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Nestled on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin exudes an undeniable charm that is sure to captivate travelers. While it may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning a day trip, this vibrant city has so much to offer, making it the perfect getaway for those seeking a fun Midwest day trip.

As someone who is born and raised in Milwaukee, and currently lives in New Orleans, I always look forward to our trips back home to Milwaukee so I can show my husband and boys all of the amazing things Milwaukee has to offer. Since my husband is from Miami, it’s my duty to show him that Milwaukee is cool too 😆

This ultimate Milwaukee day trip guide details all of the amazing things to do in Brew City, as well as offers you the perfect one-day in Milwaukee itinerary. I promise you’ll be shocked at all of the things the city has to offer, enticing you to make your Milwaukee day trip into an extended weekend trip, if not longer.

Why take a day trip to Milwaukee?

Milwaukee is a beautiful city that’s filled with a unique history and culture, fun and adventurous outdoor activities, delicious food, and beer, and so much more. Making Milwaukee the perfect day trip destination.

To most people’s surprise, Milwaukee is home to almost 600,000 people, making it a relatively large city compared to most. In fact, it’s the 31st largest city in the country! Plus the Milwaukee Bucks are the 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) league champions. And I’d be remised if I didn’t mention that we’re home to the Milwaukee Brewers, a popular team in Major League Baseball (MLB).

With such a large population, 2 teams in professional sports (not including the Green Bay Packers National Football League (NFL) team who are less than 2 hours north), and being home to Harley Davidson you know that Milwaukee has to offer a ton of fun and unique activities. You won’t be disappointed by the plethora of things to do in Milwaukee, including museums, new and historic breweries, outdoor adventures, and so much more!

How to get to Milwaukee?

Milwaukee is located about 90 minutes from Chicago and is right on Lake Michigan. Therefore you have 3 international airport options to easily get to Milwaukee:

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) is located about a 20-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee. All major domestic airlines service this airport.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is a little over an hour’s drive on I-94 from downtown Milwaukee.

Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) is less than a 2-hour drive on I-94 from downtown Milwaukee.

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Now we all know that traffic on I-94 in Chicago can be unpredictable. Therefore, consider taking The Amtrak Train. It’s a direct line with multiple departures throughout the day. Plus, it is relatively inexpensive. It’s one of my favorite ways to get to travel between Milwaukee and Chicago, and not worry about traffic.

Why is Milwaukee Known as The Brew City?

Milwaukee has a rich history and undeniable connection to the world of brewing with over two centuries of brewing history. Consequently has served as home to multiple major brewing companies including Pabst Brewing Company, Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company,  Miller Brewing Company, and Blatz Brewing Company.

These breweries not only produced iconic beers but also played significant roles in shaping the local economy and culture. Thus, why Milwaukee is nationally recognized as the “Brew City”.

Indoor Things to Do in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo provided by canva.com

Milwaukee has a unique and rich history that you can experience through a variety of museums like the Harley Davidson Museum, Pabst Mansion, and North Point Lighthouse. In addition, there are numerous opportunities to explore art, sports, and culture throughout the city- all of which are listed below.

  1. Harley-Davidson Museum

Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, founded in 1903. Thus, if you want to learn about motorcycles or the Harley-Davidson company, you must add the Harley-Davidson Museum to your Milwaukee one-day itinerary.

The museum has two floors of interactive exhibits and an impressive collection of Harley Davidson Motorcycles and memorabilia. Additionally, the museum is on a 20-acre campus full of shopping, dining experiences, and year-round events. The museum is open daily from 10 am-5 pm and adult admission is $22.

  1. Milwaukee Art Museum

For art enthusiasts, one of the best things to do in Milwaukee is visit the Milwaukee Art Museum. It is one of the largest art museums in the United States and has over 25,000 works of art on display. The museum can also be visited with kids, as they offer free admission for kids 12 and under and have a fun and interactive ArtPack station.

The museum is open daily from 10 am-5 pm on Tuesday-Sunday, with extended hours until 8 pm on Thursdays. Adult admission is $22.

  1. Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum is a natural history museum in downtown Milwaukee that was originally built in 1882. This historic museum is full of exciting exhibits. Stroll through the streets of old Milwaukee or step back further in time to see the world’s largest known dinosaur skull as well as a life-size replica of a T-Rex.

