While famous for brews, baseball, and Happy Days reruns, there’s much more to Downtown Milwaukee than first meets the eye. The heart of the largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s Downtown brims with cultural and historical attractions that make it a great destination for a day or two of urban adventure.
Discover diverse neighborhoods like the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee’s trendy warehouse district. Or scope out the city’s lively arts scene in chic East Town.
Culture vultures will want to browse hotspots like the world-renowned Milwaukee Art Museum or the one-of-a-kind Harley-Davidson Museum. If you’re a sports fan, score a seat at Fiserv Forum to catch some NBA action. Outdoor enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the natural splendors of its city, state, and county parks and hit the trails.
When it’s time to kick back, explore Downtown Milwaukee’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene. Tuck into everything from signature Wisconsin cheese curds to mouthwatering international fare.
Ready to make some Milwaukee memories? Check out this guide to what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay in Downtown Milwaukee!
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What to see & do in Milwaukee Downtown
Milwaukee Public Museum
History and archeology buffs are in for a treat at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Set in the bustling Westown entertainment district, this historic gem shares space with lively (and much younger) neighbors like the Fiserv Forum. Dating back to 1857, the Milwaukee Public Museum is a prized historical landmark.
Step inside the Milwaukee Public Museum atrium and you’ll be greeted by the towering skeleton of a Hebior Mammoth. Push on to explore three floors packed with wonders. Marvel at the sight of over 4 million geological and archaeological specimens. Stroll through 150,000 square feet of exhibit space that will take you through the centuries to habitats around the world.
Walk through a hallway of exquisite sea shells at the Living Ocean exhibit. Meander amid free-flying butterflies from around the world in the Puelicher Butterfly Wing.
Journey back in time to view the 19th-century streets of Old Milwaukee or explore life in medieval Europe or the ancient Mediterranean civilizations.
Take a deep dive into history – more than 65 million years deep – at the Third Planet exhibit. Dinophiles will be delighted by the sight of one of the largest dinosaur skulls ever discovered. Can’t miss it!
Milwaukee Art Museum
If you’re craving a cultural infusion, the Milwaukee Art Museum in artsy East Town is the place to get it. Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, this neighborhood is Milwaukee’s cultural hub. With its major cultural attractions, the Milwaukee Riverwalk, upscale eateries, and trendy bars, Milwaukee’s East Town serves up a full-course meal.
And the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of its most popular entrees. One of the largest art museums in the US and one of the top Milwaukee tourist attractions, this remarkable structure looks like a majestic ship floating over Lake Michigan. A skyline icon, the museum features enormous, light-sensitive “wings” that unfold in the morning, flap at noon, and close at night.
Step into the reception area and gaze up at the sunlight pouring through the stunning, 90-foot-high glass roof. Explore four floors featuring over 40 separate galleries, and take a historical journey through a rich array of more than 32,000 works of art.
Browse diverse collections, ranging from 15th-century European to 21st-century American artworks. Immerse yourself in a wealth of paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs. Be sure to make time for one of the world’s largest collections of works by famed Wisconsin artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
Time for a breather? Take a break in Cafe Calatrava, and savor breathtaking views of Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee Public Market
Ready for a fun family browse-and-bite experience? Saunter over to the Milwaukee Public Market for a tasty spot of shopping. Set just south of the center, the Milwaukee Public Market picks up the lively vibe of the surrounding Historic Third Ward neighborhood. This revitalized industrial district now houses trendy restaurants, galleries, and boutiques – and the Milwaukee Public Market fits right in.
This industrial-chic space serves up a bounty of epicurean delights reflecting Milwaukee’s vibrant multicultural heritage. Take a tour and treat your tastebuds to samplings from the Market’s menu. Choose from baked goodies, gourmet coffee, fresh fish, prime meats, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, and more.
Sniff out the perfect specialty spice, discover a flavorful cheese, or find a tasty wine pairing. Don’t want to wait to chow down? Just grab a seat at the Market’s second-floor Palm Garden and dig into anything from deep-fried cheese curds to Flemish poutine to Southern-style ribs.
Hone your culinary skills at one of the market’s bevy of classes, ranging from cake decorating to Korean dumpling making. Amaze your friends and family!
If you’re a Hog Hound – or just a wannabe – you’ll want to boot it over to Hogtown Heaven – aka the Harley Davidson Museum. Milwaukee is the birthplace of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, founded in 1903 – so it’s only fitting that it’s home to the only museum in the world that honors the Hog’s 100-year-plus legacy.
No need to strap on leathers to cruise this destination; just wear solid walking shoes and pack a camera – because this three-building complex stretches over 20 acres along the Menomonee River. Housing over 450 Harley-Davidson motorcycles and hundreds of thousands of artifacts, the Harley Davidson Museum captures The Hog’s rich history.
