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Sitting on Lake Michigan’s western shore, the city of Milwaukee is known worldwide for its historic buildings, scenic river walk, and endless craft breweries.
As the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, its home to 600,000 people. In addition to this, it also boasts multiple professional sports teams, cultural attractions, and some of the best cheese in America — and that’s a fact.
Milwaukee is home to the General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) that sits less than six miles from downtown. There are many domestic flight route options available, so I chose to fly from Evansville, Indiana with a connecting flight in Chicago, Illinois. Then, from Chicago direct to Milwaukee for a cost of $245 USD. You can find other flight options here and here.
It’s very easy to get around Milwaukee, even without a rental car. Uber, Lyft, and taxi cabs are available, and there are buses that run via the MCTS throughout downtown. The Milwaukee Streetcar, known as The Hop, takes riders on a 2.1 mile route through the city’s busiest neighborhoods. It’s free to ride, and operates seven days a week. Click here for the full Hop schedule and route.
Read below to learn about the top 15 cheap (and free!) things to do in Milwaukee following five days I spend in the city in February 2022.
1.) Sleep in a Former Brewery at Brewhouse Inn & Suites
In Milwaukee’s famous Brewery District sits one of its most unique and prized hotel properties: Brewhouse Inn & Suites. Formerly the original Pabst brewery, the hotel boasts spacious studios and plenty of vintage charm.
The property still showcases many of the old brewery’s original features. These include massive iconic copper brewing kettles and more than 300 stained glass window of King Gambrinus (patron saint of beer).
All suites have soaring ceilings, large steel beams, exposed Milwaukee Cream City brick walls, and enormous floor to ceiling windows. The most useful amenity is the in-room kitchen equipped with all of the necessities: stovetop, refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, and Keurig coffee maker.
A full set of utensils and cookware is also available for guests to prep and enjoy full meals during their stay.
Additional perks include complimentary high-speed WiFi, a daily complimentary continental buffet breakfast, exercise room, and business center.
A lobby gift shop is available to buy local goods, special toiletries, beverages, and plenty of fresh snacks.
The property is a stones throw away from the Entertainment District and the Milwaukee Brewing Company. Across the street, guests can also find the food hall at Eleven25 at Pabst that is a two minute walk away.
The airport is a short 15 minute drive door to door, making it a prime spot for lodging.
Click here to book a stay at Brewhouse Inn & Suites, and learn more about amenities, special vacation packages, and room rates. A two night minimum is required to make a reservation.
Price: $184 per night for a One Bedroom Double Queen Suite with Kitchen (rates may change depending on dates of stay).
2.) Hitch a Ride at the Harley Davidson Museum
It’s not a visit to Milwaukee without a visit to the Harley Davidson Museum.
Home to the most famous motorcycle manufacturing company in the world since 1903, Milwaukee upholds this longstanding classic American culture.
The Harley Davidson Museum is an experience. In fact, it’s more than just a museum, but rather an entire 20-acre campus.
Guests can walk through two floors of one-of-a-kind Harley memorabilia and witness hundreds of rare preserved bike models (many originals). Some of the most well-known items include “Serial Number One,” the oldest known Harley bike, and the bike originally owned by Elvis Presley.
A top tourist destination in the city, the campus also hosts special events, and provides unique shopping and dining options. Some exhibits are regulated rotated, while others like the Engine Room, the colorful Tank Wall, and the hands-on Experience Gallery are permanent.
Plan to spend at least two hours at the campus to get the full Harley Davidson experience.
Learn more about the exhibits, upcoming events, and hours of operation here.
Price: Tickets are $22 for adults, $8 for children 5-17, and $16 for seniors, military (with I.D.), and students.
Address: 3700 W. Juneau Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53208
3.) Burnt Ends and Beer at Motor Restaurant
After exploring every nook and cranny of the Harley Davidson Museum, cross the street to curb your appetite at Motor Restaurant.
The only Harley Davidson restaurant in the world, the on-campus restaurant offers riverfront dining in a classic Harley atmosphere.
Serving no-fuss Midwest American cuisine, guests can enjoy burgers, BBQ, and some of the best Wisconsin cheese curds around.
