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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 and amazing beer.
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.
Are you planning your trip to Milwaukee? Take a look at some of the top hotels in the area.
Kayak through Downtown
One of the most unique ways to experience downtown Milwaukee isn’t from land, but from the water! 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. You can print out a Milwaukee Urban Water Trail map on the Milwaukee Riverkeeper website to plan your route. 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. Overall, the paddling is pretty easy, so it’s an accessible journey for visitors of all skill levels.
Tour the Craft Breweries
Milwaukee is one of the brewery capitals of America and a welcome stop for anyone who appreciates good craft beer. 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 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 tap rooms 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. And 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.
Sample Wisconsin Cheese
Wisconsin is home to many dairy farms and famous for its world-class cheese. 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 chilled form or fried as an appetizer or side dish. Among the best cheese shops in the city are the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Clock Shadow Creamery, Larry’s Market, and Metcalfe’s.
Summerfest & Other Festivals
Milwaukee has quite a few festivals during the summer months, but the biggest and most famous one is Summerfest. 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. Other festivals worth checking out are the Wisconsin State Fair and Bastille Days.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Most American cities have at least a couple art museums, but the one in Milwaukee is quite beautiful and modern. 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. The museum is typically open on Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm and on Friday nights until 8 pm.
German Cuisine & Oktoberfest
It’s easy to experience the essence of German culture when you visit Milwaukee through the city’s festivals, beers, and food. 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. German cuisine is very meat-heavy with sausages being the centerpiece food to try, of course unless you’re a vegetarian.
Harley Davidson Museum
Harley Davidson is a Milwaukee institution and there’s a huge museum here to learn all about these famous bikes. 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. 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.
Milwaukee Public Market
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. 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. 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.
Catch a Brewers Game at Miller Park
Baseball is a big deal in Milwaukee, and Miller Park is where the home team plays. 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. 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.
Tour the Jelly Belly Warehouse
Many of us remember loving Jelly Belly jelly beans as a kid, so relive your childhood and visit the Jelly Belly near Milwaukee. 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 is typically open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and has a free express train tour that lasts about 25-30 minutes to help you learn more about these tasty little candies. 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.