee trolley loop. There are 14 stops total, which means that even if it’s humid or raining you won’t have to walk far. The trolley runs between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. between June 1 and Aug. 27.
Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center
At the start of the 2018-2019 season, the Milwaukee Bucks will move into their new home arena, called (for now) Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. Deeply into the construction, the center is a few blocks north of BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Bucks currently host games (and Marquette University men’s basketball team, too) and also where popular music entertainers (like, within the last year, Roger Waters; and, coming in 2018, Lorde) perform. The new center is expected to entice a surge of new restaurants, hotels and other entertainment in a multi-block radius stemming out from the center. Up until now, the northern part of downtown Milwaukee hasn’t seen much action—but that is soon going to change.