Milwaukee, otherwise known as Brew City, is Wisconsin’s largest city and a town known for working hard and playing hard. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to Milwaukee for the very best spots on the brilliant blue shores of Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee began as a Native American settlement. The Potawatomi tribe called it “Mahnawauk,” meaning gathering place. Others called the largest of the three local rivers “Millioke.” Merging the names, the city was officially christened Milwaukee in 1844.
Later, waves of immigrants gave the city a distinctly German flair, and this industrial hub came to be known as “Brew City” as four major breweries pumped more ale than anywhere else stateside.
While Miller remains the city’s only large brewer, craft breweries thrive in Milwaukee. Take a tour round Sprecher Brewery, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee Brewing Company or Great Lakes Distillery – the state’s first distillery since Prohibition. Lakefront even hosts a weekly Friday fish fry, with a live polka band and the bubble machine from the old Lawrence Welk show.
In 1903, a small factory opened shop to build motorized cycles. Today, Harley-Davidson still churns out motorcycles and every five years, enthusiasts roar into town from around the world to enjoy a week-long anniversary. The celebration travels around town, but two large parties are held annually at the lakefront and at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
Harley’s regular fetes would be enough to place Milwaukee on the festivals map, but the city’s lakefront rocks every summer as more than 800 bands take to 11 stages during Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. If that wasn’t enough, Irish Fest is the world’s largest Irish festival, German Fest is North America’s largest German festival, and Polish Fest is the largest Polish festival in the United States. Every weekend, from May until September, there’s a (big) festival or two in town.
Well-known as the hometown of Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days, Milwaukee pokes fun at its blue-collar image with the “Bronze Fonz,” a life-sized statue of Henry Winkler’s famed sitcom character, which overlooks the Milwaukee River.
Though the Bronz Fonz is the city’s most photographed site, the most picturesque is the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum addition - especially the “wings” that soar over the lakefront, opening and closing at noon and 5 p.m. daily.
Set sail on a real schooner, the Denis Sullivan, which docks at the adjacent science-centred Discovery World Museum, wander among the butterflies at an indoor garden at the Milwaukee Public Museum, or smell the flowers at the Domes, or the Mitchell Park Conservatory.
Step away from Milwaukee’s attractions to explore the lakefront. Rent paddleboats, bikes and segways at Veteran’s Park, catch some rays at Bradford Beach, or just sip a latte at Colectivo Coffee, located in a renovated water treatment plant.
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Have you been to Milwaukee recently? Where did you spend your time in town? Share your tips in the comments below.
Written by Jeanette Hurt
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About the author: JeanetteJeanette Hurt
Award-winning author Jeanette Hurt writes about food, wine and travel for a variety of publications, including AAA Living, Wine Enthusiast and The Four Seasons, and she's also a food and beverage correspondent for Milwaukee NPR affiliate WUWM's Lake Effect show. When she's not writing about food, wine or travel, she can be found enjoying Milwaukee's lakefront bike and with her husband, their son and their dog.