10 Great Things to Do in Milwaukee

By Alex Kallimanis: 90 miles north of Chicago, Wisconsin’s largest city offers picturesque views of Lake Michigan. Many German immigrants settled in Milwaukee in the mid 1800’s and the city reflects their culture. Milwaukee has been home to several of the nations biggest breweries throughout its history, earning the nickname “Brew City.” I recently had the opportunity to visit Milwaukee by train after a trip to Chicago. I left impressed with the city’s architecture and how friendly its residents are. Here are 10 great things to do in Milwaukee.

 

Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a gorgeous example of modern art. The sailboat like design and harborfront location bares some comparison to the Sydney Opera House. The Milwaukee Art Museum contains 25,000 pieces of art and is one of the largest museums in the United States. Inside you’ll find a wealth of great pieces from antiquity to the present. Or you can just marvel at this beautiful structure as you stroll along Milwaukee’s harbor.

Pabst Manion

From the late 1800’s until 1946, the Pabst Brewery was the largest in the United States. At the time, Captain Frederick Pabst, who was originally from Germany, was the fifth richest man in the United States. The Pabst Mansion is a throwback to old-world opulence, with very Germanic architecture. Asides from the lavish furniture and art, there’s a touching copy of Frederick Pabst’s will to his five children, telling them to be nice to each other and behave with honor.

Harley Davidson Museum

10 Things to Do in Milwaukee

Harley Davidson is one of the most iconic American companies with a history dating to 1904, and the museum houses the world’s oldest known Harley dating to that time. There are hundreds of beautiful motorcycles from over a century of production, and the museum discusses the history of the United States through its bikes and other artifacts. You can even jump on some Harley’s for photo ops both inside and outside the museum. I’m not a big motorcycle guy, but I enjoyed visiting the Harley Davidson Museum.

 Milwaukee Food and City’s Old World 3rd Street Tour

Old World 3rd Street Tour, Milwaukee

If you enjoy good food and drinks, it’s a great idea to take a food tour. You’ll not only try some of a city’s most quintessential eats, you’ll also learn a lot about its history. Milwaukee Food and City Tours Old World 3rd Street Tour is a fun time. We ate at several beautiful and historic Milwaukee restaurants including The Brown Bottle, Mader’s Restaurant and The Rumpus Room. The medieval art collection at Mader’s, in business since 1902, is worth $5 million. We also tried Usinger’s sausage and cheese fudge (better than it sounds). Over lunch at the Brown Bottle we were served some Shlitz beer, and discovered they’ve gone back to brewing with the old German style recipe, so it actually tasted surprisingly good! Shlitz used to be one of the most popular beers in the US.

The TV show Happy Days was set in Milwaukee, and our guide Barbara pointed out the “Bronze Fonze” statue that’s dedicated to Henry Winkler, the star of the popular 1970’s show. Unfortunately, some Riverwalk construction prevented me from snapping a good photo of it.

Among other tours, the company also offers a Brady Street walking tour, which is Milwaukee’s Italian district. The Old World 3rd Street Tour costs $55 and includes a generous amount of food and drinks over 2 and 1/2 hours.

 

Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery

 

Pabst Brewery was originally founded by German immigrant Jacob Best in 1844. It was his son-in-law, Captain Frederick Pabst that helped the company become the United States’ biggest beer producer from the late 1800’s until 1946. Pabst actually ceased production from 1996-2001 but have been back in business under new ownership since.

Today the “Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery” is a great place to tour over beers in Milwaukee. Their tour isn’t about the beer production, but enjoying a history lesson and old world style venue over some brews. Our guide was enjoying some beer while giving the tour, something I noticed to be common on Milwaukee beer tours. His previous job said he was welcome back when he left. His reply was “if I can drink beer at lunch I’ll consider returning… but they haven’t called yet.”

 

Lakefront Brewery

Three kettle murals of the Three Stooges are a good indicator of what’s to come inside at Lakefront Brewery. I enjoy good beer tours, and their brewery tour is the funniest I’ve been on. The tours are run like a stand-up comedy routine and laughs come even easier since you’re drinking delicious beers while touring the brewing facilities. Lakefront Brewery’s beers are also some of my favorites in Milwaukee.

 

Visit Lakefront Brewery on a Friday night for their fish fry and live music in the beer hall. Try the fried cheese curds too, which are really popular in Wisconsin and very tasty. Brewery tours are a great deal at $9 and include 4 small beers and a pint glass to take home.

 

MKE Boat Line Tour: 10 Great Things to Do in Milwaukee

You always gain a different perspective of a city on a boat tour. And between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River, there’s a lot of water surrounding the city. Board the MKE Boat Line along the riverwalk and enjoy great views of Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward before sailing out into the inner harbor of Lake Michigan. A guide discusses highlights and history of the city. You get a unique view of many Milwaukee landmarks on this tour, including the Milwaukee Art Museum and PierHead Lighthouse. Tickets are $20 and you can add a meal package for an additional $5. Beer and brats can also be purchased a la carte on the boat.

