The city might have been built on brewing, tanning, and heavy manufacturing (and to a degree that world still exists), but exuberant arts, music, and theater scenes have turned the once gritty industrial city of Milwaukee into a cultural haven. Luxurious riverfront condos are energizing the downtown area, and in the summer, the gorgeous four-mile lakefront explodes with life and an amazing array of festivals.
Santiago Calatrava’s addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum (414-224-3200, www.mam.org) put the city on the world's architecture map. Its striking winged sun screen is an engineering marvel, soaring open and closed each day at noon.
Discovery World (414-765-9966, www.discoveryworld.org) is home to a technology museum, an aquarium, and, in the summer, a 137-foot triple-masted schooner.
Bike, stroll, or blade the lakefront, and then grab a latte at Alterra, (414-223-4551, www.alterracoffee.com), a local coffee bar and café. The Wisconsin State Fair (800-884-3247, www.wistatefair.com), August 2 to 12, boasts blue-ribbon livestock and 42 different kinds of food on a stick. Miller (414-931-2000, www.millerbrewing.com) is the last of the city's big brewers (tours include samples in the historic beer garden), and you can visit three microbreweries on a Milwaukee River pontoon boat (414-283-9999, www.riverwalkboats.com). Don't miss out on the state's number one tourist destination: Potawatomi Bingo Casino (800-729-7244, www.paysbig.com).
Sanford (414-276-9608, www.sanfordrestaurant.com) and Bacchus (414-765-1166, www.bacchusmke.com) are considered the city's top spots, serving highly refined modern American fare. The folks behind Bacchus also run the elegant French bistro, Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro (414-962-6300, www.lakeparkbistro.com). Botana's (414-672-3755, www.botanasrestaurant.com) dishes up authentic Mexican cuisine with addictive margaritas; Moceans (414-272-7470, www.moceans.com) offers impeccably fresh seafood and draws local VIPs and athletes. A great way to kick off the weekend is to head to the Lakefront Brewery, (414-372-8800, www.lakefrontbrewery.com) a microbrewery that throws a fish fry with 16 types of handcrafted beer and a live polka band every Friday night. At the Milwaukee Public Market (414-336-1111, www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org), you’ll find fresh and prepared foods, cheeses, and chocolates — everything’s local, and much of it’s organic.
With 307 guest rooms, the historic Pfister (414-273-8222, www.pfisterhotel.com) boasts Victorian decor, an indoor pool, and a smashing restaurant called Mason Street Grill. The all-suite boutique, Hotel Metro (877-638-7620, www.hotelmetro.com) has great amenities, a rooftop spa, and a laid-back European vibe. County Clare (888-942-5273, www.countyclare-inn.com) is a boutique B&B with an Irish pub that serves some of the best burgers in town. Families love the Hilton Milwaukee City Center (414-271-7250, www.hiltonmilwaukee.com) for its indoor water park.