21 Must See Attractions in Milwaukee
With a rich history and a multitude of things to do and see, the City of Festivals is one of America's best kept secrets.
Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin and the seat of Milwaukee County, has a tradition of great brewing. As the home of world-renowned Pabst brewing company, there is a great history to this city-by-the-lake. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists descend upon the city to enjoy various activities and attractions. Heralded as the "City of Festivals," for at least half of the year it seems as if there are more out-of-towners than locals. Under all that mid-western conservative facade sleeps one of the world's best-kept secrets, and this list of things to do and see in Milwaukee is just a hint of what awaits you when you visit. Take a loved one and have a great time. You'll be glad you did.
1. Pabst Mansion
With a rich history of brewing and breweries, a number of families have shaped, developed, and spread the good name of Milwaukee worldwide. When Johann Gottlieb Friedrich "Frederick" Pabst emigrated to America with his parents in 1848, his mother passed away the following year. He and his father had to make a living for themselves in a new country and after working as bus boys and waiters, eventually Frederick trained to be a riverboat captain. When he married his wife in 1862, he was plying the waters of Lake Michigan and after an unfortunate grounding of his ship in Milwaukee Harbor, within a year changed careers and became part owner of his father-in-law's brewery and purchased half of it. Transforming that small brewery into one of the largest in America was largely due to the stewardship of the captain and after bringing production up to 100,000 barrels per year, it was converted into a public company and the name was changed to Pabst Brewing Company.
The Pabst Mansion began construction in 1890 and the house furnishings and art, when all was finally put together two years later, cost $254,000. The family, with their 10 children, played host to many fine parties, weddings, and receptions. When the captain and his wife passed, the descendants sold the house to the archbishop and it became the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more than 60 years. After being saved from multiple demolition attempts, the house went on to become an award-winning house museum. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, it has been open to the public since 1978.
The Pabst Mansion is still one of Milwaukee's must-see attractions and this list would not be complete without it. A palatial creation famous around the world, this massive structure has 14 fireplaces, five levels with three floors, a full basement and attic, and 10 bathrooms measuring over 20,000 square feet. The Captain's study has 14 hidden compartments and the designing and constructing of this mansion firmly set the designers and architects George Bowman Ferry and Alfred Charles Clas squarely on the architectural map when construction was completed. The attention to detail is opulent and classic with exquisite European art, still on display today. You cannot afford to miss this beautiful and masterful display of design and history in Milwaukee, and with thousands of tourists going every year, the residence remains a masterpiece to this day. Definitely a must-see attraction for all ages.
2000 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53233
2. Pabst Theatre
Set up in the tradition of great European opera houses with gold leaf highlights and an Austrian crystal chandelier with white Italian Carrara marble stairs, when the original structure on the property, the Das Neue Deutsche Stadt-Theater, burnt down in 1895, the new theater rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Upon hearing of the demise of the old structure, the brewing magnate Captain Frederick Pabst, the builder of the original theater, immediately sent orders to "Rebuild at once", 11 months later the theater was rebuilt. Milwaukee's jewel box and the center of its downtown theater district, it's a spectacular example of architectural innovation and stands as a testament to another more opulent era. The "grand old lady," as it is lovingly referred to, still hosts some of the biggest plays and musical attractions in Wisconsin. The fourth oldest active theater in the United States, the building is dripping with history and although modernized to accommodate entertainment for the 21st century, it still is a classic beauty to behold.
144 E Wells St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
3. Basilica of St. Josaphat
A designated Milwaukee landmark, the Cathedral was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and was completed by 1901. Primarily constructed by parishioners from the surrounding areas, it serves more than just the Roman Catholic community. This architectural work of art is a prime example of Polish Cathedral-style of church and is opulent to say the least. From the stained glass to the paintings and architecture, it is immediately clear that tremendous levels of detail have been put into every inch of this phenomenal structure. As an official Basilica, among other things, the building has to be sanctioned by the Roman Catholic church as being ready to host the Pope himself and the cathedral is ready to do so at all times. A must-see sight for both locals and tourists alike, the Basilica of St. Josaphat is a shining example of art and architecture on display.
