Milwaukee: A Great Place on a Great Lake

Milwaukee, Wisconsin holds a special place in my heart because of the five years I lived there long ago. After all, that’s the city where I met Mr. TWS. But sentimentality aside, would I recommend a visit to this city of about 598,000 located 90 miles north of Chicago?

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Yes to Milwaukee!

There are many reasons that Milwaukee can be called “A Great Place on a Great Lake”, a slogan that was popular in the past. Many things have changed in Milwaukee since the time I called it home, but from I’ve seen recently those changes are for the better. Here are just a few of my favorite things to do in Milwaukee with photos taken during a short visit last weekend.

Enjoy the Lakefront

Situated on the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, there are many outdoor recreational venues and parks along the waterfront. In the spring, summer & fall, the lakefront path is ideal for bicyclists, joggers and skaters on rollerblades. Even in winter, I like to walk along the lakefront in the snow and blustery winds. But that’s just me.

Biking along the lakefront in Milwaukee

Biking Along Lake Michigan

Paddleboats, skates and bikes can be rented at Veterans Park near McKinley Marina where you’ll also see colorful kites flying on breezy days. Get some exercise or just enjoy the people-watching from a blanket on the grass in the park.

Be Festive

Hoan Bridge and Summerfest Grounds

Hoan Bridge and Summerfest Grounds (Henry W. Maier Festival Park)

The summer sizzles at Henry W. Maier Festival Park with Summerfest and several ethnic festivals, such as Festa Italiana. Summerfest attracts rock, pop, jazz and country music headliners as well as up and comers on several stages in the park. Dozens of food vendors serve up tasty treats like mozzarella sticks from Saz’s, a Milwaukee favorite. It’s fun to sample different foods while hearing the music change as you walk past the stages. There’s still time to catch the world’s largest Irish festival, Irish Fest (August 16 – 19), and Mexican Fiesta (August 24-26).

Milwaukee Air and Water Show

Planes and Parachutist at Milwaukee Air and Water Show

Last weekend, we caught some of the Milwaukee Air and Water Show, featuring awesome performances by U.S. Navy and Air Force flying aces as well as other stunt pilots. As we walked around town, we often spotted the planes overhead as they circled back for their maneuvers in front of Bradford Beach. These residents have a good vantage point for watching the planes and boats on a hill at Juneau Park. The park is named after Solomon Juneau, a French Canadian who was one of the founders of Milwaukee.

Solomon Juneau, Founder of Milwaukee

Statue of Solomon Juneau, Founder of Milwaukee

Happening this weekend is the Milwaukee Domes Art Festival from August 17 – 19. The venue is the grounds of Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (“The Domes”) with plein air painters, music performances, and an art auction. But The Domes are open year-round, so if you can’t make it there for the art festival, be sure to visit another time. The three beehive-shaped glass domes are a great escape in the winter when you’ve just about had it with cold weather. The Desert Dome and the Tropical Dome offer a respite from Milwaukee’s frigid winter weather. A third dome changes for historical, cultural and seasonal exhibitions.

Visit a Museum

War Memorial Center, Milwaukee Art Museum

War Memorial Center, Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum with over 25,000 works in its collection consists of two buildings designed by renowned architects. The modernist War Memorial Center, built in 1957 to honor the war dead of World War II, was designed by Eero Saarinen.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Quadracci Pavilion, Milwaukee Art Museum

Next to the War Memorial Center is the newer Quadracci Pavilion that was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2001. This impressive structure has a vaulted 90-foot high glass ceiling and moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan, the Burke Brise Soleil, that unfolds and folds twice per day.

Browse and Shop

The Historic Third Ward,  two blocks south of downtown, has changed much since the time I lived in Milwaukee. Once neglected buildings and warehouses along the Milwaukee River have been renovated into art galleries, restaurants, retail shops, businesses and condos. The Milwaukee Public Market opened in October 2005 with wide selections of fresh produce, ethnic foods, fine wines, meats, and other artisan products.

Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market, Third Ward

Wine, Dine, Reflect

As you may know, I love to eat. Although there are many newer places that I haven’t tried yet, here are three classics that I highly recommend in Milwaukee.

Zaffiro's on Farwell

Zaffiro’s on Farwell

If you like pizza with extra, extra thin crust and traditional toppings (sausage, cheese and green peppers are my choice), head to Zaffiro’s on Farwell. It looks a little worse for wear on the outside and it’s not fancy on the inside, but the pizza is always a winner. The chianti is so-so, but with pizza like theirs — who cares?

