Beer City offers brews, blues and much more.
Milwaukee has quite the reputation to maintain for visitors, known for its scenic riverwalk and lakefront, cheese curds and beer brewing. Add to that several new revitalization and cultural projects in the works, and this Wisconsin city heads to the top of your list for American destinations. Despite being one of the larger cities in the state, residents will tell you it’s got a small-town feel, and therein lies its charm. Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect to experience when you plan your travels.
Famed Local Attractions
A visit here must include a trip to the Harley Davidson Museum, which takes you on a tour through the brand’s evolution. From tank graphics to the culture of customizing your machine and more, this is a deep dive into motor history you do not want to miss. There is also a self-guided walking tour of the campus you can partake in using just your phone and their app.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is the largest art museum in the state and a design marvel at that. Weather-permitting, the ‘wings’ of the museum—the Burke Brise Soleil—open and close when the museum does. It’s quite the sight to view the larger-than-life building structure move with Lake Michigan in the background. Highlights here include an outstanding collection of 20th-century Haitian art and pieces lending to social and political commentary, featuring artists’ interpretations and reflections in response to the changes taking place around them. Four floors of over 40 galleries of art will be vying for your attention, so plan your time here wisely.
Stay at Saint Kate The Arts Hotel, just walking distance from the river walk and the convention center, as well as several other area attractions. The artistic lobby and other fine details added to rooms (you can find ukuleles and color pencils in rooms) show off its creative slant. Several local restaurants and experiences are within walking distance. You can enjoy a city kayaking experience on the river too, making this one of the few urban kayaking experiences you can do in the United States.
Milwaukee’s African American Heritage
The role of the African American community through time is celebrated across several venues in the area. At the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, where the mission is to preserve the history of African Americans in Wisconsin, Clayborn Benson III is founding director and your guide during your visit, sharing details about the communities that called the area home. Located in a former library in Central City, the museum has been active for about 34 years no, recording the presence of the community through the years.
Blues history runs deep in Milwaukee through the Grafton Blues Trail, which spotlights an epic moment in music history. Blues recording started here in the early 1900s. Artists traveled from the Deep South to record, including Hattie McDaniels and Ida Cox. The recordings happened in what was once a chair factory in the 1800s, where records for use on phonographs were later manufactured in the 1900s. Today, Paramount Plaza has its own little musical Walk of Fame resembling a piano keyboard, featuring names such as Ma Rainey and Louis Armstrong.
But if there is one venue you must include on your itinerary, that’s America’s Black Holocaust Museum, a historical and memorial museum that not only studies, exhibits and interprets history but also explains and commemorates past events of mass suffering.
Headed by Dr. Robert Davis as president and CEO, ABHM is the legacy of Dr. James Cameron, the only known survivor of a lynching. He founded it in 1988 and established the physical location in 1994, but his death in 2006 and the recession of 2008 resulted in that location closing doors.
In 2012, it was revived as an interactive virtual museum and is now gearing up for its grand reopening this month. The museum is part of a redevelopment plan for the Bronzeville neighborhood that was once the heart of the African American community thriving here. The neighborhood was also named to New York Times’ 52 Places for Travelers to Visit in 2022.
Culinary Travel Destination
To continue your visit to Milwaukee, head to Sherman Phoenix—a business incubator started in 2018 featuring more than 25 businesses and the majority Black-owned. After neighborhood unrest occurred in 2016 in Sherman Park, community members banded together to form a safe space.
The previously destroyed bank building was turned into a venue where businesses of color could flourish. Today there are dining, wellness, cultural, fitness and other companies here, including Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, Confectionately Yours (serving southern style desserts) and Kujichagulia Producers Cooperative—a collective of entrepreneurs selling a variety of products inside what used to be the bank vault. And while you are out and about tasting your way through the city, remember to try a Wisconsin old fashioned cocktail made with brandy instead of whiskey.
Black-owned restaurants to support here include neighborhood bar Garfield’s 502; On the Bayou owned by chefs Gregory and Janice Johnson, which offers New Orleans-style fare; and Jewels Caribbean Restaurant & Bar, where general manager and director of events Natasha Jewels shares, “The city of Milwaukee has a small-town vibe. It’s easy to connect with regular folks, executives, and politicians—everyone is approachable.
What I enjoy most about the city is that there is space to breathe, lots of greenery even downtown, and pockets of the city that are quiet and areas that are booming with activities, all within 10-15 minutes from each other. And, of course, the state-long lake.”
A similar sentiment is echoed by Ashley Smith, general manager, Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille. “We love Milwaukee because without the support of our city over the years, in the beginning and through COVID, we would not have survived. Our doors first opened in November of 2014 and since then, we’ve expanded our building to twice its original size and opened a second location. It’s beautiful to see such a strong community of people coming together every day to enjoy good food, atmosphere, and customer service.”
She continues, “Our staff is made up partly of our own family and individuals who have grown with us over the years and became our family along the way. We love the city because the variety of events provided year-round bring people from all over to one destination, Daddy’s.”
Whether one of those events motivates you to travel to this city or any of the venues mentioned here, you are bound to enjoy your time in Milwaukee thoroughly.