The selection of things to do in Milwaukee nowadays can be chalked up to two factors: its German immigrants and a famous fire. The Germans brought over their culture’s love of bratwursts and beer, and immediately began producing both upon their arrival. The fire that shaped the city, however, never touched a single building in Milwaukee. When most of Chicago went up in flames, Milwaukee’s brewers found opportunity in the fact that half the city’s brewing capacity had burned to the ground. They quickly began exporting their wares to Chicago, setting Milwaukee up for a future as the beer exporter of the Midwest.
Breweries abound in Milwaukee—old hats such as Pabst and Miller have crafted beer on a large scale there since as early as 1844. Though Pabst now brews its bottles at Miller’s bottling plant, visitors can still tour the original brewery at Best Place and Frederick Pabst’s palatial 37-room mansion located on old Millionaire’s row. Miller’s tour, however, shows the intricate methods of brewing and bottling beer. There, each trip ends with a tour through the old caves that used to keep beers chilled before shipping, as well as samplings in the facility’s tasting room.
The city’s microbreweries also open up their doors for tours. Renowned soft-drinkery Sprechers grants sips of both their famous root beer and homemade beers, and Lakefront Brewery pours out four complimentary samples of beer during tours of their scenic, riverside brewery. And though beer may be king in Milwaukee, locals can also enjoy craft spirits at Great Lakes Distillery. Throughout town, restaurants and bars feature their Rehorst Vodka, pumpkin spirits made from Lakefront Brewery’s pumpkin ale, and even their own absinthe. One such establishment is Wolski’s, which has been pouring pints since 1908 and selling its legendary “I Closed Wolski’s” bumper stickers since closing time in the ‘70s.
To pair with the city’s beer, visitors can look to the Milwaukee’s long-standing German restaurants. The jewel of these is Mader’s, one of the nation’s most famous German restaurants for its century-old history, authentic cuisine, and more than three million dollars worth of Medieval armor and antiques dating back to the 14th century. But fans of bratwurst don’t need to unfold a cloth napkin to savor this German staple—Miller Park’s concession stands will do just fine. At the park, guests can catch a Brewer’s game while basking in the summer sun, eating a hot dog, and sipping on locally brewed beer. German treats can also be found amid the concession stands at Milwaukee’s many festivals, such as Summerfest, an 11-day event that pairs a fair-like atmosphere with live music and stunning views of Lake Michigan.
When gazing at Lake Michigan’s shoreline, one can’t help but notice the iconic silhouette of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The structure houses more than 30,000 works of art from artists such as Picasso, O’Keeffe, and Warhol, with special wings dedicated to memorializing the soldiers and events of World War 2. Not far from the museum lie historic neighborhoods such as the artsy third ward, which features streets filled with galleries, theaters, boutiques, and restaurants.
Milwaukee is rightly proud of its park system and nature centers. Lake Park’s landscape offers sweeping sights of the glacier-carved terrain.