2333 S 6th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215
4. Miller Brewery Visitor Center & Girl in the Moon
The Miller Brewing company has been a part of Milwaukee brewing for over 155 years. That's a tremendous amount of time to develop a relationship with beer lovers and as one of the most well-known beer makers in the world, they have quite a lot of experience catering to their fans. The tour of the headquarters is just a hint at the level of consideration that goes into making this massive company run so smoothly. Beer lovers and tour-goers alike will not be disappointed by the sights and tastes of this tour. Although not a museum, the tour will take you through time to show the wonders of brewing technology then and now as well as show the different processes involved in creating "liquid bread" with a focus on how they've modernized the brew, the brewery, and the industry as a whole. A fantastic experience, the culmination of which is a sampling of different ice cold beers, the Miller Brewery tour is a staple for out-of-towners and locals to experience. With a gift shop and an on-site pub in the "Girl in the Moon Brewery Shop," the experience can live on beyond the hour-long free tour so you can enjoy Miller Brewing for a long time. Certified Travel Green by Wisconsin Destination, it certainly is one you do not want to miss.
4251 W State St, Milwaukee, WI 53208
5. Harley-Davidson, Inc.
Harley-Davidson is hands-down the most iconic brand in American motorcycles with their production motorcycles being available since 1903. The name Harley-Davidson has been a part of the collective consciousness for over a century. Add to that the association of the name with rebelliousness and general "bad-assery", the look and sound of the Harleys has engendered a culture surrounding Harley owners as one of independence and determination. The brand has evolved into much more than loud bikes and a bad attitude with clothes, shoes, electrical products, cleaning and storage solutions for your bike, and so much more. The largest show room and museum dedicated to all things Harley-Davidson is located in Milwaukee and is the next stop on our must-see tour of this city. They have a factory tour and a museum, a house of Harley where you can purchase all of your all-American rebel needs to boot (pun intended). The museum is located in downtown Milwaukee and the factory tour, which you can arrive at by shuttle from the museum, both together, will allow you to see how legends were born and are still being made 100 years later. A incredible part of Milwaukee's past, Harley Davidson will continue to be a major part of the city's future for years to come.
400 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee WI 53201
6. The Domes: Mitchell Park Conservatory
Conservatories are a work of art and a wonder of modern science at the same time. Regardless of whatever the weather is on the outside, the indoors are as close to the climate required as possible. Mitchell Park Conservatory, as the oldest park in the Milwaukee parks system, has seen a number of changes over the years but since the construction of The Domes started in 1959, there are no other domes quite like them anywhere else in the world. With more than just flowers held under three structures, each acre of land has species of birds, frogs, lizards, toads, fish, as well as tropical and desert plants from across the world. No pesticides are used, outside of soap on the leaves of some of the plants and the natural life is treated with respect. It takes five full-time horticulturists plus other part and full-time staff members help to keep the day-to-day life inside the domes safe. A great excursion for you and the entire family, The Domes are a sight to behold and a highly recommended addition to your trip to Milwaukee.
524 S Layton Blvd, Milwaukee, WI 53215
7. Estabrook Park Biergarten
OMG used to stand for, well, you know what it stands for, but after going to The Estabrook Beer Garden, those three letters now stand for Outdoors Made (better!) by Germans. Imagine a park along the banks of the Milwaukee river where seating is free and you can bring your own picnic basket with sodas and food while having towering glass after towering glass of some of the best beer in the world served directly to your table. In and among the trees just above a waterfall with lots of space, you don't have to worry about reservations and can just find an empty chair and order drinks right away. The food served is beer garden fare such as hot dogs, Bratwurst, and giant fresh-baked pretzels. If those don't suit your fancy, you can order pizza or sandwiches from off-site places. If you have a group of 24 or more, you can have the meals for your guests catered by the Estabrook Beer Garden exclusive caterers. Truly one of the best things to do while passing through Milwaukee is to sit by the river and enjoy a cold long drink with great company.
