All eyes are on Milwaukee this summer. Here’s what to do beyond the Republican National Convention

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You might say Wisconsin’s largest city is having a moment. But that’s probably not accurate as it’s surely more than just a moment.

Milwaukee, with a population of about 560,000, is a big enough city to have world-class attractions but small enough to make it easy to get around. It’s currently in the spotlight for a host of reasons.

The big news is the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Milwaukee July 15-18, bringing an estimated 50,000 visitors, including international journalists for the four-day event.

Shortly before the RNC, the city’s annual three-weekend music extravaganza, Summerfest, is likely to draw more than 600,000 to the Lake Michigan shore. And the week after the convention, 80,000 people are expected for Harley-Davidson’s annual Homecoming festival, July 25-28, with big-name entertainers.

And then there’s the television show. Bravo’s reality series “Top Chef” was filmed in Milwaukee and other Wisconsin spots last year and began airing its 14 weekly episodes on March 20. Viewers get a big dose of Wisconsin landscapes, history and culture along with the food porn.

Yes, this city on the shores of Lake Michigan is getting a lot of attention. Here are some of the reasons why, and ideas that might draw you to visit before, during or after these big events.


Long known as Brew City (that German influence), 27 breweries operate in Milwaukee. That compares with more than 40 breweries tapping kegs back in the 1860s. Of those 40, four are still around: Blatz, Pabst, Miller and Schlitz, once the largest beer producer in the U.S. and known as “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.”

Hanging out at Lakefront Brewery, especially after a stroll along the Milwaukee RiverWalk, is a great way to spend some time. Sample the gold-medal winning RiverWest Stein, an amber lager, alongside some tasty fried cheese curds.

Head to 3rd Street Market Hall to check out City Fountain, a self-serve indoor beer garden where you can sample as much or as little as you like of some of Wisconsin’s best beer. You’re charged by the ounce.

The gold-medal-winning Riverwest Stein, an amber lager, at Lakefront Brewery. (Visit Milwaukee)

There are all kinds of beer tours available in Milwaukee and its surrounding areas. Find the one that’s right for you at

And if visiting breweries and taverns isn’t enough to get your beer fix, consider this: the Brewhouse Inn and Suites is a 90-room boutique hotel constructed on the site of the historic Pabst brewery. The rooms are arranged around a central courtyard housing huge copper brewing kettles.

Milwaukee’s Third Ward. (Nate Vomhof)


Milwaukee’s history is alive and on full display in so many ways. When European immigrants began arriving in the United States in large numbers after 1850, Milwaukee was the destination for Germans. Today, the city’s brewing industry, its tradition of ethnic festivals and a few Gilded Age mansions are part of that German tradition that visitors can explore.

It was in the 1890s that teenager William Harley met Arthur Davidson in a Milwaukee neighborhood. Shortly after the turn of the century, they produced the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Today, that history is examined at one of the city’s biggest tourist destinations, the Harley-Davidson Museum. It’s a 20-acre complex with retail stores, restaurants and two floors of memorabilia.

Harley-Davidson’s annual Homecoming festival is expected to draw 80,000 people. (Harley-Davidson)

A more traditional history tour is at the Pabst Mansion, where programs help tell the history of brewing, art and architecture of the time with the impressive Gilded Age mansion from which Frederick Pabst ran the brewery.


For so long, Milwaukee has been famous for brats, cheese and frozen custard. That’s still true, and make sure to sample some of those stomach pleasers. (Leon’s is my favorite for custard.) But there’s much more to the Milwaukee food scene, which is getting lots of attention thanks in part to “Top Chef.”

Do your own research to find what tempts you most, but here are a few restaurants I recommend for can’t-miss dining experiences.

DanDan, described as American-Chinese cuisine, is helmed by “Top Chef” contestant Dan Jacobs. His Happy Chicken is a dish to remember, spicy, crispy and flavorful. I would go back just for that.

City Fountain is a self-serve indoor beer garden. (Terri Colby)

At Birch, the farm-to-table menu from chef Kyle Knall drew the attention of the New York Times, ranking it one of the Top 50 restaurants in the U.S. in 2023. The ember-roasted walleye, wood-roasted pork chop and ricotta-filled pasta are standouts.

The Diplomat, a cozy neighborhood spot where chef Dane Baldwin claimed a James Beard Award in 2022, offers approachable, shareable plates. Outstanding ingredients and interesting combinations elevate simple dishes. The Knife & Fork Chicken and the Diplomac prime beef burger are popular choices.


Milwaukee is not shy in the outdoor mural category, but what might make it different from other cities is that many pieces focus on beer and sports.

For architecture fans, a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block is a must. It’s the renowned architect’s collection of affordable housing units and is open to the public on most Saturdays. Tours often sell out, so plan in advance.

The Milwaukee Art Museum was designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. (Visit Milwaukee)

But the indisputable star in this category is the Milwaukee Art Museum, known as much for its collections and exhibits as for its architecture. Designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the main building perches next to Lake Michigan like a bird, or a boat, or a sail, and has become a city landmark.

Four floors with more than 40 galleries display a broad collection with pieces ranging from ancient decorative arts to Renaissance paintings and documentary photography. There’s also a large collection of works from German artists.

Outdoor recreation

Though Milwaukee has the amenities of a big city, outdoor recreation is also plentiful.

During summer, Bradford Beach is a popular destination. It’s a wide, sandy expanse along Lake Michigan where volleyball leagues share the sand with sunbathers. It’s just a short drive from downtown.

Summerfest is Milwaukee’s annual three-weekend music extravaganza along the lakefront. (Visit Milwaukee)

There’s 135 miles of paved trails looping around Milwaukee County. Check out the 2-mile Seven Bridges Trail in nearby South Milwaukee. It crosses bridges and stairways built by the Works Progress Administration almost 100 years ago through ravines along Lannon stone paths.

Veterans Park, also along the lakefront, is a destination for kite flyers, kayakers and standup paddle boarders. There’s a kite store on site and a company that rents kayaks and standup paddle boards. Those water activities are also available on the city’s rivers.

Sports and festivals

Milwaukee is a huge sports town and in summer a trip to American Family Field to watch the Brewers play baseball is a must. New this year at the field is an annex of the 3rd Street Market Hall. So along with your brats and beer, you can nosh on empanadas and crab Rangoon while watching the game and the sausage mascot races at the bottom of the sixth inning.

At American Family Field, the Brewers’ sausage mascot race is held at the bottom of the sixth inning. (Milwaukee Brewers)

Milwaukee is known as the city of festivals with nearly 100 on the calendar for events in and around the city. Many celebrate the cultures of the immigrants who shaped the city. Others celebrate food and art. There’s even the Weird Fest, which seems to be mostly about beer, so that’s not really too weird for Milwaukee.

Terri Colby is a freelancer.

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