Yesterday, I shared my favorite places to eat in Milwaukee, but I suppose I can recognize that eating isn't all there is to life, so here I'm also sharing some of my best-loved places & spaces to visit in Milwaukee. These are my favorites, and I'm sure I leave out a great deal, but this is my Milwaukee, if you want to see it.
This is the big one. If you do nothing else in Milwaukee, do this. You don't even have to go inside (though I recommend going inside): every day at 10, the wings on the brise soleil open, and every day at noon, people gather on the footbridge to the museum at the end of Wisconsin Avenue to watch them open and close.
The museum is home to a wonderful collection of O'Keefes, and a new exhibit of Italian painting is visiting this October. I can also recommend Cafe Calatrava, which has a lovely view of the lake, or coffee in the gorgeous lobby - it's nice just to have a good reason to hang around in that space.
A long-time Chiuminatto family favorite, the Pabst mansion is the former home of Captain Pabst (yep, that Pabst) and the only surviving member of the mansions of Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue). The restoration of the house after its stint as the home to the Archbishop of Milwaukee has been a long and painstaking process undertaken by a very passionate team of volunteers. Now a trip to the mansion really takes you back to the late nineteenth century, the era of the beer barons in Milwaukee. If you take a tour they're sure to point this out, but be sure to look for the hops buds in place of pineapples on the banisters!
As my mother loved to point out, Milwaukee's Lake Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famous designer of Central Park in New York. His preference for preserving natural landscapes over imposing geometric plantings makes this a wonderful space for enjoying the lakefront area, with many wonderful overlooks and bridges to be discovered. If you're looking for a natural break from downtown, this is a wonderful place to explore. If you really want to get up close in personal with the lake though, then you'll want to pop down & across Lake Drive to Veteran's Park.
I need a whole section of these, since this is just so Milwaukee, and you have your pick! Here's the spread:
Relative to the others on this list, Lakefront is the new kid on the block, but they're quite established at this point, and a little poking around their website tells me that their tours have become quite well systematized. You can get tickets for your tour online, and on Saturdays, the tour is offered in two versions for different attention spans, which sounds great if you just want to take a look-see and get down to the serious business of tasting some delicious beer.
I also highly recommend the friday fish fry - this Wisconsin tradition long ago spilled out of Lent, and fried fish is The thing to eat on Friday night in Wisconsin. (I think we all knew I wouldn't really be able to keep food out of this post!)
Lakefront beers are delicious, but Sprecher is undoubtedly the holder of the crown for Milwaukee beers. Their beers are wonderful, their sodas are the best, and their tour is welcoming and fun. If you can get yourself into a Reserve Tasting tour, you will enjoy beer and cheese combinations like nothing you've ever had, with the expert guidance of the Sprecher Beermasters.
You might not want to order a Budweiser in Milwaukee. Craft beers are available everywhere you go, but when it comes to large domestics, this is Miller country. If you want to see the whole operation, Miller runs tours all day on the half hour. The tour is fun for kids, too, though their tasting is of root beer (actually I haven't taken this tour since I was a teenager, so I can't even speak first-hand to the adult experience).
So there it is: six things you can do in Milwaukee, with only incidental mention of food. Have fun!