Music festivals and microbreweries are just two of the many reasons that might want to make you start planning your next vacation to Milwaukee. Sitting on a prime geographic location - right by the side of Lake Michigan - Wisconsin's largest city is an underrated vacation prospect waiting to be discovered. Be it the walking tours of a century-old brewery, bar-hopping around one of many (masterfully repurposed) warehouse-laden avenues or going out to attend major live concerts, your options here are truly endless.
Milwaukee's cityscape is vastly varied (bringing together blends of old-world mansions, chic quarters and boho streets), as is the general vibe that comes with each unique neighborhood. It is then that finding a suitable place to base yourself at for your stay becomes a significant decision. And that's where we step in. Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Milwaukee and what they might have in store for you traveller!
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The central Historic Third Ward is the area that best captures Milwaukee's past as an industrial town and should definitely be the go-to choice for travellers looking to explore that side of the city. Most of the streets in the neighborhood (which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984) are lined with repurposed warehouses and brick walls buildings, all of which now function as venues for home-grown businesses including cozy cafes and art galleries showcasing local talent.
And if the prospect of hitting a new creative arts venue or gallery wasn't incentive enough, the Historic Third Ward is also where you need to head for the Milwaukee Summerfest. The mixed-used space Henry Maier Festival Park, the BMO Harris Pavilion and an amphitheatre by the side of Lake Michigan are among the venues for "the world's largest music festival", which draws in huge crowds over its 11 day period. Other such performance halls as the Broadway Theatre Center and the Milwaukee Ballet only further the neighborhood's cultural appeal.
Historic Third Ward's central location makes it one of the easiest to access of all the listings. Hotel options here can be expensive so you might want to try and look for a bed and breakfast or a homestay, also a nice way to really get an intimate look at the city's historic quarters. And skip the lengthy dinner preparations in favour of the Milwaukee Public Market for all the fresh produce, prepared meals as well as some stores with specialty foods!
The expansive East Town covers a large part of the city's downtown that lies east of the Milwaukee river. It also serves as a major centre for the fine arts, and that's largely owing to the presence of the Milwaukee Art Museum and a few major theatre companies - most notable of which are based in at the iconic Pabst Theatre and the smaller Repertory and Patty & Jay Baker Complex. While all of them are housed in exquisite halls and warrant their own independent visit, the modern art collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum is the one experience that truly stands out.
And even with all the talk of East Town's cultural capital, it is after all a waterfront neighborhood (sandwiched between the Milwaukee river and Lake Michigan). People come out in big numbers for dinner dates and drinks at the global eateries and bars/pubs facing the river; try and arrive early to reserve your seat for the perfect evening. Across the other side, the First Milwaukee Cargo Pier landmark (which offers great views of Lake Michigan on one side and the edgy Art Museum complex on the other) makes for a great place to visit at the end of a long day!
East Town's very Cathedral Square Park is one of downtown Milwaukee's best known public parks and situated in a prime location. The synonymously named light rail station and major avenues lie in the vicinity of the park, making to and fro commuting rather straightforward. Hotels are in plenty and among some of the finest that the city has to offer.
Across the Milwaukee river from its eastern counterpart, Westown is the bustling business centre that offers big sporting venues and guided tours to some of the city's oldest breweries. Basketball fans need to look no further than the UW Panther Arena and the newly constructed Fiserv Forum, home to the Milwaukee Bucks. The arenas also often host music concerts as well as other sporting events including indoor soccer, pro-wrestling, roller derby and ice hockey matches.
And talking of breweries, what better place to start than the Historic Pabst Brewery. The grandiose 1844-establishment today offers beer history tours and a couple of courtyards where you can enjoy beer, brewed in Wisconsin, but served in a quintessential German milieu. Also paying homage to the city's German heritage is the Old World Third Street, one of the city's oldest and most prominent German enclaves. While rapid development has led to the modernisation of the bars and general nightlife options, it remains to be one of the few places in Milwaukee where you can find the most number of quality German pubs and beer halls!
The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is the neighborhood's major transportation venue. And as one of the major downtown venues, Westown is well connected to almost all other parts of the city. That, in addition to many business and luxury hotel options that crowd the major streets, make it a great option for travellers looking to stay in the mix of things.
Home to many city-bred entrepreneurs, young business professionals and college-going students, Eastside is the neighborhood with the most vigour. Crowds are drawn to the prospect of a day out to the beer gardens in the neighborhood outskirts, as much as the specialised cuisine served at a variety of low-key restaurants that surround the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Be it your craving for chinese takeout or causal stopovers for tacos, the streets here have you covered!
