There’s more to Milwaukee than beer and Harley-Davidson. In just 48 hours, you can also see world-class art, sample German food, and even kayak in the Milwaukee River (weather permitting).
Start with breakfast at your hotel. We recommend checking into the historic Pfister Hotel ($229 per night) or the even more affordable Hilton Milwaukee Downtown ($135) because their downtown locations put you minutes from many of the city’s best attractions.
Morning is the best time to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum. Get there before 10 a.m. to watch the opening of Burk Brise Soleil, the wing-like sunscreen that sits on top of the museum. If you miss it, the wings close and re-open at noon, then close for the evening at 5 p.m. Much of the museum is currently undergoing renovations that will be completed this fall, but the Albright-Knox Art Gallery remains open. Spend the rest of your morning strolling along Lake Michigan or head across the parking lot to Discovery World, a science and technology museum plus aquarium.
As lunchtime approaches, make your way to the Harley-Davidson Museum for a burger or fish fry at its Motor Bar & Restaurant before touring the museum itself. Even if you’re not into motorcycles, you can still enjoy the American culture and history woven into the company’s story.
Take some time in the late afternoon to unwind and get ready for dinner. On your first night in Milwaukee, consider signing up for a food tour. Milwaukee Food & City Tours offers several options, including its pizza, Walk’s Point, and Bay View tours with stops at some of the city’s best.
Psst…Want a nightcap? Sneak into the inconspicuous Safe House at 779 N. Front Street. You’ll be asked for a password, but if you don’t know it, you can perform a task (such as acting like a monkey) to enter. Warning: Your antics will be broadcast on TV monitors inside the spy-themed restaurant and bar, but it’s worth it to see the Cold War and movie memorabilia there.
When the weather permits, get outside. One of the best ways to explore the downtown area is by bike. Rent one through Bublr Bikes ($3 per 30 minutes) and pedal to the Bronze Fonz, a bronze statue of the infamous “Happy Days” character. Or, kayak the Milwaukee River for a different perspective of the city. Another option is to hike the six miles of trails through the 185-acre Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
The physical activity will help work up an appetite for lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market. Inspired by Pike Place Market in Seattle, this market features fresh seafood, sausages, cheeses, and more.
In the afternoon or on days when the weather is less than ideal, you have several options. Beer lovers can learn about the beverage that put Milwaukee on the map while on a brewery tour at MillerCoors, Sprecher Brewing Company, or Lakefront Brewery. Stay after the tour for a sample or two; then, visit the Pabst Mansion, home of beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst.
The Grohmann Museum features more than 1,000 European and American paintings and sculptures that depict man at work. Nearby, the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University has a permanent collection of more than 4,000 pieces.
Milwaukee is known for its German food, so for your final meal in Milwaukee, consider dinner at Mader’s, an upscale restaurant that has served celebrities and presidents during its more than 100 years in business. For a more casual experience (and a great Milwaukee-style brat), opt instead to dine at Milwaukee Brat House.