Milwaukee was our first stop in Wisconsin on our Midwest road trip, and we really enjoyed our time there! I’m a sucker for historic architecture, and I loved how well-preserved the historic downtown was while being mixed with street art and more modern architecture.
If you’re visiting for a short time, these are the top 10 things to see and do (and eat!) in one day in Milwaukee!
Grab some coffee
We got to Milwaukee in the morning, so we needed coffee, of course. And when we looked up places to get coffee, there were TONS of options, all with great reviews and all looked like unique and fun spots to hang out! We went with Likewise Coffee, which was a really cool café and the coffee was delicious. So if you’re also a coffee drinker, it looks like you can’t really go wrong with any spots in Milwaukee.
See the Pabst Mansion
The Pabst Mansion was built in the late 1800s for Captain Frederick Pabst. If the name Pabst sounds familiar, he was the founder of Pabst Brewing Company, aka Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, aka PBR! (If you’re a fan of PBR, there’s a dive bar here in Philly called Bob and Barbara’s that’s basically a shrine to PBR that you need to see for yourself)
The Pabst Mansion wasn’t open for tours the day we went, but it was still pretty incredible to see from the outside! It was built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style, and the Pabst family lived there from 1892 until 1908. Then the Archdiocese of Milwaukee purchased the mansion, and Archbishops, priests, and nuns lived there for over 60 years. They actually transformed the Baroque-styled conservatory into a chapel. The Archdiocese sold the mansion in 1975 when it was bought by a historic preservation society and turned into a museum.
If you want to tour the mansion, it’s open Thursday-Monday from 10 am- 4 pm for tours. I definitely want to take a tour the next time I’m in Milwaukee!
Tour Marquette University
You may have heard of Marquette University with their basketball team usually doing pretty well in March Madness, and it’s located right in the heart of Milwaukee (not far from the Pabst Mansion). And the campus is GORGEOUS.
The university was founded in the late 1800s by Jesuits, and it was named for Father Jacques Marquette, a missionary and explorer. A lot of the buildings date back to the 1800s and early 1900s, and it’s a beautiful place to explore. We were there in October, and it was especially pretty to see the historic buildings with the backdrop of fall colors (even on a cloudy, rainy day).
Visit the Milwaukee Public Market
The Milwaukee Public Market is a great place to explore or grab some food if you just have one day in Milwaukee! It’s open every day, and they have quite a variety of stands so there’s something for everyone. We bought some souvenirs and spices, and I would have loaded up on all the cheese there if we had a cooler with us.
The market also has classes and events, so you can check out their schedule when you’re planning your trip for some more fun experiences.
When you’re in Wisconsin, you definitely need to get some cheese!
Walk along the Milwaukee River
The Milwaukee RiverWalk is a path along the river that takes you through some historic areas of the city. It wasn’t busy at all when we walked along the river, so it makes for a nice peaceful stroll if you want to experience some nature within the city!
Check out street art
Like I mentioned before, I love the combination of historic architecture mixed with more modern touches in Milwaukee, one of them being street art. There are lots of murals and sculptures around the city, and I love that they even painted the supports under a bridge with parking lots!
If you want to make sure you see some of the famous murals in Milwaukee, you can take yourself on a public art tour to see a mix of the different artwork around the city.
Walk around downtown and see historic architecture
You can see a lot of pretty buildings on the Milwaukee RiverWalk, but make sure you also explore the streets to see more architecture! The Historic Third Ward is a famous historic district, and it’s described as the Soho of Milwaukee because of its art scene. So definitely explore the Historic Third Ward, and you can easily walk around the rest of the downtown area for more architecture since it isn’t a very big city.
Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum
We didn’t have time to go inside the Milwaukee Art Museum (and it isn’t the cheapest museum), but even if you’re short on time or not interested in art museums, you at least need to check out the building!
Different parts of the building were added on at different times, but one of the coolest things is the pavilion, built in 2001 by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It has “wings” that can actually move to cover the windows of the pavilion at night or protect them during inclement weather.
If you do want to check out the artwork, the Milwaukee Art Museum has over 25,000 pieces of all different kinds of artwork, from European paintings from the 15th century to photographs from the 21st century. It has one of the largest collections of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and it has other famous artists like Picasso and Andy Warhol.
The museum is also situated right on Lake Michigan, so it’s a beautiful place to walk around or relax by the water!
Get some beer and cheese curds
Can you even go to Wisconsin without getting cheese curds? You can get them from lots of different places in Milwaukee, and we got some at Lakefront Brewery with lunch (and Lakefront Brewery was recommended by a friend who lives in Milwaukee, so it’s approved by the locals).
The brewery had great food and beer, and if the weather is nice, you can sit out back on the water and watch people kayak by! So if you’re looking for a non-touristy spot with locally made beer and good food (and cheese curds, of course), I definitely recommend Lakefront Brewery.
Eat frozen custard
If there’s one thing you need to do in one day in Milwaukee, it’s get some frozen custard from Kopp’s. There are a couple of locations around Milwaukee, but you can’t find this chain outside of the area. It was founded in the 1950s, and it still has the 1950s vibe inside!
They’re known for their burgers, too, but we had just filled up on cheese curds and brats so we just went for the frozen custard. And I can see why it’s famous! It was delicious and creamy, and I can’t wait to go back.
So those are my top 10 recommendations for things to do (and eat) if you just have one day in Milwaukee! (But if you can spend a few more days, I recommend it). It’s such a pretty city with a lot to explore, and I would love to go back soon 🙂