The museum is open Wednesdays-Mondays from 10 am-5 pm, with adult admission costing $24.

  1. Pabst Mansion

Another unique thing to do on a day trip to Milwaukee is to visit the historic Pabst Mansion. This Renaissance Revival-styled mansion was built in 1892 for Captain Frederick Pabst, founder of the Pabst Brewing Company. Today, the mansion can be visited on a self-guided or guided tour, with admission starting at $17 for adult tickets.

There are also a variety of fun specialty tours, including a Blue Ribbon Happy Hour Tour, which is completed with a PBR toast to the Captain!

  1. Miller Brewery Tour

Miller Brewery has been brewing beer for over 165 years and is worth visiting during a day trip to Milwaukee. The tour includes a visit to the underground cave, the historic Bavarian-Style Miller Inn, and the modern Brew House. The tour also includes tasting some of Miller’s famous brews!

Brewery tours are currently offered on Thursdays and Fridays and are run hourly, with the first tour at 10:30 am and the last tour at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults.

  1. Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat is located in the historic Lincoln Village neighborhood in Milwaukee. The Basilica is beautiful and is the largest Catholic church in the Milwaukee area. Tours are available Monday-Saturday from 10 am-3 pm through the Church Visitor Center.

  1. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)
Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory.
Photo courtesy of canva.com

Another great Milwaukee activity is to visit the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, which is better known as the Domes. The Domes are an indoor conservatory full of unique plant life. It is split into three different sections, a desert oasis, a tropical jungle, and a floral exhibit.

Tickets to the Domes are $9 for adults, and opening hours are Monday and Wednesday-Friday from 9 am-5 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am-4 pm.

  1. Petit National Ice Center 

Petit National Ice Center is an indoor ice skating facility with two international-sized ice rinks. They frequently offer open skate times, which are listed on their website event calendar. Adult open skate costs $8.50 plus skate rental. 

  1. North Point Lighthouse

To get some incredible views of Lake Michigan during a Milwaukee day trip, you can check out the North Point Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse was first built in 1888, and today visitors can climb the lighthouse tower and visit the maritime museum. The lighthouse is open from 1-4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, with adult admission costing $8.

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  1. American Family Field

If you are visiting Milwaukee during baseball season, make sure to check out American Family Field to watch the major league Milwaukee Brewers team! Catching a game at American Family Field is an excellent activity for a summer day in Milwaukee. 

Not there on game day but want to see the stadium? Plan to grab a bite from Barrel Yard Taproom & Restaurant (be sure to get the cheese curds!)

  1. Fiserv Forum

Located in downtown Milwaukee, Fiserv Forum is a large multi-purpose arena. It is best known as the home of the Milwaukee Bucks National Basketball Association team. However, Fiserv Forum also hosts many events and concerts at the arena, plus they offer tours.

It is within the Deer District which houses several restaurants, bars, and other activities in Milwaukee.

👉 Short on time? See the top Milwaukee activities with a day tour 👈

Outdoor Things to Do in Milwaukee

Milwaukee is home to all 4 seasons where winters can be rather cold and snowy but the summers are absolutely perfect! If your Milwaukee day trip happens to fall during the summer, or even late spring/early fall be sure to take advantage of the beautiful weather and natural landscape.

  1. Ride bikes along the Lakefront

One of the best things about Milwaukee is that it is located on Lake Michigan. Milwaukee has an expansive bike path route called Oak Leaf Trail. One part of Oak Leaf Trail is called the Lake Line, which is a picturesque 8-mile bike path along the lakefront. Riding bikes along Lake Michigan makes for a perfect Milwaukee day trip activity!

  1. Fly Kites at Veterans Park 

Veteran’s Park is a large park located right on the lakefront. The expansive grassy area is perfect for flying kites, and there is even a kite store located right next to the park. And if you happen to be in Milwaukee in May, be sure to check out Milwaukee Kite Festival.

  1. Sunbathe or Play Volleyball at Bradford Beach

Bradford Beach is a public, sandy beach along Lake Michigan. Spending the day sunbathing or playing volleyball at Bradford Beach is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee in the summertime. Plus, there are multiple tiki bars on the beach.

