I feel like Wisconsin is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. It’s the place I called home for 23 years, but after four years away, I’ve come to realize just how much Wisconsin– and in particular, Milwaukee, has to offer. It is such a fantastic city!
Milwaukee’s famous hotel, The Pfister
After spending a large portion of my adult life living in France and doing some extensive traveling around Europe and Africa, I tried to make it a goal of mine to explore and appreciate as much of Milwaukee with a pair of new, fresh eyes while home this summer. So, without further ado, I give you the best of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the summer.
- Milwaukee’s Ongoing Festivals: Milwaukee has an abundance of festivals during the summer months of June, July, and August: Polish Fest, German Fest, Irish Fest, Festa Italiana, Bastille Days, Wisconsin State Fair, Brady Street Festival, Zoo à la Carte, and of course, the biggest of them all, Summerfest. Milwaukee has a diverse immigration history which is why the heritage-based festivals are rich and plentiful. It also has great fair grounds right on the Lake Front, and being the home of both beer and dairy, it makes for a great fair combination. Most fairs also have a impressive and extensive list of live music (Summerfest is actually the world’s largest music festival!) Wisconsin’s weather is hot in the summer— there is no better way to enjoy the sun than down at Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it home for Summerfest, but I did go to Brady Street Festival (and even scored free parking at the Lakefront Brewery!) I had a great afternoon with my friend Katharine and my sister, checking out the street fairs and sipping beer at some of the local bars on Brady Street.
Brady Street Festival, source
While home, I also went to the Mile of Music festival in Appleton, WI
2. Milwaukee’s Nightlife: You guys, Milwaukee is hip— it’s lit! (I’m serious!) It is SUCH a fun city in which to go out and discover unique and quirky bars. The best places to frequent (to the best of my knowledge) are Brady Street and Water Street in the 3rd Ward. When I lived at home from ages 22-23, I would go to the Horny Goat as well as the Water Street area, hanging out at Trinity, Brothers, Red Rock Saloon, and my favorite, Lucille’s Piano Bar. However, I discovered Brady Street, thanks to my sister and cousin (both of whom live downtown) this past summer. And man, I’ve been missing out! My sister took me to some of her favorites, including: Garage, Nomad’s World Pub, and Jack’s American Pub. We also checked out a hot new brunch spot: Dorsia!
Brady Street, source
My good friends Erin and Caitlin out in Milwaukee in 2013
A view from People’s Park in Waukesha
3. The Milwaukee Art Museum & Lake Front: This iconic Milwaukee building is part of what makes our skyline and bird’s eye view so gorgeous. The Milwaukee Art Museum is truly one-of-a-kind, with ‘wings’ that open and close throughout the day. I spent an afternoon at the art museum with my grandma, checking out some of the temporary exhibitions. There is a lot to see and discover here, and it is one of the best things about the city. Even better, it looks out onto Lake Michigan, and is right along the Lake Front. I had actually never walked along the entire Lake Front in Milwaukee until this past month. My friend Jacqui and I strolled almost the entire length, although you can also rent bikes at a local rental, or by using Milwaukee’s bike sharing system, Bublr Bikes!
**FYI: Bubbler is the Wisconsin word for drinking fountain. “Hey guys, where’s the bubbler?”
Milwaukee Art Museum
Views of Milwaukee from Veteran’s Park
Views of Milwaukee from Veteran’s Park
Strolling along the Lake Front
4. Brewer’s Games: Miller Park is another iconic part of the Milwaukee skyline, and no summer is complete without a tailgate and Brewer’s Game. This past August, my family and I had a really great time tailgating (aka the most American thing ever, which consists in grilling out, playing games, and partying in the parking lot of the baseball stadium a few hours before the game. Usually there is alcohol involved) Even better, I had stayed with my sister the night before, and she, her boyfriend, our cousin, and I were able to take a free shuttle to the parking lot from Jack’s American Pub on Brady Street (you simply had to purchase a drink beforehand, which you could then transfer into a plastic glass when getting on the shuttle.) Ah, I love you, Wisconsin. Our tailgate was equipped with burgers, hotdogs, chips, fruit, veggies, and an epic game of Flip Cup.
