A Weekend Guide to Milwaukee

A Weekend Guide to Milwaukee

Located just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Chicago along Lake Michigan is the great city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is genuinely one of the Midwest's best kept secrets--until now. 

This bustling city is home to some of the country's most famous breweries, a vast amount of European immigrant history, miles of stunning lakefront views, and incredible architecture along the riverfront. It is truly a delightful city for a getaway trip with more than enough for visitors to experience during their stay. 

Whether you're looking for outdoor adventures, endless foods to try, or culture to experience, you'll find whatever you're looking for in Milwaukee. Museums (from the Harley Davidson Museum to the Public Museum), rivers and lakes (complete with pedestrian friendly paths), and restaurants galore (the list could really go on and on), this city easily appeases any type of traveler. Use this handy guide to navigate your way through the beautiful city of Milwaukee with tips on where to eat, sleep, and play on any budget!

The restaurant choices in Milwaukee are very reminiscent of what you would find in Austin, TX or Portland, OR. You get this sort of "Keep Milwaukee Weird" vibe when you're hunting down places to eat.

You'll rarely bump into big, chain restaurants in Milwaukee as the city prides itself on supporting local businesses and dining establishments. It seems like there are always new places opening up around the city too, which is great news for travelers and locals alike. You really can't go wrong with food in Milwaukee, but here are some great spots to check out:

  • The Watts Tea Shop, $$, 761 N Jefferson Street -- If you're a breakfast or tea fan, you absolutely cannot pass this place up. Watts has probably the best English Muffins you'll ever have in your life--and everything is made right in house! The Sunshine Cake and their specialty teas are also extremely noteworthy. I ended up leaving here with a ton of stuff to take home because it was so good!

  • St. Paul Fish Company, $$, 400 N Water Street -- Located right in the Public Market, this place is always packed and for good reason. Try their famous lobster roll and thank me later. It is incredible!

  • Zaffiro's Pizza, $$, 1724 N Farewell Avenue -- Authentic Sicilian pizza made to order. If you're looking for a noteworthy place to grab some pizza, head right to Zaffiro's. They've been using the same recipe since they opened decades ago.

  • Cafe Benelux, $$, 346 N Broadway -- Very popular spot right at the start of the Historic Third Ward. Good spot for brunch on the weekends!
  • Sobelman's, $$, 1900 W St Paul Avenue -- If you ask anyone from Milwaukee where to go for a Bloody Mary, there's a good chance that Sobelman's is on their list. This is definitely a spot for brunch lovers to get a unique dish (or drink) on the weekends.
  • Glorioso's Italian Market, $$, 1011 E Brady Street -- There are decades of history at this local Italian Market, which is just what anyone looking for authentic Italian cuisine would want. Step inside and order fresh food from the deli, or shop around for treats to take home with you! Either way, this is definitely a stop to put on the list when you visit.
  • Wolf Peach, $$, 1818 N Hubbard Street -- If you're looking for a fresh spot with local farm ingredients or home-grown vegetables, try this spot. Portions are generous and served as they are prepared.
  • Wolski's, $, 1836 N Pulaski Street -- This spot is iconic for it's "I CLOSED WOLSKI'S" signs. The tradition is to come here from open to close and spend the entire day at this local dive bar. It's worth taking a step inside even if you can't close it down just because it's been around for so long.
  • Merriment Social, $$, 240 E Pittsburgh Avenue -- Great place to go for some "New American" dim-sum inspired cuisine. Very popular for their burger!

Also try: Lucky Ginger, My Office, Ardent, Engine Company No. 3, Balzac, Cempazuchi's, Peter Sciortino's Bakery, Wicked Hop, and all of the local spots in the Milwaukee Public Market

If you've ever wondered what it would feel like to step into old world elegance, sophistication, and charm, look no further than The Pfister Hotel right in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee. This exquisite, 19th-century hotel has been a popular and welcoming meeting place for locals and travelers alike since its doors opened in 1893.

The lobby of this historic establishment has even been referred to as "Milwaukee's Living Room," and for good reason! Take one step inside the opulent space and you'll instantly feel like you've been transported into the gilded age of the Belle Époque. You can grab a cocktail at the bar or a coffee at the cafe and then cozy up on a plush sofa near the fireplace with your friends right by your side. It truly is a warm, inviting, and unforgettable space to spend time.