  1. Milwaukee Pedal Tavern

Riding the Milwaukee Pedal Tavern is a great way to explore the city while enjoying some brews! This pedal bike can fit up to 16 people and will take you on a tour that stops at 2-3 of Milwaukee’s best bars. You can book individual seats on the tour or if you have a group you can rent the whole bike.

This is also a great option if your Milwaukee day trip is for a special occasion such as a birthday or bachelor/bachelorette party.

  1. Milwaukee City Tour

One of the best ways to experience Milwaukee on a day trip is to do a city tour. A city tour will show you around the historic city of Milwaukee, which will give you more information about Milwaukee’s top sights and hidden gems to visit on your trip.

  1. Kayak along the Surrounding Rivers
Photo courtesy of canva.com

One of the best warm-weather activities in Milwaukee is to go kayaking. The Milwaukee Urban Water Trail is a kayaking and canoeing pathway along the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Brew City Kayak provides kayak and life jacket rentals, as well as guidance on how to see the Hoan Bridge, Bronze Fonz, and other unique city highlights in a relaxing and unique way.

  1. Ride on Lake Michigan

A boat ride on Lake Michigan is one of the best things to do near Milwaukee. Lake Michigan is incredibly scenic and is the third-largest lake in the US. There are several great boat tour options that make for the perfect summer day on the lake!

  1. Take a Ghost Tour

Explore some of Milwaukee’s historic haunted past through a ghost tour. Learn more about Milwaukee’s chilling past and urban legends as you walk through some of the most haunted sites in the city!

  1. Old World Wisconsin 

Located nearby Milwaukee is the open-air history museum called Old World Wisconsin. This unique museum allows you to experience what life was like between 1840-1910. Old World Wisconsin has 60 restored historic homes, shops, and workshops.

Summer hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 10 am-4 pm, and spring and fall hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am-4 pm, with adult admission costing $20.

Things to Do in Milwaukee with Kids

Many of the above things to do in Milwaukee are great activities to do with kids. However, the below Milwaukee activities are ones that my kids particularly enjoy and ask to go to when we’re in town. 

  1. Milwaukee County Zoo

Milwaukee County Zoo is a 190-acre zoo full of a variety of exciting animal exhibits, as well as fun activities such as the Sky Adventure Zip Line, Safari Train, and Sky Safari. The zoo is open daily from 9:30 am-5 pm.

Be sure to go feed the giraffes! My kids LOVED it!

  1. Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

For kids ages 10 and under, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is an excellent activity in Milwaukee. This is a hands-on, interactive learning museum full of fun-filled exhibits. The museum also offers regularly scheduled sensory-friendly sessions, which is perfect for kiddos that need to experience the museum in a calmer, quieter environment.

The museum is open from Wednesday-Monday from 9 am-4:30 pm, and tickets are $12.

  1. Discovery World

Discovery World is an immersive science and technology museum that allows kids to learn through various experiences interactively. Hours are from 9 am-4 pm, and tickets are $22 for adults and $18 for kids ages 1-3.

24. Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park

Tosa Pool is a public pool offering open swimming, a perfect activity for a warm summer day. There is a designated area for babies and toddlers with shallow waters and slides. In addition, they hold parent/tot swim for kids under 6 from 9 am-11 am, and open swim hours in the afternoon. Admission for open swimming is $11.

What to Eat and Drink in Milwaukee

You can’t come to Milwaukee and not eat the following: frozen custard, butter burger, bratwurst, and cheese curds. 

Frozen Custard & Butter Burgers

Where you find one, you normally can find the other. My personal favorite is Kopp’s Frozen Custard. The custard is delicious!

They also have flavors of the day (don’t be surprised if you drive by and notice traffic slowing down to catch the flavor of the day). Their burgers are juicy and delicious and while there, get the onion rings. Delish!

Bratwurst

Many local, “American food” restaurants in Milwaukee have brats on the menu. In fact, Milwaukee Brat House offers a variety of brats, so you can try your hand to see what you like. I personally like my brat grilled with bbq sauce. A little different than the average local who normally eats a brat with mustard and sauerkraut.

Cheese Curds

Even more popular than bratwurst, you’ll find cheese curds on most bar/American food menus. One of the best I’ve had recently was at Barrel Yard, located inside the American Family Field (which gives a perfect view of the field the Milwaukee Brewers play on). They were perfectly fried and tasty!

