My two favorite things to do in Milwaukee are visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum and filling up on traditional German food and beer in Old Town.
Milwaukee is a great place to visit any time, except when its crowded for a major event such as the first televised GOP debate of the 2024 Presidential Campaign on August 23, 2023, or another major conference.
I’m not a fan of roped off streets, walls of media trucks and cameras, and possibly demonstrations against this candidate or that public policy, so this is a love letter about Milwaukee, before or after the debate.
Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson. The iconic motorcycles are produced here, including the new EV LiveWire, now a stand-alone brand.
The factory is close to the complex that houses the museum, shops for Harley-themed clothing and accessories, motorcycle-themed restaurants, and an event space for concerts, weddings, trade shows and such.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is one of the best in the world, captivating even for those who know nothing or care little about motorcycles. It’s really an American history museum featuring motorcycles.
One gallery is a literal road, past a model from every production year, from the early 1900s to today, including military models from WWI and WWII. Some are the first of that year’s assembly line.
Another gallery is a treasure trove of advertisements from each one of those decades, proving that our love affair with motorcycles and the open road started long before Easy Rider.
There are galleries of kids’ motorcycle-themed toys and games, the chance for selfies on various models, and an illuminated wall of dozens of motorcycle gas tanks, each decorated differently. It’s both art and the art of transportation.
Even non-enthusiasts will appreciate the room where you can hear the roar of Harley motors – each one distinctively different from the other.
You can take a free self-guided tour, but I recommend treating yourself to a docent tour with an expert rider ad Harley historian who knows his or her stuff.
The sprawling campus even has a place for you to learn how to ride a motorcycle towards getting your license.
The museum opened in 2008, and there are special 15th anniversary events in 2023, including discount tickets,
I was a happy camper. Very happy.
North Old World 3rd St.
German immigrants in the 1840s-1870s brought their beer-making skills with them, and turned Milwaukee into “Brew City”.
The German influence remains strong, with an authentic Oktoberfest each fall with polka bands, a bratwurst-eating contest and more.
Or, avoid the thirsty party crowds to enjoy old-fashioned German food, beer and ambiance any other time of year
These half-dozen blocks of downtown Milwaukee are a throwback to the city’s German heritage, with bars and restaurants offering traditional food and beer.
It’s a bit confusing, because the historic old street name was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in 2022.
While businesses on the street have converted their address to the new name, it is marketed as the Old World 3rd St. Entertainment District and the Third Street Historic District.
Avoid the ersatz GenZ destinations pumping techno music that no self-respecting fan of German food and beer – like me – would set foot in.
The classic is Mader’s, an upscale step back into history in a restaurant decorated with Knights in Medieval armor and a waitstaff in traditional Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen. You can even choose to drink your beer from a traditional boot-shaped glass.
Even if you don’t eat here, you can visit the showcases in the lobby stocked with Hummel figurines and other Germanic chatchkes.
After searching the street for my favorite weisswurst, the delicate veal sausage from my mother’s hometown of Munich, I wound up in Old German Beer Hall.
The wursts here are supplied by the local Usinger’s Fine Meats and Sausages, and the beer is from Munich’s Hofbrau House, including hefeweizen on tap. That’s wheat beer for you infidels.
This is one of the few places in the USA where you can get a dark hefeweizen, the preferred drink of my cousin who grew up in Munich.
A dinner of weisswurst and a “hefe” made me a happy camper. Very happy.
Another popular destination is Lakefront Brewery, a sprawling brewpub with entertainment and a menu that includes both German brats and Polish kielbasa, and 18 housemade beers on tap.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Saint Kate, an art hotel downtown, a short walk from the nearest bratwurst, which provides a portable 33rpm turntable in your room and a selection of records ranging from Beatles to Beethoven.
There’s an art gallery in the lobby, nightly entertainment in the lobby bar, and a lively vibe.
The Pfister, a few blocks away, is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, and offers an indoor swimming pool. It’s said to be haunted, and was one of the stops on the Haunted Milwaukee tour I took, which was great fun.
Milwaukee also is the home of Pabst Brewery, and the historic downtown headquarters building has been turned into a hotel. Sleep in a brewery? Yes, even though there are no free samples.
So – yes – visit Milwaukee, but not during a convention or other crowded event.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA), a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and a current member of the North American Travel Journalists Assn. (NATJA).
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter