THE PERFECT SATURDAY: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
BY ALLIE KILMER
It’s ok. You can say it. “Milwaukee? Really? Isn’t that near Minnesota or something?” Even as a native midwesterner, when I accepted a job in Milwaukee I kind of took a here-goes-nothing stance about moving to a city I’d barely heard of in the middle of a state that’s mostly known for its dividing politics and cheese. I wasn’t pumped. I should have been. I am now.
Milwaukee is great. It’s a city that provides all of the city-type attractions but still feels friendly and manageable. Whereas bigger cities become over saturated with excitement to the point of static noise, Milwaukee is the perfect size for staying fresh and up for anything.
In summer, the city just radiates! The food! The drink! The outdoor seating! Entertainment, street festivals, green space, arts, minimal traffic congestion — this place makes you feel like the whole city is glad that you’re here. Now come have a drink with us!
There are many perfect Saturdays to be had in Milwaukee. Being a lady with a dog, a fitbit and an appetite, I’m going to take you on a stroll all around the city, eating and kibbutzing until we drop. I’m so proud to show you my new home town in America’s Dairyland. Welcome to Milwaukee!
WALK IN THE PARK
Milwaukee has incredible green space, and much of it is thanks to the Urban Ecology Center. The UEC is an amazing organization that has taken neglected parks or stretches of land in the middle of the city and transformed them into inviting, woodsy spaces with strong community ties. I love taking morning walks through the nearest park and being surrounded with nature in a way that’s impossible in larger cities. A few people are already out with their dogs and some early birds are paddling down the Milwaukee river in kayaks. The thick woods give way to the new arboretum (yes, an urban arboretum) with rolling hills and young trees representing native species of Wisconsin. If you look south you can see the skyline of downtown Milwaukee’s skyscrapers just miles away.
BREAKFAST AT BEANS AND BARLEY
Down the road from the park is an East Milwaukee staple for brunch, lunch and beyond, Beans and Barley. Despite its popularity, there’s never too long of a wait for a table. I love to spend the few minutes before I’m seated wandering around the small shop attached to the restaurant. Once we’re given a table (indoors or on the patio) my husband and I each order our go-to breakfast drinks. I sip on a frothy sweet matcha latte — a green tea concoction that tastes like sweet creamy happiness with a hint of the seashore. He springs for a carrot/orange juice blend called the Orange Rabbit and politely ignores the fact that I sneak a bajillion sips from his glass it-tastes-so-good. Even since before I became a vegetarian, when it’s time to order at “Beans” I can never pass up the meatless eggs benedict with tomato and avocado. The side potatoes are just right, and everything is covered with a perfect Hollandaise sauce. If the hubby and I are lucky, one of the servers who catered our wedding recognizes us and stops by to say “hi.” It meant a lot for us to share this local flavor with our friends and family on our wedding night almost two years ago, and now the connection makes our breakfasts here even more special.
MILWAUKEE MUSEUM OF ART
The drive from Beans to the art museum takes us along the gorgeous Lake Michigan shoreline. Beaches are dotted with families and kite flyers as the joggers, dog walkers and roller skaters cruise on by. Pass the coffee shop and the tennis courts. Drive by the marina and the volleyball nets. Suddenly the city is to your left with condos and skyscrapers, while the shoreline to your right remains mostly public parks. Park for free next to the road and walk a little while until you see the Milwaukee Art Museum piercing the blue sky with its distinct white architecture. It looks like a cross between a ship and a bird. If we’re lucky we’ll see its moving “wings” extended out over the plaza. Inside a Chihuly sculpture bristles in the pristine lofted lobby. The architecture gives the feel of an infinity mirror without the mirror. Take a look out over the lake before buying a ticket to see newest show that has come to town. We’ll make sure to leave a little bit of time to peruse the gift shop before we leave (art museum gift shops are the best).
MILWAUKEE RIVER WALK
A short drive into downtown. Let’s park the car where we can and take a quick coffee break. Colectivo is a local coffee chain with beautiful and unique cafes dotting the Milwaukee area. (The roastery is a couple blocks from my house, where you can watch all of Colectivo’s coffee beans being roasted while you wait for your drink.) The chain’s new location downtown is absolutely tiny, but they work with it by having installed huge garage-door-like window walls all along the front of the shop. On a nice day like this, the windows are up and the coffee drinkers are spilling out into the sidewalk where bike stands double as standing tables.
