36 Hours in Milwaukee
Wings of art @ 3 p.m.
A $34 million expansion and renovation brightened and expanded galleries displaying pieces from the Milwaukee Art Museum's 30,000-piece collection. Check out whatever permanent or temporary exhibits catch your eye and spend some time absorbing the dramatic spaces of the postmodern Quadracci Pavilion, where glass ceilings soar 90 feet above you. Be sure to stay until 5 to watch the 217-feet "wings" on the pavilion close. (Weather permitting, the wings open at 10 each day, "flap" at noon, and shut when the museum closes.)
German dinner @ 6 p.m.
Get another taste of what Milwaukee does best at Mader's, the city's oldest (founded in 1902) German restaurant. The Bavarian Weisswurst & Pretzel makes a great starter, then try the German Sampler for three classics, including Weiner schnitzel. Pop upstairs before you leave to see the collection of German Hummel figurines and beer steins.
Luxury stay check-in @ 7:30 p.m.
The Pfister celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2018. The 1893 Romanesque Revival hotel still offers luxury lodging and says it has the largest Victorian art collection of any hotel in the world. The hotel also sponsors an Artist-in-Residence program that encourages guests to interact with an artist while watching their work come to life. Check to see what hours the artist is working while you're visiting.
Live music at Blu @ 8 p.m.
Take in the incredible views of downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan from one of the city's most popular martini bars, on the 23rd floor of The Pfister. Cocktails like The Pfister Pfrench, made with grape vodka and French Champagne, make a jazzy combo with the live music that plays from 8 p.m. until midnight (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday).
A different local brew @ 9 a.m.
Locally-owned Colectivo coffee is a favorite among Milwaukee natives. Each batch is hand-roasted, blended, and packaged in Milwaukee.
Lakeshore State Park @ 10:30 a.m.
This park, along the shore of Lake Michigan, is perfect for exploring by foot or bike-you can rent from nearby Wheel Fun Rentals to pedal through the park with friends. You might catch some of the tunes drifting out of Henry Maier Festival Park, home of Milwaukee Summerfest and ethnic festivals such as German Fest, Irish Fest, and Festa Italiana—all worth a visit.
On to the market @ 12:30 p.m.
The Milwaukee Public Market anchors the Historic Third Ward, a 12-square-block neighborhood of 1890s warehouses that holds boutiques, galleries, cafes and the Broadway Theatre Center. The market makes a perfect lunch stop, with choices such as a made-to-order sushi bar, vegan sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups, and authentic Thai cuisine. Do some shopping in the market after you eat – family-owned Brew City Brand specializes in creative Milwaukee apparel, The Spice House delivers hand-prepared spices and herbs, and Oro di Oliva has more than 50 olive oils and balsamics to sample.
Outside of the market, you'll find even more specialty stores and art galleries in the Third Ward. Find handmade goods from native Wisconsin artisans at LOCALmke. MOD GEN, a modern take on the classic general store, sells creative and quirky home goods and locally-made treasures like Cream City Caramels.
Brew City tour @ 3 p.m.
Learn about the industry that built Milwaukee on a brewery tour; Sprecher Brewery, Miller Brewery, and Lakefront Brewery are top options. (Check websites for tour availability and times; many tours were paused during the pandemic.) If you're not into beer, visit Sprecher and try their gourmet sodas. Also worth a visit: the historic Pabst Mansion, home of the originators of the Pabst Brewing Company.
Spy on dinner @ 5:30 p.m.
Another Milwaukee classic, SafeHouse (also known by its crafty cover, International Exports Ltd., ) has been serving spy-theme fun since 1966. A password is required to enter; if you don't know it, pass a clearance test to prove you aren't a double agent! Once inside, try the Cuban Missile Crisis-slow-roasted pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese and honey mustard aioli on ciabatta. Passing the entrance test also deserves a drink; try the Agent MKE, made with brandy, orange sour, bitters and cinnamon syrup. And take your time to explore all parts of the SafeHouse. You never know where a hallway might lead.
Showtime @ 7:30 p.m.
With multiple venus for performances—including Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, the Pabst Theater, the Riverside Theater and Renaissance Theaterworks—you're likely to find a Broadway show, music or comedy playing while you're in town. Or check out one of the city's many summer festivals.
Sweet endings @ 9:30 p.m.
A stop at Purple Door Ice Cream willl end the day on a sweet (and delicious) note, with flavors such as Beer and Pretzels, Girl Scout Thin Mint, or Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet.
European breakfast @ 9 a.m.
Café Benelux delivers a little taste of Europe in the heart of the Historic Third Ward. It's modeled after the grand cafes of the Benelux region of Europe – Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Sit on the rooftop patio and order brunch from the completely from-scratch menu. Some of our faves: beignets, hand-dipped breakfast corndogs, and the pretzel benedict, with pretzel bread, black forest ham, hollandaise and poached eggs.
A selfie with the Fonz @ 10:30 a.m.
The RiverWalk bordering the Milwaukee River links three neighborhoods and passes sculptures and other public art. Enjoy a stroll before you leave town, and make sure to find the Bronze Fonz. Give a thumbs up and say "ayyy" as you snap a photo with this statue paying homage to Arthur Fonzarelli – Fonzie – from the hit sitcom Happy Days, set in 1950s Milwaukee. He's located just off Wells Street along the RiverWalk.