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How to Experience Milwaukee Like a Local in 2024

Posted: 3/15/2024 | March 15th, 2024

The following guest post is by my friends Adam from the website Getting Stamped. He and his wife are long time residents of Milwaukee and, since I’ve never been, I’ve invited him on to share some tips about visiting the city.

Milwaukee is underrated, in my opinion. I love it!

The largest city in Wisconsin and only 1.5 hours north of Chicago, it is the perfect size: not too small not too big. It offers tasty food and drinks, great sports teams, and fun festivals. Plus, it’s affordable. And don’t forget the friendly locals!

I have lived here my whole life, and my wife has lived here for 20 years. We’ve traveled around the world many times, and when it came time to plant roots and start a family, we could have gone anywhere. But we choose to come home to Milwaukee, which has so much to offer.

If you want to know how to experience it like a local, here are my insider tips:

 

1. Stay central

I highly recommend staying downtown or the Third Ward. This is where most of the popular attractions are located. The hotels might be slightly more expensive than elsewhere, but you’ll save on transportation costs since everything is walkable.

These are two hotels I love:

 

2. Take advantage of free rides

Milwaukee does not have a subway system, but it does have an amazing free streetcar service called the Hop, with numerous stops downtown and around the Third Ward area. Simply hop on and off — no tickets or reservations are needed! The Hop runs every 15 minutes during peak times and every 20 minutes off-peak and weekends. Click here for the map and schedule.

Insider tip: If you are heading to a sporting event, many bars and restaurants offer free shuttles to American Family Field for Brewer baseball games and concerts, Summerfest Grounds for festivals and concerts, Fiserv Forum for Bucks basketball games, and other events around town.
 

3. Eat like a local

The popular Public Market at night in bustling Milwaukee, USAThe popular Public Market at night in bustling Milwaukee, USA
You might think Milwaukee’s all beer and cheese (and there is no shortage of those), but the food scene has a lot more to offer. Milwaukee has its own (sometimes quirky) food traditions and staples, like ButterBurgers and frozen custard.

It also has some incredible markets, where you can enjoy some of the city’s best food from many vendors, all in one place and in a fun and affordable food-hall atmosphere. These are two of my favorites:

  • 3rd Street Market Hall – This is a must-visit destination, as it provides a place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy Milwaukee’s diverse cuisine. Here, you will find the aforementioned frozen custard, plus pho, pizza, burgers, artisan sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs, home-cooked meals, ramen, sushi, arepas, and so much more — all at affordable prices.
  • Milwaukee Public Market – Located in the historic Third Ward, this awesome market is the best place to patronize a wide variety of vendors with unique products, food offerings, and drink pairings. It’s a unique spot to experience the flavors of Milwaukee’s culinary scene, all under one roof, and soak in the local culture while shopping or grabbing a bite.

 

4. Indulge in local delicacies

Feasting at Vanguard, a restaurant in Milwaukee known for its amazing house-made sausagesFeasting at Vanguard, a restaurant in Milwaukee known for its amazing house-made sausages
There are a few foods that you need to try that you (maybe for good reason) will not find many other places. They are unique, tasty, and overall pretty affordable!

  • Deep-fried cheese curds – Yes, it’s a thing, and they are amazing — order them and thank us later. Lakefront Brewery is our top pick.
  • Frozen custard – It may look like ice cream, but it’s much richer and creamier, with a few extra ingredients. Kopps is the best place for it (and great burgers) — and also one of those places that, if you don’t go, did you even visit Milwaukee?
  • Bratwursts – Another Milwaukee staple. Nobody does them at a higher level than Vanguard Restaurant in the Bayview neighborhood. It is best known for its amazing house-made sausages, including vegan options, with many at an affordable price of under $10.

In this list, we have only focused on the Milwaukee favorites, but foodies who want to delve deeper into the culinary scene may also want to check out our full list of the best restaurants in Milwaukee.
 

5. Explore brewing history

While microbreweries aren’t exactly a new trend, Milwaukee has been brewing since before it was cool. At one time, it brewed more beer than any city in the world. That history is evident all around town in breweries, restaurants, and pubs.

