By Kenneth Johnson
Located about two hours north of Chicago, Milwaukee is often the butt of our jokes and the bane of our sports teams. But Milwaukee is more than just brats, cheese and beer (although those are in abundance). Long known for brewing and manufacturing, the city now boasts a three-mile RiverWalk through downtown, a vibrant arts scene, many performance and theater venues, a world-class zoo, Milwaukee Mile race track and the Harley-Davidson Museum. Lest you think the city’s roots have been forgotten, there is also the Historic Pabst Mansion and the Miller Brewing Company.
From Chicago, Milwaukee is a straight shot up I-94. Take the Edens from the city or Tri-state from the suburbs and continue north on I-94 into Wisconsin. As you approach Milwaukee, I-94 and I-43 merge. Stay on I-43 and take Michigan Street east into downtown.
Don’t want to drive? Take the train. Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service offers seven roundtrips daily (six on Sunday) between Chicago Union Station and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 433 West St. Paul Avenue. The Hiawatha also makes stops in Glenview, Sturtevant, WI (Racine) and Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport — providing a popular alternative to flying out of O’Hare.
What To Do
Historic Third Ward
219 N Milwaukee St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
This turn-of-the-century warehouse district has become “Milwaukee’s answer to SoHo” due to its high concentration of art galleries, specialty shops, women’s fashion stores, unique restaurants and theatres. The Third Ward boasts over 35 art galleries and studios, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Skylight Music Theatre and a mile of river views and outdoor dining along the RiverWalk. If you grow bored with culture, head east to Lakeshore State Park — a 22-acre urban oasis with beaches, fishing and a canoeing and kayaking launch.
Milwaukee County Zoo
10001 W Blue Mound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
No visit to Milwaukee would be complete without a visit to the world-renowned Milwaukee County Zoo, a leader in animal management, conservation and research. Located west of downtown just off I-94, the 200-acre park houses 2,300 animals representing over 330 species. Don’t miss Big Cat Country for jaguars, cheetahs and an African lion pride or the Apes of Africa/Primates of the World buildings for the highly-endangered bonobos as well as gorillas, orangutans, spider monkeys and more. If you want to try a bit of “swinging from the trees” yourself, during summer months head over to the Sky Trail Explorer Ropes Course, Zip Line and Climbing Wall.
Related: Best Zoos & Aquariums In Chicago
500 N Harbor Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Located on Milwaukee’s Lakefront between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Summerfest Grounds, Discovery World combines science, technology and the environment in a smart and fun way that everyone in the family can enjoy. Don’t miss the 75,000-gallon, fresh-water aquarium filled with fish common to the great lakes. And if you like your fish with a bit more color, there’s the 65,000-gallon Caribbean salt-water aquarium. Touch tanks let you get up close and personal with lake sturgeon and sharks, stingrays and crabs (the latter three unlikely to visit Lake Michigan). Technology exhibits include Wisconsin legend Les Paul’s House of Sound, a virtual reality experience, and a peek inside a nuclear reactor.
Where To Eat
McGillycuddy’s Bar & Grill
1135 N Water St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
When it has a Countdown to St. Patrick’s Day timer and attributes the success of the establishment to kissing Murphy “Gilly” McGillycuddy’s stone (the Gilly Stone), you know this is no ordinary bar and grill. McGillycuddy’s is famous for its large selection of whiskeys and the Whiskey Club and Whiskey Club Card. Taste all whiskey selections on the card and get a $100 private party tab. Stay out late and you may be able to give the Gilly’s Toast. Happening at midnight every night, a friend of McGillycuddy’s can make the official toast of the night to bring the luck of the Irish to all.
Motor Bar & Restaurant
400 W Canal St
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Come for the food and stay for the museum, or vise versa. Motor offers classical American cuisine in Hog Heaven for any Harley enthusiast. The classic offerings include burgers and sliders, baby-back ribs, Wisconsin fish fry, build-you-own mac & cheese and of course, cheese curds. Buy a Harley-Davidson Museum mug and you score $3.50 drafts whenever you visit Motor. By the way, you can eat at Motor without museum admission.
Where To Stay
2308 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233
The art deco style is beautifully evident in the Ambassador Hotel, situated near the Marquette campus on the western edge of downtown. Designed in 1927, a 10-year restoration completed in 2005 restored classic art-deco features such as marble and terrazzo floors, ornate plasterwork and stylized polished sconces. The Ambassador offers both rooms and suites, a fitness center, massage services and a 24-hour business center. The concierge can arrange for private limousine service for your stay in Milwaukee as well as shuttle transportation to and from the airport.
Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast
3209 W Wells St
Milwaukee, WI 53208
Voted Milwaukee’s best bed & breakfast, the “Red Castle” Schuster Mansion was build in 1891 for tobacco industrialist George Schuster. Converted to apartments in the 1920s, innkeepers Rick and Laura Sue Mosier have reconverted the home back to mansion status. There are four suites with private bathrooms and two rooms with a shared bathroom. If you visit early in the month, attend the Victorian High Tea on the first Thursday. During tea you’ll learn about George Schuster, the mansion and life in the late 1800s, then get a tour of the mansion.