Things to Do in Wisconsin
Milwaukee’s waterfront got a recent upgrade when the new, ultra-modern addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. The soaring white structure of the Quadracci Pavilion looks like the prow of a ship setting to sea, with its masts and sails flowing out behind it. Inside, the museum is equally impressive, a world-class art museum that got its start in the late 1800s, and today boasts 30,000 works of art ranging from antiquity all the way to the modern era—notable names include Monet, Picasso and Warhol. The exhibits are constantly rotating through 40 galleries across four stories. Visitors should especially make time to explore the museum’s collection of works from Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the largest in the world.
Catch a show and a slice of local history at the Pabst Theater in downtown Milwaukee. The venue is not only a National Historic Landmark, but it’s also the largest theater in Milwaukee’s Theater District and the fourth oldest continually operating theater in the
country. Beer magnate Frederick Pabst built the Pabst Theater in 1895 as a German-style opera house. It is opulent both inside and out, and today the interior still boasts its most glamorous accessories, including a two-ton Austrian crystal chandelier over the auditorium, a staircase made from white Italian Carrera marble, and a proscenium arch framing the stage that is highlighted with gold leaf.
The makers of one of the top-rated craft beers in America is also famous for offering lively, fun, bad-joke-filled guided brewery tours and tasting sessions. Despite its name, Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery sits along the Milwaukee River in the Brewer’s Hill neighborhood. On-site at the brewery is a tasting room, that is actually a massive German-style beer hall that serves a full menu of local and German dishes alongside frosty pints of Lakefront beers. Try a Beer Hall Wheat or Belgian-style White with a plate of sausages and soft pretzels. Or if you prefer more hops, try the IPA, which gets its citrusy flavor from Cascade and Chinook hops.
While strolling the Milwaukee Riverwalk, make a point to stop and see one of the city’s more unusual, and endearing, sights: a bronze statue of the fictional character Arthur Fonzarelli, aka “The Fonz,” from the TV show Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee. The statue has become a popular attraction, so you can expect a line of people waiting to take photos with it on warm summer days along the river. The statue itself is surprisingly small, though actor Henry Winkler was only 5 foot 6 inches, so it’s life-size. The statue depicts the Fonz in his trademark pose, with two thumbs up, seemingly saying "Aayyyy!" to passerby.
Dive into the heart of Milwaukee’s arts and food scenes in the trendy Historic Third Ward neighborhood. This former warehouse district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been revamped and revitalized into Milwaukee’s Arts and Fashion District. The neighborhood is home to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the Broadway Theatre Center, as well as the Third Ward Riverwalk and the Milwaukee Public Market. Many visitors come to the Historic Third Ward simply to walk the picturesque streets lined with historic buildings and explore the myriad shops and cafés scattered throughout. Holey Moley Coffee and Doughnuts or the speakeasy-style Bugsy's Back Alley Saloon are popular stops, while the Milwaukee Public Market is the perfect place to stock up on local Wisconsin cheeses.
Located within the historic Lake Park, the North Point Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse built on Milwaukee’s shore of Lake Michigan in 1888. The site features a 74-foot lighthouse tower and the wood-frame, Queen Anne-style Keeper’s Quarters. The lighthouse remained operational, guiding ships along the lakefront, until 1994, when it was decommissioned. Today it serves as a focal point of the surrounding Lake Park, and a museum where visitors can explore the keeper’s house and climb the stairs to the top of the tower to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the lake. Exhibits in the museum include the original lighthouse ledgers, photos of the lighthouse over the years and the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens, removed when it was decommissioned in 1994, as well as many pieces from Milwaukee’s maritime history.
Catch a baseball game in Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The grand stadium is designed as throwback to baseball’s earlier days, with a red-brick façade, arched windows and a clock tower over the entrance, while incorporating modern features, namely the massive fan-shaped retractable roof. As you make your way to the entrance, you’ll spot statues of local baseball legends like Hank Aaron. The park also has a Brewers Hall of Fame, children’s play area, pub and a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant. After the sixth inning of every game at Miller Park, fans cheer for the Famous Racing Sausages, which are the team mascots along with Bernie the Brewer.
Milwaukee's Lakefront Trail is a scenic path perfect for exploring both the city and the natural waterfront. It runs along the shore of Lake Michigan, starting near the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee passing the McKinley Marina, Veteran's Park, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. It’s especially popular in summer when the weather is conducive to biking, skating and jogging. Visitors can rent bikes in town to explore the Lakefront on two wheels, or simply park nearby and walk a section. During the summer Milwaukee is packed with local festivals like Summerfest and German Fest that often take place near the trails.