Some menu highlights include the all-you-can-eat fish fry, the “FATBOY Burger“, and their coveted “Burnt Ends“. Make sure to try a barrel-aged cocktail or a flight of local beer (the “Spotted Cow” is an easy favorite!)
Learn more about the menu, monthly specials, and hours of operation here.
Price: Burnt Ends, $12.95; Pint of Spotted Cow beer, $7
Address: 401 W. Canal St., Milwaukee, WI 53203
4.) Marvel at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Since 2001, an iconic piece of architecture has defined the Milwaukee skyline: the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM).
One of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s most prized modernist works, the MAM consists of three buildings and houses more than 25,000 pieces of art.
The most notable building of the three, the Quadracci Pavillion, has a vaulted 90-foot glass ceiling and a 217-foot wingspan that folds and unfolds twice a day. It features a pedestrian suspension bridge that connects the MAM to the city.
A few of the most well-known pieces of art inside of the MAM include the painting of Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, and the largest collection of work by Wisconsin native Georgia O’ Keefe.
The grounds of the museum provide stunning views of Lake Michigan from the back, as well as the Cadahy Gardens by Dan Kiley at the front.
Learn more about the museum’s hours of operation, current exhibits, and history here.
Price: Tickets to the museum cost $22 for adults, $17 for students and military, and free for children under 12 years old.
Address: 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202
5.) Stroll Through the Milwaukee Public Market
Since 2005, the public market located in the historic Commission Row has become a city staple. Providing everything from cheeses, produce, and baked goods, it’s a hot spot for both locals and tourists to get one of a kind groceries, gifts, and more.
Home to more than 20 local vendors, the vast selection of high quality selections of ethnic and artisan goods is some of the most impressive in the nation.
Order an East Coast Lobster Roll and a cup of New England Clam Chowder from St. Paul Fish Company for lunch. Wash it down with an award winning imported Belgian beer from Cafe Benelux.
End your visit with a cheesecake flavored Italian soda pop, a few dark chocolate Sea Salt Caramel bites, and Chocolate Covered Orange Peels from Kehrs Candies. The company has been making chocolate for nearly 40 years, so you know it’s good.
The market is open from , and is free to enter. Learn more about the full list of vendors and available items for sale here.
6.) Flight of beer at Milwaukee Brewing Co.
On 9th Street in Milwaukee’s Brewery District sits one of the cities most favorite craft breweries: Milwaukee Brewing Company (MBC).
Since 1997, MBC has been using only the finest local ingredients to craft sustainable and innovative brews.
Due in large part to the city’s access to fresh water from Lake Michigan, ice, and agriculture, MBC’s brews are some of the most well known throughout Wisconsin.
They’re not simply known for great beer, however, but rather how they package it. By using the first “micro-canning” system in Wisconsin, the brewery uses less energy, increases recycling power, and creates a safer, more eco friendly can for outdoor activities such as camping and boating.
Brews + Bites
Year round, they offer unique beer selections that include IPA’s, Amber Ales, Cream Ales, Golden Lagers, and wheat beers. They also create special seasonal ales exclusive only to MBC.
The brewery also features an impressive menu selection of local food and snacks at the taproom, Bottlehouse 42. Be sure to order a basket of cheese curds with ranch dressing and the “Funky Chicken” sandwich with pimento cheese and hot honey. Pair with a beer flight of at least four tastings (you’ll thank me).
Learn more about the brewery’s hours of operations, beer selections, and tour options here.
Price: $ for tours, $ for a beer tasting flight
Address: 1128 N. 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233
7.) Blue Ribbon Burger at On Tap
History and beautiful architecture aren’t the only draws to the Brewhouse Inn & Suites property. It’s also home to a new on-site restaurant, On Tap.
Home to 14 Wisconsin draft beers and more than 40 craft and imported beers, On Tap is a top spot in Milwaukee to grab an after-game brew or a classic Midwest dinner.
Finding its home in the former Pabst Brewing Company Mill House, the gastropub features thirty-foot ceilings, exposed cream city brick walls, and other unique historic architectural details.
