Car Free Journey: Welcome to Milwaukee!

by Steve Atlas

As spring approaches, most of us are eager to spend more time outdoors and travel to destinations that might be too cold for an outdoor visit during winter. Today, we visit Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Located on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has a River Walk, summer ethnic festivals, a world renowned brewery, museums, major league sports, and numerous restaurants and entertainment options.

You will want to stay here longer than a weekend! This month’s column will give you an introduction to the city, a sampling of local attractions, and resources where you can find more details and information.

Welcome to Milwaukee!

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is the largest city in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, the 30th most populous city in the United States, and the 39th largest region in the United States. According to 2010 Census Data, the City of Milwaukee has a population of 594,833.Milwaukee is the main cultural and economic center of the Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha Metropolitan Area with a population of 2,037,542 as of an official 2012 estimate.[7]

America’s Brewery Capital

Milwaukee became synonymous with Germans and beer beginning in the 1850s. By 1856 the city boasted more than two dozen breweries, most of them German-owned and -operated. Today beer halls and taverns are abundant in the city, although only one of the major breweries—Miller—remains in Milwaukee.[ The historic Milwaukee Brewery, located in “Miller Valley” at 4000 West State Street, is the oldest still-functioning major brewery in the United States.

Two sitcoms that aired on ABC in the 1970s and 1980s, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, were set in Milwaukee and often used the Milwaukee breweries as a backdrop for the storyline.


Often referred to as the City of Festivals, Milwaukee hosts various cultural events throughout the summer at Maier Festival Park. The park covers 75 acres adjacent to Lake Michigan and features 10 state-of-the-art permanent stages and one 23,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater.

Museums and cultural events, such as Jazz in the Park, occur weekly in downtown parks.

Milwaukee hosts the Wisconsin State Fair as well as an annual lakefront fair called Summerfest. Listed in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records  as the largest musical festival in the world, for the last several years Summerfest has attracted around a million visitors each year to its eleven stages.

In addition to Summerfest, Milwaukee is home to a variety of primarily ethnically themed festivals throughout the summer. Held generally on the lakefront Summerfest grounds, these festivals span several days (typically Friday plus the weekend) and celebrate Milwaukee’s history and diversity.

SummerFest performers on the Main Stage

Cultural Diversity

After incorporating in 1846, the population of Milwuakee swelled with mostly German immigrants. The region’s German element is still strongly present today. The city celebrates its German culture by annually hosting a German Fest in July and an Oktoberfest every fall. Milwaukee boasts a good number of German restaurants, as well as a traditional German beer hall.

For many residents, Milwaukee’s South Side is synonymous with the Polish community which settled here. Milwaukee has the fourth-largest Polish population in the U.S. at 57,485 (9.6% of the city’s population). The city holds Polish Fest, an annual celebration of Polish culture and cuisine.


Getting Here

General Mitchell International Airport ( is served by Air Canada, AirTran, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, United, and US Airways.

From the airport, walk to the north end of the ticketing area just past the U.S. Airways zone to catch Milwaukee County Transit System’s (MCTS)( green express bus or 80 local bus to downtown Milwaukee.

If you are arriving by Amtrak or intercity bus (Jefferson Lines, Greyhound, or Badger Coaches—by advance reservation only), you will arrive at the Intermodal Station. MCTS route 57 stops in front of the terminal.  (If you are coming from Madison, Wisconsin on Badger Coach, visit for online schedule and fare information and to make an online reservation. The main Badger Coach terminal, located at 635 North James Lovell St., is served by MCTS routes 10, 12, and 30.)

Where to Stay

The area convenient to most attractions and MCTS buses is downtown Milwaukee. For a list of places to stay downtown, visit

Getting Around

A 2011 study by Walk Score ranked Milwaukee 15th most walkable of fifty largest U.S. cities. Most attractions are either downtown or within a short walk of downtown.  For information about local bus routes and schedules, visit, or call (414) 937-0460 from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30p.m. Monday-Friday (central time).  (For automated information, call 414/344-6711 and press 1.)

A new fare system expected to start in late May will offer a one-day pass for $4. Until then, the fare is $2.25 for a single ride ($1.10 for seniors age 65 and older, persons with disabilities, and children), or a10-ticket book for $17.50 ($11 for seniors, persons with disabilities, and children).