Travel a little south to the Lower Eastside for lively nightlife and such sophisticated options as cocktail bars and outdoor cafes based around the busy Brady, Farwell and Downer Avenues. The sub-district was once home to Milwaukee's hippie population and the boho spirit lives on with the neighborhood's many artsy venues: the Jazz Estate and Milwaukee Black Cat Alley being must-visits. Also covering city walls are vibrant graffiti, that lend the neighborhood a nice alternative vibe and make it a great place for casual walking tours.
East Side is one of the biggest neighborhoods on the list, as a result of which, the number of hotel and accommodation options are also immense. As a waterfront district, East Side has several service providers offering boat tours as well as watersports including kayaking and surfing.
The compact neighborhood Avenues West, which lies just outside downtown is one that brings together the defining elements of its two predecessors: old-world character and a free-spirited vibe. The area was once home to some of the richest families and business owners of Milwaukee and that reflects in the cityscape, which, on first glance, comes across as grandiose. The ornate facades of the flemish renaissance revival Pabst Mansion, the moorish Tripoli Shrine and the public library all stand testament to the rich past.
And yet, scratch that surface and you'll find that the general experience of Avenues West to be rather mordane. Much like Eastside, the university campuses here contribute to a lot of the student oriented entertainment options. Relaxed eateries ranging from trattorias to burger joints to noodle bars dominate the avenues around Marquette University, most of which are frequented by the city's Gen Z crowds almost around the clock. Also big draws for younger travellers is the Eagles Club, a restored concert venue running out of the eclectically-designed 20th century hall.
As mentioned before, Avenues West lies just outside what is seen as Milwaukee's traditional downtown area. It is accessible by most major venues running west and also acts as a gateway to the inner suburbs of the city. Hotels are largely centred around West Wisconsin Avenue, but you might also find a few inexpensive lodging options and hostels in other parts of the neighborhood.
Lying adjacent to the Historic Third Ward is the neighborhood of Menomonee Valley, named after the river inlet that runs through it. The unfettered access to the riverfront lends a unique appeal to the neighborhood, which is also the site of the Hank Aaron State Trail. The urban trail has it all: Monuments built in honour of the baseball legend, lush green parks, jogging and biking routes, open air art exhibits and of course views of the riverfront and city skyline. The Three Bridges Park, which also lies on the trail is one of the most popular spots for catching city views, especially during the morning hours.
Besides, Menomonee Valley is home to some of Milwaukee's biggest institutions. While Miller Park and the Potawatomi Hotel might draw huge crowds to the Brewers games and a 24×7 casino respectively, as a traveller flying into the city for the first time, you might still want to head straight over to the biggest draw of all: the Harley Davidson Museum. Between the engine rooms, vintage bike exhibits and 130,000 sq. feet of outlet grounds, you might not find time for anything else at all.
Hotels might be harder to come by than in some other parts of the city, but there are a few good luxury accommodations right in the heart of Menomonee Valley. The neighborhood is well connected by road and the Marquette Interchange, one of the major road network intersections, lies at the western end of the neighborhood.
And for the last neighborhood on the list, we bring to you the waterfront district that combines a little bit of everything that makes Milwaukee a great vacation prospect. The gastronomy is dynamic, especially around by the side of central thoroughfares - which are home to a wide variety of drinking holes, traditional American diners as well as a few of Milwaukee's best fine dining restaurants. The neighborhood is also great for shopping and impulse buys as several souvenir shops and stores selling local crafts have also come up in the area in the recent years.
And even with all that, Bay view's expansive green spaces remain the major draw. Besides the obvious yacht club, the South Shore Park park has other interesting options including a small beach and a beer garden of its own. But if you're really looking to get away from the bustling city crowds and a quick change of scenery, the neighborhood's bigger eponymous park is the place for you. It also offers sweeping views of the city, a place that serves as the perfect spot to cap off a perfect Milwaukee vacation.
Hotels in and around Bay View can be on the pricier side of the spectrum, but you should not have too much trouble finding a more reasonable option. The Daniel Joan Memorial Bridge connects the neighborhood to the Historic Third Ward, giving it direct access to the city centre.
And that then is our complete list from Milwaukee, traveller. Take your picks and get packing for your next vacation; Beer city awaits!