Favorite menu items at On Tap include the Beer Cheese Soup, the Toastie with the Mostie grilled cheese with onion jam, and the Blue Ribbon Burger.
The Blue Ribbon Burger, filled with short ribs cooked in PBR, a 1/2lb. Angus Burger, bleu cheese, porter onion jam, and fried onion strings is a definite must.
Learn more about the full food and beverage menus and hours of operations offerings at On Tap here.
Price: Beer Cheese Soup, $8; Blue Ribbon Burger, $15 (served with choice of fries, housemaid chips, or fresh fruit).
Address: 1203 N 10th St, Milwaukee, WI 53205
8.) Take a Ride on The Hop
There are numerous transportation options throughout the city to get visitors from point A to point B. However, one mode of transport definitely stands out from the rest: The HOP.
The city’s very own fleet of street cars, The HOP makes the city easier to navigate and connects some of Milwaukees most visited neighborhoods.
Completely free to ride, each of the five street cars are 67 feet long and carry between 120 to 150 passengers. Service runs every 15 minutes during peak times, and every 20 minutes during off peak hours and on weekends.
The route takes passengers in a loop from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station and Downtown to the Lower East Side and Historic Third Ward neighborhoods.
Learn more about The HOP here.
Address: Stops vary along the route.
9.) Stroll down the Milwaukee Riverwalk
An easy and scenic way to explore the city on foot is to stroll down the Milwaukee River Walk.
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the river walk connects three riverfront neighborhoods: the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. Along its path, you’ll find some of the city’s best shops, bars, breweries, entertainment, and restaurants.
It’s also home to an outdoor art gallery called the RiverSculpture! that includes a mixture of abstract art and a total of 20 sculptures.
The Downtown section of the river walk via Wisconsin Avenue takes you by the Pabst and Riverside Theatre’s and the newly renovated Warner Grand Theater, home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Be sure to stop on the Riverwalk Bridge for an epic skyline photo.
See a full description of the Milwaukee Riverwalk here.
Address: 112 W Wisconsin Ave (Downtown Riverwalk)
10.) The Halo Halo Dessert at Meat on the Street
Inside of the Eleven25 building in downtown Milwaukee, Meat on the Street (MOTS) once began as a food truck.
Serving Filipino cuisine and infused meat, founders and siblings Alexa and Matthew Alfaro have since created a mini empire of deliciousness.
From slow cooked pork to coconut chicken, to garlic rice and lumpia rolls, this is a can’t-miss for Filipino food aficionados.
The best item on the menu (in my opinion) isn’t savory, but sweet. The “Halo Halo” is a 14-layer milkshake-snow-cone like dessert that contains homemade Ube ice cream, Flan, coconut shreds, sweet white beans, jello, and more. If you order only one thing — definitely order more — it’s this.
You can still get the OG experience of the food truck, but online ordering and multiple locations have made it even easier to enjoy.
Learn more about the full menu, catering options, locations, and hours of operation here.
Price: Halo Halo, $8
Address: 1125 N 9th St, Milwaukee, WI 53233
11.) Admire the Architecture of St. James 1868 Church
This Gothic Revival-styled Episcopal church built in 1867 remains an iconic symbol in Milwaukee’s history.
As the oldest stone church remaining in Milwaukee, it’s a proud member of the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, it hosts hundreds of luxury weddings each year in two separate historic wedding venues. It’s considered one of the best event venue spaces in the region with a 2,200 square foot English style outdoor courtyard.
Simply walk by and take in the architecture, or take a peek inside. The venue also hosts special ticketed events for the public (their next upcoming one is the St. James 1868 Derby Party!)
Learn more about the wedding venue, upcoming events, and the history of St. James here.
Address: 833 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53233
12.) Cozy cocktails and small plates at The Diplomat
On Brady Street sits an unassuming yet cozy spot known among locals for its innovative cocktails and colorful small plates.
A unique upscale dining experience, The Diplomat’s chef-owner Dane Baldwin serves contemporary American cuisines with an inventive twist. In fact, it’s considered a “Top 30 Restaurant in Milwaukee” and has some of the most surprising ingredient combinations.
