A local's ultimate guide to visiting Milwaukee
- As a born-and-raised Milwaukeean, I compiled a list of the best things to do, see, and eat here.
- Tourists should go to Veterans Park, South Shore Beach, and Black Cat Alley.
- They should also swing by Don's TV Repair, Sweetdiner, and Amilinda for food.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Dubbed the Cream City because of its cream-colored brick buildings, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is known for its beer, cheese, baseball, and now NBA championship team, the Bucks.
Milwaukee often flies under the radar - but from relaxing by Lake Michigan and attending summer festivals to hiking and beer tasting, there's plenty to do in the city.
As someone who was born and raised here, I created a guide with the best restaurants, attractions, and places to stay.
Things to know before you go
- COVID-19 PROTOCOL: The City of Milwaukee Health Department says that though the state doesn't mandate masks, they are strongly recommended indoors regardless of vaccination status, in line with CDC guidance. Some businesses and establishments have their own mask requirements.
- WEATHER: The city generally experiences all the seasons and their elements. Summer temperatures typically range from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, fall from 40 to 60, winter from below zero to 40, and spring from 50 to 65. Those visiting in the winter can expect snowfall, and spring and summer tourists should plan for periods of rain.
- CURRENCY: Milwaukee uses US dollars, and almost all businesses take credit cards. Though it varies, more and more places accept Cash App and Venmo transactions.
- WALKABILITY: Overall, Milwaukee's not a walkable city outside of downtown. However, there are bus lines and a streetcar, the Hop, which connects downtown and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station to the Lower East Side and Historic Third Ward neighborhoods. Ride-hailing services are also available.
Where to stay
Saint Kate - The Arts Hotel is a premier location
The most coveted and artsy option, Saint Kate is downtown off the Milwaukee River.
The boutique hotel has over 200 rooms - including four stunning options designed by local artists - that range from about $200 to $500 a night.
Saint Kate is accessible via paid parking, ride-sharing services, or public transport. It's next to the Pabst Theater and the Marcus Performing Arts Center, for those who love plays and musicals.
Tip: Go to Aria inside the hotel for dinner and drinks. The baked goat cheese and tahini-roasted carrots are tasty appetizers, and the Millions of Peaches cocktail is refreshing and delicious.
Kinn Guesthouse is excellent for luxury residential accommodations
Kinn Guesthouse is perfect for Airbnb fans who want a mix of hotel- and apartment-style stays.
Depending on the season, rooms range from about $175 to $495 a night. Visitors also have access to a communal chef's kitchen.
Surrounded by shops and restaurants, Kinn's location in Bay View is ideal for visitors who want to experience Milwaukee away from the downtown scene.
Things to do and see
Discovery World is a science museum for visitors of all ages
With views of Lake Michigan, Discovery World is a field trip for children and adults alike.
Visitors can appreciate all things STEM, including interactive activities with robots, a music factory, and an aquarium.
General admission for adults is $20. Adults 60 and over and children between 3 and 17 can get in for $16. There is also a student and veteran discount with a valid ID for $14.
Tip: Make it a day of fun activities and head to other nearby spots like Veterans Park for a picnic or the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Alice's Garden is an urban oasis
Less than 10 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, Alice's Garden, a 2-acre urban farm, is home to an array of families and community organizations that rent plots.
Best of all, entry into Alice's Garden is free, unless an event notes otherwise.
Tip: Alice's Garden hosts an artisan market from June through September for small businesses.
Company Brewing is the place to find a DJ and live music
In the Riverwest neighborhood lies Company Brewing, a venue with good beer, live music, and food.
Company Brewing features local artists, and the cover is normally $10.
It also hosts events for sports fans hoping to catch a game with Wisconsin teams like the Green Bay Packers.
Tip: If you come for dinner, try the yuca sandwich - it's one of the best vegan sandwiches in the city.
Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum for its stunning design and views of Lake Michigan
It's open Thursday through Sunday, and tickets range from $17 to $19, though kids under 12 get in free.
The website lists the exhibitions included with admission, but also check out the list of events, such as painting for kids, dance performances, and conversations with photographers and artists.
