Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Great Beers, Music Festivals and Art
By Max Hartshorne, GoNOMAD Editor
Milwaukee is a city filled with festivals, outdoor activities, a remarkable art museum, and lots and lots of great beer. It is located right on Lake Michigan, and the shoreline is refreshingly devoid of the high rise hotels, casinos, and other attractions. Instead, Milwaukee offers rolling green space where in the warm months you can enjoy a different music festival practically every week.
The city's Summerfest is the world's largest music festival, taking place over 11 days with 13 different stages and all many styles of music. There is also a variety of food, shopping and children's activities all day and into the night.
A city of about 600,000, Milwaukee is home to Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. It is also home to Miller Brewing, Sprecher Brewery, and dozens of smaller breweries, as well as Harley-Davidson and Miller Park, home of Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers and the Bradley Center home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
WHEN TO GO?
Milwaukee is a fun place to visit, but it can be chilly. I was there in late April and it was blustery and cool. The summer months when the festivals are taking place by the lake and the weather is warm would be best time to visit.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Milwaukee is full of bars, but this one has a special attraction. The Holler House, at 2042 West Lincoln Ave, is home to the nation's oldest bowling alley. Two lanes can be found in the basement of this historic corner tap room. You have to call ahead so the owners can arrange for a pin-setter to be on duty. Marcy, the 75-year-old owner, can provide you with racy tales of the old days over cheap beers. 414-647-9284.
Milwaukeeans I met during my stay say that what they like best about the city is that there is so much to do. During the warm months, there are music concerts by the river, jazz in another park, and an array of ethnic street fairs and other activities to please anyone. They also talked about the friendliness of the city, that small town feeling even in a big city atmosphere.
While the bars are always fun to check out, the gem of the city is definitely the Milwaukee Art Museum. Located right next to Lake Michigan, the newest section of the museum is the most dramatic.
BEST ACTIVITY OR TOUR
Milwaukee's population is about 37% African American, and the city's race relations history is checkered. Jill Florence Lackey, a PhD in anthropology, studies the history of the city's ethnicities and takes tours of the neighborhoods.
There are more than 3600 hotel rooms downtown, from B&B's to the upscale Wyndham Hotel. The Hotel Metro, in the historic East Town area, features retro furnishings and 65 suites with '60s style furniture, free WIFI, two-line speaker phones, big desks and super smooth sheets.
Milwaukee is a city with thousands of good choices for dining. We enjoyed a fancy feast at the newly opened Roots Restaurant and Cellar, up on a hill overlooking the soon to be redeveloped Pabst City area. The farmer-chef-owner here uses many organic and natural ingredients, my halibut was excellent piled high in an artful display.
The place to go for very special occasions like anniversary dinners is Sanford, a 26-seat establishment in a residential neighborhood with a huge reputation. Friday nights in Milwaukee are known as Fish fry nights, when a cavernous place like the Lakefront Brewery fills up with folks thirsty for their homemade beer and fried fish. The family style seating here encourages conversation, though it can be a bit loud with the polka players cranking out the tunes. We enjoyed talking politics with our tablemates one Friday.
You can find all sorts of body lotions, bath salts, European facial products in the Crème Boutique, owned by Pam Percy, who once produced a public radio show called "Hotel Milwaukee." The store is located at 5589 N. Diversey Blvd. 414-964-2777. cremeboutique.com. High fashion, funky women's clothing (consignments too) can be found at Lela Boutique in a converted warehouse at 321 North Broadway in the historic Third Ward area. lelaboutique.com 414-727-4855.
Milwaukee's downtown highlight is the RiverWalk, ten city blocks with a walking/bike trail curving its way through the heart of the city. Microbreweries, pubs and restaurants grace each side of the walk, and you can view the neon sculpture "Dream with the Fishes" lit up at night. There are also gondola rides and river cruises during the warm months.
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