Professional and collegiate sports, theater and ballet, museums galore, and then – the world’s largest music festival
Non-stop, year-round fun! You will be hard-pressed to find a weekend in Milwaukee when there is nothing to do. Professional sports teams play year-round. Theater, dance and opera companies keep the stages filled with action. And there are dozens of small clubs offering a variety of music, including blues, jazz, swing and rock 'n' roll. If your musical tastes are more classical, you might enjoy a night with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at its new home in the restored historic Bradley Symphony Center on West Wisconsin Avenue.
Perhaps you're just hungry. If so, you will be amazed at the variety of excellent ethnic restaurants and world-renowned chefs in the metropolitan area. The Bartolotta Restaurants, a family-owned developer of Milwaukee's top restaurants, offers some of the cities most beautiful and unique sites. Or you may want to organize a group of friends for a Riverwalk boat tour. Whatever your tastes, you will quickly discover there is no shortage of things to do in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee area is blessed with a variety of cultural attractions:
- The recently expanded Milwaukee Art Museum is home to more than 30,000 works of art, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Durer, Picasso and Warhol. The museum's stunning Calatrava-designed addition has added a dramatic architectural signature to the lakefront.
- A tradition of excellence in exhibits, education, collections and research has been the hallmark of the Milwaukee Public Museum since it was established in 1882. Permanent exhibits include multi-level displays of dinosaurs, North American Indians, a tropical rain forest, 19th Century Milwaukee neighborhoods and an environmentally controlled butterfly pavilion.
- The Betty Brinn Children's Museum features hand-on exhibits for children ages 1 through 10.
- The Charles Allis Art Museum, housed in the lavish 1911 home of Charles and Sarah Allis, contains original furnishings and a world class art collection spanning more than 2,000 years.
- Discovery World is a lakefront science and technology museum designed for young adults and children.
- The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the top zoological parks in the country. The 200-acre park is known for its open concept, which simulates the animals' natural environments by using moats to separate predators from their prey. Its Aquatic & Reptile Center includes sharks and alligators, as well as more than 200 fish that are native to Wisconsin lakes.
- Those who want to test their luck will want to head to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. Located just south of downtown Milwaukee in the Menomonee Valley, it attracts more than 6 million visitors every year and offers 24/7 action with nearly 100 table games, 3,000 slot machines, a bingo hall, poker room, off-track betting, 500-seat theater and seven different restaurants.
- Plant enthusiasts will want to explore the recently renovated Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory. Known locally as “The Domes,” the facility consists of three 85-foot domes. One contains a desert environment, another houses tropical plants and the third features changing displays.
Festivals & Events
During the summer, there are major music and art festivals, block parties and church festivals throughout Milwaukee. The largest festival is Summerfest, which will be held on several weekends in September this year, draws nearly 900,000 people to Milwaukee’s lakefront Henry W. Maier Festival Park, a spectacular venue that offers stunning views of Milwaukee’s skyline as well as panoramic vista of Lake Michigan. The festival park also is used to stage the many events organized by local ethnic groups, including Festa Italiana, German Fest, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, and Polish Fest. Festivals, however, aren’t confined to the lakefront. In July, Milwaukeeans celebrate the beginning of the French Revolution at Bastille Days, a downtown block party that’s considered to be the largest celebration of its kind in the country. Greek Fest is an annual celebration held at State Fair Park. Catholic parishes hold weekend galas throughout the city, while River Rhythms draws hundreds of people to the Milwaukee River in the summer. Nor are festivals confined to Milwaukee. Racine’s 1,000-slip marina is a focal point of activity throughout the summer as well. The city’s nationally famous fishing contest, Salmon-A-Rama, draws participants from around the country in July. And the historic community of Cedarburg is known for its annual Strawberry Festival.
