Do your trips to the Midwest begin and end with Chicago? Well, that’s sad. No one is suggesting you plan a trip to St. Louis or Flint, Michigan. That would be crazy. But you could easily explore beyond the Windy City.
Take Milwaukee. German food and beer probably come to mind when—or if—you think about Wisconsin’s largest city. But it’s quietly become so much more than that. A lakefront trail, beautiful parks, and exciting museums line the waterfront. Distilleries, artisanal shops, and award-winning restaurants now mix with the sausage factories and the breweries. Hip hotels are changing old neighborhoods. Hipsters have moved in. And it’s just 90 miles from Chicago. This weekend, you’re heading north.
You arrive at the Iron Horse Hotel, in the trendy Fifth Ward neighborhood. The six-story, 100-year-old building was once a bedding warehouse. It’s been converted into a loft-style hotel with exposed brick walls and ducts, tattoo-inspired upholstery, and wooden posts. Dogs and bikers are welcomed with treats and covered parking.
There are also plenty of places to hang out. The Library has communal tables and heaps of work space for breakfast. The Yard is an outdoor patio beneath the Sixth Street Viaduct. Branded has talented mixologists and vintage decor. And Smyth turns food into works of art. You might not go far your first afternoon in the city, unless it’s to the nearby Harley-Davidson Museum to see hundreds of motorcycles from the company’s 110-year history.
The next morning, head north to Lakeshore State Park for views of the skyline and waterfront trails. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum. The distinctive building seems to soar above Lake Michigan. Eat a decadent French lunch at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro on a bluff overlooking the water. The chef, a James Beard award winner, serves baked French onion soup, Prince Edward Island mussels, and cheese during the middle of the day. Then tour the Lakefront Brewery to taste the seasonal pumpkin and Oktoberfest lagers. A polka band is starting to play as you finish the tour.
Then you’re off to Walker’s Point. Clock Shadow Creamery offers tours, as well as cheese curds and ricotta. Nearby Purple Door Ice Cream serves flavors like whiskey and raspberry green tea. Your dinner reservation is at Braise, a farm-to-table restaurant where old bowling lanes have been turned into communal tables. And the night ends at Bryant’s with a brandy Old Fashioned. The city’s oldest cocktail bar was also named the best bar in America in 2013 by Esquire. It’s amazing you’ve overlooked Milwaukee this long.