4600 Estabrook Park, Milwaukee, WI 53217
8. The Milwaukee Art Museum
With a collection of over 35,000 works of art, the Milwaukee Art Museum exhibits pieces from antiquity to the present on four floors and has on display fantastic expressions of emotion from every part of the world. The structure housing these incredible works of art is, in itself a work of art. The Burke Brise Soleil, a massive part of the building, is a movable wing-like sunscreen made up of 72 steel fins each ranging in length from 26 to 105 feet and weighing in total 90 tons. This 217-foot massiveness is raised and lowered throughout the day and has sensors to automatically lower them if the wind exceeds 23 mph. Sitting on top of the Windhover Hall, the "wings" of the Soleil are a hint at what lies in store for visitors of the art museum. One-of-a-kind in design for American architecture, the outside of the Milwaukee Art Museum certainly matches the grandeur of the the art that lies within.
700 N Art Museum Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202
9. Miller Park
From the walk of fame commemorating the greatest Milwaukee Brewers and Braves to the Johnson Controls Stadium Club where fine dining meets major league baseball to game day catering providing rental for all of your catering needs, Miller Park is more than just a sandbox for big game-day baseball. It's home to some of the best baseball-themed entertainment anywhere near the Great Lakes. Whether the Brewers are doing well nowadays or not, thankfully, there are bars and restaurants nearby to enjoy before, during, or after the game. Completed in 2001 as a replacement for the County Stadium, with its retractable roof, Miller Park has been a must-see attraction for baseball fans in Wisconsin for quite some time. So whether you go to watch the game, surrounded by the romantic brick walls, or to enjoy the amenities of the park or just hangout out and tailgate, Miller park is another must-see attraction in Milwaukee.
1 Brewers Way, Milwaukee, WI 53214
Sip a drink. Take a bite.
Although Milwaukee has access to the Lake Michigan and huge amounts of wheat (in 1860 it was the world's largest exporter of the grain), it was for other reasons that beer became so synonymous with this mid-western city. Even before incorporation of the city in 1846, there was a tavern for every 40 residents and a decade later the local population had increased five-fold, mainly due to a large immigrant influx of people fleeing from Germany. Counting in this number of new "Milwaukeeans" was Frederick Miller (Miller Brewing Company), Joseph Schlitz (owner of the one-time largest brewing company in the world), Frederick Pabst (of Pabst Brewing Company), and Valentin Blatz (German-American brewer and banker). A major fire broke out in 1871 destroying 11 of the city's 23 brewing companies and in an attempt to save some of the produce from being lost, Schlitz and a number of other breweries floated vast shipments of beer through Lake Michigan, to be consumed for free by the people of Chicago and surrounding areas. Word spread immediately about the great work being done by the Milwaukee breweries effectively doubling production at Schlitz's facility that same year and permanently established it as “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.” Other Milwaukee breweries had an increase in advertising in addition to word of mouth about Schlitz's beer as they too did not wish to be overridden by Schlitz's fame and helped created one of the most creative and well-crafted advertising wars, forever cementing demand for the beers in North America and the wider world. There are many local craft breweries, bars, and restaurants serving some the best drinks available. Here are a list of must-go-to drinking spots in Milwaukee.
10. Lakefront Brewery
Beer for the modern era. Ever heard of pumpkin beer? What about gluten-free and organic beers? As Milwaukee boys born and raised in the city, the brewery that they started was done more on a whim than on any solid business plan. But after their first few batches and word got around to friends and family members, the Klisch brothers started on a remarkable journey that now has them producing some of the finest and most innovative lagers in the world. With such offerings as ginger, pumpkin, cherry, organic, gluten-free beers, and more, you can enjoy any and all of them on the tour of the brewery while having a blast. A refreshing "new" addition (this company has been brewing since the 80s) to the Milwaukee beer scene, Lakefront Brewery is making a name for themselves worldwide. Check them out.