The museum traces Harley’s history from its origins in a 10 ft x 15 ft wooden shack to its current reign as the top motorcycle manufacturer in the US. Browse the museum’s amazing collection of photos, videos, trophies, and interactive exhibits.
And yikes – the bikes! Check out some star attractions, like “Serial Number One.” Dating back to 1903, it’s the oldest known Harley in existence. Feel your jaw drop at the sight of “King Kong,” a 13-foot-long, two-engine beast. And go ga-ga in front of exact replicas of the customized bikes made famous in “Easy Rider.”
To top it all off – there are ten officially-designated bikes that civilians can actually sit on. Sweet ride!
On the hunt for some great aha moments? You’ll chalk up plenty of them at Milwaukee’s Discovery World, an amazing facility that’s meant to ignite delight in curious trekkers of all ages.
Explore Discovery World, and you’ll enter a realm that explores the fascinating fields of technology, innovation, and freshwater conservation. And this amazing 120,000-foot facility invites you to get hands-on with irresistible interactive exhibits.
Step into the Technology Building and discover the world of the rails as you explore All Aboard, Discovery World’s model railroading exhibit.
Strap yourself into a flight simulator and soar around the world. Or go up against an AI competitor in a game of table tennis.
Want to flex some creative muscles? Aspiring designers and engineers can get pumped up at the Design It! Lab – and take their one-of-a-kind inventions home with them.
Ready for a deep dive into the underwater world? Slip over to the Aquatarium Building, and get up-close views of intriguing aquatic creatures from around the world at the Reiman Aquarium.
Pet stingrays and sturgeon in the Touch Tank. Travel through the stunning glass-encased Caribbean Tank, where you’ll encounter sharks and other exotic Caribbean sea creatures.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
Got youngsters in your crew? Pack ‘em up and head ‘em out to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Then watch their eyes light up with the joy of discovery as they embark on a day of hands-on exploration.
A kid-focused museum featuring interactive programs and hands-on exhibits, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is designed to put a smile on the faces of kids ten and under. Voted one of the top ten children’s museums by Parents Magazine, this is a great place for parents and kids to play and learn together.
Explore Home Town, where youngsters can learn about what makes a community tick. Hop aboard the engine cab at Let’s Play Railway and let the kiddos experiment with dials, cranks, and levers.
Let ‘em loose to explore their surroundings at one of Milwaukee’s top museums in the It’s Your Move! exhibit. Or zero in on creative inspiration at the Be a Maker space.
Take a trip to Science City, where youngsters can soak up a world of “-ity” scientific knowledge about electricity, biodiversity, gravity, and much more.
Lakeshore State Park
If you’re looking for some wide-open green space but don’t want to leave urban Milwaukee, look no further than Lakeshore State Park. Set adjacent to Discovery World on the Lake Michigan shore, this welcoming 22-acre oasis is the only urban state park in Wisconsin.
Head away from the Downtown Milwaukee bustle and savor a fresh-air break at one of the coolest state parks near Milwaukee. Lakeshore State Park offers plenty of ways for you to reboot.
Breathe deep as you ramble over the Lakeshore’s short grass prairies, relax on one of Milwaukee’s most popular beaches, or cast a line on the fishing pier.
If aquatic action rates high on your list, you’re in luck! Arrive by boat, and you can slip your craft into the 20-slip marina. Fancy some kayaking? Lakeshore’s lagoons are the perfect place for it.
Up for more exploring? Hit the park’s multi-use lakeside trail, and you’ll connect to the 14-mile-long Hank Aaron State Trail and Milwaukee’s scenic waterfront. Feel free to walk, bike, or skate (and bring the pooch) – and enjoy amazing views of the Milwaukee skyline.
Whether you’ve got an appetite for world-class b-ball, heart-stopping hockey, or musical magic, the Fiserv Forum is a slam dunk. Set in the heart of the Deer District in Milwaukee’s bustling Westown neighborhood, the Fiserv Forum is a surefire hit with sports fans and music lovers alike.
Home to the Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball team of Marquette University, this multi-purpose arena anchors a vibrant block that’s packed with shops and restaurants. And heads up, hockey fans: it’s just two minutes away from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, home ice for the Milwaukee Admirals.
Bordered by a community plaza designed for year-round events, this is a magnet for sports and entertainment fans. Along with b-ball action, the Fiserv Forum hosts concerts by top-tier artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Metallica to Elton John. Check out their events schedule here and dive into the action.
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Want an intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Forum’s past and present? Book yourself into a Forum tour to get the full scoop.