Every summer, Milwaukee proudly hosts Summerfest, “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” on the shores of Lake Michigan in a world-class festival setting. The event, which celebrated its 55th anniversary last year, will be held over three consecutive weekends, for a total of nine days. The 2023 festival runs Thursday-Saturday, from 12 Noon until 12 Midnight June 22-24, June 29-July 1 and July 6-8. Summerfest, considered one of the most diverse and most affordable music festivals in the country, features over 800 acts and more than 1,000 performances on 12 permanent stages with a continuous lineup of “the music industry’s hottest stars, emerging talent and local favorites.” Among the artists featured in this year’s lineup, with more to be announced, are the Zac Brown Band, Marcus King, James Taylor & His All-Star Band, Sheryl Crow, Zach Bryan, Imagine Dragons and AJR. The live music is accompanied by delicious food and beverages, plus fun activities. summerfest.com
The area also offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Sparkling lakes, quiet woodland areas and prairie vistas can be found throughout Waukesha, Ozaukee, Racine and Washington counties.
All told, the greater Milwaukee area features 17,700 acres of county parkland, more than 60 public and private golf courses and more than 240 miles of bikeways and hiking paths. Boating and fishing are major activities on both Lake Michigan and the many beautiful inland lakes. Charter boat captains are always eager to take people out onto the "local ocean" to land perch, steelhead, coho or chinook salmon.
Sailing is also very popular. The South Shore Yacht Club's annual Queen's Cup Race attracts about 200 boats per year for the Wisconsin-to-Michigan race. For more casual sailors, sailboats and windsurfing equipment can be rented at McKinley Park Marina just east of downtown Milwaukee. If a leisurely ride is more your speed, gather a group a friends for a Riverwalk Boat Tour along the Milwaukee River.
Wisconsin has become a golfing destination sensation thanks to superbly designed courses. According to Golf Digest, seven of the nation's top 100 golf courses are located in the state, including three in the Milwaukee area: Washington County's Erin Hills, which hosted the 2017 U.S. Open; the Milwaukee Country Club in River Hills; and the Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa. Whistling Straits in nearby Kohler, has hosted the PGA Championships three times and will host The Ryder Cup in 2021. To stay abreast of all things golf in the state, see the Wisconsin State Golf Association website wsga.org. But you don't have to be a pro to play golf. There are dozens of affordable public courses in the area as well. For more information, visit: golfwisconsin.com.
Fresh from the Farm
Milwaukee's farmers markets offer everything from fresh, locally grown produce to arts and crafts. They are great places to savor fresh produce, see people and enjoy the outdoors. One of the oldest and most popular is the award-winning West Allis Farmers Market (thatswhywestallis.com/farmers-market). City neighborhood markets include the popular Cathedral Square Park (easttown.com/cathedral-square-market); fun and funky East Side Green Market (theeastside.org/happenings/east-side-market), Westown’s Milwaukee Night Market (mkenightmarket.com), the South Shore Farmers’ Market in Bay View (southshorefarmersmarket.com), and the century-old Fondy Farmers Market (fondymke.org), Milwaukee’s largest and most diverse. .
Greenfield (greenfieldwifarmersmarket.com), Oak Creek (oakcreekwi.gov/visitor/events/farmers-market) and Wauwatosa (tosafarmersmarket.com) host suburban markets.
The region also boasts the the Downtown West Bend Farmers' Market (westbendfarmersmarket.com), Cedarburg's Makers & Growers Market (cedarburg.org), the Holy Hill Art & Farm Market in Hubertus (holyhillartfarm.com) and events in East Troy (facebook.com/EastTroyFarmersMarket). Brookfield (brookfieldfarmersmarket.com), Elm Grove (elmgrovevillagemarket.com), Port Washington (visitportwashington.com/events/), Thiensville (thiensvillebusiness.com/village-market) and Waukesha (waukeshafarmersmarket.com) also host markets.
The Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market (MWFM) is held at The Table, 5305 W. Capitol Drive, November–April (fondymke.org/milwaukee-winter-farmers-market). Waukesha also holds a winter market at Martha Merrell’s Books, 231 W. Main St. each Saturday (facebook.com/Waukeshawinterfarmersmarket). Milaeger’s year-round Great Lakes Farmers Market (milaegers.com/info/farmers-market) in Racine offers a plethora of fresh produce, hand-crafted edibles, organics, artisan goods, florals, arts and crafts, live music and more!
