The Good Land: 7 Things I Loved on My First Visit to Milwaukee, WI

Monday, September 23, 2019


At the end of July - which already feels like so long ago, yikes! - I visited Milwaukee, WI, for the first time. I was in town for my friend Rebecca's wedding to her long-time boyfriend (& now husband, obviously), Will, which took place in rural Colgate, WI, a shuttle ride away from downtown MKE.

As much as I love Cleveland & am pro-Midwest, this was really my first time going into the Midwest. Sure, I've been to Chicago, but this was my first time in Wisconsin - & I've still never been to uber-Midwestern states like Minnesota & Iowa. Needless to say, I was really, really excited to get my Midwest on. 




I was thrilled to discover that I loved Milwaukee even more than I'd hoped I would - like, such that I texted my husband & said, "If we ever decide we're over Cleveland, we're moving to Milwaukee!" Sure, I was being a little bit dramatic, & it probably helped that I was there on a warm, lovely weekend instead of say, mid-winter - but I really did fall in love with the city.

I never know how to break up travel post. No one cares what I did every day! Instead, here's a categorized round-up of some of my favorite things about the city.

1. Its downtown area is clean, vibrant, & walkable. 
I sometimes lament the fact that Cleveland's neighborhoods are so spread out, & its downtown, while fun, doesn't have the same small-big-city vibe that other cities of its size have been able to replicate. I spent my first day in Milwaukee wandering around on my own until my friend Rachel got into town in the late afternoon, & I found that the city's downtown area is laid out such that it was really to take my own little wandering walking tour of the downtown area.

The Milwaukee River runs through the center of downtown, but a big, long walkway, appropriately called the Milwaukee RiverWalk, runs alongside it so you can really walk along the water & easily get from place to place without having to weave in & out & around all the spots along the river. I've found that this is not the case in most cities (see: Cleveland). 

Luckily, it was also a beautiful day, so there were tons of people out & about, kayaking down the river, etc. I stopped into Milwaukee Public Market (more on that soon) for coffee, then headed out for adventures. 




2. It's full of cheese & beer.
Milwaukee is known for two things - & they happen to be two of my all-time favorite things. I tried not to consume too much of either of them, because my intestinal track is delicate & uncooperative, but fear not, as I got in my fair share of both. 

I had cheese curds at SafeHouse, a speakeasy-style spy bar that I can't recommend highly enough, & I tried copious samples at the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shop

Later, as we wandered together, Rachel & I stopped for drinks Good City Brewing (oh my God, that curried popcorn!) & Milwaukee Ale House, which is right on the water. We barely scratched the surface though: There are more than 30 breweries in MKE! 






3. The Milwaukee Public Market is really, really cool.
The Milwaukee Public Market is part grocery shopping spot, part restaurant-like vendors who serve everything from vegan bagel sandwiches to massive Bloody Mary concoctions to Thai food - & while I hate myself for saying what I'm about to say, but I'm still going to say it: This what I think Cleveland's West Side Market needs to become if it wants to survive & thrive.

The combination of eat-on-site foods & pick-stuff-up-to-take-home options really makes this market a standout, in the vein of Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market.. You can meet a friend for lunch while also grabbing fresh meat & produce for the week -  one-stop shop for all things food. It helps that this market, in particular, has a vibrant, clean, modern feel to it that helps it feel both relevant & pleasant.












4. It's rife with urban art & other quirky things.
One of my favorite things to do in new-to-me cities is to seek out its murals & other fun, artsy things, & in Milwaukee, that was really easy to do. The whole city felt very colorful &... just, like, well-decorated. If I'd had more time, I would've sought out even more of its art, but as it was, I saw a few cool things just by wandering around town.






5. Two words: festival season.
When we decided to stop by the German Fest, we thought we'd be able to do just that - stop by. We figured it was your average summer street festival. 

What we found was a massive, state-fair-style event that spanned an entire fairgrounds, jam-packed with people in costumes & boasting all kinds of food & beer. Apparently Milwaukee hosts summer festivals all summer long at Henry Maier Festival Park, situated right on the water - a different one each weekend!

We bought $10 tickets from a scalper wearing lederhosen, & though we were only there for abut an hour, we made the most of our time by eating spaetzel & beer-infused potato pancakes, watching a human freaking human glockenspiel, taking photos with larger-than-life German backdrops, & riding the sky glider so we could take in the event from above. 

We got outta there just before a storm rolled in - but I'd love to go back sometime for the full event.








6. Its countryside gives me a rare excuse to use the word "bucolic."
OK, but really. When the wedding shuttle got us out to the wedding location, I was agape at the genuine Midwestern beauty of it all. 

The wedding was held at Peck & Bushel Organic Fruit Company, an event venue & working orchard that grows 25 different varieties of apples. We weren't exactly there during peak apple season, but we did still get to go up & check out the orchard area. 

Would you look at this? And also how adorably my friends are all dressed for a summer wedding at an apple orchard? 




7. It's home to a statue known as The Bronze Fonz.
Finally & perhaps most important, the Milwaukee riverfront features a bronze statue of Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a. "The Fonz," of Happy Days fame. If you were ever a big-time Nick at Nite lover like me, you probably grew up thinking young Fonzie was hot - & feeling weird about it when you realized that he's actually older than your parents.

Perhaps The Bronz Fonz himself best sums up my overall feelings about Milwaukee, which are:


Ayyyyyyyye! I loved vising Milwaukee & hope to go back with Mike sometime in the not-too-distant future - maybe to go to German Fest again?! 

Have you ever been to Milwaukee? What's the last city that pleasantly surprised you? 

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