The Milwaukee River is a 75 mile stretch of water that empties into Lake Michigan. The river cuts through downtown Milwaukee. The river is a tourist attraction in and of itself. Boaters constantly travel up and down the river sometimes stopping for dinner before heading back home. Tour companies offer river city tours and there are even water taxis to shuttle people up and down the river.
The Milwaukee RiverWalk is a pedestrian walkway that goes the length of the river. Many shops and restaurants line the walkway with most having outdoor seating. The RiverWalk is given character by the many different art sculptures known collectively as RiverSculpture!
On our first day in Milwaukee, we decided to take a self guided walking tour of the city. We left our hotel at the Marriott Residence Inn and started walking down the RiverWalk. We first stopped at the Rock Bottom Brewery for a quick beer. While we continued to walk, we encountered a bronze statue that looked eerily familiar. It was Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli from the show Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee. A bronze statue was unveiled by TV Land on the RiverWalk to pay tribute to one of Milwaukee’s favorite sons.
We got off of the RiverWalk and walked east on Wells St. We walked past the Pabst Theater, a 1300 seat theater that hosts about 100 events a year. It was built in 1895 by brewer Frederick Pabst and is now a National Historic Landmark. From our hotel room, I noticed a tall clock tower towering over the skyline. The architecture was unique and I was intrigued to know what it was. We walked further up the street and the building was massive taking up an entire city block. The building turned out to be Milwaukee’s City Hall. It was built in 1895 and for a short time it was the tallest building in the world. The building’s clock tower stands 353 feet tall and is named for Solomon Juneau, the city’s founder and first mayor.
We started walking back across the river to Old World Third Street. This street is the last part of the original German retail business district. Many restaurants and businesses adorn the street. A visit here is not complete without stopping at Usinger’s Famous Sausage Store. Fred Usinger opened this store in 1880 and today they sell sausages, bratwurst, chorizo, liverwurst, beerwurst, frankfurters, summer sausage, blood sausage, and many more different types of meat. All of the meat products are fresh and made on site. As you enter the store, you grab a number and wait until you are called by the Sausage Elves, as they are called. Sausage is not complete without some cheese. Right next door is the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, which is touted as having the largest selection of Wisconsin cheese. We grabbed a couple of bags of cheese curds and summer sausage to enjoy later.
We walked back toward Kilborne Ave passing the Bradley Center which is home to the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA as well as the Arena football team, the Milwaukee Iron. Right next to the Bradley Center is the US Cellular Arena which is home to their indoor soccer team, the Milwaukee Wave and indoor football team, the Milwaukee Bonecrushers. It is also home to the University of Milwaukee basketball team. The Milwaukee Theater is connected to the US Cellular Arena where performances are held every year. Looking straight down Kilborne Ave is a towering structure that resembles something like the Lincoln Memorial in DC. I first though it was a train station like Grand Central, but I found out later that it is the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
We proceeded back to our hotel on Wells St which cuts through the Midwest Airlines Center. The Midwest Airlines Center is 189,000 square foot conference center and exhibition center. Skywalks connect the arena with the Hyatt and Hilton hotels nearby.
After walking back to the hotel and looking for somewhere to eat, we started walking the other direction on the RiverWalk. We ended up in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. The Third Ward was an historic warehouse district. Today, it is filled with specialty shops, restaurants, and condos. It is also home to many art galleries and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design.
Also located in the Third Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market. It is a fresh market that has become popular among Milwaukee residents. There are over 20 different vendors selling everything from food, beer and wine, and even flowers. It is a great place if you are looking for gourmet, specialty, and organic foods.
The Milwaukee RiverWalk is a great way to see downtown and the various attractions around the city. If walking is not an option, try the Milwaukee Trolley. It is a free bus service that only runs during the summer months. The trolley travels the Milwaukee Loop which takes passengers to the popular tourist spots such as the Third Ward, Old World Third Street, East Town, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and other locations in downtown. The trolley runs from 11am to 10pm.
The Milwaukee RiverWalk makes Milwaukee a pedestrian friendly city and with all of the attractions within walking distance, it is sure to keep you busy.