Lakefront Brewery offers probably the best brewery tour in the city. It’s a lot more fun than just looking at shiny tanks and sniffing a pungent jar filled with hops. The tour guides are hilarious (some are literally comedians from a local club), and your tour will include four beer samples. This is by far the best value and our personal favorite tour — plus, the beer hall is a lot of fun. The tours are super popular and sell out on the weekends, so it is advised to purchase tickets in advance.

If you want to keep sampling local beers, make sure to check out a few other of my favorite Milwaukee breweries:

  • MobCraft Beer – This brewery offers tours and also has a great taproom with tasty pizzas, as well as really good IPAs and sour beers.
  • Eagle Park Brewing Company – They do not offer tours, but they do have a huge selection of unique sour beers.
  • Good City Brewing – There are two locations: the Eastside one offers tours, and the downtown one does not. But the latter is right across the street from Fiserv Forum and great place for a beer before a game.

 

6. Do some affordable activities

The relaxing Riverwalk along the river in Milwaukee, USAThe relaxing Riverwalk along the river in Milwaukee, USA
Milwaukee has way more to do than we could squeeze onto this page, but we’ve narrowed it down, focusing on must-do and budget-friendly options (some are even free!):

  • Bradford Beach – This is a sandy park on the shorelines of Lake Michigan. Bring a towel and go for a swim, join in a game of beach volleyball, or grab custard at MooSa’s or lunch at The Dock Waterfront Bar & Grill.
  • Stroll the Milwaukee Riverwalk – Experience the heart of the city, and immerse yourself in its culture. Many of the Milwaukee’s best shops and restaurants can be found along the three-mile route along both sides of the Milwaukee River.
  • Disc-golf at Milwaukee County Parks – Milwaukee has 11 disc-golf courses — six full ones ($5) and five short-practice ones (free).
  • Bike the Oak Leaf Trail – Milwaukee County offers over 135 miles of trails for cycling, many of which feature scenic views of Lake Michigan. You can find the trail map here.
  • Bronze Fonz – Stop to take a picture with a bronze sculpture of Arthur Fonzarelli, aka the Fonz, from Happy Days (a sitcom about a Milwaukee family in the 1950s).
  • Indoor lawn games at 3rd Street Market Hall – Enjoy a variety of unique restaurants and free indoor games, including giant Jenga, cornhole, shuffleboard, and golf simulators. It’s a fun place, especially when the weather isn’t great!

After you’ve scoured this guide, if you need to fill any blank spots in your itinerary, we have an in-depth list covering all of the things to do in Milwaukee.
 

7. Enjoy free-admission days

Some of Milwaukee’s top attractions welcome visitors for free on certain days. Watching the calendar can score you free tickets that otherwise would set your group back hundreds.

 

8. Chase cheap happy hours

For better or worse, the people of Milwaukee enjoy their fun times intertwined with a beer or three. To kick off an exciting night in Milwaukee, head to where the locals go: find a good happy hour, or go to a budget-friendly dive bar.

  • McGillycuddy’s – $1 taps, $2 craft beers, $4 rails and mixers, and $5 appetizers (Tuesday–Friday, 3–7pm).
  • Mo’s Irish Pub – $2.72 drafts, $5 wines (Tues–Thurs 4–6pm, Fridays 3–6pm); also free brewery shuttles.
  • Milwaukee Brat House – Happy hour specials change daily (Mon–Fri 3-6pm).

 

9. Explore the vibrant public art scene

Many places around town have large-scale public art displays that you can visit for free. Most of these pieces are in some of the most fun and trendy areas. These are a couple of our favorites:

  • Black Cat Alley – One of the largest areas dedicated to public murals is located near North Avenue, in the Eastside neighborhood. In addition to the art, you’ll also find great restaurants, breweries, and artisanal shops.
  • Sculpture Milwaukee – Annually, this city-funded program displays sculptures by artists from across the world on Wisconsin Avenue. Some are permanent and some are changed out every year, so there are always new things to see.

***

From food to free days and bratwurst to beer, Milwaukee has a ton of things to do and see on a budget. Hopefully this list will give you a good idea of where to start!

Hannah & Adam Lukaszewicz are full-time travel writers and run the travel website Getting Stamped, which is dedicated to firsthand guides to their favorite places around the world. When they aren’t traveling the world, Milwaukee is where you’ll find them, and they cover their hometown in-depth on the website Milwaukee Insider. You can follow their adventures on Instagram and social media @gettingstamped.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

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