Guide to summer in Milwaukee: Things to do outside, patio dining, breweries and more
Take a look of the Milwaukee lakefront, downtown, the Milwaukee River and Atwater Park in Shorewood via a drone. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Good Land on a Great Lake is even better in the summer, when the city comes alive with festivals on the lakefront, bikes on trails, outdoor music and movies, and dining on patios and rooftops.
Whether you're a local or a visitor, here’s a guide to making the most of warm weather in Wisconsin’s biggest city, including a look at some new additions to Milwaukee’s summer scene.
What to do outside
The Third Coast is the best coast.
Head to Bradford Beach to sunbathe on the sandy beach and cool off in Lake Michigan. You might think you were at the ocean, if not for the fresh water. Lifeguards are on duty 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, mid-June to mid-August. Bring a volleyball for a pickup game on the courts, but leave Fido at home — dogs are not allowed at the beach.
Bradford has a new Chicago-based concessions vendor, In The Dock, which will serve food including tempura fish tacos, yellowfin tuna steak and grass-fed burgers, plus beer, wine and cocktails. The new vendor also has plans for expanded seating, live music and a beer garden.
At the south end of the beach, the old Northpoint Custard stand has a new vendor as well. MooSa’s will sell burgers, custard, wings and more out of the stand at 2272 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive.
Parking around Bradford on a summer weekend can be difficult, so bike there instead. The 125-mile Oak Leaf Trail system winds through Milwaukee County, including along the lakefront past Bradford. Bring your own bike or rent a Bublr ($4 for a 30-minute ride) for a paved, off-road ride through the city. Find stations throughout the city, including at N. Lincoln Memorial Drive and E. Water Tower Road, just south of the beach.
The trail through the heart of the city can be busy in the summer with both cyclists and walkers, so head north or south for a less crowded ride.
In South Milwaukee, the trail runs through Grant Park, a good spot to hop off and walk. The Seven Bridges Trail climbs wooded ravines and follows bluffs along Lake Michigan. The park also has a sand-and-rock beach.
Lake Michigan isn’t the only water show in town. See the city from a new perspective in a kayak on the Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic and Menomonee rivers. Stay out of Lake Michigan, though, unless you have a sea kayak and are experienced. Sit-on top kayaks are available for rent from outfitters including Milwaukee Kayak Company, Brew City Kayak and Clear Water Outdoor. The Urban Ecology Center also lends kayaks and canoes to members.
For a less active cruise down the river with a vintage flair, get an electric motorboat from Retro Boat Rentals. The new company’s restored boats look like something you’d see cruising on a Northwoods lake in the ‘50s. Boats fit five, cost $200 for two hours and can be reserved in advance at retroboatmke.com or by calling (414) 563-7025.
It wouldn’t be summer in Milwaukee without baseball. The Brewers are coming off a championship season that saw them fall one game short of the World Series, and hopes remain high for a team that has the reigning National League MVP. Get a free bobblehead of that MVP, Christian Yelich, when the Brewers play the Pirates at 1:10 p.m. June 9.
You can find free music outside nearly every night during the summer. Local favorites include Chill on the Hill in Humboldt Park on Tuesdays (6 p.m., June through August), River Rhythms in Pere Marquette Park on Wednesdays (6:30-9 p.m., June 12-Aug. 28) and Jazz in the Park in Cathedral Square on Thursdays (6-9 p.m., May 30-Aug. 29).
There are plenty of options for free outdoor movies, too. The Marcus Center's Peck Pavilion has movies showing at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays in August, and Veterans Park is showing movies under the stars (starting at dusk) on select Saturdays throughout the summer. The Bucks will show movies on the new plaza outside Fiserv Forum at dusk on select Tuesdays through Sept. 17.
Where to eat and drink
Summer is outdoor dining season in Milwaukee. OK, any time the temperature is bearable is outdoor dining season in Milwaukee.
Developments around Fiserv Forum, dubbed the “Deer District,” provide new options for eating and drinking outside. Sip a brew in the Bucks’ beer garden, which has a giant TV screen and connects Old World Third Street with the plaza in front of the arena. There’s also Punch Bowl Social, serving food and drinks (including creative non-alcoholic offerings) on a patio outside and a second-floor balcony. Games such as bags and yard dice outside and bowling and table tennis inside provide more entertainment. Next-door neighbors include Drink Wisconsinbly, a lifestyle brand and bar, and a second location of Good City Brewing, with garage doors for an indoor-outdoor vibe in summer.
