At first glance, Milwaukee seems like just another American city. I wouldn’t have gone, except that I had to go anyway for a conference, so I figured I may as well search for unique things to do in Milwaukee — something that would set it apart.
And thank goodness I did. Milwaukee is full of the unusual, if you know where to find it. Just like buried treasure, sometimes it’s worth the effort.
9 Unique Things to Do in Milwaukee WI
#1: Get an Overview of the City at Full Speed
You don’t have to be a marathoner to take a running tour of Milwaukee. In just an hour, I saw Milwaukee icons like Gertie the Duck, the original Blatz and Schlitz breweries, parks, and the lakefront.
Not only is it a great way to see several neighborhoods in one quick tour, but you’ll learn about city history and today’s local trivia, too. Be prepared for about a 10-minute mile pace, but you’ll only need to keep it up for 3-5 minutes at a time thanks to plentiful stops for stories and street crossings.
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#2: Kayak to a Brewery
Of course you know Milwaukee’s on Lake Michigan, but did you know there’s also a river right downtown? Hitting the water is a must-do, assuming the weather cooperates. Combine that with another must-do — BEER! — and you’ve got a great afternoon.
Rent a kayak and paddle your way to Lakefront Brewery. Although Milwaukee has tons of breweries to choose from, Lakefront has hilarious tours that step it up a notch. You’ll drink during the tour and sample a few beers afterward, too. My pick: the Eastside Dark.
BONUS POINTS: The Milwaukee fish fry is famous. Lakefront has an official fish fry every Friday night, complete with cod, shrimp, perch, and a live polka band. If you’re not there on Friday, you’ll have to settle for just the cod (and a side of cheese curds). Delish!
#3: Glow in the Dark Art
You know those wine and paint nights that every city has these days? Splash Studio puts their own twist on things with a monthly glow-in-the-dark paint night. I used neon colors to paint under black lights, all while listening to music fit for a night dancing with my girlfriends. It’s super fun and I love that my design was inspired by Milwaukee’s own Mitchell Park domes. What makes me the most sad is it didn’t fit in my suitcase so I’ll have to go back and paint again!
#4 Scuba Dive a Shipwreck
AJ Dive Charters runs 2-tank trips to shipwrecks ranging from 15-95 feet deep, which definitely classifies as one of the most unique things to do in Milwaukee. You can explore the intact machinery, cargo, and equipment in some of them or swim around these massive structures. Some dives are even conducted at night.
I didn’t get a chance to try this one out as a newly certified diver since my visit was too early in the season, so I guess I’ll be going back to Milwaukee one summer to give it a shot.
#5: Try your Hand at Hammerschlagen
In the category of things that sound like a bad idea is Milwaukee’s favorite bar game: hammerschlagen. Basically, you drink, then pass a hammer around to try and hit a nail into a log, and then drink some more. Anytime the rules include disclaimers, you know it’s going to be good: “If you smash one of your digits with the hammer because you are drunk, uncoordinated, or maybe both, do not contact the Old German Beer Hall and ask us to pay for your medical bills.”
It gets busy at the Old German Beer Hall on Friday nights, when beer is free. If you want to play hammerschlagen, go during lunch time. You’ll get right in AND if you buy a half liter of beer, you’ll get a famous Usinger’s sausage for free!
#6: Take a hike
On my first day in Milwaukee, I remarked about how much green space there was downtown. Little did I know how much it gets better with a short drive! You don’t have to go all the way to Door County to enjoy a good hike. My vote goes to Lion’s Den Gorge, about twenty-five minutes north of Milwaukee, for a good look at the bluffs overlooking the lake. Go hungry, so you can stop at Kopp’s Frozen Custard on your way back to town.
I still regret not waking up at 4am to join the Brew City Safari, an urban hiking trip that heads out sporadically. What could be cooler than a nighttime hike with a bunch of new friends, ending with sunrise as seen from a cemetery? THAT’S the unusual Milwaukee I’m talking about.
#7: Yoga at the MAM
Most people are inspired by the art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but as a self-proclaimed museum-hater, I was more inspired by the architecture and lake view at MAM. That alone was reason enough to drop in for their morning yoga class (check the website for available dates). It was such a treat to practice in such a beautiful space and your ticket also includes same-day admission to museum exhibits afterward.
I do a lot of yoga when traveling, so it’s great to have a foldable yoga mat for classes like this one or even just in your hotel room. If space is tight in your carry-on, you can make do with just a pair of yoga socks instead.
#8 Bake a Pie
Milwaukee loves its comfort food and you can get hands-on with a pie-making workshop Monday nights at the Honeypie Cafe. I almost signed up, until I realized that $45 was a lot of money to learn how to make something I already bake perfectly. So, instead I sampled a slice that was already made.
I’m not sure it matters if you choose a fruit pie or a cream pie. Mine was fabulous, but they all looked good.
Love to cook? Try these culinary tours in Paris to learn how to be an expert croissant maker or to become an expert on cheese!
#9 See a Movie
You’re about to ask me…Becky, how is seeing a movie one of your listed unique things to do in Milwaukee? Well, hop on a Milwaukee Bublr bike and ride over to the Swing Park under Holton Bridge. The area becomes a FREE outdoor movie theatre during the summer and rumor has it, you don’t want to miss it. Nothing was showing during my dates (don’t worry, I’ll do it when I go back for scuba diving!), but I did ride the Bublr bikes and you can’t beat the convenience or the price.
SightDOING is always the focus of my trips, but I’ve got a few suggestions in addition to things to do in Milwaukee.
First of all, introduce yourself to anyone and everyone you meet. Wisconsinites are friendly people and I only found out about some local favorite spots because of their help.
Then, carve out some time during your trip to eat at Uber Taproom. Their cheese plates are legendary and you’ll love the local beer on tap. If you’re still hungry, or even if you’re not, order a flight of ice cream at Purple Door…but skip the beer and pretzels flavored ice cream. It was gross!
For a meal with a touch of sightDOING, the Safe House spy restaurant is a blast. You’ll find puzzles, quizzes, and incredible decor all over the restaurant to keep you busy during your visit. It’s a Milwaukee must-do, but go early. After about 9pm, the staff gets busy and you’ll miss out on some of the spy games.
I stayed at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. The hotel itself is fine, but next time I go, I want to stay in Walker’s Point. I loved the semi-industrial feel and I’d love to walk to the restaurants, coffeeshops, and swing dance classes. If that sounds great to you, check out the Iron Horse Hotel.
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