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Wisconsin might not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re planning a vacation, but Milwaukee is a wonderful town that’s definitely worth your consideration. It’s just a short drive from the bustling metropolis of Chicago, but with a more laid-back vibe that embraces the outdoors, offers amazing beer and has a collection of cool hotels.
Summer is an ideal time to visit this unique Midwestern city, so start planning a weekend getaway now to see what it’s all about! There are lots of reasons to visit Milwaukee, and these are a few of our favorites.
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What Is It? One of the most unique ways to experience downtown Milwaukee isn’t from land, but from the water!
Why Do It? Kayaking through downtown gives visitors a new perspective on the city, not to mention a little exercise to work off some of that delicious cheese and beer. You can bring your own kayak to travel down the Milwaukee River or hire a local guide company to rent out gear and get a tour. The best part about kayaking this river is that there are many restaurants and bars situated along the river, so you can paddle up to them and dock your kayak to hop out and grab a bite or a pint.
Good to Know: Overall, the paddling is pretty easy, so it’s an accessible journey for visitors of all skill levels.
What Is It? Milwaukee is one of the brewery capitals of America and a welcome stop for anyone who appreciates good craft beer.
Why Do It? Pabst has been part of the city’s beer scene for many years, but there are many newer up-and-coming breweries that are doing some really creative things too. A couple of local favorites are the Lakefront Brewery, New Glarus, and the Milwaukee Brewing Co. Many breweries in the city offer guided tours that include samples and have taprooms to sample on your own. There are also lots of tours that you can join to safely transport you and your crew from one brewery to the next.
Good to Know: If beer isn’t your thing, how about an Old Fashioned? This whiskey drink is also a popular choice in Milwaukee. The Great Lakes Distillery is a great place to try locally distilled spirits.
What Is It? Wisconsin is home to many dairy farms and famous for its world-class cheese.
Why Do It? Here you can sample everything from classic cheddar cheese to stout cheese and habanero cheese; however, the most famous cheese products are cheese curds. In Milwaukee, trying cheese curds is a must, and they commonly come in a chilled form or fried as an appetizer or side dish.
Good to Know: Among the best cheese shops in the city are the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Clock Shadow Creamery, Larry’s Market, and Metcalfe’s.
What Is It? Milwaukee has quite a few festivals during the summer months, but the biggest and most famous one is Summerfest.
Why Do It? This is a huge music festival that lasts more than a week and draws nearly a million visitors every year. It takes place at Henry Maier Festival Park, which is home to many other events too like Festa Italiana, which serves up lots of tasty Italian food, Gondola rides, and wine tastings in July.
Good to Know: Other festivals worth checking out are the Wisconsin State Fair and Bastille Days.
What Is It? Most American cities have at least a couple of art museums, but the one in Milwaukee is quite beautiful and modern.
Why Do It? The museum’s architecture looks like a ship or a bird, and the “wings” of the museum flap when it opens, at noon, and when it closes in the evening. There are over 20,000 works of art here that date back to the 13th century and modern-day works as well.
Good to Know: The museum is typically open on Tuesdays through Sundays.
What Is It? It’s easy to experience the essence of German culture when you visit Milwaukee through the city’s festivals, beers, and food.
Why Do It? This was a big destination for German immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a big Oktoberfest celebration is held here each year in the fall. If you are planning to visit in July, you can check out the German festival.
Good to Know: German cuisine is very meat-heavy with sausages being the centerpiece food to try, of course, unless you’re a vegetarian.
What Is It? Harley Davidson is a Milwaukee institution and there’s a huge museum here to learn all about these famous bikes.
Why Do It? The motorcycle company began in Milwaukee in 1903 and has evolved into a brand that embodies motorcycle culture. This is a fun museum to visit even if you’re not a biker because it covers motorcycle history, pop culture, and movies that have featured the brand.
Good to Know: There are lots of antique models and memorabilia in displays here, including a motorcycle that washed up on the shores of British Columbia, Canada after floating all the way across the Pacific Ocean following a tsunami in Japan.
What Is It? One of the best places to grab lunch in Milwaukee is the Milwaukee Public Market, which is also full of retail shops to browse for the afternoon.
Why Do It? The food here is affordable and gourmet, and you can even take a cooking class in the upstairs area to learn more about making your own delicious creations at home.
Good to Know: A couple recommended stops are Nehring’s for pizza and St. Paul Fish for seafood. The area is located just south of downtown near the Historic Third Ward and also a fun spot to browse for crafts and enjoy a lively market scene.
What Is It? Baseball is a big deal in Milwaukee, and Miller Park is where the home team plays.
Why Do It? This is home to the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, and a really fun place to catch a game in the spring, summer, or fall. The stadium has a retractable roof, which is nice for times when the weather turns cool or rainy.
Good to Know: Even if you’re not into baseball, you can still visit the stadium to take a tour or attend other events, such as the Brewers Mini-Marathon or a variety of concerts.
What Is It? Many of us remember loving Jelly Belly jelly beans as a kid, so relive your childhood and visit the Jelly Belly near Milwaukee.
Why Do It? It’s about 30 minutes south of Milwaukee but well worth the drive to satisfy your sweet tooth. Located in nearby Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, the Jelly Belly visitor center has a free express train tour that lasts about 30 minutes to help you learn more about these tasty little candies.
Good to Know: You’ll watch videos about the company’s 100+ years of candy-making and end up at the snack bar and store to buy a few treats to take back home.