Milwaukee may be best known as the place of beer, brats, and cheese, but make no mistake, Wisconsin’s largest city is chock-full of other attractions, too, from a stunning lakefront and sprawling parks, to the world’s only Harley-Davidson museum and a moveable art museum. While the city draws crowds year-round—its tourism traffic brings in more than $5 billion annually—summer and its surplus of festivals deem it the ultimate season for a long weekend.
There’s no better way to kick off your weekend in beer city than with a tour of the Miller Brewery, home to the first domestic beer to be pasteurized. The landmark hosts free tours daily, which highlight the brewery’s 155 year-history via commemorative photos, gift shop keepsakes, large-scale brewing demonstrations, and, of course, samples.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head northeast to the city’s Lake Park Bistro. It boasts a historic pavilion and incredible lakefront views. French fare is the name of the game here, so don’t hold back on the moules marinieres or croque madame sandwiches. Since you’re there, be sure to explore the ravines and wildlife of Lake Park, an urban park spanning more than 130 acres that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect behind Central Park in New York.
For dinner, head to Ardent, where contemporary tasting menus are comprised of items like beef tartare with bone marrow and cheesecake with blueberry and miso. Those smart flavor combinations have landed chef Justin Carlisle with a James Beard award nomination (Best Chef Midwest) in 2015 and 2016. With hype like that, seats may be tough to come by. Luckily, there’s always Red Light Ramen which is Ardent’s solution to late night noodle cravings.
Continue the beer-focused theme with a visit to Benelux Grand Market & Café, a Belgium-inspired restaurant that boasts more than 30 brews on tap. Once you’ve had your fill, be sure to peruse the rest of the Milwaukee Public Market, home to more than 18 vendors of food, novelties, spices, candies, and baked goods.
Grab a different kind of buzz at Anodyne Coffee before continuing to stroll along the city’s Riverwalk, a pedestrian walkway following the Milwaukee River. From here, trek across the Menomonee River towards the Harley-Davidson Museum, a 130,000-square-foot space highlighting the history of the iconic motorcycle and its role in American culture. Venture about a mile east to explore more of the Historic Third Ward, the city’s arts and fashion district that also houses a handful of shops, spas, galleries, and restaurants.
Make dinner reservations at Sanford, a former family-run grocery store that now showcases seasonally-focused tasting menus from James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Aprahamian. He’s been impressing regulars and out-of-towners alike with favorites like striped bass plaki and lamb coppa with pickled fennel.
Wake up early for a decadent brunch at Café Calatrava, a contemporary American eatery located within the Milwaukee Art Museum. Once you’ve fueled up on brioche French toast and caprese salad, wander around the museum to appreciate the architecture, including the Burke Brise Soleil, the property’s moveable, wing-like sunscreen.
Where to Stay
For a contemporary spin on a historic building, check into the Iron Horse Hotel. What started as a bedding company building in 1907 has been transformed into a buzz-worthy downtown hotel, equipped with 100 loft-style rooms, a 24-hour fitness facility, and a pet-friendly policy. If you feel like staying close to home for dinner, head to the Smyth, their onsite restaurant specializing in New American fare and an extensive wine list.
From Chicago, it’s a straight shot north on I-94 that will have you at Milwaukee’s doorstep within two hours (barring any post-work traffic). If you’d rather sit back and relax, opt for the Hiawatha Amtrak line, which offers seven roundtrips daily between the two bustling cities. Those flying in will want to arrive at Mitchell International Airport, located just 15 minutes from the downtown area and serving all major domestic airlines.