For a summer getaway that combines art, culture and music, along with sunshine and cool lake breezes, head north to Milwaukee. On the shores of Lake Michigan, 280 miles from Springfield, this city of about 600,000 offers a fabulous lakefront, an art museum that’s a treasure, summer festivals and other delightful attractions for adults and kids.
Milwaukee is famous for its beer and brats, but developments in recent years such as the Milwaukee Art Museum’s postmodern pavillion and the Milwaukee RiverWalk have helped create a more polished image. Downtown and the adjacent lakefront have experienced a renaissance, with the revival spreading south to historic Walker’s Point.
Any visit to Milwaukee should start at the Art Museum. The museum’s special exhibits, soaring architecture and setting on the lakefront make it a magnet for art lovers and tourists. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the museum’s Quadracci Pavilion has become an icon for the city. Among its popular features is a movable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspread.
“Kandinsky: A Retrospective” is the starring attraction this summer. Through Sept. 1, this exhibit features the works of Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky, including early paintings inspired by Claude Monet, Blue Rider paintings from the museum’s German Expressionism collection, as well as paintings from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Among the highlights are murals that Kandinsky and his students created in 1922, now shown for the first time in the United States.
You’ll find one of the largest collections of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works at the museum, including the Wisconsin native’s “Poppies” from 1950, and “Hollyhock Pink with Pedernal” from 1937. If you’re traveling with children, pick up a family art guide or check out a museum ArtPack. Then take time to watch the wings open at 10 a.m., close and reopen at noon, or close for the day at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. on Thursdays). It’s an enchanting sight.
Through Labor Day, the museum is open every day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month. The admission fee is $17 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID, and free for children 12 and younger.
The south lakefront area, which includes Henry Maier Festival Park, hosts festivals throughout the summer, including the popular Summerfest musical festival which ended earlier this month. Festivals coming up later this summer include Festa Italiana and German Fest in July, followed by Arab World Fest, Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta in August.
Just a few blocks west of the lakefront is the historic downtown, where the two-mile RiverWalk takes you along the Milwaukee River and provides access to restaurants, brew pubs and shops. Nearby is the historic City Hall, built in the 1890s and now under repair because the old wooden pilings that support it are slowing sinking. You’ll want to check out the 400-foot clock tower and its German Renaissance Revival design.
To find wild and endangered animals, you can’t go wrong at the Milwaukee County Zoo, located on the city’s west side. The zoo’s 200 wooded acres are home to more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and enough rides and shows to fill an entire day, including a sky safari, child-size safari train, carousel, camel rides, pony rides and a ropes course and skyline. Other attractions include the popular Birds of Prey show and, this summer, the Sting Ray & Shark Bay interactive exhibit.
The zoo’s summer hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fees are $14.25 for adults, $13.25 for seniors, $11.25 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children ages 2 and under. Tickets for rides and special attractions vary in price.
Other places to discover include the Milwaukee Public Museum, an excellent natural history and science museum, and the Mitchell Park Domes, located south of downtown. Designed in 1959, the Domes are three beehive-shaped glass buildings that house conservatory plants as well as tropical birds, toads and frogs.
The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, nearly next door to the Art Museum, offers hands-on activities where kids can play while learning about art, science and math. Also nearby is the Discovery World Museum, which includes an aquarium and science and technology exhibits. And for a snack or meal, visit the Milwaukee Public Market, just south of downtown, which attracts shoppers and diners to its indoor vendors and, in the summer, to its outdoor food and art markets.
For more information about Milwaukee’s tourist attractions, visit: http://www.visitmilwaukee.org/
Mary C. Galligan is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago. A former editorial writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and former Midwest correspondent for U.S. News & World Report magazine, she alternates writing the monthly IT travel column with Mary Bohlen of Springfield.