Summer is truly Milwaukee’s best season. Located along the western shore of Lake Michigan and just 90 miles north of Chicago, Milwaukee is famous for its breweries, playing host to the world’s largest musical festival, its lakefront and so much more. This week’s Bucket List brings you seven must-dos in Wisconsin’s biggest city this season.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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There's no denying that Milwaukee is a city for beer lovers and no trip would be complete without at least one brewery tour. As Visit Milwaukee urges, "From macro to micro, fruit beers to gourmet sodas, take a brewery tour or stop in to taste the work of some fellow Wisconsin brewers to see how Brew City is still earning its name!" If you're not sure where to start, a visit to Pabst Brewing Company is a safe bet. This historic brewery has brought us brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Stag and Sprecher root beer to name just a few. Tours include the Blue Ribbon Hall, old infirmary, guest center, vintage gift shop, as well as the office of Captain Pabst and the beer baron's 1880 corporate headquarters. No reservations are required and tours cost $8 per adult and free for children.
Photo by Dave, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is cited as the city's first public art gallery. It officially opened in 1888 and today houses more than 35,000 works of art spanning antiquity to present. The MAM also contains one of the largest collections of works by Georgia O'Keeffe, a Wisconsin native. Other works include paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings and photographs. Between 1957 and 2001, the complex grew to include the museum, as well as a performing arts center and veterans' memorial. Located along Lake Michigan, the complex's most striking facility is the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It features a movable brise soleil that opens during the day and when weather is nice, but also can fold closed at night or when weather is bad.
Photo by Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0
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The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, also known simply as the Domes, is located in Milwaukee's Mitchell Park. The conservatory features three large glass domes that house distinct climates and a variety of plant life. The structures were designed by Donald L. Grieb Associates and span 45,000 square feet. Completed in phases between 1959 and 1967, the complex recently underwent restorations and reopened to the public in 2016. The main show dome hosts a variety of plant exhibits throughout the year, including a holiday show. The tropical dome houses around 1,000 plant species, including hardwoods and fruit-baring trees like banana, avocado, cacao, African mahoganies, as well as orchids. The arid dome features plants from the Americas and Africa like shrubs, aloes and cacti.
Photo by quirkyjazz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Like Chicago, Milwaukee is a city in many ways defined by its location along Lake Michigan. Your options for enjoying the lake and lakefront are abundant year-round and include 15,000 acres of parks, beaches, nature sanctuaries, the 6-mile Lakefront Trail and more. If you're really looking to appreciate nature, don't miss Lakeshore State Park or Schlitz Audubon Center. Pop into Gift of Wings at McKinley Marina in Veterans Park to buy a kite or to sign up for flying lessons before hitting the lakefront. If you prefer to be on the water, you can rent paddle boats and hydro-bikes in Juneau Park Lagoon along the lake.
Photo by Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0
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The Allen-Bradley Clock Tower at the Rockwell Automation headquarters is a Milwaukee landmark. Since 1962, it has kept time 283 feet in the air over the city. It features four 40-foot diameter faces and was certified the worlds largest clock of its kind by the Guinness Book of World Records. The hour hands measure in at 5.8 feet, while the minute hands are 20 feet long. The faces are so large that boaters on Lake Michigan are said to use the illuminated clock as a navigation aid.
Photo by Stephen Kallao, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Since 1968, Milwaukee has hosted an annual music festival. Dating back to the 1970's it has called 75-acres in Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakefront its home. Summerfest lasts for 11 days from late June to early July and features local and national musical performances, comedy acts, fireworks, shopping and food. With 11 stages, 1,000 performances and upwards of 900,000 attendees each year, it is considered the world's largest music festival. Guinness World Records made that claim to fame official in 1999. Over the years, musical acts have included the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Avett Brothers, James Taylor, Tina Turner, Nine Inch Nails, Violent Femmes, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Kings of Leon, Kendrick Lamar, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones and many, many more. Comedians who have graced the Summerfest stage include Bob Hope, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart and Lewis Black. This year's lineup includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul Simon, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,The Chainsmokers, Future, Steve Miller Band, Big Sean, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Third Eye Blind, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors and more.
Photo by Lynn Friedman, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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While visiting Milwaukee, don't miss a trip to the restored former home of Captain Frederick Pabst, founder of Pabst Brewing Company. Pabst Mansion was occupied by the beer baron's family from 1892 until 1908, after which the Archdiocese of Milwaukee purchased it and used it as the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a residence for priests, sisters and a handful of archbishops until the 1970's. When Pabst commissioned the mansion, he hoped it would "survive and thrive into the twenty-first century as a testament to America's Gilded Age," states the mansion's website. Today, the home remains open for tours daily.
Photo by Ted Gamble, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0