The heart of Milwaukee is its rivers: The Kinnikinnick, the Menomonee, and the Milwaukee. From their banks, Milwaukee’s distinctive neighborhoods branch out to form a diverse and exciting city. With new businesses popping up in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods and national events selecting Milwaukee as their host, there’s no better time to explore the city’s nooks and crannies. Whether you’re looking to museum-hop by the lakeshore or window shop in the Third Ward, this guide to Milwaukee’s neighborhoods will get you discovering the best part of this underrated American city.
East Town — East Town sits between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan in Milwaukee’s downtown. A must-visit destination for tourists, East Town is home to world-class museums and attractions, including the iconic Milwaukee Art Museum, often called the only “flying” museum in the world for its unique architecture. The interactive Discovery World Science and Technology Museum is just a few steps away, with inspiring exhibits that capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. Nearby these futuristic buildings stand architectural icons of Milwaukee’s Art Deco era, such as the famous Gaslight Building, whose glass flame indicates the weather forecast every evening. At night, East Town’s Water Street comes alive with bar crawlers making their way through the city’s most popular nightlife destinations like Red Rock Saloon and Trinity Three Irish Pubs. With annual festivals like Bastille Days, celebrating Milwaukee’s French community every July, and the Lakefront Festival of Art, which draws artists from around the world to showcase their work every June, East Town is an excellent start to any visit to Milwaukee.
East Side — East Side is a trendy neighborhood bustling with UW–Milwaukee students, as well as young professionals and families. The East Side is home to some of the best spots on Milwaukee’s culinary scene, like Glorioso’s Italian Market and Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, conveniently located mere steps from one another. A few blocks away, Hangout MKE Cafe & Lounge is a unique coffee shop where you can play old-school Nintendo while sipping on a hot cuppa. Street art fans will enjoy Black Cat Alley, a colorful mural collaboration featuring local and international artists. Around the corner, Sip & Purr Cafe serves delicious coffee and tea with a side of furry cuddles in their cat adoption lounge. Done right, a trip to the East Side will leave visitors satisfied on all fronts.
Historic Third Ward — Once the heart of Milwaukee’s industrial district, the old warehouses of the Historic Third Ward now host hip dining spots and boutique shops. Located between the Milwaukee Public Market, a buzzing food hall and market place, to the north and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design to the south, the Third Ward is a hub for creativity and style. Just pop into any of the art galleries or novelty shops, like MOD GEN or Broadway Paper, for proof. During the summer, be sure to visit Henry Maier Festival Park on Lake Michigan, where many events take place every year, including Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival.
Westown — Westown is located opposite the Milwaukee River from East Town and makes up half of Milwaukee’s core downtown area. Milwaukee’s entertainment district, Westown is where visitors will find theaters, like the Miller High Life Theater, as well as the Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. The original site of Pabst Brewery spans several blocks on the western end of Westown and is now home to a number of modern breweries like Milwaukee Brewing Company and the Captain Pabst Pilot House, as well as artifacts of PBR’s past, like the iconic original red Pabst sign spanning over Juneau Avenue at 10th Street. Historical brewery tours at Pabst Best Place followed by a flight of beer at any of the newer breweries that now occupy the area are a great way to learn about Milwaukee’s brewing heritage. Closer to the Milwaukee River, numerous pubs line Old World Third Street. In a city obsessed with beer, it’s fitting that Old World Third Street is both the historic center of Milwaukee’s German community as well as one of the most popular nightlife destinations in the city.
Riverwest — A quirky neighborhood with a strong sense of community, Riverwest is the area you need to check out when you think you’ve seen it all. With a tiki bar, a dog-friendly art gallery and bar, and a nostalgic video store all within walking distance of one another, Riverwest always finds a way to surprise even its most frequent visitors. Those following a plant-based diet will find what they’re looking for in Riverwest, with multiple restaurants specializing in veg-friendly meals, like the Riverwest Co-Op Cafe, which serves a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes for every meal. The annual 24-hour bike race, Riverwest 24, held at the end of July each year, is worth attending even if you don’t ride, thanks to the block party that lasts almost as long as the sporting event itself.
Walker’s Point — Evoking Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A, Walker’s Point is an ideal place to browse chocolate shops, antique stores, and Milwaukee’s original creamery. However, there’s a contemporary quirkiness along these streets that could never be curated into a fictitious neighborhood. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum educates visitors on the history of bobbleheads and their role in modern American culture. Just a few blocks away, the studio of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee hosts free concerts and tours every Thursday night. Walker’s Point is also the longtime center of the LGBTQ+ community.
Bay View — While great bars and breweries are everywhere in Milwaukee, it is in Bay View that you can drink in a “puddler’s cottage”, an 1800s steel mill workers’ home, at Puddler’s Hall, the second-oldest tavern in Milwaukee. For summer visitors, Grant Park’s Seven Bridges Trail is the best urban hike in the area, and Humboldt Park’s Craft Beer Garden is a great place to relax in the sun with a few brews. Humboldt Park also hosts Chill on the Hill, a Tuesday-night summer concert series which runs from the beginning of June to the beginning of September each year. Those with an interest in art and history will appreciate the thoughtful revitalization of Bay View Printing Co., which has been creating letterpress prints for over a century.