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Milwaukee Trip Guide

This big city maintains ties to its German heritage (brews and brats, anyone?) while celebrating the present at an iconic art museum and fantastic festivals along Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee skyline with the Milwaukee Art Museum's Quadracci Pavilion.
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Harley-Davidson Museum. Photo Courtesy of Harley-Davidson.
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Pabst Mansion.
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Colectivo.
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Hinterland.
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Intercontinental Milwaukee.
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Pfister Hotel.
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Milwaukee has an uncanny ability to balance 21st-century energy with 19th-century German heritage. In just one weekend, you can explore an 1892 beer baron's mansion, throw calorie counts away at a Friday night fish fry, browse a high-end art festival along Lake Michigan, go for a virtual ride on a vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle and nibble stuffed grape leaves on leather couches at a Turkish restaurant. And that's just the beginning. Milwaukee's diversity—and its ability to turn gritty warehouses into condos and storefronts—gives it an authentic city feel. But its relatively small size and compact downtown make it easy for first-timers to navigate. 

What to do

Cathedral Square Park's Jazz in the Park Held June through September in the East Town district, Jazz in the Park offers free live music Thursday evenings. Bring a picnic, or dine at one of the nearby restaurants. (414) 271-1416; easttown.com

Discovery World In an airy white building that juts out into Lake Michigan, this museum provides hands-on ways to learn about science and the environment. Les Paul's House of Sound, a recent addition to the museum, explores the history of the electric guitar and lets visitors craft their own songs. (414) 765-9966; discoveryworld.org

Festivals Summerfest is the biggest. (414) 273-2680; summerfest.com Many others reflect the city's heritage, such as Irish Fest and German Fest. The Wisconsin State Fair near Milwaukee also is a big draw (be sure to sample a cream puff, a state fair tradition). (800) 844-3247; wistatefair.com

Grohmann Museum The rooftop level is a beautiful sculpture garden with larger-than-life-size bronzes. (414) 277-2300; msoe.edu/museum

Harley-Davidson Museum This 20-acre campus is a must-see for riders and a worth-the-trip spot for the mildly curious. It tells the story of a scrappy Milwaukee company that began in 1903 as a motorcycle innovator and has evolved into a brand that embodies the feeling of wind in your hair. Hands-on exhibits let gearheads tinker with old engines, and a movie room lets you board one of 10 Harleys and "ride" along Midwest farms and rivers.  (414) 287-2789; h-dmuseum.com

Historic Third Ward A 12-square-block neighborhood of 1890s warehouses now holds boutiques, galleries, cafes and the Broadway Theatre Center. A highlight: Milwaukee Public Market, a collection of specialty food growers and shops selling goods and serving lunch and dinner. (414) 273-1173; historicthirdward.org

Milwaukee Art Museum About 30,000 works take visitors on a chronological tour of art from the 13th century to the present. The postmodern Quadracci Pavilion, completed in 2001, houses a grand reception hall, temporary exhibits and a cafe. The pavilion's 217-foot exterior wings, which open twice a day, have become the city's visual icon. (414) 224-3200; mam.org

MillerCoors Milwaukee Brewery Take a free half-hour walking tour to see the steps of the brewing process. The brewery, one of the world's largest, is on land originally purchased by Miller founder Frederick J. Miller in 1855. (414) 931-2337; millercoors.com

Miller Park Catch the Milwaukee Brewers in this major-league ballpark with a retractable roof and reasonably priced tickets. Also, behind-the-scenes tours take visitors to the dugout, luxury suite level and other areas. (414) 902-4400; brewers.com

Old World Third Street This former German community has restaurants, 19th-century storefronts and cobbled streets. Usinger's, a fourth-generation business, sells 70 sausage varieties. (414) 276-9105; usinger.com

Pabst Mansion Beer baron Frederick Pabst built this 1890s Flemish Renaissance mansion; the restored home hosts exhibits and tours. (414) 931-0808; pabstmansion.com

Where to eat

Colectivo Coffee This local coffee cafe serves tasty cookies, huge yogurt parfaits and sandwiches, plus offers free Wi-Fi and great joe, of course. You'll find 10 local branches, but our favorite is the one along the lakefront in the historic Milwaukee River Flushing Station. (414) 233-4551; colectivocoffee.com

Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro Chef Adam Siegel, a 2008 James Beard award winner, delivers seasonal French cuisine at this pastoral spot along Lake Michigan. (414) 962-6300; lakeparkbistro.com

Coquette Cafe Find high-end service and ambience—and incredible food—in the Historic Third Ward. Try the grilled Berkshire pork loin with mustard spaetzle and a house brew. (414) 291-2655; coquettecafe.com

Karl Ratzsch's Dirndl-skirted waitresses serve authentic German specialties. (414) 276-2720; karlratzsch.com

Kopp's Frozen Custard Locals call this frozen custard their fave. (414) 282-4312; kopps.com

Milwaukee Ale House Microbrews are cold and live music is hot at the Historic Third Ward restaurant. (414) 276-2337; ale-house.com

Hinterland Hand-crafted beers and seasonal Wisconsin cuisine make this gastropub a welcome fine-dining spot. (414) 727-9300; hinterlandbeer.com

The Safe House At the tongue-in-cheek spy-chic institution, the fun atmosphere outshines the food. You need a password to enter, and a martini whizzes overhead through pneumatic tubes. (414) 271-2007; safe-house.com

Sobelmans At the classic, blue-collar Milwaukee bar, we love the Sobelman Burger, topped with Swiss, cheddar and American cheeses; bacon; fried onions; and fried jalapenos. (414) 931-1919; milwaukeesbestburgers.com

Stack'd Bar Burgers, beer and milk shakes go high-class at a slick Fifth Ward bar. The German Stack is a potent mix of beer brat patty, raw onion, spicy mustard and sauerkraut. (414) 273-7800; stackedbar.com

Tulip Turkish flavors and decor give this Third Ward spot a Mediterranean feel. Try crispy phyllo cheese rolls, hummus and lamb kebobs. (414) 273-5252;

Where to stay

Brewhouse Inn and Suites Part of the architecturally significant Pabst Brewery Complex, this former brewhouse contains 90 guest suites arranged around gleaming copper brewing kettles. brewhousesuites.com

InterContinental Milwaukee The sleek lobby and contemporary furnishings ooze cool at this building near the RiverWalk. Dine at Kil@wat, the hotel's hip restaurant. (414) 935-5943; intercontinentalmilwaukee.com

Hotel Metro A 63-suite Art Deco boutique lodging downtown offers a variety of accommodations including pet-friendly suites, spa suites and conference suites. (877) 638-7620; hotelmetro.com

The Iron Horse Hotel Classy meets biker chic at this sexy boutique hotel with great on-site dining. Rooms are decorated with provocative murals. For bikers, there's a bike wash and rentals. (888) 543-4766; theironhorsehotel.com

Pfister Hotel Pampering guests since 1893, this restored lodging has an opulent Victorian feel, a new spa and 23rd-floor martini lounge. (800) 472-4403; thepfisterhotel.com

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