“Milwaukee?” One of my friends asked, after I told her I’d be doing a travel blogger workshop there in June.
She investigated on the Bloghouse website. “Didn’t they have one in Spain? Ireland? Now… Milwaukee? Why?”
Indeed. Milwaukee was always suffixed by a question mark after I told people about my travel plans. For someone who usually buys plane tickets to hard to pronounce places, Milwaukee made people quirk their heads and struggle hard to remember where exactly in the states could be found said city.
So, what IS there to do in Milwaukee?
I’m glad you asked. Now that I know a hell of a lot more, let me tell you!
EAT ALL THE CHEESE
Some of the locals would groan when they asked me what I had seen of their city, and cheese was one of the first things I mentioned. “We’re more than that!” they would say. And they are! But the cheese culture is still amazing, and as someone of proud Dutch ancestry, I can’t say no to cheese.
They offered us numerous great sample platters – Specialty grilled cheese! Beautiful cheese cuts! Deep fried fresh cheese curds!
My personal favourite was the Beer Cheese Coffee Stout, soaked in beer from the famed Milwaukee Lakefront Brewery. You can see the guy cutting it in the next picture.
Now that you’ve eaten all the cheese, it’s time to:
EAT ALL THE MEATS
Brats, brats, brats! Milwaukee is famous for its delicious German sausage. In fact, it’s the large population of German diaspora that make up a lot of Milwaukee’s gastronomical heritage.
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart mentioned above also has great meats. However, just around the corner is also the famous Mader’s Restaurant, which also provides some of the best German meat fare in the city. You can also find great sausage to bring home and cook yourself at most of the markets around the city.
DRINK ALL THE BEER
Those Germans, at it again.
Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz are the brewing giants that kicked off beer history in the region. All four were founded around 1850. No one can point to exactly what made these four companies all so successful, but savvy industrial business leaders, proximity to Chicago, and timeliness certainly played a part.
In the devastation that followed the Chicago Fire of 1871, for example, Schlitz enjoyed a 100% jump in sales, as they would frequently ship beer to the devastated city using the waterways. This led them to begin using the slogan, “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”.
There are also some great more modern up-and-coming brewers in the region. One that we visited was the Lakefront Brewery. They pride themselves on humorous tours, and indeed our beer-filled tour was led by an excellent and silly fellow who looked like a young Che Guevara. They also do a traditional Milwaukee fish fry every Friday, complete with a Polka band.
I can’t tell you how excited I was when I learned that Polka is still a thing here.
You can also combine all three of the above-mentioned (cheese, meats, and beer) at any number of the great gastro-pubs around the city, such as the Rumpus Room, where we were treated to lots of apps, and where I took the featured image on this post.
Guess what? They’re not bacon wrapped scallops, they’re bacon wrapped water chestnuts. A surprisingly healthy twist on what I thought was a familiar dish.
SEE ALL THE HARLEYS
Well, maybe not all of them, but touring the Harley Davidson museum sure gave me new insight into the bikes’ American history, including its surprising connection to Japanese culture, and its role in World War II.
These two bikes above are the WLA Harleys whose production saved the company from going bankrupt during the second world war.
I was happy to see some videos of women riding Harleys in the war too. Going through the wartime archival material at the museum, it seems like Harley encouraged women to ride their bikes as well. They even have section dedicated to female trailblazers.
Seeing the connections to Harley Davidson around the world was really interesting. There was even a surprising connection to Japan that pulled at my heart, which will feature in an upcoming post.
VISIT THE PUBLIC MARKET
I’m a big fan of local markets. Even in my own city of Halifax, I’m always heading down to the market for good food and to check out what the local artisans are doing. It’s usually a great cross-section of a city’s culture.
This place was great. Most vendors on the indoors are permanently installed, while those on the outdoors pack up shop at the end of the day. Most of the foodstuff was in the permanent installations inside, and the outdoor vendors were more material goods and artisan work.
I found one vendor, Cival, who offered almost exclusively teal and copper jewelry. Two of my favourite materials. I bought a wrap bracelet and had a nice chat with her. They also have an Etsy shop, if you like the style.
I had a great deep-fried sushi roll at Thai-namite, and a bubble tea. Our group’s favorite was the salmon spinach bacon sandwich from the locally famous St. Paul Fish Company.
CHECK OUT THE MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM
The museum itself is a work of art and architecture. The contemporary design was completed in 2001, and the museum actually has wings (officially called the Burke Brise Soleil Sunscreen) with a 217-foot wingspan that open at 10am, and close at 5pm (in accordance with the museum’s schedule). They also ‘flap’ at noon.
See my photo post exploring the museum here.
There’s the Veteran’s Park and Veteran’s memorial just to the north of the museum as well, which is a lovely green space. My tip would be to grab breakfast or lunch and then head to Juneau Park (the smaller park just across the road and up the stairs from the museum) to watch the wings open. You have a perfect vantage point from there, and a great spot to picnic at the same time.
If you’ve only got a day or two in the city, I’d recommend all the above. From a Canadian perspective, I think a lot of Maritimers and Quebecers would really enjoy it here. It’s got a lot of things that we (myself included) stereotypically enjoy (beer, cheese curds, fun accents).
In what could have been a really interesting story, I almost ended up spending the night in a room with one of the musicians in town for Polish Fest after our plane was cancelled (with no explanation) the night we were supposed to leave.
The Air Canada counter attendant observed our jovial conversation, and almost booked us in the same room. I mean, he was a pretty great guy. He was also almost old enough to be my grandfather.
Also, while waiting to be given hotel vouchers from the Air Canada agent, I made this note to myself in Evernote, “Plane is cancelled… POLISH FEST!?”, as I thought we might have time to jump in a car and make it to the last polka set before the festival ended. Alas, by the time we were given hotel vouchers and had our new flights sorted, the last performance was finishing up, so we didn’t make it back in time. Next time.
Milwaukee, you were really good. You weren’t on any of my bucket lists, but I’m glad I visited you. I totally would have overlooked you otherwise, and you were a pleasant surprise with a great atmosphere and plenty of history. Thanks for the great time; I hope I can stop in here again when I’m driving across the country later this summer.
As a Bloghouse attendee, I received a complimentary stay at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, free entrance and tour of the Harley Davidson Museum, free tour with Milwaukee Food Tours, a gift card for the Milwaukee Public Market, free dinner and beverages from The Rumpus Room courtesy of The Bartolotta Restaurants, plus some tasty samples from Classy Girl Cupcakes and O&H Danish Bakery.
I also received some fantastic free travel underwear from ExOfficio that saved my butt (literally) when I was waylaid in Milwaukee for an extra day, so extra thanks to them!
Hopefully you know a little bit more about Milwaukee now. If there’s anything else you’re wondering, feel free to ask!
If you would like to read more about what Bloghouse was for me, you can check out my Bloghouse review here.