Milwaukee, Wisc. is just a short hop from Chicago, Ill. With seven roundtrip trains a day on Amtrak, you are there in just 90 minutes. Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport is another option and is one of the few under-utilized airports in the country — frequent non-stops including Southwest to many cities.
From the Amtrak Inter-Modal Station in downtown Milwaukee, you are just steps away to all the attractions or you can get there in many cases on the new, free streetcar known as The Hop.
WHAT TO DO
A must is the Milwaukee Art Museum. The stunning addition by the Spanish architect Santiago Caltrava hangs over Lake Michigan like a giant bird. Dubbed the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum (700 N. Art Museum Dr. on Lake Michigan), it features a 90-foot-high ceiling.
Just east of the Amtrak Inter-Modal Station in the Historic Third Ward you will find the Milwaukee Public Market. Pick up some Wisconsin cheese, enjoy a beer or have lunch or dinner. If you like the French Market at the Metra Station in Chicago, you will enjoy this Wisconsin version.
The parks and beaches north of downtown are also very nice.
A walk around downtown is a must with many historic structures to see including the stunning Milwaukee City Hall (200 E. Wells St.) which is an excellent example of classic Flemish Renaissance architecture and dates to 1895. The Wisconsin Gas Building at 626 E. Wisconsin Ave. is Wisconsin’s best Art Deco skyscraper (and dates from 1930).
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Milwaukee Downtown at 300 West Michigan Ave. It is close to everything and has a great happy hour in the Bistro Restaurant twice a night with good flatbread treats at a bargain price during happy hour. The Cambria Hotel nearby also looked very nice. I like the Milwaukee Athletic Club which rents hotel rooms, but they are currently closed for renovation. The Pfister is the grand dame of Milwaukee hotels. The Hyatt Place is new and has great rates. There are many other hotels downtown, so check Trip Advisor to pick one. Milwaukee hotels are a bargain compared with most cities (and no resort fees like Portland and many other coastal cities), so plan and spend the night or even two or three.
I took the Hop to the This Is It Bar at 418 E. Wells (exit Wells off the Hop Streetcar). They have great drink specials, a friendly crowd and showtunes on Sundays! The lady next to me at the bar was having a whisky-bourbon cocktail. You may want to stick to red wine. Wisconsinites love their liquor.
The rest of the bars are in Walker’s Point south of downtown.
Other bars include La Cage, LVL (801 S. 2nd), and Fluid which are all close to each other in Walker’s Point. Also, fun is the Harbor Room (117 E. Greenfield) and Kruz (354 E. National).
WHERE TO EAT
The Stone Creek Coffee near the Inter-Modal station has the best coffee anywhere, as well as some food selections. Colectivo Coffee is also very good including at 223 E. St. Paul. Try the breakfast burrito.
You will find Hamburger Mary’s on Fifth St. at National south of downtown (730 S. 5th).
HELPFUL TRAVEL TIPS
The weekly, Shepherd Express, has an LGBTQ page (“HearMeOut: Ask Ruthie”/”Ruthie’s Social Calendar”). It also has events going on around town.
Visitmilwaukee.org for events and other options happening during your stay.
Currently, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Harley-Davidson Museum, Grohmann Museum and the UWM Union Art Gallery are putting on a series of exhibitions that they are calling “Milwaukee Made.” Don’t miss it. Find other travel tips and upcoming events at keymilwaukee.com.
Milwaukee is a great city with a lot to offer. You can’t beat it for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Bill Malcolm is native of Madison, Wisc. and now lives in Indianapolis, Ind. where he writes the nation’s only syndicated LGBTQ+ value travel column as a hobby. They can be read in publications in Florida, Palm Springs, Chicago and other cities, as well as on the IGLTA travel blog website. His opinions are his own and he pays for his own air fare and hotel expenses. Thanks to Kristin Settle of Travel Milwaukee for travel tips and museum tickets.