When the City Hall building of Milwaukee was built in 1895, it was the second tallest structure in America, with a bell tower stretching to 353 feet—only the Washington Monument was taller. The design was inspired by the Flemish Renaissance, similar to the Hamburg Rathaus, which shows the strong German heritage of the region. At the top of the bell tower, there still hangs the original 22,500-pound bell made from melted copper and tin, which was named Solomon Juneau after Milwaukee's first mayor. In 2005, City Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark, and a recent restoration project replaced the buildings damaged bricks, terracotta sculptures and windows.
One of Milwaukee’s most beloved public parks sits along the lakefront north of McKinley Marina and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Frederick Law Olmsted, the same person who designed New York City’s Central Park, designed it in the late 1800s. The 130-acre park is loaded with amenities, including a golf course, walking trails, picnic areas and ball fields. The golf course is a relatively easy, accessible 18-hole course that offers tee times on a first-come, first-served basis. The trails pass bluffs, ravines and the last remaining Indian mound in Milwaukee. Also within the park is the North Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1888 and it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
More Things to Do in Wisconsin
Winding through the length of the state, the Wisconsin River flows from the Mississippi for more than 430 miles. Forests and hills often surround the waters, which vary in both depth and speed of current. Some sections contain rapids with conditions ideal for rafting, while others are calm and more suited for relaxed canoeing and paddling. There are sandbanks and secluded beaches located along the riverbanks, often beside scenic rock formations and bluffs that the Midwestern landscape is known for.
Most of the river is calm and shallow enough to stand in, and with the number of sandbanks throughout it is known as the “River of a Thousand Isles.” There are numerous scenic spots to stop and enjoy the water, and often there’s also local wildlife to spot. The river, with its pine trees and clear waters, is home to bald eagles, cranes, and herons, as well as river otters, beavers, and turtles.
Just outside of downtown Milwaukee, Marquette University is one of the city’s historic educational centers, established as Marquette College by the Society of Jesus in 1881. It was names for Father Jacques Marquette, who was a renowned missionary in this part of the county in the late 1600s, who spoke at least six Native American languages. One of the most notable sights on the campus is its oldest building, the Gothic-style Johnston Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is today home to the university’s communications program.
Some homes are famous because of their ornate design and detailed architecture, but the Al. Ringling Mansion is best known for its legendary owner—the eldest of the five Ringling brothers.
Built in 1905, the red stone mansion is currently under renovation to bring it back to its original luster. Visitors can tour the grounds and the well-kept rooms with hosts Joe and Carmen, and gain insight into the daily lives of some of the world’s most famous performers. This lively couple will share stories about the Ringling brothers, as well as tales from their own time in the circus. The tour highlights hand-carved woodwork, original furnishings, detailed murals and hand-painted ceilings.
It’s possible to explore the mansion on its own, and families with children and travelers in search of the weird and wild will love the stories shared and the family effects on display. A combination ticket that includes other top Baraboo attractions like Circus World Museum and the International Clown Hall of Fame are also available.
The Hearthstone Historic House Museum is best known as the first home in the United States to be lit by a hydroelectric station based on Thomas Edison's plans. Visit the house to learn about area history, marvel at the 1882 mansion's opulent interiors, and take a guided tour to see the original electroliers, light switches, and wiring.
To uncover what life was like in the 1920s and 1930s, visit Milwaukee's Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, where you can marvel at 20th century Americana, from crank telephones to glass medicine bottles. The museum's holdings are highlighted in theme rooms. Don't miss the recreated general store, vintage barbershop, and hidden speakeasy.
Families—or grown-ups who are still kids at heart—looking for indoor fun in Milwaukee should consider an afternoon at Bounce Milwaukee. The massive play place has endless games, including a 700-square-foot inflatable sports arena where you can play basketball or other sports on a bouncy playing field, a rock-climbing wall with a variety of routes, and a 360-degree laser-tag arena with the world's first Zone Helios laser tag system. The Adrenaline Zone is a soft-sided obstacle course where visitors can act out their inner American Ninja Warrior, while gamers can geek out on dozens of vintage arcade games.
Even though it’s officially one of the smallest countries in the world, Luxembourg has a grandiose history of warfare, politics, ruling parties, art, architecture, and beer. In the 1800s, when Luxembourg was in political turmoil and farms were barely yielding enough crops for local families to survive, thousands of families, lured by cheap land, moved to America in the hopes of building new and prosperous lives. Today the area between Milwaukee and Sheboygan houses one of the largest Luxembourgish populations outside of Europe, and is home to the small but fascinating Luxembourg American Cultural Society.
Opened to the public in 2009, the society is housed in an historic barn built in 1872, which Jacob Mamer, an immigrant from Luxembourg, constructed in the traditional style. When visiting the cultural society today, visitors can admire the collection of artifacts that represents one of the world’s largest collections of Luxembourg history and culture, and access genealogical records to see if your ancestors may have had to ties to Europe’s illustrious Grand Duchy.
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