What to Do                                                            

The best way to experience Milwaukee is on foot. Christianna Niemiec, Program Manager for Historic Milwaukee, Inc., has lived in Milwaukee for 10 years without a car. She offers the following tips for visitors who don’t want to drive:

If you are visiting Milwaukee, I would highly recommend you stay downtown. Not only will you be surrounded by a beautiful cityscape, but you’ll have easy access to many sight-seeing opportunities that you can get to on foot or by bus.

If traveling on foot, begin with Milwaukee’s historic downtown and end at the ultra-modern Milwaukee Art Museum at the lakefront. Highlights of the downtown area include: City Hall, Pabst Theatre, Chase Bank, Mitchell Building, Grain Exchange (Mackie Building), Pfister Hotel (be sure to go inside!), Milwaukee Club, Federal Building, Gas Light Building, US Bank Building, War Memorial Center (designed by Eero Saarinen) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (designed by Santiago Calatrava).

Once you’re at the lakefront, enjoy the stunning Lake Michigan and relax in one of the many parks that follow along the shoreline. Just south of the Milwaukee Art Museum are the Summerfest Grounds, where the world’s largest music festival takes place for 11 days in late June and early July (

In the heart of downtown, the two-mile long River Walk winds along the Milwaukee River with access to some of the city’s best restaurants, brewpubs, shops and waterfront nightlife. Stroll down the River Walk from downtown to the Historic Third Ward and enjoy a vibrant community of trend-setting restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, theatre groups and creative businesses.

If you enjoy traveling off the beaten path, take the #30 or #10 bus headed eastbound on Wisconsin Avenue and travel a few minutes north to Brady Street. Brady Street is one of Milwaukee’s most colorful and storied neighborhoods and offers a variety of exciting options when it comes to boutiques, salons, taverns and restaurants. This is definitely the place to go if you like to sit outside, drink a beer and people-watch.

Also, here is a link to a handy list of tourist destinations and how to get there by bus:

Historic Milwaukee offers several affordable walking tours of Milwaukee neighborhoods ($10 for nonmembers). For details and reservations, visit, or call (414) 277-7795.

Other Suggestions for Organized Walking and Bus Tours

Another company that offers guided walking and bus tours focusing on food and culture is Milwaukee Food and City Tours. For more information, visit
A popular three-hour bus tour of Milwaukee attractions is available from Untapped Tour. For details, visit

Ideas for Self-Guided Walking Tours

Visit Milwaukee, the local visitors and convention bureau, has compiled some more ideas for walking tours you can do without paying for a guide. Here are Visit Milwaukee’s suggestions:

1) Historic Third Ward

This six square block area is located directly south of downtown, along the Milwaukee River and contains the city’s highest concentration of art galleries as well as theaters and a selection of exclusive boutiques, specialty stores and antique shops rivaling those found in cities twice the size. The revitalization of this turn-of-the-century warehouse and manufacturing district has earned it comparisons to New York’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. It’s also home to a burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene.

A highlight of the Historic Third Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market!/MilwaukeePublicMarket?fref=ts

For more than 100 years, Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward served as a hub for a bustling procession of grocery commission houses that provided the bulk of the city’s fruit and vegetable produce. Today the year-round Milwaukee Public Market is putting a fresh new twist on the area’s longstanding marketplace tradition. The focus is on Wisconsin-products, including decadent, home-made candies, artisan cheeses and creamy frozen custard. You’ll also find surprises such as sushi, lobster dinners, a wine bar, flavors of the Middle East and Mexico and a demonstration kitchen where Milwaukee’s finest chefs share their secrets.

Within 10 minutes north on the River Walk to:

2)   Old World Third Street area:

Nowhere is Milwaukee’s German heritage more evident than along Old World Third Street, a three-block historic landmark zone just north of downtown. The city’s past is brought to life in the detailed facades of the 19th-century European–style buildings lining this cobblestone street. Shopping at Wisconsin Cheese Mart, the legendary Usinger’s Sausage, and The Spice House is a feast for all senses. A visit to this district would not be complete without a stop at the Old German Beer Hall and Mader’s, where famous German dishes have satisfied hungry patrons for more than 100 years.