Honorable Mention
If you happen to be in Milwaukee on a Friday, you must try a Milwaukee Friday Fish Fry. Most restaurants offer some version of it- which includes fried fish (normally Haddock, Cod, and/or Perch) and french fries. Delicious!

If you’d like to try a variety of Milwaukee’s favorite foods, The Public Market is a perfect option.

Bar Hopping in Milwaukee

Cocktails from the Saint Kitts Hotel

If you like to bar hop, Milwaukee is your place with multiple streets that offer a variety of bars and clubs. All the areas listed are relatively close with Brady Street and Third Ward being the farthest from one another- which is less than a 10-minute drive.

Water Street

Water Street is one of the main corridors in Milwaukee that offer a variety of bars and clubs. Located in downtown Milwaukee, its central location is perfect for a fun night out in Milwaukee, especially for the younger crowds. For popular bars on this street, check out McGillycuddy’s, BarNone, or Pourmans.

Old World Third Street

A historic area full of German influence, as well as plenty of bars, pubs, and restaurants. To try some authentic German-style food and beer, make sure to check out Mader’s Restaurant. Likewise, if you’re looking for a good lounge, be sure to check out Truth Lounge.

Jefferson

Another historic street located right in the heart of downtown Milwaukee is Jefferson Street. Some popular places to try are Allure MKE, Elsa’s on the Park, and Belmont Tavern.

Brady Street

A vibrant and eccentric neighborhood just north of downtown (located on the East Side). This street is full of pubs, bars, and taverns and is popular with the college crowd.

Third Ward

A unique historic warehouse district full of bars and pubs with outdoor patios. If visiting this area, make sure to check out the Outsider for a rooftop cocktail bar with great city views.

Best Time to Travel to Milwaukee

If you’re not a fan of snow, I’d recommend that you plan your day trip to Milwaukee from mid-May to Mid-October. The weather is normally very pleasant during that time, with averages typically in the 60s-70s. The summers are perfect!

Milwaukee Festivals to Add to the Itinerary

Summers in Milwaukee are a pure joy and the abundance of festivals is one of the many reasons why. 

Milwaukee Festivals in June

Pride Fest
A weekend-long Pride Festival with live music, a Pride Parade, drag shows, and fireworks.

Polish Fest
A festival celebrating Polish heritage with live music and delicious Polish food, and fireworks.

Summerfest
The ultimate music festival, spanning over three weekends. Summerfest is one of the largest music festivals in the US. This amazing music festival features dozens of top artists from all different genres of music and offers something for everyone.

Plus the array of food and vendors available during the festival will leave you wanting to come back for more!

Greek Fest
Celebrates Greek heritage with authentic Greek food, carnival rides, and live music. This is a great festival to bring the kids.

Strawberry Fest
A fun-filled weekend with live music, kid’s activities, a Berry Race, a Strawberry Pancake Breakfast, and of course, delicious strawberry treats.

Milwaukee Festivals in July

Bastille Days
The largest French-themed outdoor festival in North America with French food, live music, a marketplace, and the Storm the Bastille 5K race.

German Fest
A festival featuring German food and music, children’s activities, Marktplatz, Model T and Volkswagen clubs, and fireworks.

Brady Street Festival
The best street party in Milwaukee, featuring live music and local food vendors.

Milwaukee Festivals in August

Wisconsin State Fair
An 11-day fair with animal exhibits, competitions, circus acts, carnival games, food, music, and more. Be sure to try the cream puffs. Delish!

A La Carte at the Zoo
A fun-filled event featuring music, food, and of course, animals! 

Mexican Fiesta
A three-day fiesta filled with yummy Mexican food, Mariachi, and more!

Ultimate Milwaukee Day Trip Itinerary

If you happen to truly only have 1 day in Milwaukee. This is my suggested itinerary. 

How to start your day
Start your day with coffee from a local coffee roaster like Colectivo or Stone Creek Coffee. Both not only offer coffee but a variety of other drinks and food.

If there is a ballgame or festival
Milwaukee fans are one of a kind. Going to Brewer’s Baseball game or Buck’s Basketball game will give you the true local experience.