Sobelmans Bloody Beast

Sobelmans takes Bloody Marys to another level. So I had to try their Bloody Beast, which has previously been featured by many major publications including USA Today Travel, Thrillist, The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail. The Bloody Beast is a 32 ounce Bloody Mary pitcher packed with a whole fried chicken, burger, sausages, bacon wrapped chicken sliders, shrimp skewers and more. There is so much food in this Bloody Mary that it comes with a tray to deconstruct everything. It also comes with a pitcher of beer, because it’s standard to receive a beer chaser with a Bloody Mary in Wisconsin. I appreciate my good friend Chris and her boyfriend Andrew’s assistance in helping me tackle the Bloody Beast!

SafeHouse: A Spy Themed Restaurant

10 Great Things to do in Milwaukee

I’ve never eaten anywhere quite like SafeHouse, a spy themed restaurant and bar in business since 1966. You enter through a non-descript alleyway door to a small room where someone asks if you know the password. You’ll then be asked to do something slightly embarrassing, which is televised in the restaurant. There’s all kinds of interesting memorabilia and art plastered throughout, from remnants of the Berlin Wall to Soviet Era posters. Wait staff stays in character throughout the meal and there’s no additional charge for the experience of dining there.

While not the best food in Milwaukee, it’s good, and the fried cheese curds are excellent. The Safe House reminded me a little of a communist themed bar we drank at in Riga, Latvia that was packed with young local hipsters. A lot of families eat at Safe House because the ambiance is fun for kids too. There is also a SafeHouse in Chicago.

Potawatomi Hotel and Casino

I spent two nights at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino during my stay in Milwaukee. My room was comfortable, well appointed and I had a view of downtown Milwaukee. This is a massive gaming venue that also features seven restaurants on the property. If you enjoy gambling, consider a stay at Potawatomi Hotel to be close to the action. The property also offers a free hotel shuttle service in the evenings to transport people from other Milwaukee hotels to the casino. According to the Milwaukee tourism board’s website, this is the most visited tourist attraction in Wisconsin.

This is just a taste of great things to do in Milwaukee and doesn’t even include everything I enjoyed on my first visit to the city. I also really liked the Milwaukee Public Market as there’s a lot of good food and drink options under one roof. I also highly recommend cocktails at Bryant’s Lounge, which dates to 1938 and is the oldest cocktail lounge in Milwaukee. I didn’t make it to the Miller Brewery, but there’s also a rich history there, as the company was founded in 1855. Have a favorite spot in Milwaukee? Share it in the comments!

Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Milwaukee and the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino during my stay in Milwaukee. But all photos, experiences and opinions published here are my own. 

10 thoughts on “10 Great Things to Do in Milwaukee

  1. Milwaukee was never on my radar. It didn’t seem like an interesting destination, but I’m surprised to see how much there is to see there. I would enjoy visiting the Pabst Mansion. It looks like my kind of place: reminiscent of a bygone era.

    1. So glad we’ve piqued your interest to visit Milwaukee! The Pabst Mansion is a real gem. The architecture of the mansion is quite unique for the United States. Happy travels!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article! The Harley Davidson Museum is really interesting indeed – even if you’re not super into motorcycles. You learn a fair bit on 20th century American history and it’s fun to see more than a 100 years worth of bikes. Some of the Harleys are extremely beautiful, like fine pieces of art! Your partner would love this museum. Have fun planning a future trip back to the USA! 🙂

  2. That bloody beast is well named. Holy Hoffenheimer. Anything that comes with a sidecar of a pitcher of beer is something. I keep hearing good things about Milwaukee. We almost went this year for American Ninja Warrior but the trip never quite materialized. We’ll have to go and check it out for ourselves.

    1. LOL on the bloody beast with a side of a pitcher of beer! Receiving a free side of a pitcher of beer was probably a first!

      Seeing American Ninja Warrior in Milwaukee would have been cool. Hope you two find another reason to visit Milwaukee on a future trip. You’ll have a fun time! 🙂

  3. This post warms my heart as Milwaukee is my hometown, and where my parents still live. I think you covered a lot of the highlights. Summerfest (my favorite music festival) just ended, but there are many other festivals on the Lakefront throughout the summer. I love how you mentioned the SafeHouse and my favorite German restaurant – Maders. I also take people to see Joan of Arc’s chapel on the Marquette University campus or Andrew Lloyd Wright’s Greek Orthodox church. My family always goes to Brewers baseball game at Miller Park. Great post!

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment, Sarah! That really means a lot coming from someone who grew up in Milwaukee 🙂

      Thanks for the additional tips as well. Milwaukee was a lot of fun and really interesting so would love to return on a future visit, especially since Bell was unfortunately unable to accompany me on this recent trip. She’s definitely inspired to visit Milwaukee now as well!

      We have a good friend from our days living in Amsterdam who now lives in Milwaukee and it was her idea to go to Safehouse – great local tip. Would love to see Andrew Lloyd Wright’s Greek Orthodox church and a Brewers baseball game at Miller Park next time.

      Cheers to you and Milwaukee, the people and city are very cool! 🙂

  4. I visited Milwaukee last year for a conference and loved walking around the town. Looks like I missed some of the best spots! Great post and I hope you saw the museum open or close its wings.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Elaine! Milwaukee is a good city for a conference. Some fun places to talk business over food and drinks! 🙂

      Unfortunately, I did not get to see the Milwaukee Art Museum open or close its wings as I wasn’t there at opening or closing. Very cool it does that!

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