Where to eat & drink
If you’re looking for great spots to eat, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Downtown Milwaukee is home to a thriving culinary scene, boasting 170 locally-owned restaurants and 17 James Beard-recognized chefs. Prep your palate!
There’s no better place to kick off your culinary exploration than at the Calderone Club. A long-time local favorite, this cozy spot will make you feel right at home with authentic Italian cuisine, including everything from heaping helpings of mouthwatering pasta to delicious thin-crust pizza.
For a neighborhood fixture with a more contemporary vibe, saunter along to Buckley’s Restaurant & Bar in trendy East Town. Family-owned and -operated, Buckley’s serves up a diverse menu of locally sourced ingredients. Grab a burger at the bar, or settle in for a four-course meal. Check out an impressive wine and cocktail list – and don’t pass on the housemade desserts!
If you’re up for a fun and funky setting, sashay over to Elsa’s On the Park. Check out this restaurant’s eye-popping artwork as you chow down on gastro-pub goodies, including nachos, wings, burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Wash your eats down with a thirst-quenching selection from their hefty beer and cocktail menu.
Dial it down and take in the slow Southern charm of Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar. Soak up the relaxed Southern vibe as you savor locally sourced, made-from-scratch gems like Honey-Dusted Fried Chicken and Tupelo Shrimp and Grits.
If you want the “authentic” Milwaukee experience, you can’t leave town without digging into some bratwurst – so head over to Milwaukee Brat House for a taste of the best. Have a hit of everything from deep-fried cheese curds to Hot Hungarian Sausage, put out the fire with a frothy German brew, then head out to catch a game at nearby Fiserv Forum.
Looking for a lively neighborhood hangout? Park yourself at Taylor’s, a longtime local fave in Milwaukee’s trendy East Town. Order up some of their signature flatbread pizza, then hunker down for “the best Happy Hour in Downtown Milwaukee” – featuring a fantastic selection of martinis and classic cocktails.
For a dash of the speakeasy mystique, slide into the Safe House. Step inside the dimly lit interior (if you can find the door), and you’ll be captivated by fascinating wall-to-wall espionage memorabilia. After a long day in the field, kick back with some dangerous handcrafted cocktails, plus tasty fare like “Mission Impossible Burger” and “Licensed to Kill Mac & Cheese.”
If you’re in the mood for a romantic night out, Blu at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel will fit the bill. Head up to the 23rd and drink in amazing views of Downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. Savor your favorite cocktail, wine, or beer as you nibble on tasty starters. Kick back and enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Where to stay
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Milwaukee, you’ll find a great slate of accommodation options in the city center, ranging from the elegant and traditional to cutting-edge trendy.
Just a few blocks from picturesque Milwaukee Bay in the Historic Third Ward, The Plaza Hotel is housed in a charming Art Deco building mere minutes from the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee Public Market. Stretch out in spacious rooms featuring a kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and a flat-screen TV.
Slip into the on-site café for breakfast or lunch. Relax in the hotel’s lovely courtyard, or treat yourself to some pampering at the spa.
Settle into a comfortable home-away-from-home at the Drury Plaza Hotel. Set in a building dating back to 1928, this casual hotel offers snug rooms complete with Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus coffee makers, mini-fridges, and microwaves.
Hit the 24-hour gym or the indoor pool for a workout. Explore the Milwaukee RiverWalk trail just a block away, then head back to the hotel to savor free hot food and drinks at their nightly receptions.
If you want to experience upscale chic served with an artful flair, set your sights on Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel. Make this your base for exploring Milwaukee’s vibrant Theater District.
Relax in your spacious suite, where you can take in sweeping city views – plus a curated collection of in-room art created by local artists. Take time to browse the hotel’s multiple galleries and exhibition spaces for an amazing immersive experience.
If you’re looking for a city center oasis where you can relax and recharge, book yourself into the Hotel Metro, Autograph Collection. Set in a beautifully renovated 1930s building, this chic, pet-friendly hotel offers loads of amenities, including free Wi-Fi, room service, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Unwind over some tasty European fare at Oggie’s, the on-site restaurant. Or hit the roof at Pufferfish Tiki Bar, where you can soak up some island vibes and stunning city views.
Dating back to 1893, The Pfister Hotel is a true Milwaukee City icon. Once dubbed the “Grand Hotel of the West,” today it’s a unique mix of preserved Victorian opulence and 21st-century chic.
Enjoy luxurious rooms featuring sophisticated décor, free Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. Take in stunning views from the 23rd floor while you pump it up in the fitness center, do laps in the indoor pool, or enjoy some spa pampering.
Finish your day on a high note at Blu, the hotel’s acclaimed sky-high martini bar.