Okay. I've lived in Milwaukee over 5 years now. I consider that a long time based on my childhood fiasco's often moving every 1-3 years. As I was driving around "my city" as I now call it, I was thinking about all the places I have and haven't visited and believe in my 5 years of living here, have a pretty good idea of the best "local" places to visit. Whenever I'm in foreign towns, I always wish I could talk to someone like me to give me a good idea of what there is to do or where to visit if I'm only in town for a short period.
I realized, I have all this knowledge and information about Downtown Milwaukee and I've never shared it. Partially because I still think there is so much I haven't done and partially because not everyone would be as interested in certain places as myself.
So, here is my list.
Milwaukee Public Market
-Visible from i794 Eastbound just East of i94, the big red sign is hard to miss. Parking is free for the first 30min next to the market if you make a purchase inside and get your parking ticket validated.
-Why I like this place? Sushi is half price after 5 or 6pm. They have the best selection of oil/vinaigrette around. On Wednesday's, lobster, fries and cole slaw is only $15 cooked fresh. They have THE BEST fresh, homemade carrot cake I've found and it's only $5 for a HUGE portion. And if you're visiting, make sure to stop by the "Brew City Brand" shoppe and pick up a Milwaukee/Wisconsin souvenir, they have a lot of cute, funny knick-knacks that you can't find everywhere.
Milwaukee Ale House
-Located on the Milwaukee River, this is a fun place to visit any time of the year, but definitely in Summer. There's nothing special about their menu, just American style food, but the beer is what you go for.
-Why I like this place? I enjoy sitting out back during summer since you have front row seating to the river. On Thursday's, if you buy a drink, you can get on their pontoon boat for a trip down the river for free. I especially enjoy their black bean burger. It's a place I often take my family because of the nice atmosphere. Certain nights they also have live music if that's something you're in to.
-Don't be fooled. This restaurant is hard to get to, but a famous spot for an adventure. Hidden in an alley with no signage, this restaurant is a replica Speakeasy. To get in, you need the password or you may be asked to do something silly to get in. Warning: The entire restaurant is watching you do the macarena or chicken dance inside on TVs, but they'll never turn you away. They give a fun history and it's a good way to break the ice. If you're easily embarrassed or uncomfortable about this sort of stuff, stay away.
-Why I like this place? It's unique and fun. It's not a regular spot to visit, but certainly fun for out-of-towners.
-Located downtown in Brewers Hill area, this brewery is my top pick for brewery tours. Although Milwaukee is known best for Pabst (which no longer operates in Milwaukee) or Miller, Lakefront Brewery takes the cake on best brewery tour.
-Why I like this place? They offer a fun ~hour long tour that has crowd interaction, fun history, and lots of free beer. The tour guides are really good at what they do and give you lots of fun facts. If you want a good ole fashion Milwaukee experience, on Friday's they have a family style fish fry and different polka bands. It's very loud, just keep that in mind.
North Lake Drive (which begins as N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.)
-Recommend you start by the Milwaukee Art Museum and drive north, this stretch of road is my favorite in the city. It stays within feet of the lake and provides good scenery. Winter or summer its a beautiful place.
-Why I like this place? It's relaxing to get a hint of scenery in downtown Milwaukee. In the summer it buzzes with beach-goers. At the bottom of E Lafayette Hill resides Colectivo (formerly Alterra) which is a local coffee chain. Far enough north you get to oogle at the nice lake view mansions. It's a fun place.
-Placed within a stones throw of the public market, this is my favorite brunch spot. Brunch is my favorite meal of the week, so I've visited my share of hoppin' brunch places. Close seconds are: Wicked Hop, Cafe Centraal, Honey Pie Cafe, Trocadero, Cafe Hollander, and Zaks Cafe.
-Why I like this place? Although this place is always PACKED on weekends during brunch time, it's one of the largest brunch places in Milwaukee, so seating isn't usually too long. Especially in summer when they have the roof and patio open for seating (definitely choose roof if asked). However if you have to wait, they have a great selection of Bloody Mary's and Mimosas while you wait. I'd suggest the elderflower mimosa, Wisconsins famous beer-mosa, or a bloody which doubles as an appetizer. Also- the sweet potato fries are my favorite.