Similarly, Milwaukee is known for its festivals and locals plan their summer schedules around them, so be sure to check one out to enjoy the food, music, and local culture.

Milwaukee Day Trip Recommendations

When there’s great weather
Go to the Lakefront as it is absolutely gorgeous and you’ll find locals outside enjoying one another’s company and the beautiful scenery. There you can ride bikes, sunbathe at Bradford Beach, charter a boat, and more. If you have time, stop at one of the many close by museums, including the Art Museum or Discovery World, both of which are on the Lake Front.

For the Harley-Davidson fans
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Harley-Davidson museum. You should be able to do the Lakefront as well as the museum as it is a short ride from one to another. Plus the food at the Harley-Davidson restaurant is pretty delicious.

For the brewery fans
Both the Pabst Mansion and Miller Brewery Company are about a 15-minute ride from the Lake Front and one another. If you plan your day accordingly, you should have time to fit all three into your Milwaukee day trip itinerary.

If you only have time for only one true meal in Milwaukee
Do yourself a favor and opt for the butter burger and custard at Kopp’s. If you prefer a more sit-down option give AJ Bombers a try.

Where to Stay in Milwaukee

If you’re having so much fun during your Milwaukee one-day itinerary, that you can’t think of leaving quite yet and want to stay the night, then check out some of the highest-rated and best hotels in Milwaukee that are listed below.

Saint Kate 

Saint Kate is an artistic boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. The central location makes staying here the perfect choice, as it is close to all of Milwaukee’s hot spots. This hotel was previously voted “Coolest Place to Stay in Milwaukee” and it is easy to see why. Not only is the hotel in a prime downtown location, but it also features captivating art pieces throughout, making it a cool and unique place to stay.

Local tip- if you can’t stay at Saint Kate, give one of their restaurants a try because they are delish!

Kimpton Journeyman Hotel 

This Kimpton Journeyman Hotel is a highly-rated 4-star hotel located right in the historic Third Ward, which is full of popular bars and restaurants. It is also within walking distance of the popular Summerfest Festival Grounds. The hotel itself is modern yet eccentric and has beautifully decorated rooms. One of the best parts of this hotel is also its rooftop bar, The Outsider, which offers incredible city views.

The Iron Horse 

The Iron Horse Hotel is another highly-rated hotel option in downtown Milwaukee. The building is a century-old former warehouse, that has been renovated into a unique luxury boutique hotel. The rooms and suites are decorated in an industrial-chic style, with exposed brick walls and city skyline views.

The hotel is also known for having great food and features an awesome bar and outdoor patio area. Be sure to try their Sunday brunch – it is absolutely delicious!

Day Trips from Milwaukee 

Family at Lake Geneva Ice Castles- Things to do in Lake Geneva
Ice Castles in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is the perfect day trip from Milwaukee as it’s less than an hour’s drive down I-43. This quaint town has over three miles of shoreline with crystal clear waters, making it the perfect place to relax by the water or try some adventurous activities such as water sports, ziplining, or skiing. Explore the best things to do in Lake Geneva in the Winter and the Summer.

Madison, Wisconsin
Located 90 minutes from Milwaukee is the city of Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. Madison makes for a great day trip from Milwaukee as it is full of museums, shopping, sports events, music and festival venues, and great food.

Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells is a great family-friendly day trip from Milwaukee, as it’s only 2 hours away. It is known as the waterpark capital of the world and is worth a visit. There are several different waterparks to visit, with Noah’s Ark Waterpark being the largest.

Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the Midwest and is full of fun activities, from shopping, and dining experiences, to museums, and entertainment. Chicago has something for everyone. Since Chicago has so much to offer, it is one of the best weekend trips from Milwaukee, but it can also make for a great day trip as it is only 90 minutes from Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Ultimate Day Trip: Conclusion 

A day trip to Milwaukee is absolutely worth it. Milwaukee is a fantastic city located right on Lake Michigan. It is the perfect place to visit to relax at the lake or explore the downtown. 

Summer in Milwaukee is especially nice and consists of great weather and lots of sports events and popular festivals, such as Summerfest. There are also plenty of activities in Milwaukee for both adults and kids, making Milwaukee the perfect place to visit for a day trip.

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