1872 N Commerce St, Milwaukee, WI 53212
11. The Palm Tavern
With a huge selection of craft beers, ales, whiskeys, and other liquors, it's a drink lover's dream. Possessing a really cool old-timey bar feel, the Palm Tavern has a lot of dark corners and even darker wood counter tops. The lighting is subdued, making it a great place to grab a pint of Milwaukee's finest and relax while enjoying conversation with friends. One of the best bars in Milwaukee, this place is one you don't want to miss seeing.
2989 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207
12. Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
The oldest cocktail lounge in Milwaukee, Bryant's has been open since 1938 and here you can revel in the attention to detail and vintage layout of an upscale establishment without having to break your bank. Enjoy signature cocktails while you and your friends enjoy the luxurious booths and velvet walls. Seating is on a first-come-first-serve basis and the majority of your party must be there to be seated, with a 13-person group maximum. Quite a popular place, try and get there early on weekends as seating may not be available. Another fine drinking establishment in Milwaukee.
1579 S 9th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204
13. Swingin’ Door Exchange
A bar and a great place to grab a bite to eat, the Swingin’ Door Exchange Saloon & Eatery is a real throwback to earlier dining establishments with 1930s music playing and all wood-paneled everything. The walls are covered in historical pictures and the service is something from a bygone and better era. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and the prices are unbelievably good. The menu offers a number of sandwiches and "melty" goodness as suggested and the drink selection is very well thought out too. Restaurant staples such as ribs and shrimp are available as well and everything tastes freshly made with home style loving. Very cozy and familiar, it's no wonder that so many out-of-towners come here and fall instantly in love. A great place to meet locals as well with the prices and food being so good, this saloon is one to not be missed.
219 E Michigan St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
14. Milwaukee Food & City Tours
One of the best ways to get to know the foods, culture, and history of a place is to take a tour of that place. A food tour caters specifically to that need. There are many types of food tours and Milwaukee has a bunch. From your usual walk tours to guided limo tours, bus tours, bike tours, and even a segway tour. The best part about going on one of these tours are the guides. They usually have a great deal of passion for the places along the way and this fits right in with the tours. Seeing the best that Milwaukee has to offer through the eyes of an expert allows you, even if you're a native, a fresh and educational experience about some of the best flavors of Milwaukee. Try them all.
2419 N 62nd St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
15. Odd Duck
With its new and exciting menu, the Odd Duck is one of the best things to happen to the Milwaukee dining scene. Great beer, awesome drinks, and amazing meals. The vegetarian fare here is outrageously good with stuffed dates, eggplant fries, and fried green tomatoes among the many offerings they provide. The service is incredible and the atmosphere is perfect. The vegetarian meals are great but the beef and other meat-based options are just as well plated and prepared. Easily worth the mention on this list, Odd Duck is well worth your time.
2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207
16. Wolf Peach
Presentation is everything in a world filled with so many competing options. With one of the best brunches in Milwaukee, we had to come again during the week to see if things would still be presented as well as it was at Wolf Peach. We were pleasantly surprised that it was even better. The food is great and well worth the attention it's getting now. The ingredients are all fresh and the servings are comforting, but wow, these people make each plate a work of culinary art. Fun for your eyes and your mouth, Wolf Peach is a must-try experience while in Milwaukee. The bar is well-stocked as well, but the real star of this eatery is hands-down the food. Carry a friend and a camera phone, or just carry the camera.
1818 N Hubbard St, Milwaukee, WI 53212
Southern comfort food served by an attentive staff and in the comfort of a cozy diner setting, some of the best cajun food north of the Mason-Dixon is being made at Maxie's. They don't allow reservations but for the portions served and the prices you pay, it's well worth the effort of getting there early or making plans in advance. From the jambalaya to the barbeque to the crabcake platters to the fresh shrimp and oysters served on ice, everything on the menu is amazing. As popular with out-of-towners as it is with locals, it gets pretty full on weekends and is quite popular throughout the year. The drinks here are also quite exceptional. In a well-presented and fun environment, getting something to eat, going for a few drinks, or just passing through and seeing a few friends, Maxie's is an awesome experience and is a must if ever you're in Milwaukee.
