History, Brews and Museums in Milwaukee
To help combat the spread of Covid-19, some venues below may be closed or by appointment or reservation only. Note that masks are required in all venues except when you’re eating.Things are changing rapidly. We do our best to update openings, closures, and hours. All information published below was correct at the time of writing.
Day One: Art, History, and Somali Food
From Chicago, you’ll drive north straight on I-94W for 90 minutes. If it’s early enough, we recommend visiting one museum before lunch, and then another after lunch if you’re so inclined. For a small city, Milwaukee has many, including:
Harley-Davidson Museum. Photo courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee
Harley-Davidson Museum: Motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson was founded in Milwaukee in 1903, and this museum charts the brand’s history. See vintage and contemporary posters, photos, ads, equipment, clothing, and 450 motorcycles, 10 of which you can sit on. Michelin marketed its first motorcycle tire, the Triomphe, in1903, and since their introduction in 2008, more than 1,000,000 MICHELIN Scorcher tires have rolled out of the factory on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Advance booking recommended
- Milwaukee Art Museum: The museum’s collection has more than 31,000 pieces, dating from antiquity to the present and spanning every form: painting, sculpture, video, installations, decorative arts, textiles, sculpture, etc. Its collections of 450+ German expressionist paintings and prints, American decorative arts, Haitian art, and post 1960 American art are especially rich. Advance booking required
Milwaukee Public Museum: Great fun for kids is the city’s natural history museum, where you can visit a Costa Rican rainforest and a butterfly garden, see the world’s largest dinosaur skull, and go back in time to Milwaukee as it was at the turn of the century. Advance booking required
Milwaukee is very diverse, meaning you can eat food from around the globe without leaving town. Depending on where you are, drive five to 10 minutes to the Lower East Side and lunch at Somali restaurant Blue Star. This humble spot is a favorite of in-the-know Milwaukeeans. They come for platters of halal meats (think beef, goat, chicken), salmon, tilapia, or mixed vegetables atop basmati rice or pasta (a nod to Somalia’s time as an Italian colony), finished off with raisins and cubed potatoes. The entire dish is richly seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, and garlic.
From lunch, drive five minutes to Black Cat Alley, a wonderfully colorful outdoor art gallery with 21 murals by 24 artists from LA, Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and even Berlin. This is a great place to take photos against vibrant walls.
Leave your car and walk around the corner to The Waxwing, a small shop packed with home goods, bath products, clothing, accessories, jewelry, and stationery from 350 artists, many from the Great Lakes Area. From The Waxwing, walk 10 minutes to North Point Water Tower. This 175-foot-tower might be the handsomest in the US, built in 1873 in Victorian Gothic style and in active use until May 7th, 1963.
From here, drive five minutes back to the Lower East Side to Eagle Park Brewing, one of the many craft breweries in Milwaukee. On tap are 20 beers like the Bahama Mama, a fruited sour with sweet cherry, toasted coconut, and pineapple, a collab with Southern Grist Brewing Company in Nashville.
Dinner is five minutes’ walk from your hotel at Morel, a New American restaurant with a nice outdoor setup and a focus on ingredients from Wisconsin. The menu changes daily based on what’s available and in season but dishes include Corn to corn with chanterelle and chive and rabbit ragu over pappardelle.
Day Two: Fun For Kids, Bookstores, And A Food HallDiscovery World. Photo courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee
This morning, visit any museum you didn’t have time for yesterday. If you’ve got kids in tow, don’t sleep on Discovery World, a wonderfully interactive science museum (the excellent Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is currently closed, but check for updates on reopening.) At Discovery World, play tic-tac-toe with robots, learn about all the creatures that live in the Great Lakes Basin, and experiment with gravity.
Milwaukee has a ton of bookstores that beckon bibliophiles with their shelves of new and secondhand reads. A few to visit: Downtown Books Bought & Sold (½ mile from Discovery World); Voyageur Book Shop (five minutes’ drive south of Iron Horse Hotel) Boswell Book Company (north of the water tower, 10 min drive from hotel; in-store 2-4pm only).
Before you head back to Chicago, go for lunch at Milwaukee Public Market where nearly 20 vendors serve wood-fired pizza, tacos and burritos, and plant-based burgers and sandwiches, among other bites. Eat outdoors or in the second floor Palm Garden (masks required until you’re eating.)
Where to Stay:The Iron Horse Hotel. Photo by Tablet
The Iron Horse Hotel: This high-end boutique hotel in Walker’s Point is the world’s first hotel with a motorcycling theme—just across the road from the Harley-Davidson Museum. Riders will find covered bike parking, plenty of storage space for leathers and helmets, and generally rugged interiors, but you’ll feel just as at home if you’re arriving by car. The 100 rooms have 42-inch LCD TVs and spa-like bathrooms. A scary biker hang-out this certainly isn’t—just a stylish and luxurious hotel that’s bike-friendly to boot.
Hero image: Milwaukee skyline. Photo courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee
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