The downfall is parking. If you can, park at the public market and visit before/after and buy something to get free/close parking.
Henry Maier Festival Park
-I know I'm saying a lot of places that are good in summer, but Milwaukee is really the most alive in Summer. Since it's Wisconsin, we only have a few shorts months/weeks to take advantage of the nice weather so we really do! Anyways, I huge attraction to Milwaukee are the Summer Festivals. Every heritage is represented during one week or another.
-Why I like this place? A festival grounds right on the lake. (Not to mention blocks from my apartment.) It's a great place to be outside, enjoy music, try new food (cheese curds!!!). So, if you're in town during the summer, check out what festival might be going on. Even if it's Indian fest (or whatever) and you don't have an ounce of Indian in you, it is still a great experience regardless. Summerfest also takes place here which is the worlds largest music festival. Prepare yourself for crowds and crowds of people if you choose to go to Summerfest. If you can find a good concert to go to at the Marcus Amphitheater, it is also a phenomenal experience.
7 Mile Fair
-This is a short hike from downtown, but a unique experience. If you enjoy flea markets, this is the perfect place to visit.
-Why I like this place? It's huge, it's cheap, it's unique. Fresh food, knockoff purses, and a day of fun.
As a current "young professional" who lived in Milwaukee during my college experience, I've gone through a few stages of what I enjoy doing on the weekends/at night. I'm going to say downtown Milwaukee is split into 4 nightlife areas. Water Street, Brady Street, North Ave, and Cathedral Square. Get in a cab, mention any of those spots, and the cabbie will know where to take you. Here's a quick run-down of each.
North Ave- Located nearest the University Wisconsin Milwaukee, this popular drinking spot is mostly and mainly college "kids". My recommended places would be: Hotel Foster- more modern/trendy, house music, classy dress, or Landmark Lanes- which is an underground bowling alley/bar that has been around for decades.
Brady Street- Simply put, this street is hispter/trendy. You could get away with jeans or a dress. For a quite, dim, sitdown, tapas place I would recommend Balzac. For loud music/DJ, a popular place is Hi Hat.
Water Street- Drunk college kids. Water street is by far the busiest, most "happening" place on weekends. Be prepared to wait a while for drinks, deal with many drunk people, and not-so-classy restrooms. This is definitely an under 30 crowd. McGillicuddy's is known for "Sunday Funday" if that's your thing, Trinity has live music on weekends, Duke's/Scooters is the cheapest and has beer pong, Red Rock if country music is your thing, or Rougue's if you want house music and dancing. Bar Louie is for the over 30 crowd still wanting to go out and is a bit pricier, but you get what you pay for and has the best bartender in Milwaukee (say hi to Braulio if you stop in there). Also within walking distance is Old World Third Street which has some more good bars; ie Buckheads, Old German Beer Hall, Loaded Slate.
Cathedral Square/ Milwaukee Street- Dressy/Dancing. You probably couldn't get away wearing jeans as easily in this part of town. It's been done, but you won't fit in as well. This area has a wide range of nightlife from wild and rowdy to quiet and classy. I didn't go here much in college because the prices are higher, therefore you don't see as many 21 year olds out here. Whiskey bar is my favorite for dancing or having more of your own space. This is more of a club without the negative "dirty" connotation. Don't mistake it for a country bar because it's not. I think they might have a dress code also. Taylor's is a good hangout, but it's so small, waiting is the name of the game. My favorite spot right now is Distil. It's not a super popular place, so there is room to breathe and the bartenders are all trained to make the best drink for you. They have tapas and usually a local DJ that doesn't hurt your ears. Be prepared to pay $12+ a drink. Be sure to check out the Milwaukee Athletic Club (MAC) at least once during the summer. They open the roof and it's a very popular place. Hard to find as it is the top floor of an athletic club, so it's kind of hidden.