Looking for a long weekend escape to someplace exotic and affordable? With ethnic festivals, vast beaches, and unexpected fizzy drinks? Look no further than Milwaukee, Wis. Yes, there’s cheese and beer and delicious sausages aplenty to enjoy, but there are a few other not-to-miss treats, too.
Sprecher Brewery Tour
Located not far from the airport, it’s a nice way to start or end your visit. Sure, the beer is tasty, but it’s the wide variety of unique soda flavors like blueberry and Ravin’ Red made with Door County cherries that make it especially unique. While the classic root beer is popular, the grape soda is pure purpley magic.
Downtown, right on the lakefront, is the Henry Maier Festival Park. Every weekend, except when State Fair is in full swing, a different fest takes over. It kicks off with PrideFest in June and ends with Indian Summer Festival in September. Most are ethnic fests, but right around the Fourth of July is the largest music festival in the world–Summerfest, rocking stages with every genre you can imagine. Add to this the off-site events like Cedarburg’s Strawberry Fest, Brewfest, and a bounty of church festivals, and Milwaukee is one summer-long party.
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Sure, this could be lumped in with the fests, but it really deserves its own spot. Where else can you bid on a cow raised by a local 4H kid, eat a freshly made cream puff the size of your face, then zoom down a giant yellow slide on a burlap sack? It might be the best people watching on the planet, especially from one of the locally run beer gardens that offers live music and ice-cold local brews all day long. Tip from a local: Some of the best food is in the Ag building (like the farm-fresh omelets and apple cider donuts). And do not miss out on the root beer-flavored milk at the Milwaukee Bucks Milkhouse (25 cents a glass).
I’m cheating on this one, because I’ve lumped three of my favorite stops into one item, but you could easily make a day of this. Milwaukee sits on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan and it would be a pity to visit and not spend time there. Just north of downtown is Bradford Beach, a decent place to swim (though Lake Michigan can be a tad chilly). The real highlight is Northpoint Custard, home to arguably the best deep-fried cheese curds in the city and a must try. Trust me. You’ll also have great views of downtown, and you can burn off those calories by walking along the lakefront to the Milwaukee Art Museum and it’s glorious Calatrava wing. Along the way, swing into Veterans Park to fly a kite or rent a paddleboat.
Nothing says summer like a leisurely, sunny afternoon of baseball at Miller Park. Plan to arrive early enough for a stroll through the parking lot where tailgating is a competitive sport. Once inside, order a brat with Stadium Sauce and savor an ice-cold local beer from one of the many vendors. Cheer on the racing sausages in the fifth inning, and do your best polka during the seventh-inning stretch.
There’s a reason my first book takes place in Milwaukee’s food scene–it’s exciting and eclectic. The duck confit crepes at La Merenda and the wood-fired bone marrow at Wolf Peach top my list of favorites. You can also find unique specialty stores like Purple Door Ice Cream, where I recommend the whiskey ice cream (it would be dreamy on a piece of warm apple pie) and Usinger’s Sausage Shop, where you can pick up some smoky summer sausage to take home.
Photo courtesy Etsy