Hot damn, summer’s on its way. After roughly 27 months of cowering in the bleakness of winter, it’s time for Milwaukee residents to emerge from the darkness, rub their bleary eyes, and focus on warmer days and fuller calendars. Nobody champions this city more than its own inhabitants, but the downside to talking up our town is that, eventually, other people we know will invite themselves for a visit. They might have had such an incredible time yukking it up with Curly during the Lakefront Brewery tour or mugging for the camera in front of the soaring wings of the Brise Soleil (ahem, the Calatrava, you guys) that they’ll actually want to come back. To visit. Again.
So what do you do when you’ve exhausted your first-time-in-Milwaukee options? Show your guests a side of Milwaukee that might not be emblazoned on a postcard, that’s what. Whether it’s your sibling, friend from college, or (shudder) your parents squatting in this fine city for the weekend, here are 9 different things to do in Milwaukee with visitors.
1. Pedal along the Oak Leaf Trail
Defy the stereotype that Wisconsinites are portly mouth-breathers who won’t venture into the great outdoors unless there is promise of drinking in the open air of a street festival. (We’ll get to that later.) Get out there and explore the city on foot, by bike, or even, if you must, rollerblades. Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail offers 118 miles of pavement that guides you around this fair city. Really want to throw your visitors for a loop? Pedal along the lakefront just south of Bay View Park and point out just how tropically turquoise Lake Michigan looks from the bluffs overlooking the shoreline. If you squint really hard, the lake trout kind of look like tiny dolphins.
2. Rent a pontoon boat for the day
You know those assholes with boats? Yeah, you do. All with their smug dock shoes and starboard jib-jab and the gall to honk their horn as they dock up next to your picnic table at Barnacle Buds. Well, imagine: those assholes could be you! For one full weekend day, for just $235 at Riverwalk Boats, you and nine of your closest pals can captain a pontoon boat while cruising the Milwaukee River. Feel free to dock up at any riverfront bar or restaurant, and keep the boat tour going from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Don’t know how a boat works? No problem! These things practically drive themselves. (We think.)
3. Tie one on at the MKE Brewery Tour
Listen, we all love Lakefront Brewery tours. We love them so much it’s essentially the first thing that comes to mind when creating itineraries for visitors to the city. So what happens the next time those same visitors come to town? This time, take them to MKE Brewing Co. in Walker’s Point. This relative newcomer has quickly made a name for itself as the best brewery tour in the city. MKE’s “Beer in Hand” tour policy (wherein you begin drinking sampling before the tour even starts and continue for three hours), along with its relaxed approach to explaining the brewing process ensures that your guests won’t be bored to tears and everyone will leave with a nice buzz, free pint glass (because you could use another one), and some fact about how hops have antibacterial properties or something, all for just $10.
4. Go to a festival (not prefixed by “Summer”)
Practically every weekend there is at least one street fest in neighborhoods like Bay View, Riverwest, and the East Side. Throw on your favorite tank top, fill up your backpack with PBR, and prove to your friends just how great our local music scene is by posting up in front of the stage at a street fest all day. Need a little culture on the side of your outdoor drinking? Head to the Henry Maier Festival Grounds and take in one of the ethnic fests. Dance the polka, eat schnitzel, learn some Gaelic, or spend some time debating one of mankind’s eternal philosophical questions: Who, really, stole the kishka?
5. Rent a cabana at Bradford Beach
The economy is still not good. Your friends couldn’t afford that resort vacation in Mexico this summer, so they planned the next-best thing: a weekend getaway to the spare bedroom of your duplex in exotic Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Satiate their need for sunshine, sand, and a steady flow of piña coladas by throwing on your swim trunks and renting a cabana at Bradford Beach. $25 gets you a cabana or umbrella with two cushy lounge chairs. Mock the peasants waiting in line at either of the snack bars and snap at your attentive waiter (please, don’t snap at them) to keep the drinks coming while slathering your tender Midwestern skin with sunscreen every 15 minutes. Resist the urge to take a dip in Lake Michigan.
6. Spend a rainy afternoon at Koz’s Mini Bowl
Why check out Koz’s Mini Bowl? Because it’s fun, quirky, relaxed, and one of the city’s most unique bars. Call ahead to reserve a lane for “America’s Most Honest Bowling,” marvel at the human pin-setters (“Look at ’em back there!”), order a few pitchers of beer, and sidle up to the pull-tab machine for a chance to win four or five bucks, tops. Even if your winnings aren’t enough to pay off your bar tab, you still get the chance to look at an honest-to-god taxidermied lion perched above the bar (with a Packers football in its mouth), and that counts for something.
7. Hang out at The Backyard
You’ve spent the entire winter explaining to your friends that Milwaukee is “seriously, so much fun in the summer!” but you don’t have a yard to prove so while grilling up brats or playing a few rounds of bags. Enter The Backyard, the bar that is the yard you don’t have. Bring your own food and cook it on either of their sizeable grills. Use their lawn for your leisurely game of bags or Giant Jenga. Sprawl out on the lounge furniture and take in a Brewers game on the exterior flat-screen TV. Let your dog run loose and annoy the shit out of the rest of the patrons. Even if you have your own backyard, The Backyard is a great concept bar that’s hard to leave on a summer day.
8. Check out the view at Holy Hill
Holy Hill is parent bait. If your parents are coming to town and are able-bodied enough to climb the 178 stairs to the observation tower, they will look out upon miles of treetops and forget all about the horrible, horrible drunks they saw the night before spilling out onto Water Street. Be prepared to pose for photos (“Alright, now one of you in front of the chapel doors.” “Now, one of you and your father in front of the chapel doors.” “Okay, one more time because my finger was in front of the lens that time,”) and bring comfortable shoes. Even if your parents aren’t coming to town, those views really are something everyone should see and appreciate.
9. Visit the Streets of Old Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Public Museum
You don’t have to be from the area to appreciate the charm of the cobblestone road and miniature storefronts that line the Streets of Old Milwaukee inside the Milwaukee Public Museum. Peek into old-timey recreations of Milwaukee cornerstones like The Pfister, Usinger’s, and Watts Tea Shop. Set free your repressed Peeping Tom and head to the adjacent “European Village” to peer into the homes that represent immigrants who called Milwaukee home in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Cap things off by purchasing some peppermint sticks and candy buttons (Remember? You used to love candy buttons!) from the weary volunteer manning the old-timey candy shop, and leave still feeling a little uneasy about the little-bit-too-lifelike granny leering at you from her animatronic rocking chair.