Once the caffeine hits our system, let’s get a pastry to go and stroll across Water Street onto the River Walk. The River Walk is a stunning boardwalk that runs up and down both sides of the Milwaukee River. It’s sheltered from the street traffic by waterside restaurants, stores and apartments. The public is free to watch the boats and admire the dishes coming out to the restaurant patrons sitting on patios. If we go far enough up the river we can visit the giant Bronze Fonz (fact: Happy Days took place in Wisconsin), but today we’re just going to enjoy a short stroll. We can’t miss the start of our tour at the…
CLOCK SHADOW CREAMERY
Yes! We couldn’t NOT see a cheese factory during our one day in Milwaukee. The factory is actually pretty tiny, and the tour only consists of a single room, but we only paid $3 each and now we know how cheese curds are made. Cheese curds you ask? Also known as squeaky cheese, cheese curds are a beloved local snack. The little nugget-sized cheese morsels are known for making squeaky noises against your teeth if the cheese is fresh enough. The Clock Shadow Creamery focuses on making fresh cheese for local restaurants. We’re talking really fresh cheese that wouldn’t be able to be transported at the same quality from a cheese factory outside of the city. After the tour there are a bunch of delicious cheese samples and very friendly employees who can’t wait to answer all of your cheese questions. Today, the gentlemen behind the counter are testing recipes to bring to the upcoming Garlic Fest. We ask to sneak a pre-fest taste. So. Good. Let’s get some curds for the road before we drive through the city to the north side again. It’s probably wiser to attend our next tour on a fuller stomach…
MIlwaukee is nicknamed “Brew City” for a good reason. I’m actually shocked that we’ve come this far without drinking a drop of beer. Let’s remedy that. Though there are many brewery tours in this city, this seems to be the local favorite. Lakefront Brewery has been named the 4th best brewery tour in the nation by Trip Advisor. It is entertaining, informative and you’ll definitely leave tipsy. The beer is great and you get tokens for free stuff (more drinks? a souvenir pint glass? burger?) to redeem when you stumble out at the end.
BRADY STREET, GLORIOSO’S ITALIAN MARKET
Luckily for us, the brewery is nestled in a very walkable neighborhood on the north side of the city. When we go to sober up outside, we are treated with a view of the river flowing softly between slopes of grass and wild flowers. After walking a few blocks through the surrounding neighborhood we reach Brady Street. This chic street is lined with boutiques, restaurants and bars, though not too long ago it was the Italian epicenter of Milwaukee. Still strong in the Italian spirit, Glorioso’s Italian Market is stuffed with delicious deli foods, soft cookies and an amazing array of pasta, pickles, wine and cheese. I like to peruse the store as if it were a museum of things I want to eat. Today, though, we have a mission — picnic food! This market is a picnic-goer’s dream. Let’s fill a basket and move along to our last stop of the day.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK
Just across the river is an open air pavilion. Throughout the season it hosts free music and theater performances for local audiences. Tonight’s show is a Shakespeare play put on by the Optimist Theater troupe. We settle into our perch on the grassy steps carved into the hillside and spread out our picnic. The other theater goers are all doing much the same, swirling wine in plastic glasses and bringing out blankets in case it gets cool when the sun goes down. As we wait for the play to start we watch the boats and kayaks drifting down the river towards the Milwaukee skyline. I can’t help but notice the sense of community at events like this. Milwaukee is a hidden gem in the midwest. It’s not exclusive. In fact, it’s pretty effortless to be a part of this wonderful city. You just have to be out here. Doing anything. Doing this. The theater lights come up as the sun dips below the horizon. Welcome to Milwaukee.
Allie Kilmer is a midwest native and a Milwaukee transplant. When she's not designing swag for a local technical college she enjoys playing old-people card games and perfecting making yogurt in a crockpot. She lives with her arachnologist husband and labrador-muppet mix in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. Follow her on Instagram at @alliejen.