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Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has served as the cultural and economic hub of Wisconsin since the mid-1800s. Today, the city is best known for its European-style architecture and legendary beer history—there’s a reason it’s nicknamed “Brew City”!—as well as for being the birthplace of Harley-Davidson. The city’s recent construction boom has given way to incredible additions like the Milwaukee Riverwalk, the glass skywalk system, and expansions to theaters, museums, and arenas. Whether you want to explore the collection at the postmodern art museum, take in a baseball game at Miller Park, or get your drink on with a brewery tour, there are countless things to do in Wisconsin’s largest city.
Referred to by locals as the “Big City of Little Neighborhoods,” Milwaukee celebrates its many diverse districts. From the Historic Third Ward, a former warehouse area with a vibrant modern arts scene, to Brady Street, an eclectic avenue so popular it’s considered its very own neighborhood, this Wisconsin metropolis is home to plenty of walkable districts bursting with places to eat, drink, shop, and explore.
Once a working-class residential neighborhood, Bay View has recently welcomed an influx of hip clothing stores, quaint cafes, and vibrant music venues. It also boasts one of the city’s best bar scenes, with numerous hotspots that have made the list of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars.
A street so dynamic it’s considered it’s own neighborhood, Brady Street gave rise to the hippie scene in the ‘60s and continues to be a colorful area full of unique shopping, ethnic eateries, and spirited nightlife. Oscar Wilde once said that “if what you want isn’t on Brady Street, you probably don’t need it”—a motto that still rings true today.
Find a melting pot of cultures in the East Side, which boasts a range of attractions including the historic Oriental Theatre, the Black Cat Mural Alley, and the 5 museums that make up Milwaukee’s Museum Mile. There are also plenty of public green spaces for you to enjoy amazing views of glassy Lake Michigan.
More or less the heart of downtown, East Town is filled with a mix of popular attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shopping, as well as the city’s most iconic structure—the Milwaukee Art Museum. Take in a stage show, snap a photo with the Bronze Fonz statue, or attend a festival at Cathedral Square Park.
Once an old warehouse district, the revitalized Third Ward is Milwaukee’s fashion and arts district, home to the city’s widest array of restaurants, theaters, galleries, boutiques, and brewpubs. Admire the well-preserved 19th-century architecture as you leisurely stroll through the charming streetlamp-lit lanes.
If you’re looking to eat, Walker’s Point is the place to do it. This foodie paradise has everything from rustic pubs and farm-to-table bistros to lively Asian and Mexican eateries. It’s here you’ll also find cheerful ice cream shops and the city’s only urban creamery sharing the streets with LGBT-friendly bars and clubs.
Even if you don’t go inside, the sculptural, postmodern architecture of the Milwaukee Art Museum is a sight to behold. The museum graces the front of the city’s eastern skyline and also offers spectacular views of sparkling Lake Michigan. For history buffs, a tour through downtown reveals breathtaking architecture such as the Flemish Renaissance Revival-style City Hall, the 19th-century Romanesque Pfister Hotel, and the palatial Milwaukee Public Library. If old-world architecture isn’t your thing, take in a Broadway-caliber stage show at the state-of-the-art Marcus Center. In the warmer months, grab a seat at the outdoor theater for a performance overlooking the Milwaukee River.
A visit to Brew City wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a brewery (or 3 or 4). The headquarters of the Miller Brewing Company offers a look at their storied history with a behind-the-scenes tour complete with samples and time to relax in the beer garden. If you’re hoping to learn about lesser-known beer-makers, a guided tour can lead you to small-batch brewers you may not have known about otherwise. And you can always pay a visit to the Pabst Mansion, the late 19th-century home of the namesake brewing family, which now serves as a museum and monument to America’s Gilded Age.
Of course, there are also things to do in Milwaukee that aren’t related to beer. Scope out displays of classic motorcycles at the famous Harley-Davidson Museum, travel back in time at the Milwaukee Public Museum, or make friends with the 2,000 mammals, reptiles, and birds at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the daily life of the city, make like a local and travel between downtown’s shopping centers, eateries, and attractions via the glass Milwaukee Skywalk. Root for the home team at a Brewers baseball game at Miller Park stadium, or head out for a day trip by train to bustling Chicago.