All this talk and I've only begun to mention the lobby! The rest of The Pfister Hotel also has so much to offer visitors. During your stay, make sure you indulge in all of the amenities the hotel has to offer:

  • Take a dip in the large indoor pool, which overlooks the entire city (absolutely breathtaking view--especially at sunset!)
  • Grab a drink at the hotel's signature bar, Blu
  • Dine at Mason Street Grill--or listen to the live music!
  • Schedule a session at their world class WELL Spa + Salon
  • Have your choice of breakfast/brunch between The Cafe (my favorite in the hotel!) or The Rouge (Sunday Brunch only)

The guest suites at The Pfister also deserve a notable mention for their own unique aesthetic. An elegant, contemporary bedroom design awaits every guest upon arrival. Personally, I love the mixture of the contemporary design in the rooms juxtaposed with the old world elegance of the lobby. It is a great combination for travelers who want to experience both styles within an accommodation. *Fun Fact: These guest rooms were the first of any hotel to have the luxury of in-room temperature controls!

The Pfister is perfectly located and within walking distance to just about everything around the downtown area. If you're curious about what to experience, make sure to stop by the concierge for some insider advice about what is happening around the city. Their team is absolutely first class and incredibly knowledgable about the area!

Also try: The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel. Very hip, eclectic hotel located in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. It's perfect for city lovers who want to feel that trendy vibe in the heart of the city. 

THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE:

1. Go on a local food tour. Since Milwaukee was historically settled by many immigrants from all over the world, the city has so many different types of cuisine to offer. My personal favorite was the Milwaukee Food Tours (I did the Brady Street Tour, which was great!) and you can get $5 off by using the code "MKEFOOD".

2. Walk up and down the River Walk (and say hello to the Bronze Fonz!). Milwaukee has done an incredible job at creating and maintaining a pedestrian friendly River Walk around the downtown area. You can easily walk from one end to the other, and then hop a bridge to walk the other side right after. The views along the river are gorgeous and you definitely should pay a visit to the city's famous statue of Henry Winkler's character "Fonzie" from Happy Days.

3. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, which has wonderful exhibits year-round and offers killer lakefront views. The architecture of this building alone is a reason to go and see it!

4. See a play, ballet, concert, or other performance. The city has an incredible performing arts community and you definitely need to see at least one show while you're visiting! I saw a ballet performance when I was in town and absolutely loved it. The best part was I didn't even have to arrange tickets ahead of time--I just walked right into the theatre and purchased tickets at the box office (got some killer seats too!). It's definitely a perk of visiting the theatre in this city!

5. Attend a summer festival. Milwaukee is famous for all of their summer activities, including the very popular Summerfest, which takes place every year. Don't miss out on the city's summer happenings if you go during the warmer months!

6. Go on a brewery tour. This is a city famous for its beer culture, so why not indulge and check out one of the local breweries (like Lakefront Brewery) and sign up for a tour. You'll get plenty of tasting opportunities and a chance to see how some of America's popular beers are made.

7. Eat Friday Fish Fry, drink a Bloody Mary(s) on Sunday's, and try Wisconsin Cheese Curds. I know this seems like a lot, but these things are all staples that you cannot leave Milwaukee without trying! Friday Fish Fry is a statewide tradition that is served up at most restaurants every Friday; Bloody Mary's on the weekends are extremely popular around the city with many establishments competing on who's is better; and cheese curds... need I say more?! Head to a local bar and order up some of those famous Wisconsin Cheese Curds!

8. Explore the Historic Third Ward. This might have been my favorite area around downtown Milwaukee because of it's artsy, eclectic vibe. The architecture is really cool around here with lots of warehouses and lofts popping up left and right, and there are many new restaurants and boutiques coming to set up shop in this area. It's definitely a fun neighborhood to hang around.

9. Walk around the Milwaukee Public Market. All it takes is one walk through the bustling Milwaukee Public Market to fall in love with the unique and local vibe that it offers visitors. You can find a wide variety of cuisines, drinks, and knick knacks in this eclectic market. My favorites were St. Paul's Fish Company (try the lobster roll and thank me later), FORM fine goods + floral, and Thief Wine Shop & Bar. There are sooo many other amazing spots too, so I encourage you to go check them all out!

10. Food crawl around Brady Street. Brady Street is home to some of Milwaukee's best food gems. There's Glorioso's Italian Market, Zaffiro's Pizza, Thai-Namite, Mimma's Cafe, and so much more! If you prefer to go at your own pace, pick a few places and get small plates or portions at each of them. If you prefer to have someone guide you around and get the most bang for your buck, I'd recommend trying out one of the Milwaukee Food Tours (as mentioned in #1) to try out a few different places while learning some history of the area.

BONUS: Visit Old World 3rd Street and the Milwaukee Cheese Mart. Beer, brats, and cheese. That's really all that needs to be said about this popular area. It's definitely worth a look if you're into any of those things!

Have you ever been to Milwaukee? What are your favorite things to eat, places to stay, or things to do? Comment below with more recommendations!

Thank you to Travel Wisconsin and The Pfister Hotel for hosting my visit to Milwaukee. All opinions are my own.

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