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Cooling off in the park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - photos by Renee Estey
Cooling off in the park - photos by Renee Estey

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A Festival For Everyone

By Renee Estey

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to the world ’s largest music festival, Summerfest, is a fascinating city to discover.

Though the city is currently undergoing heavy construction over large areas, it is kept extremely clean in comparison to other major cities. In the four days I was there, I saw virtually no litter.

Along with the clean streets, people are extremely friendly and helpful. Asking directions is so easy in Milwaukee, because people give great easy directions and they are kind about doing so. The people I encountered were never rude and always gave easy to follow directions.

A Festival For Everyone

Milwaukee is known for their summer festivals, including Pridefest, Polish Fest, Summerfest, Festa Italiana, German Fest, African World Festival, Arab World Festival, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, and Indian Summer Festival. All of these festivals are held at the Henry Maier Festival Park, located right next to Lake Michigan, making it a calm, cool place to visit.

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Aside from these festivals that require tickets, every Thursday night they have Jazz in the Park, which always draws in the crowds and is especially loved by the broke college students, as it is free. Lots of people bring food and wine and have a nice picnic on the green as they take in the music.

The Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee
The Pabst Mansion

Beer History

Another thing Milwaukee is known for is their beer. The three most famous beers brewed in Milwaukee are Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Miller.

Both the Schlitz brewery and the Pabst brewery no longer exist, having been bought out by other breweries. However, you can still find both beers occasionally, sold by the brewery that took over. Miller is the current famous beer and Schlitz is considered the "beer that made Milwaukee famous."

A great place to learn a little history of the Pabst Brewery and Milwaukee in general is to visit the Pabst Mansion. This mansion is the retirement home for Captain Frederick Pabst and his family and is located on what is now Wisconsin Ave, but at the time was called Grand Avenue, because it was where all of the Milwaukee mansions were located. The Pabst Mansion was one of the only ones that survives.

On the riverfront
On the riverfront

The Pabst Mansion is a beautiful mansion, and they are currently in the process of restoration. The downstairs is complete and they are halfway through restoring the second floor, where all of the bedrooms were located. They use old photographs of all of the rooms to recreate the interior the way it was when the Pabst family lived there.

The mansion is splendid to look at, even if you are not interested in the history, because it so very ornate, with gorgeous ceilings and the decorative wood paneling.

Breweries, Bars and Pubs

There are more modern places to go for beer, as well, like the breweries, bars and pubs that line the streets and avenues. There are at least two on each block.


A sightseeing boat passes under a drawbridge.
A sightseeing boat passes under a drawbridge.

One of the great local bars is the Milwaukee Ale House, located right on the river front in the Historic Third Ward. The Ale House is also a restaurant, with a bar located on the bottom floor -- a great place for people to go and enjoy a beer and music. They have their own brewery and are expanding to other locations near Milwaukee.

There are also other interesting night spots like the Safe House, an interesting bar with a spy motif that keeps everyone entertained, even before they step inside. There are all kinds of contraptions and you never know what is going to happen next.

Many of the bars and pubs are very German or Irish, as these two cultures are hugely celebrated in Milwaukee.

Old World Third Street is a perfect place to feel a part of Germany in what looks like an old German Village, full of restaurants, pubs, and shops, including a cute spice shop and a famous sausage shop called Usingers with historic marble counters, tile floors, and wood beams. The greatest part is the mural on the walls, showing the elves working hard on sausages.

A great place to jog  in Milwaukee
A great place to jog

Milwaukee also has some great places to shop. The Historic Third Ward has the Public Market, a cute grocery that smells so good and has such fresh vegetables and fruits that you cannot leave without purchasing something.

And every Saturday they have an outdoor market, where you can purchase a 25-cent root beer float. The Historic Third Ward is also where Broadway Paper is located, a great place to get all kinds of crafty papers, envelopes, wrapping paper, ribbon and any other paper crafts you can imagine.

Brady Street is another great place to go shopping, as well as the Grand Avenue Mall.

The greatest thing about Milwaukee is the contrast that the city has between the bustling city life and the peaceful park on the lakeside. In one day, you can spend the morning running through their lakeside parks enjoying the breeze and the quiet, unless Summerfest is going on, in which case you can hear some of the music as you run, which can also be quite relaxing and good for a jog.

The Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum

You can then rent some rollerblades, scooters and other boardwalk rentals or even rent a paddleboat. They also have a great place to fly kites.

After your day in the park, you can enjoy a nice meal at one of the fantastic restaurants Milwaukee has to offer, followed by some great shopping or even a trip to one of the Milwaukee museums; for instance, the Milwaukee Art Museum or the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a great place to see Picasso, Monet, O’Keefe, Rodin, and Warhol, among others. Not only is the art in this museum enough to bring in tourists, but the building design is also unique. It is in the shape of a bird, and in the morning when the museum opens, the ‘wings’ open, and they close at night when the museum has closed.

At noon the wings will also flap and it is a great experience to watch them. Of course, if it is too windy, the wings will stay closed.

Gondolas in the park  in Milwaukee
Gondolas in the park

The Milwaukee Public Museum is a natural history museum home to the Puelicher Butterfly Wing, a planetarium, and an IMAX theatre, along with great educational exhibitions.

As night rolls around, the nightlife in Milwaukee is fantastic as there are many different places to visit, including the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, currently under construction, but still an exciting place to go.

A great symbol of Milwaukee as a whole would be Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin. The fascinating museum located directly on the lake is a great place for anyone to go and really learn and enjoy themselves. It gives you information about creativity and innovation, with different creations, they have audio and video studios, and different computer, electronic, printing, biology, communications, editing and general science laboratories.

Then you can learn about nature through their aquarium and other natural water displays. You can even pet stingrays and other sea creatures. It is a great place that encourages creation and innovation without destroying nature, and encourages environmental preservation.

Milwaukee skyline
Milwaukee skyline

Milwaukee is a great place for this Museum as it has the bustling always innovative city, and the beautiful nature of the lakes and the parks.

Summerfest is also a huge reason people go to Milwaukee, being the largest music festival, 72 acres of concrete, sitting right by Lake Michigan, full of food and fun and eleven different stages full of varieties of music.

During the day, Summefest is more family-oriented, but as the night goes on it because a huge Milwaukee social event, where everyone is holding a Miller beer and enjoying the music.

The most interesting thing I noticed about the set-up for Summerfest was the benches set up in front of the stage. It is different than other festivals and fairgrounds that have open space in front of the stage. I think this saved people from pushing and shoving as much.

If there is a headlining band you desperately want to see, it is important to stand in your spot of choice early on, even if other bands you like are playing on other bandstands.

For those who are there more for socializing, it is great to walk around the different music varieties and have the live music in the background. And it is great to listen to some up-and-coming bands playing earlier in the day.

For the younger crowd, the U.S Cellular Stage has a great number of good bands that should not be missed; for instance, the Hot IQs were a band out of Denver that were recruited by Summerfest staff to join their music festival.

Beer is everywhere on the grounds along with great food.  Saz’s mozzarella marinara, Anderson’s corn, éclairs and canolis at Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, Mocha, Cold Stone Ice Cream, Usingers, La Perla, and some other great varieties from around Milwaukee have booths set up all around the grounds.

Summerfest is definitely worth checking out, along with the rest of Milwaukee.

Renee Estey



Renee Estey
is an intern at GoNOMAD.com. She attends the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

 

Read Max Hartshorne's Destination Guide to Milwaukee

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