6732 W Fairview Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53213
The Milwaukee festival season starts in early June and as the moniker suggests, the city of festivals does indeed host a multiplicity of festivals far outdoing any other city by comparison. The world is invited to celebrate with "Milwaukeeans" for roughly half the year while almost every day of the season has some festival or another going on, often with more than one at the same time. There are a number of annual "fests" such as the massive Summerfest or the Wisconsin State Fair as well as many weekly festivals and music attractions. With over 30 different outdoor and indoor extravagant representations of cultures and ethnicities, from summer to winter, Milwaukee is a glorious and magical place and it's as if school let out for the entire city.
18. Wisconsin State Fair
"Milwaukeeans" are serious about their beers, their cheeses, and of course about festivals. Nearly every weekend there is some sort of major festival and/or concert going on in the great lake city. Wisconsin State Fair takes place over 11 days each summer, thousands of fair-goers gather and enjoy some of the best that the Midwest has to offer. Wisconsinites flock to this suburb of Milwaukee to indulge in over 100 different foods on a stick, dozens of free stages and host of attractions and activities to entertain all ages. There's a history exhibit about the fair itself, children's shows, eating competitions, scavenger hunts, parades, all types of foods, and so much more. Sun block is essential as it is an outdoor event and you'd be crazy not to wear comfortable shoes but take a friend and have a blast.
August 4, 2016 - August 14, (dates vary each year)
Wisconsin State Fair Park
640 S 84th St
West Allis, WI 53214
(a Suburb of Milwaukee)
Touted as the world's largest music festival, Summerfest is Wisconsin's keystone summer festival. Attracting some of the music industry's brightest stars, upcoming artists and local favorites, this event hosts an average of 900,000 patrons annually. With 11 permanent stage areas, dozens of diverse food and beverage vendors as well as four unique marketplaces and interactive exhibits, the Summerfest experience is one you will enjoy. Expect the festival to run between late June to early August and go book your ride there now. Travel light and carry a friend. It'll be well worth it.
Jun 29 - Jul 3/Jul 3 - Jul 10, (dates vary each year)
Henry W. Maier Festival Park
200 N Harbor Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202
20. Milwaukee Film Festival
The mandate for the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival was striving "to enrich Milwaukee through cinema". They offer over 300 new and original movies at five different venues and attendance has been growing rapidly over the seven annual stagings of the event. A new and bright light on the horizon of modern offerings in Milwaukee, the organizers are very aware of how overwhelming the volume of shows can be and every year there is a selection of about 30 to 35 movies chosen by art critics, writers, and editors that are stand out pieces that should not be missed. Held from late September to early October, this must-see experience has become a part of the Milwaukee entertainment scene and is not one to be missed.
September 24 – October 8 (dates vary each year)
229 E Wisconsin Ave #200, Milwaukee, WI 53202
21. Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival
For nearly two decades, there has been an event that brightens up the darkest nights and the young and young at heart flock to see the lights in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival takes place in downtown Milwaukee and this six week animated light show will take your breath away. Celebrating the beauty and joy of the holiday season, the official run time of the show is over two hours. All of it is entertaining with fireworks displays, a play, ice sculpting displays, bus tours, and more. This is truly an event you don't want to miss. Fun for all ages, it is a brilliant spectacle that encourages you to enjoy the lighting up of the darkness of winter. Share it with family and friends.
November 17 - January 1 (dates vary each year)
Milwaukee is far from a sleepy little town with more exciting things happening there every year and more and more persons finding out about the festivals, the history, the food, as well as the beer that this city is famous for. As with anywhere in the world it's best to have a plan when travelling there for the first time, but with so many sources of information available online you and your party will have no problem getting into the swing of things in Milwaukee. This list is a brief overview of what the City of Festivals has to offer but it's abundantly clear there are so many sights and tastes to be had there. So pack your bags, grab a friend and have a trip of a lifetime, Milwaukee is waiting for you.
Picture courtesy of: visitmilwaukee.com
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