More than music: 10 things to do in Milwaukee during Summerfest

Chicago Tribune

Headed to Milwaukee for Summerfest, June 29 to July 10? Here’s a playlist of 10 things to do during breaks in the music.

1. Plant yourself in a beer garden

Fact: Beer tastes better when you drink it outside. Milwaukee’s German immigrants imported their beloved Biergarten culture to Brew City, and the tradition continues to this day, with many public parks transforming into family-friendly outdoor bars throughout the summer.

Milwaukee County and Sprecher Brewing Co.’s annual “Traveling Beer Garden” is setting up shop at Grant Park, 100 E. Hawthorne Ave., by picnic area 5, through July 10. Registration is still open for the Grant Park Traveling Beer Garden 5K on July 7.



2. Ramble by the river

While Chicago continues to hammer away on its Riverwalk, Milwaukee has been welcoming pedestrians to its version for years. Take a stroll along the scenic waterfront path that spans more than 20 blocks, linking a trio of riverfront neighborhoods: the Historic Third Ward, Downtown and Beerline B.

Art installations and sculptures are scattered along the RiverWalk. Don’t miss the opportunity to snap a selfie with the Bronze Fonz, a life-size statue of the leather jacket-wearing boss from the Milwaukee-set sitcom “Happy Days.” You’ll find him giving two thumbs-up at the intersection of the RiverWalk and Wells Street.


Milwaukee Riverwalk

Women walk past a Milwaukee Riverwalk information map on Kilbourn Avenue.

(John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

3. Spend time at the Lakefront

Before craft beer was cool, there was Lakefront Brewery. A standout in a city that knows a thing or two about suds, Lakefront evolved into a booming business that makes the most of its home state’s ingredients, like the Door County fruit that goes into Lakefront Cherry Lager.

The riverfront facility at 1872 N. Commerce Street also built quite a reputation for its entertaining brewery tours, which often sell out in advance. (No reservation? No problem on Saturdays, when scaled-down mini-tours are available if the regular 45-minute tours are full.) The family-style Friday night fish fry is legendary; it’s served with a helping of music from the Brewhaus Polka Kings.

4. See the light

Take a climb while stepping back in time at North Point Lighthouse, 2650 N. Wahl Ave., in Lake Park, designed by the country’s premier landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Soak up the sweeping views at the top of the 74-foot-tall tower that guided ships on Lake Michigan for well over a century before being decommissioned in the mid-1990s. The original lighthouse keeper’s quarters have been turned into a small museum dedicated to Milwaukee’s maritime heritage. Summer hours for the lighthouse are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Milwaukee Art Museum

A view of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

(Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

5. Stay awake 

Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee — which is opening its first non-Wisconsin cafe in Chicago’s Lincoln Park this fall — sources its beans from Colombia, Brazil, Sumatra and Ethiopia, among other far-flung locations. The beans get sent to Milwaukee for processing in vintage, manually operated Probat roasters. The result: a damn fine cup of Joe. Get your caffeine fix at one of Colectivo’s myriad cafes, like the funky, open-air outpost in the hip and historic Third Ward at 223 E. St. Paul Ave., across from the Milwaukee Public Market (also worth a visit).

6. Marvel at motorcycles

You don’t have to be a motorhead to appreciate the Harley-Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal St., an industrial-chic shrine to this American icon that began as a garage startup in Milwaukee. A guided excursion through the museum’s impressive displays is included in the Bikes, Brats & Beer Tour offered Thursdays and Sundays. No helmet needed to travel by bus to explore the city’s beer- and sausage-making history before returning to the museum, where a special exhibit devoted to drag racing is on display through Sept. 5.

Harley-Davidson Museum

At the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. The Motorcycle Gallery includes some of the most notable of the 400-plus vehicles in the museum’s collection. Most have been left unrestored.

(Harley-Davidson Museum)

7. Tackle a pork shank

When JFK swung through Milwaukee on the campaign trail, he worked in a visit to Mader’s restaurant, a culinary elder statesman in a city known for its robust German food scene. Founded in 1902 when a stein of beer cost 3 cents, Mader’s old-school vibe is part “Game of Thrones,” part Oktoberfest, right in the heart of the city’s German heritage on North Old World Third Street. Bring a big appetite, and dig into the pork shank in an apple demi-glaze ($35) — a staple on the menu for more than a century.

8. Admire some art


With a postmodern, winglike addition designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava, the stunning Milwaukee Art Museum is a work of art itself. Its expansive portfolio includes one of the world’s largest collections by Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe. (Admit it — you thought she was from New Mexico.) The museum’s big summer show revolves around American painter and muralist Thomas Hart Benton. “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood” runs through Sept. 5.

Milwaukee City and Food Tours

Milwaukee City and Food Tours offers a four-stop Bloody Mary Brunch Tour that demonstrates how different the tomato juice cocktail can taste.

(Milwaukee City and Food Tours)

9. Let the spirits move you

It’s not all about beer here. Great Lakes Distillery churns out small batches of whiskey, gin, vodka and other spirits — including an herbal-style absinthe made from a 19th-century recipe that includes anise, fennel and grand wormwood — in a converted tannery at 616 W. Virginia St. For $10, you get an hourlong tour of the distillery and a flight of a half-dozen handcrafted spirits.

Great Lakes Distillery

Great Lakes Distillery uses a 19th century recipe to make an herbal-style absinthe, served with iced water that drips through a little fountain on top of the glass and makes the liquor cloudy.

(Mary Bergin)

10. Go pro

If it’s worth seeing or eating, it’s probably on the itinerary of Milwaukee Food & City Tours. Founded by Theresa Nemetz in 2008, the company runs an intriguing roster of walking and bus excursions highlighting the city’s ethnic nosh and neighborhoods. A couple of the offerings have you throwing back bloody marys during a brunch outing in the Historic Third Ward and walking in the footsteps of Italian and Polish immigrants on Brady Street. Want to see how Milwaukee pizza stacks up against Chicago’s? Board a bus to hit four pizzerias and a gelato shop.


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