Milwaukee, WI + Lake Michigan

Since I’ve been old enough to make decisions about where to call home, I’ve always been drawn to   cities  near  bodies of water. Madison, WI is an isthmus. My cozy apartment in Ann Arbor, MI was  just a few blocks from the Huron River. And San Francisco is the “City by the Bay.” So when I contemplated my next move, one of Milwaukee’s major selling points was Lake Michigan. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The disclaimer is that much of my family lives in and around Milwaukee. It’s affordable. It’s “easy” to live in because it is easy to get around. It has cheese (duh). I felt like I was striking a great balance between perfectly comfortable, yet still adventurous - this felt like the right place for me to start the next chapter of my life.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the rate at which Milwaukee constantly changes. While Milwaukee is a city rich in tradition, and that’s one of the things that make it so charming, the growth I have seen in the 3.5 years is plain exciting. Growing up in the far burbs of Milwaukee, you learn that certain things will require  you to travel ( sometimes all the way to Illinois), so I expected to have to do the same when I moved to downtown Milwaukee. But Milwaukee put its foot down and stuck its chest out before it let me believe I needed to look elsewhere.. From farm-to-table restaurants, trendy cycling studios, and uniquely themed bars to . . . gasp . . .  whisperings of a Nordstrom (which eventually happened, hallelujah), Milwaukee has been more than enough. Milwaukee has been truly and uniquely home. 

Allow me to introduce you to MY Milwaukee.

Closest major city & airport?

MKE, aka General Mitchell National Airport, which is minutes from downtown Milwaukee. If this doesn’t count as major enough, you’re heading to Chicago.

Distance to the nearest grocery store?

From my downtown apartment, 3 blocks. If you’re looking for an Italian market & deli, Glorioso’s is found on Brady St. If you’re buying, I’ll take a large Italian sausage sandwich with hot giardiniera.

Reason lake is important to you?

THERAPY. I am not even being slightly dramatic when I say that the walks, runs, and drives along the lake’s shore have been exactly the type of grounding activities needed to calm my emotions and bring my stress levels back to manageable. Of course the trails and rivers across the city are quite lovely, but it is the sight of that massive body of water that helps me gain perspective and clear my mind’s chatter enough to access  my creativity. Lake breezes and cooler temps on a hot summer day are also incredibly appreciated.

Favorite memory from the lake?

Milwaukee’s Discovery World Harbor is home to the S/V Denis Sulivan, the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes Schooner. We were afforded opportunities to use the vessel, and we excitedly planned our family business’ “company event” to be a cruise on the boat followed by a nearby dinner. The evening started incredibly comfortably, our group of fifty or so folks enjoyed a beautiful sky, wonderfully mild summer temperatures, and those not opting to hoist the sails were partaking in a few beverages. We should have realized that we were still within the harbor’s breakwater, and soon enough we’d be out on the open surf. Did we check the surf report? No. Would checking the surf report be a good idea? Yes. Within a few moments out on the chop all hell broke loose. Some of us armed our non-sailor-selves with dramamine. Some of us hadn’t. Some of us were tossed around the ship as the waves crashed over the sides. Some of us did a little tossing of other things….

After the pain of that night wore off...8 years later...we braved this trip one more time, and much to our delight, it was a perfectly calm night. Calm enough, in fact, that the crew let us man the ship while a few of them entertained us with songs from the sea. THAT is one of my favorite memories from time on the lake.

Favorite lake activities/foods/traditions?

  • Walks by the marina or Veterans Park

  • Summerfest - The World’s Largest Music Festival

  • Happy Hour on the Harbor House patio

  • Lakefront Colectivo - The historic Milwaukee River Flushing Station built in 1888 saw new life when it became Colectivo’s Lakefront cafe. You’ll find me here far too often. Roast of choice: Velo. All the Colectivos around town are wonderful, so you can’t go wrong.

What do you do when it rains/snows?

  • Brewery tours - there are the obvious big names that are still worth a visit, but this past summer alone, Milwaukee saw the openings of 8 new breweries.

  • Milwaukee Public Market - Unique shopping & dining from local merchants.

  • Massage at the Well Spa+Salon or high tea, cocktails and live music at Blu (23rd story) - both within the historic Pfister Hotel.

  • Enjoy an Old Fashioned or cocktail of your choice fireside at one of the many cozy bars across the city: The Outsider Rooftop (blankets & heaters all winter long), Hudson Business Lounge, Monica’s, CAMP Bar

  • Milwaukee Art Museum - 30,000 works of art and 400,000+ visitors a year. 125 years of collecting art. From its roots in Milwaukee’s first art gallery in 1888, the Museum has grown today to be an icon for Milwaukee and a resource for the entire state. The 341,000-square-foot Museum includes the War Memorial Center (1957) designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the Kahler Building (1975) by David Kahler, and the Quadracci Pavilion (2001) created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Favorite local joints?

  • Patio at The Knick - on a summer evening, there is nothing quite better than sitting out on the patio, with park & lake views. Also brunch approved.

  • Pure Barre Whitefish Bay - my sweat/torture method of choice, just a short drive from downtown.

  • Merriment Social - wildly interesting cocktails & burgers.

  • Engine Co. 3 - a converted fire station made famous by President Obama’s visit in 2016, this place does brunch oh so right. Don’t ask questions. Just go. And don’t think twice about ordering the sausage of the day regardless of how crazy the seasoning sounds.

Best fish fry?

  • Turner Hall - this gem is only open before BMO Harris Bradley Center events, so plan accordingly.

  • Lakefront Brewery - the fish is great; the polka and pitchers are better.  

  • O’Lydias

  • Not up on the importance & tradition behind the Fish Fry? Please drop everything and go here and then read this and this.

No matter where you decide to spend your time in Milwaukee, Lord knows the options are endless these days, make sure you pay a visit to our Great Lake.

Long Live Lake Life,

Katherine