Harley Davidson in Milwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Milwaukee, Wis.

BY Katy Spratte Joyce | March 23, 2021

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Milwaukee? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Milwaukee?”

Milwaukee, Wis. may bring to mind images of stunning lakefront sprawl (hey, Lake Michigan), plus brewers from both the beer and baseball persuasions. But Wisconsin’s largest city is a travel-worthy destination for many more reasons, from quirky museums to historic neighborhoods to a thriving food and beverage scene. Plan your visit to this Upper Midwest gem and arrive prepared with our Fifty Grande guide.

You’re Here for Brew City Beer

Historic Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee
#1
Historic Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee

Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery

917 W Juneau Ave, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Yes, Milwaukee’s moniker is really Beer City USA, and, no, you can’t visit without the obligatory brewery tour. Luckily, there are two excellent options to scratch this itch. Visit Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. While not a functioning brewery anymore, Best Place is a must-do for a historic brewing tour. Explore Captain Frederick Pabst’s offices while learning about the storied history of the Pabst Brewing Co. and sipping a PBR. Exuberant fans can stay at Brewhouse Inn &  Suites, in what was once the main brewery building of the Pabst Brewing Co. and is now a 90-room boutique hotel (more on that below).

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.
#2
Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.

Lakefront Brewery

1872 North Commerce Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

One of Milwaukee’s oldest microbreweries, Lakefront Brewery, opened its doors in 1987. Today, they’re home to the most popular brewery tour in Milwaukee, which is packed with “facts, lore, jokes and beer samples” (their website’s words), which makes looking at stainless steel tanks way more entertaining. Lakefront was also the first certified organic brewing operation in the U.S., which I wish meant their beer was calorie free. 

Estabrook Beer Garden in Milwaukee
#3
Estabrook Beer Garden in Milwaukee

Estabrook Beer Garden

4600 Estabrook Drive, Milwaukee, WI, USA

For those who prefer to drink a stein of beer outside, Estabrook Beer Garden is a German-themed escape featuring beer brewed in Germany by the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus, giant pretzels and live polka music. Fun fact: This was the first public beer garden in America after Prohibition; if you can’t make it to Estabrook, don’t fret, as there are five other permanent beer gardens and one traveling one in Milwaukee parks. Brew City, indeed. 

Twisted Path Distillery in Milwaukee
#4
Twisted Path Distillery in Milwaukee

Twisted Path Distillery

2018 South 1st Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Not a beer drinker? Milwaukee still has you covered with Twisted Path Distillery, one of the big three distilleries in the area. Owner Brian Sammons took a twisted path to crafting alcohol from his days as a CIA operative. The distillery started with a tiny speakeasy-style tasting room that was hidden in a warehouse but has since expanded into a much larger taproom with frequent live music and funky libations. 

Also try

The James Beard Award-winning Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge is the oldest cocktail lounge in the city. Additionally, consider a Wisconsin Bloody Mary at Sobleman’s, which has a group version served with an actual fried chicken topper and, of course, a full pitcher of Miller Lite as the beer back. (This is a very Wisconsin thing). 

NEIGHBORHOOD TO KNOW: Historic Third Ward

Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee
#5
Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee

Historic Third Ward

Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee, WI, USA

The Third Ward is considered to be the city’s warehouse district turned arts and fashion hub, complete with locally owned eateries and shops. Just south of downtown MKE, this neighborhood is home to the celebrated Milwaukee Public Market, which was inspired by Pike Place in Seattle.The first floor offers everything from spices to coffee, tacos, wine and what locals say is the best lobster roll outside of the East Coast. Hop upstairs for plenty of seating as well as space for cooking classes in the Madame Kuony Demonstration Kitchen. 

 

The Milwaukee Riverwalk connects the Historic Third Ward to two other notable enclaves, downtown and Beerline B, rambling north-ish as it hugs the Milwaukee River. The lakefront in this area is also home to the world’s largest music festival, the incomparable Summerfest, held at Henry W. Maier Festival Park. Past performers include acts as varied as the Rolling Stones, Ludacris, Halsey, Bon Iver, Jennifer Lopez, Flogging Molly, Keith Urban, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Dave Matthews Band and more. (And yes, the Biebs is planned for 2021). 

Museums and More

Harley-Davidson Museum in Milkwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.
#6
Harley-Davidson Museum in Milkwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.

Harley-Davidson Museum

400 West Canal Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Milwaukee is the birthplace of Harley-Davidson and home to the world’s only Harley-Davidson Museum. Interactive exhibits take visitors through the company’s history, get up close and personal with famous motorcycles and even give guests the chance to saddle up on a bike. 

Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo via Shutterstock.
#7
Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo via Shutterstock.