Other options include View MKE, with two patios perched high on Brewers Hill overlooking the city; the Milwaukee Ale House, with views of the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward; Harbor House, for fine dining on Lake Michigan; and Cafe Benelux, a popular brunch spot in the Third Ward with rooftop and sidewalk patios. For breakfast and lunch, check out Colectivo Coffee's Lakefront Cafe at 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive or Stone Creek Coffee's Downer Cafe + Kitchen, which opened in 2018. Dogs are allowed outside at both spots, and Stone Creek even has an outdoor window for ordering.
Food trucks pop up around the city year-round, including at the new Zocalo Food Park at 618-640 S. Sixth St. in Walker’s Point, which was expected to open in May. But in summer you also can find them clustered in certain spots around the city. Find trucks at Schlitz Park on Tuesdays, the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Thursdays and Red Arrow Park on Fridays. Look for them at breweries like Third Space Brewing Co. on weekends.
Third Space is one of about a dozen breweries in Milwaukee with outdoor space for sipping brews. Lakefront Brewery is a local and visitor favorite, with taps and seats along the RiverWalk. Good City Brewing’s east side location has rooftop and sidewalk seating, Black Husky in Riverwest welcomes dogs inside and out, and the always-busy Eagle Park will use its new container bar for beer and food orders outside this summer.
You're never more than a stein's throw away from a beer garden in Milwaukee. Pack a picnic for a Hofbrau brew at Estabrook, which is usually filled with the sounds of live polka music. Or ride your bike to Hubbard Park, also tucked along the Milwaukee River. Follow Milwaukee's Traveling Beer Gardens to different parks throughout the summer, from Juneau (May 8-27) and Doctors (May 29-June 16) to Kletzsch in Glendale (May 15-27 and Froemming in Franklin (May 29-June 9).
For more than just beer, check out classic bars like Barnacle Bud's on the Kinnickinnic River in Bay View; The Outsider on the rooftop of the Kimpton Hotel in the Third Ward; and Red Lion Pub, with poolball (pool with soccer balls) on its rooftop patio overlooking the Milwaukee River on the east side.
Where to fest and more events
Milwaukee has been called the City of Festivals for its numerous offerings nearly every weekend in the summer.
There are the big ones at Maier Festival Park along Lake Michigan, like Summerfest and Irish Fest, but to get the real feel of the city, stop by a neighborhood festival.
The Locust Street Festival, June 9 in Riverwest, has music like other neighborhood shindigs, but it also has a Beer Run (or Walk). Brady Street Festival, July 27 on the east side, has four stages of live entertainment, plus deals at bars and restaurants along the street. Walker's Point's 5th Street Fest launched in 2017 and stretches summer into fall with food, drinks, music and art on Sept. 28.
Milwaukee's July 3 fireworks were almost not-to-be this year, until new sponsors American Family Insurance, the Milwaukee Brewers and local businessman and philanthropist Ted Kellner stepped up in April. The free 45-minute show will go on from barges on Lake Michigan near Veterans Park.
The Riverwest24 is officially a 24-hour bike race through the Riverwest neighborhood July 26-27. Unofficially it's a daylong neighborhood block party with tent-pitching in yards, grilling on patios and lots of lawn chairs. Competitors can ride as individuals or teams, including as a Convoy, a new class this year that requires three to six people to ride together on individual bikes, tandems or any combination of the two.
Where to stay
Spend a night at the Kimpton Journeyman in the Third Ward so you can take advantage of The Outsider, the hotel's rooftop bar.
The boutique Kinn Guesthouse in Bay View has eight rooms that share a kitchen and TV lounge (there are TVs in the rooms, too). Kindred, a delicious restaurant with vegan and gluten-free options, is on the first floor.
If you want to pitch a tent, you'll have to head outside the city. Harrington Beach State Park is about 30 miles north on Lake Michigan and has 70 campsites, including five walk-in sites and a kayak campsite, plus an accessible cabin. To the west in Waukesha County, Naga-Waukee Park has 25 campsites and five group sites plus a golf course between Nagawicka and Pewaukee lakes.