Bus or walk north to:

3)  Brady Street area:  (between Prospect and Van Buren)  

Brady Street area is truly the crossroads of Milwaukee, with a diverse citizenry from nearly every ethnic background. Formerly an old Italian neighborhood and then the hippie haven of the 60’s, Brady Street today is a walk-around neighborhood known for historic architecture, a wide variety of specialty shops, a hardware store, a firehouse, churches, galleries, coffee shops – an eclectic mix of all that makes a city neighborhood great in a humble, non-glitzy, non-shopping-mall kind of way. Trendy hangouts include the Hi-Hat, Balzac, Nomad, Mimma’s, Cempazuchi and Bosley’s.

As Oscar Wilde remarked when visiting the neighborhood early in the century – “If what you want isn’t on Brady Street, you probably don’t need it.”

4) Milwaukee Lakefront:  Major attractions include: Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, and Henry Maier Festival Park

Pick up a game of beachside volleyball, enjoy Tiki drinks in your cabana, or just spread out your towel at Bradford BeachTHE place to be in Milwaukee’s hot summer months. Grab some lunch at the retro beach house concession window, now run by one of the city’s hottest restaurant groups, or pop next door to Northpoint Custard for charbroiled burgers and custard shakes!

The popular six-mile Lakefront Trail runs along the shoreline, beginning just north of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The trail includes a paved, three-mile loop and a 20-station exercise course through Veterans Park. The one-mile Lakeshore State Park Loop (“Summerfest Island”) is the perfect place to check out the city’s warm weather festival scene.

Take Almost any Wisconsin Ave bus to 20th & Wisconsin Ave. to visit the

5) Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

2000 W. Wisconsin Ave.

This Flemish Renaissance Revival Mansion of Captain Frederick Pabst, world famous beer baron, accomplished sea captain, real estate developer, philanthropist, and patron of the arts, was completed in 1892. It is considered the jewel of Milwaukee’s famous avenue of mansions called Grand Avenue and represented the epitome of America’s Gilded Age Splendor in Milwaukee.

An Introduction to Other Downtown Milwaukee Attractions

The following are just a few of the many attractions in downtown Milwaukee:

  • Harley-Davidson Museum
    400 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee, WI 53203
    Phone: (414) 287-2789, Toll Free: (877) 436-8738, Fax: (414) 287-2796

A must-see for motorcycle enthusiasts, and anyone interested in American history.

  • Miller Brewery Visitor Center & Girl in the Moon Brewery Shop
    4251 W. State Street, Milwaukee, WI 53208
    Phone: (414) 931-BEER, Toll Free: (800) 944-LITE, Fax: (414) 931-2183


From your personal tour guide to the ghost of Frederick Miller, you will experience over 155 years of brewing history with a modern-day twist. These free tours will give you an unforgettable experience.

  • Discovery World

500 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 765-9966, Fax: (414) 765-0311
Website:, Email:

Prepare to embark on an exciting journey that connects innovation and technology with exploration and the environment. Spend hours of hands-on fun exploring the world of technology and world of water.

  • Milwaukee Art Museum
    700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202
    Phone: (414) 224-3200, Fax: (414) 271-7588
    Website:, Email: info@mam.orgM

Milwaukee is the only city in the world where the city icon – the Milwaukee Art Museum

literally opens its “wings” to welcome all. Designed by star international architect Santiago Calatrava, this striking architectural beauty features a “wing-like” sunscreen with a span equaling that of a Boeing 747 that can be raised or lowered. See the wings do a “flap” at noon each day. Visitors line the pedestrian bridge at noon to film the “flap” – it’s a one-of-a-kind structure in .

For Visiting Bicyclists and anyone else interested in biking:

Milwaukee has over 65 miles (105 km) of bicycle lanes and trails. Most of these run alongside or near its rivers and Lake Michigan. If you are considering a bike outing during your visit go to


For More Information

            For information about local attractions and places to stay:                 

                        Go, or call (800) 554-1448 or (414) 273-7222


            For Local Bus Information:

                        Go to, or call (414) 937-0460).

(For automated information, call 414/344-6711 and press 1.)


            For Popular Milwaukee Destination that you can get to by bus:

                        Go to:

            For Visiting Bicyclists:

Go to:


Do you have a favorite vacation spot that can be enjoyed without a car? E-mail your ideas to Please include your contact information so Steve can get back to you with any questions.


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