Milwaukee Art Museum

700 North Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

The massive lakefront Milwaukee Art Museum is home to 30,000 works of art, including the most prestigious collection of Haitian art outside of Haiti and one of the world’s largest collections of art from Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe. Architecture enthusiasts should make sure to check out the Quadracci Pavilion, the iconic sculptural addition to the museum that was Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s first building in the United States. The “wings” of the building actually open every day, slowly flap at noon and close when the museum closes. It’s truly a work of art on its own and makes this museum stand out from the crowd. 

Discovery World in Milwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.
#8
Discovery World in Milwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.

Discovery World

500 N Harbor Dr, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Milwaukee’s premier nonprofit science and technology center, situated next to a certain Great Lake, is a can’t-miss family-friendly pick. Hands-on exhibits will teach kids and adults about technology, physics and freshwater sciences. Check out the aquarium to learn about all the aquatic species in the area. Plus, in the milder days of summer, you can even hop aboard the S/V Denis Sullivan, the world’s only recreation of a 19th-century three-masted Great Lakes schooner. 

National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee.
#9
National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee.

National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

170 S 1st St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

If an impressive and slightly whimsical collection of more than 5,000 bobbleheads is your thing, we have great news. Milwaukee’s National Bobblehead Hall of Fame is home to the world’s largest collection of bobbleheads, from all sports (beyond the hometown Bucks and Brewers), genres, weird pop culture references and more. You’ll also find trendy takes like the meme-worthy Bernie Sanders/mittens bobblehead from the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. 

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory in Milwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.
#10
Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory in Milwaukee. Photo via Shutterstock.

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

524 South Layton Boulevard, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

The unique design of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory won a 1955 design competition and today is colloquially known as “The Domes,” due to the three conoidal glass structures that compose its structure. Each dome hosts a different climate: the desert dome, the tropical dome and the floral show dome with ever-changing themes. The show dome has displayed everything from formal Japanese gardens to autumn in Provence, a classic monster movie spoof, a street in Dickens’ London or scenes from the “Nutcracker Suite.” Mitchell Park itself is a nice Milwaukee County park, complete with a lake and trails. 

WHERE TO STAY

Saint Kate: The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee.
#11
Saint Kate: The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee.

Saint Kate: The Arts Hotel

139 East Kilbourn Avenue, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Saint Kate: The Arts Hotel is a stellar boutique property created by artists. Guests can stay in one of five “Canvas Rooms” designed by local talent for the traveler who truly wants to be immersed into the art scene. There’s also a gallery in the lobby from the Museum of Wisconsin Art, and an ever-growing, always rotating spread of contemporary art that is scattered throughout the hotel. 

Brewhouse Inn & Suites in Milwaukee.
#12
Brewhouse Inn & Suites in Milwaukee.

Brewhouse Inn & Suites

1215 N 10th St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

The aforementioned Brewhouse Inn &  Suites is located in what was once the main brewery building of the Pabst Brewing Co. It’s now a 90-room boutique hotel that includes copper brewing kettles as decor and the most weirdly Wisconsin thing ever, a stained glass window featuring King Gambrinus, the patron saint of brewing. 

Food and More

MKE’s food scene is rooted in tradition yet embraces innovation. It punches above its midsize city weight class, and you’ll be able to see why.  

Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Milwaukee.
#13
Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Milwaukee.

Kopp’s Frozen Custard

5373 N Port Washington Rd, Glendale, WI, USA

You can’t talk about Milwaukee sweets without bringing up frozen custard. Kopp’s is a quintessential Wisconsin pit stop and a local staple for a taste of this extra-creamy, extra-decadent frozen treat in pint or cone form. 

Zocalo Food Truck Park in Milwaukee.
#14
Zocalo Food Truck Park in Milwaukee.

Zocalo Food Truck Park

636 S 6th St, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Not sure where to eat out? Try Zocalo Food Truck Park in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, which offers everything from tacos to arepas, hot chicken to bagels and ice cream to sushi. Throw in a full bar, some indoor seating and outdoor picnic table seating, and it’s the perfect place to relax with some incredible food from all over the city (and the world!). 

The Vanguard in Milwaukee.
#15
The Vanguard in Milwaukee.

The Vanguard

2659 South Kinnickinnic Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Milwaukee is serious about its German traditions, and luckily for the hungry, German sausages are no exception. The Vanguard takes Milwaukee’s deep-rooted traditional German sausages and makes them new again. With an ever-changing menu and solid bourbon list, this Bay View neighborhood favorite is a must-visit. 

Damascus Gate in Milwaukee.
#16
Damascus Gate in Milwaukee.

Damascus Gate

807 West Mitchell Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Another great option that tastes as good as it feels is Damascus Gate, the go-to spot for Middle Eastern food on Milwaukee’s South Side. This establishment not only serves incredible culinary delights but is also owned and employed by Syrian refugees who immigrated to America when escaping the Syrian civil war.

....and more food!

For a full-on foodie’s look at the local dining scene, consider a meal at one of the numerous James Beard-nominated or -winning eateries in Milwaukee, such as Braise, Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, DanDan, The Diplomat, Ardent, Bavette La Boucherie