From tender, flaky trout to the elemental “Diplomac” burger, there is something for every palate.
What to Order
For dinner, start with one of The Diplomat’s many posh handcrafted cocktails.
I recommend the “Red Pajamas” with High West Double Rye, Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco, maple syrup, and lemon juice. It’s slightly sweet with a citrus-y kick and is great stirred to mix or sipped as served.
For savory items, don’t pass up the Salt Cod Hashbrown or the Trout Grenobloise. The fish is especially delactable, topped with crispy Brussel sprout shavings, capers, almond aioli, and charred lemon.
To share, order a round of the Sourdough Bread with olive oil butter and the Diplomat Fries with garlic mayo.
Know Before You Go
Keep in mind that the menu at The Diplomat changes regularly, so the items mentioned in this post may not necessarily be available at the time of dining.
Check the current menus for food, wine, and cocktails here.
Price: Red Pajamas cocktail, $13; Trout Grenobloise, $16 for half size, Sourdough bread, $5
13.) Friday Fish Fry at Lakefront Brewery
The modern fish fry tradition is strong in Wisconsin, and Milwaukee is no exception.
One of the best places to enjoy a tried-and-true Midwest fish fry in the city is no doubt at Lakefront Brewery.
]Photo by East Coast Contessa.
This spacious brewpub is the first certified organic brewery in America, and the first brewery to produce a government approved, gluten-free beer. To date, they offer nearly two-dozen types of beer from IPA’s, Ales, Lagers, Stouts, to seasonal beers and more.
But let’s also talk about the food.
In addition to trivia night and live entertainment, the Beer Hall at Lakefront serves up some of the best fried cod in the city. Every Friday at 4pm, guests can make reservations for “Friday Fish Fry” served with a side of fries, slaw, and plenty of polka (the dance).
Fridays are the one night each week they offer table service, and they take limited reservations from 4PM to 5:30PM. After that, it’s first come, first served.
]Photo by East Coast Contessa.
Other menu items worth a try are their Curd of the Day and the Butternut Squash Bisque.
See the full menu and hours of operation here.
Price: Fish Fry Basket, $13; Fish Fry Dinner, $16; Butternut Squash Bisque, $4.
Address: 1872 N Commerce St, Milwaukee, WI 53212
14.) Take home bag (or two) of “Squeaks”
If you’re sad that your time in Brew City has to come to an end, you can always take the best of the city with you.
At most of the airport gift shops, you can purchase a bag of cubed cheese, also known as “squeaks”. This cheese is used to make the city’s famous fried cheese curds, and goes for $9 for a large bag. Choose from cheddar, mozzarella, Colby Jack, or Monterey Jack.
]Photo credit: Cedar Grove Cheese Curds
Why are they called “squeaks”? Each curd is made up of tightly-woven protein mesh that’s held together by calcium. When it rubs across the enamel of your teeth, it squeaks.
The more you know.
To turn the squeaks into certified Wisconsin fried cheese curds, generously coat each curd in a homemade beer batter, deep fry at 400 degrees, and dip in chipotle ranch.
Price: 1 bag of “Squeaks”, $9
Things to Know Before You Go
As Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee has a population of more than 600,000. In addition to world-champion cheeses and beer, it’s home to some of the most diverse cultures in the U.S. Below are some “Brews City” facts to know before you go:
- The city has a large immigrant community with German bratwursts, Italian bakeries, frozen custard, and Pakistani and Mexican restaurants.
- Milwaukee is the unofficial “frozen custard capital of the world”. Made with egg yolk, cream, and sugar, frozen custard is a big hit here.
- Public transportation here is easy and cheap so you can skip the rental car!
- There are more events in the city during the summer and fall, but visiting during the winter is also beautiful (just be mindful of potential snow and ice storms when scheduling your travel!)
- Eat local! Wisconsin ranks second in the country after California for its number of organic farms — and 73 percent of Milwaukee’s restaurants are locally owned.
Do you have plans to visit Milwaukee soon? Leave any questions or comments in the section below!
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