Tip: Parking downtown can be a hassle, but the museum offers paid spots starting at $5 for an hour.
Sports lovers should attend a Brewers or Bucks game
Wisconsin has both an MLB team, the Brewers, and an NBA team, the Bucks - so sports fans can plan a visit around either season.
Brewers games are known for tailgates, and Bucks fans often hang out at Deer District bars like Mecca and Punch Bowl Social before and after games.
Tip: For either sport, get there early. Parking downtown at the Fiserv Forum for the Bucks or at American Family Field for the Brewers can take time.
Black Cat Alley is a gallery for street-art fans
This outdoor art gallery features a mix of local and global artists. The muralists change, so you never know what you may find.
Black Cat Alley is also free for anyone to walk through and view.
Veterans Park is the place for bike rides, walks, and picnics
Visitors can fly a kite from Gift of Wings, go on a single or joint bike ride, or rent a swan pedal boat through Wheel Fun Rentals.
You can also walk around the park on part of the Oak Leaf Trail.
Tip: You can get gorgeous views and photos of the sunset over the lake.
Hank Aaron State Trail is ideal for outdoor adventurers
Milwaukee has a blend of city life and a bit of nature, most notably the 14-mile Hank Aaron State Trail.
You can find trails to walk, bike, and hike, with views of sculptures and other public art.
Tip: Refer to the website to see trail etiquette and find the best path for your visit.
Visit South Shore Beach to enjoy fresh air and a beer garden
Milwaukee has lots of great spots along the lake, including South Shore Beach.
South Shore has sandy and grassy areas for relaxing by the water or having a picnic, and you can dip your toes in Lake Michigan.
While you're here, get something to eat or drink at the South Shore Terrace Kitchen and Beer Garden - cheese curds are a Wisconsin delicacy.
Tip: Oak Leaf Trail runs right through the beach park, making South Shore the perfect ending spot after a nice stroll.
Milwaukee Boat Line is the ultimate sightseeing experience
Milwaukee Boat Line tours are an underrated experience. A 90-minute happy-hour cruise is only $25, with two drinks included.
You can also join one of the storytelling cruises, such as Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes, or a concert experience.
Tip: Bring a jacket and sunglasses. Depending on the time of day, the boat can get cool and the sun can beam in your face.
Shop at Bronzeville Collective MKE to support local businesses
Home to over 25 local brands, the Bronzeville Collective fulfills your handcrafted-souvenir needs.
This Black-women-owned collective carries jewelry, herbal body products, art, candles, and more.
Tip: The collective is in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood with many Black-owned businesses like Mi Casa Su Cafe, which offers weekly specials such as shrimp and grits, lasagna, and chicken and waffles.
Lakefront Brewery is a go-to for beer tastings
A guide to Milwaukee is not complete without a proper beer tasting and brewery tour.
Lakefront Brewery is thorough and has a variety of award-winning beers, making it one of the best.
Tip: If you've never been to a beer tasting, don't be afraid to ask questions. The guides are knowledgeable and can recommend a beer for your taste.
Where you should go to eat and drink
Don's TV Repair is a must-visit hole-in-the-wall speakeasy
Don's TV Repair is a grocery and liquor store with a speakeasy.
On Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors can order Fruity Pebbles pancakes, cocktail-mimosa flights, scrambles, and other diner delights.
Don's also has themed drink specials. Thursday evenings are 10-cent martini nights, and you can get $5 old-fashioneds - a Wisconsin specialty - on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tip: When you book your reservation, be sure to read the special instructions for entering the speakeasy. They will ask you on arrival (or give you a hint).
Sherman Phoenix is a go-to for local food options
Sherman Phoenix offers a variety of restaurants to choose from.
You can enjoy wings from Buffalo Boss, sweet-potato black-bean rolls from Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, and thin-crust pizza from Sauce and Spice. You also must try the Phoenix cookie from Confectionately Yours.
This spot also has shopping, with clothing and jewelry from Underground Makers Market and herbal body products, local hot sauce, and more from Kujichagulia Producers Cooperative.