Hands down, the best place I’ve been for a good, old-fashioned breakfast in Milwaukee is Ma Fischer’s also on Farwell.

Breakfast at Ma Fischer's

Breakfast at Ma Fischer’s

For lunch, dinner or just cocktails, I like the food and ambiance of Elsa’s on the Park on Jackson Square. I usually order either the Burger Alfredo (a burger with tomatoes, fresh spinach and a sauce of parmesan cheese, butter and spices) or the All American Grilled Cheese (with bacon and tomato). You won’t go wrong with either.

Elsa's on the Park

Elsa’s on the Park

After these indulgences, take a little time to cross to the other side of Jackson Square to admire the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and reflect.

St. John the Evangelist Cathedral

St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, Jackson Square

Stroll the Riverwalk

The Riverwalk extends three miles beside the Milwaukee River from the Third Ward through downtown with cafes, brew pubs, water taxi docks, and parks along the way.


Strolling the Riverwalk

Rock Bottom

Milwaukee Riverwalk

Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River

Have you ever been to Milwaukee? I’d love to hear about your recommendations for a visit to this great place on a great lake!

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51 thoughts on “Milwaukee: A Great Place on a Great Lake

    1. Cathy Post author

      Milwaukee is a nice side trip from Chicago since it’s only about 90 miles away. You can spend time in 2 cool Midwestern cities on one trip. 🙂

  1. Leigh

    I’ve been to the Milwaukee Airport but that’s it. You’ve made the city sound quite appealing – and it’s one you never hear much about. Interesting that a French Canadian was one of the founders. I like the architecture of the art museum and you can never go wrong with a visit to a public market.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I think a lot of people are surprised that such world famous architects have works in Milwaukee. There’s some interesting old architecture in town, too.

  2. Nancie

    What a great looking city! I’ve never been there, but if I ever get to Chicago, I would make a point of spending a day or two. I love the look of that breakfast.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I’m really impressed with changes I’ve seen in Milwaukee over the years. I tried a couple of new restaurants along the Riverwalk this trip. Love sitting outside along the river.

  3. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    We went to Milwaukee on a day trip from Chicago many years ago to visit friends who were attending Marquette. I loved the lakefront area and the almost small town feel. That breakfast looks delicious! I also would love to visit the Quadracci Pavilion – that just looks so neat. My husband just wants to visit Milwaukee to try the beer 🙂 Hope you’re having a great visit!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Not sure that everyone would think of it as a destination, but definitely a place worth going a little out of your way for if you’re in the Midwest. And it might certainly be a destination for people with specific interests like motorcycles (Harley-Davidson HQ & museum), beer, (Miller HQ & museum), festivals, & more.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Christy, I’ll bet that you and Scott would enjoy some sailing and other activities along the lakefront. Am I right? 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      Debbie, I didn’t mention this in the post, but Milwaukee has a very proud German heritage. With your deep knowledge and appreciation of Germany, my guess is that you’d find some of that history and culture interesting.

  4. Jeff Titelius

    Who would have thought that Milwaukee has so much to offer its visitors. I have never seen the Great Lakes in person and still find it hard to believe I am looking at fresh-water lakes! Incredible! Boy, could I go for some of those mozzarella sticks from Saz’s right about now, or perhaps a dinner at Elsa’s? Love the architecture of the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum and would love to experience St. John’s Cathedral. Gorgeous pics my friend.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks, Jeff! The cathedral is really quite beautiful inside, too. Maybe we’ll meet up in Milwaukee sometime — dinner and cocktails at Elsa’s sounds good. 🙂

  5. Pola (@jettingaround)

    Milwaukee is mini-Chicago to me. I always forget how cool it is until I go there (it’s so convenient on Amtrak from Chicago). I love the Historic Third Ward, the Public Market there, the breweries and River Walk. Too bad that the advertising museum closed a few years ago, it was one of a kind.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I used to visit Milwaukee when I lived in Chicago — a lot of people did. Always seemed like a nice weekend getaway place.

  6. Ruth

    I seemed to have missed a lot of nice places in Milwaukee but perhaps next time when I visit my cousin, we can see the areas that are not run down and broken.

  7. Jane Kress

    We have discovered Milwaukee because our son is a student at Marquette. What a great city! The Lake alone makes it worth the trip. Definitely a beer and brats town. Nothing wrong with that. We have just started to tour around in the 3rd Ward, and have yet to see the Zoo or take in a Brewers game. Luckily we’ll be there quite a few more times.
    Definitely try out Trocadero if you’d like a great dining experience. Food was very good and the setting is lovely!

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