The largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee lies on the shores of Lake Michigan, where it serves as an important international seaport. The 1800s saw waves of German and Polish immigrants flock to the area, and their influence is still reflected in much of the city’s culture. Today, the city affectionately known as Beertown is one of the 25 largest in the U.S., as well as one of the safest. MKE is known for its rapidly changing weather, although, compared to further inland, this is somewhat tempered by the “Lake Effect.” Still, summers can be sweltering and winters brutally cold, with large amounts of snow that often don’t melt until spring.
The City’s Culture
MKE, as it is sometimes called, has a relatively young population, with a median age in Downtown of just under 30 in 2012. Polish and German heritage led to the city’s reputation as a beer-making capital, and although more than two dozen breweries once dotted the city, today only Miller remains in production. The “City of Festivals” enjoys celebrating its diverse ethnicities, with festivals honoring German, Mexican, Polish, and other heritages. All four major sports are represented, although the Green Bay Packers play nearly 120 miles/193 kilometers north. On New Year’s Day, brave souls take the Polar Bear Plunge by leaping into the frigid waters of Milwaukee Bay, an annual tradition since 1916.
Despite the shuttering of the area’s many breweries, beer culture is still alive and well. The Miller Brewing Company offers tours as well as chance to taste some suds at a Bavarian-style inn, and the Pabst Mansion has preserved the home of the area’s former beer baron. Harley-Davidson, headquartered in Milwaukee, also has a museum, where you can hop on one of its many motorcycles and take a behind-the-scenes tour. At Holler House, rated one of America’s best bars by Esquire magazine, visitors can bowl at the nation’s oldest certified alley, whose pins are still set up by “pinboys” (human pinsetters). Although built in France, the 15th-century Joan of Arc chapel now sits on the Marquette University campus, a gift from a wealthy heiress. Milwaukee’s Summerfest draws record-breaking crowds, making it the nation’s largest music festival.
Where to Explore
In 2013, Forbes named Milwaukee as having one of the nation’s best emerging downtowns, and today the area lives up to that praise, with a two-mile-long Riverwalk featuring art displays, brew pubs, and an ever-growing nightlife scene. Revitalization has given new life to the former warehouses in the Third Ward District, home to plenty of dining, boutiques, and the Milwaukee Public Market, a haven for foodies. East Town boasts such attractions as the Milwaukee Art Museum, while Westown showcases the city of yesteryear and its German heritage. Bay View, just south of the city, is considered the hip up-and-comer among neighborhoods and boasts some of the best music venues and bars.