Tip: Buy a bag of Emmanuel's Mix for your trip home. It's the best trail mix you'll ever eat.
Eat at Uppa Yard for Jamaican food and fruity drinks
Visitors in the mood for Jamaican food should go to Uppa Yard on Milwaukee's north side.
Oxtails, Jamaican jerk chicken, curry shrimp, and plantains are some of the signature plates.
Tip: Getting food here can take a while, so plan ahead and order drinks to start. But know that it's worth it.
Sweetdiner offers unique takes on brunch and lunch classics
Try the mimosa with raspberry liqueur or the Bloody Mary made with a house mix.
The caramel-apple pancakes and cinnamon-roll French toast are sweet and delicious, but you also can't go wrong with the smoked-salmon Benedict or biscuits and gravy.
Tip: Make a reservation - Sweetdiner is very popular for brunch, and the wait can be over an hour on holidays.
Hit up Zócalo Food Park to eat outdoors with friends
On the south side of the Walker's Point neighborhood, Zócalo is Milwaukee's first food-truck park.
Visitors can get bagels from Ruby's Bagels, arepas from Anytime Arepa, and fried-chicken sandwiches from Foxfire.
Zócalo also has live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tip: For hole-in-wall Mexican restaurants, drive further to Guadalajara, Taqueria Buenavista, or Guanajuato.
Visit Amilinda to enjoy Spanish and Portuguese food
Offering a switch from beer and breweries, Amilinda has an exquisite wine list to match the savory Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.
The menu is more upscale, with local ingredients incorporated in every dish.
Choose Amilinda for a date night or small celebratory dinner with friends, and save room for dessert.
Tip: Amilinda's menu often changes, so check the website to see what's cooking during your visit.
Daddy's is the go-to spot for a soul-food fix
Daddy's Soul Food and Grille makes you feel at ease with its family-friendly atmosphere and homestyle food.
Catfish and fried chicken are favorites available every day, with sides such as cornbread, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, greens, and sweet potatoes.
Visitors can enjoy smothered pork chops on Thursdays, spaghetti on Fridays, and barbecued ribs on Saturdays.
Tip: Though street parking is available, it can be a bit difficult, so set aside extra time to find a good spot.
Café Benelux has great rooftop cocktails, especially Bloody Marys
A Third Ward favorite, Café Benelux offers hashes, burgers, mussels, five types of Bloody Marys, and more.
Check out the rooftop, where you can get a scenic view of Milwaukee's downtown to match your meal and drink.
Café Benelux also has live music in the summer.
Tricklebee Cafe is a pay-what-you-can community spot
Past dishes include vegan burgers and stew, chocolate-chip cookies, and more.
Tricklebee is open only for lunch, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tip: Street parking is available, and a reservation is not required.
Kopp's Frozen Custard is a Milwaukee dessert classic
With three locations in Greenfield, Brookfield, and Glendale, Kopp's is a classic that offers indoor and outdoor seating.
Try the must-have custard, burgers, fries, fish sandwiches, and other favorites off the grill.
And enjoy the rotating flavor of the day, available on the website.
Tip: Don't mistake custard for ice cream - any local will tell you the former is denser and more flavorful.
Final tips before your trip
- If you're looking to mostly enjoy the outdoors, consider visiting during the summer. Milwaukee comes alive in the warmer months. It's peak tourist season, but it's not overwhelmingly crowded.
- If you're visiting for Summerfest or any other summer festival, pack comfortable shoes and a reusable water bottle. You'll be doing a lot of walking, and it can get hot and humid.
- If you want to hike and camp, you will need to rent a car. In addition to Hank Aaron State Trail, the surrounding areas such as Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo and Lake Geneva Shore Path are prime for hiking. But there is no public transportation that far.
- If you plan to visit a beach, do your research. Milwaukee has parks throughout the city, and lots of the beaches, such as Bradford Beach, have designated swimming areas. Also remember it's fresh water.
- Just like breweries, distilleries are big in Milwaukee. Visit the Central Standard Craft Distillery or the Great Lakes Distillery for a tasting.