For more details about area farmers markets go to: wifarmersmarkets.org, the national registry at nfmd.org, or check out the Milwaukee Farmers Market Guides at milwaukeemag.com and shepherdexpress.com.
A Full Menu for Foodies
There’s a reason Milwaukee made Eater’s list of “The Most Dynamic Food Cities in the World”! From global cuisine and fusion dishes, to tapas and farm-to-table comfort food, to classic fare and iconic fish fries, Milwaukee serves up a full spectrum of epicurean delights.
Home to several James Beard Award winners and nominees, if it’s trending in the culinary world, you’ll find it here! Explore artisan specialty shops featuring everything from local cheeses, spices, chocolates and more. Grab a local Rishi or Urbal tea, or seek out local coffee roasters. Find out why real estate website Clever named us the 2022 Coffee Capital of the United States due to our “perfect blend of passionate coffee culture and affordability.”
Experiment at food halls like the popular Sherman Phoenix Marketplace (shermanphoenix.com) on the city’s north side or the trendy east side’s innovative Crossroads Collective (crossroadscollectivemke.com). Zócalo Food Truck Park (zocalomke.com) in Walker’s Point and 3rd St. Market Hall (3rdstmarkethall.com) at The Avenue MKE downtown are also causing a buzz!
Hop on a Milwaukee Food Tours bus (milwaukeefoodtours.com) for an adventure or learn how to create your own delights by signing up for one of the classes offered at the notable Milwaukee Public Market (milwaukeepublicmarket.org/class/cooking-classes).
Events celebrating the area's rich epicurean heritage, such as Food and Froth Fest (Milwaukee Public Museum; (mpm.edu/beer), Downtown Dining Week (milwaukeedowntown.com/bid-events) or A la Carte at the Zoo (milwaukeezoo.org/visit/upcoming-events/milwaukee-a-la-carte-at-the-zoo2023). Check out MKE Food Truck Fest (milwaukeefoodtruckfest.com) for a tasty sampling of cuisines.
Pick up a copy of Milwaukee Magazine, which lists restaurants by cuisine and location, or check out the Brunch Guide at onmilwaukee.com. Discover more at milwaukeefoodie.com, ediblemilwaukee.ediblecommunities.com, MilwaukeeFood.com and eater.com/milwaukee. Bon Appétit!
Milwaukee Public Market
The Milwaukee Public Market is a unique downtown food, shopping and social nexus. Filled with unique selections of artisan and ethnic products, freshly made foods and eating areas, it is one of Milwaukee's premier destinations, attracting more than 1.7 million visitors per year. The market also showcases a variety of cooking classes in The Madame Kuony Demonstration Kitchen. Instructors include Public Market vendors, local chefs and nationally known cookbook authors.
Located in the Historic Third Ward, just south of downtown, the market is easily accessible by car (parking lot available), walking, biking and Milwaukee's street car, The Hop, which has a stop just outside the entrance. Open seven days a week (10 am to 8 pm weekdays, 8 am to 8 pm Saturdays, and 9 am to 6 pm Sundays; some stores have extended hours). milwaukeepublicmarket.org
The Milwaukee Center Theater District is home to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which operates three venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Steimke Theater and the Stackner Cabaret. The district also includes the Pabst Theater, a national historic landmark that provides musical and theatrical entertainment in an elegant setting; the Riverside Theater, a popular music venue; and the Miller High Life Theater. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts offers several venues for performing artists.
Large shows are held at the outdoor American Family Insurance Amphitheater or BMO Harris Pavilion which are located at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park. The Broadway Theatre Center, located in Milwaukee's trendy Third Ward, is the home of The Skylight Music Theatre and the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
For Fans of the Silver Screen
Celebrating a decade of bringing the best in independent and international film to Milwaukee audiences, the annual Milwaukee Film Festival will run from May 6 - 20, 2021. Feature films, shorts, screenings, post-film conversations, panels, and parties round out the 15-day festival. More than 300 films will be shown during this virtual (for 2021) event. mkefilm.org
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee also hosts several film festivals throughout the year, including the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, and the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival. See uwm.edu/arts/film for more information.