Brewer’s Game Festivities
5. ‘Up North’: Until I left Wisconsin, I never realized how foreign the concept of “Up North” was. Basically, southeastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee are quite metropolitan, and the countryside becoming more and more vast the further north you go. The northern part of the state is filled with pine trees, wildlife, and lakes. As a result, it is very common for Wisconsinites to have cabins, boats, or timeshares in some of the towns in the northern part of our state. (In fact, my grandparents had a place in Eagle River, WI, for many years of my childhood. I have so many fond memories of spending long summer weekends up there.) Going “up north” in the summer usually entails going boating / tubing / water skiing / jet skiing, fishing, and hiking in the woods, and your nights filled with bonfires and dive bars. In the winter, it usually entails hunting. My aunt and uncle also currently have a place in Nakoosa, WI, and I was so lucky to have been able to spend two days there, to relax and enjoy the quiet during August.)
Sunflowers on our drive back to Milwaukee
A snapshot of my childhood memories, source
The Wielgus family bar up north in Portage, WI- check out Jack’s Tap on Facebook!
6. Wisconsin Dells: Did you know that the Wisconsin Dells is the Waterpark Capital of the World? Well, it is! Another Wisconsin tradition is to head up to the Dells (two hours up north) and choose one of the many water parks to spend the day or the weekend (or longer!) When I was younger we used to frequent Noah’s Ark, America’s Largest Water Park.
Other Amazing Quirks and Hot Spots in Milwaukee:
- Comedy Sportz- I love coming to Milwaukee’s Improv Comedy Club! There are matches every Friday and Saturday night, and range from all ages to adult-only.
With good friends at Comedy Sportz back in 2013
- Stone Creek Coffee & Colectivo Coffee- Stone Creek Coffee is a locally brewed specialty, with branches throughout southeastern Wisconsin and even Chicago. Colectivo is also locally brewed; my favorite location is right on the Lake Front. It’s such a great way to sip your daily dose!
- Lake Front Brewery: Staples of Wisconsin culture include Polka Dancing, beer, and Friday Night Fish Fry (a WI tradition!) You can get all of that at the Lakefront Brewery. This place is simply awesome, especially on a Friday night. It’s a great place to go with friends, family, or your partner.
- Milwaukee Public Market: Located in the historic Third Ward, the MKE Public Market is a collection of food stalls and restaurants. For local delights, this is your place.
- Safe House: A spy-influenced restaurant tucked away on a side street, you need a password to even enter the establishment. If you do not know the password, be prepared to do something silly for the cameras (which are broadcasted to restaurant-goers for entertainment.) Inside, you’ll find a vintage-themed array of rooms and bars, which a variety of posters and decorations. It’s fun to take some time to look around and explore before sitting down to order.
- Sobelman’s: The burger and bloodies combo is a Wisconsin specialty– we love our Bloody Mary’s (with a beer chaser, of course!) Head down to Sobelman’s for some of our best combos.
- Wisconsin Cheese Mart: Did you know that Wisconsinites love cheese? Come check out our famous deep-friend cheese curds (and many other local delicacies) at The Wisconsin Cheese Mart.
- Harley Davison Museum & Potowatomi: Did you know that Wisconsin is home to Harley Davidson? Come check out our museum and learn more about the loyalty behind our die-hard fans! Afterwards, go check out our famous casino!
Needless to say, I had an absolutely awesome time in Wisconsin this summer. I forgot how much I loved Milwaukee and really enjoyed discovering the city as a proper adult (I think part of the problem was going to school further up north, not having many friends in Milwaukee, living at home, not having a car, and spending most of my adult life outside of Wisconsin.) I definitely think I could come back to live in Milwaukee one day. There’s an airport, there are four seasons, and there is really, so many little quirks and joys. I could go on and on about all of the other great things there are to do in this city and its surroundings (Jazz in the Park! Old World Wisconsin! Folk Fair! EAA! Renaissance Fair! Green Bay Packers! UW Madison and Badger Games!) Plus, we are the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, Les Paul, Bronz Fonz, Gene Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Chellsie Memmel, Paul and Morgan Hamm, and so many more incredible people!
Of course the best thing about Wisconsin and Milwaukee are these people:
Have you ever been to Milwaukee, or Wisconsin? What are your favorite parts about this city, or your city?