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Brew City, Cream City and the City of Festivals. Sure, its nicknames reveal a part of Milwaukee’s personality, but families should follow the waterline to get better acquainted with the area.
Suggest clients start with a shoreline boat cruise on Lake Michigan, which is complete with views of the city’s skyline. Then, they can rent a cabana at Bradford Beach or a paddleboat at Veterans Park. Or, they can opt to traverse the 6-mile Lakefront Trail by foot, bicycle, Segway or surrey.
Facing Lake Michigan, Milwaukee Art Museum is an architectural icon that families should be sure not to miss. The vaulted and window-rich structure has a winglike sun screen that draws a crowd as it opens and closes, usually twice per day. When extended, this “brise soleil” designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is as wide as a Boeing 747. Inside the museum, clients can explore thousands of art pieces, from antiquities to contemporary works.
During the summer, entertainment lovers will find popular ethnic and music extravaganzas by meandering the city’s 75-acre lakeshore festival grounds. The biggest party is the 11-day (and affordable) Summerfest, which has been billed as the world’s largest music festival for its 800-plus acts on 11 stages.
But for attractions available year-round, families should check out the lakefront Discovery World, a hands-on science and technology center that provides fun brain exercises for all ages. The study of water, especially the Great Lakes, is a big deal here. Discovery World’s outdoor anchor is S/V Denis Sullivan, a tall ship with three masts. Across the street is Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which is especially good for preschool and elementary school students.
Follow inland waterways for a myriad of other Milwaukee views. The waterways were built at the confluence of three rivers (Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee), and the 35-mile Milwaukee Urban Water Trail can be explored by renting a canoe or kayak. Or, if families prefer, they can hoof it along the 2-mile downtown RiverWalk, stopping at cobblestoned Old World Third Street and its cheese mart; Usinger Sausage and Smoked Meats; or century-old Mader’s Restaurant for German fare.
Sports lovers have plenty of options here, too. A $524 million basketball arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks is opening in town this year, and 4 miles west is Miller Park, the major league baseball stadium that’s home to the Milwaukee Brewers. Even farther west is the indoor Pettit National Ice Center, where average joes skate on the same ice where Olympians train and compete.
To be right in the action, try the Sky Trail ropes courses and the 500-foot zipline at the 200-acre Milwaukee County Zoo. Or, hop over to the Harley-Davidson Museum, where scavenger hunts for children and a pop-culture approach appeal to more than just gearheads.
And once it’s time for a pick-me-up, finish the day at Sprecher Brewery. Although “Cream City” refers not to sudsy beer foam but buildings made with cream-colored bricks, this Midwestern hub is still a place that beer barons helped build. Brewery tours here aren’t just for adults, either, as Sprecher’s products include a dozen types of craft soda.
WHERE TO STAY Homewood Suites by Hilton Milwaukee DowntownOne of Milwaukee's newest hotels is located in a revamped building rich in history. In each suite is a sofa sleeper and a fully equipped kitchen. The edgy Historic Third Ward is just a short walk away.
Aloft Milwaukee DowntownKids ages 2 to 12 will get treats and can snooze on a kid-size air mattress when families book the "Camp Aloft" program here. Add a visit to the splash pool in this pet-friendly hotel.
WHERE TO GOPalermo's PizzaOne-hour tours of this frozen-pizza factory end with a hot slice. Or, simply show up at Pizzeria 3301, the on-site restaurant. Special events include pizza buffets, pizza-wine pairings and pizza-making classes.
SafeHouseFinding the fun, spy-themed, speakeasy restaurant entrance is tricky. Know the password or complete a special-agent assignment to gain clearance. Junior spies (under 18 years old) are welcome during the day.
WHEN TO GO May through September is ideal, when average summer temperatures are in the mid- to high 70s. Don't disregard the brilliance of autumn's leaf color, though, which peaks as the weather turns crisp (typically in mid-October).
GETTING THERENonstop flights into General Mitchell International Airport are available via Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and more. The airport is 9 miles south of downtown.