Though Milwaukee is already known for inexpensive fun, sometimes it’s important to take it down a notch–especially when you just spent more than a week’s paycheck at Summerfest. We’ve come up with 10 different ideas on how to have fun in the city for $10 or less, from the intellectual and the arty to the outdoorsy and the fuzzy. Because of the range of options, please be advised that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Have fun!
1. Get Culture Shocked
Milwaukee has a plethora of museums from the world famous to the truly bizarre. Just because you’ve ogled Calatrava’s moving wings at the Milwaukee Art Musuem and walked the Streets of Old Milwaukee doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all. Check out some of the lesser-known places.
The William F. Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design, 208 N. Water St., focuses on the art and cultural impact of advertising. It’s the only museum of its kind in the country. Through Aug. 27 you can catch the Hatch show, featuring the famous Nashville poster shop’s woodblock prints for Elvis, Wilco and more, and “Dream Girls,” offering a glimpse of depictions of women in advertising over the last century. Call (414) 847-3290 or visit http://www.eisnermuseum.org.
Confront your greatest fears at the International Clown Hall of Fame, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. (on the lower level of the Shops of Grand Avenue). Inductees include Bozo, Bob Keeshan and Charlie Chaplin. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and costs $2. Call (414) 319-0848 or visit http://www.theclownmuseum.org for more details.
The Charles Allis Art Museum at 1801 N. Prospect Ave. holds a collection of fine art–drawings, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture–that spans over 2000 years. On display through Aug. 8 is “The Rosenblatts: A Family Exhibition,” featuring the art of two generations of a well-known Milwaukee family. In mid-August, look for “Luckystar 13,” an exhibit sponsored by Luckystar Gallery for which 13 artists created new work inspired by the Allis’ permanent collection. Call (414) 278-8295 or visit http://www.cavtmuseums.org.
The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., features art from the 15th to 18th centuries. Its Renaissance garden is designed to mimic a 16th century Tuscan landscape with dramatic views, thickets, secret gardens and unusual florae. With advance notice, tours can be customized to your interests and last about an hour. The museum’s summer program includes Café Sopra Mare, where patrons can enjoy free music and snack on pastries and coffee in the museum’s courtyard. Call (414) 278-8295 or visit http://www.cavtmuseums.org.
See Milwaukee’s other famous product in the making–not beer but bikes, during a free tour of the Harley Davidson factory, 11700 W. Capitol Drive. Tours last about an hour and run from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. They offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacture of American iron. Call (414) 535-3666 for information.
America’s Black Holocaust Museum, 2233 N. 4th St., examines the struggles of African Americans in our nation’s history. Exhibits change frequently and usually include artwork, lectures, literature and historical artifacts. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Current exhibits include “Before Freedom Came: African American Life in the Antebellum South” and “Middle Passage: A Voyage to Slavery.” Call (414) 264-2500 for more information.
The Pabst Mansion, 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave., offers both guided (call ahead) and self-guided tours of Milwaukee’s most famous and opulent monument to the Gilded Age. Strolling through the museum offers a glimpse into Milwaukee history as well as the life of one of its prominent early families. The mansion also features period exhibits. Call (414) 931-0808 or visit http://www.pabstmansion.com.
2. See a Concert in the Park
No matter where you live in Milwaukee, you will be able to find free music in the evenings–and not just from your annoying neighbors’ stereo. Thursdays are the most popular night for free music with Jazz in the Park at Cathedral Square or the Boerner Botanical Gardens’ Concerts. On Sundays, head to Trimborn Farm Park at 8881 W. Grange Avenue for Ethnic Folk Art. Musical Mondays are held at Lake Park, Lake Park Road south of Kenwood Boulevard.
Tuesday features the Marcus Center’s free “Live at the Center concerts, outdoors through Aug. 17. Humboldt Park, 3000 S. Howell Ave., has Bandshell Concerts on Tuesdays in July. Pere Marquette Park, 900 N. Plankinton Ave., hosts River Rhythms on Wednesday nights. Also on Wednesdays, the Westown Farmers Market offers free music for lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. And smooth jazz will be heard at Washington Park, 1859 N. 40 Street, on Saturday nights. For more information go the Milwaukee County Park’s information page at ww.countyparks.com/specialevents/concerts.html. Don’t forget to pack a picnic dinner!
3. Stop and Smell the Roses
Visit the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Whitnall Park, 9400 Boerner Drive in Hales Corners, and see 11 different specialty gardens in addition to showcased art by Francesco Spicuzza (through Aug. 3) and Susan Falkman. The gardens are open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Inclement weather and even holidays won’t stand in the way of a visit to the Domes aka the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, 524 S. Layton Blvd. The Domes transport visitors to tropical jungles and deserts. Passport not required.
4. Have a Beer
Could it really be Milwaukee without the breweries? After all, this is the city that made beer famous. Live out your “Laverne & Shirley” fantasies.
Miller Brewery, 4251 W. State St., offers free hour-long tours between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Reservations are not required. Call (414) 931-BEER (2337) for more information.
Lakefront Brewery, 1872 N. Commerce St., offers tours at 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Friday-night 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. tours include a fish fry. Saturday tours are available at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Participants must be 21 years old or accompanied by a guardian. Tours cost $3, or $5 with a souvenir pint glass. No reservation is required. Call (414) 372-8800 or visit http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com.
Sprecher Brewery, at 701 W. Glendale Ave., offers tours on Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Some weekday tours are available, but you must call (414) 964-2739 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to make reservations. The cost is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and $1 for those under 21 and includes a souvenir pint glass. Adults are allowed four samples and everyone can drink unlimited amounts of Sprecher soda. Visit http://www.sprecherbrewery.com for more information.
5. Bet It All
If you’re 21 or older, visit Potawatami Casino, 1721 W. Canal St., and double your money on bingo, slots, craps, blackjack, roulette and poker. Join their Fire Keeper’s club to maximize your comps. And be sure to take advantage of the free, unlimited soda!
6. Take a Hike
Follow the Ice Age Trail through parts of Waukesha County and see wonders of the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, including Lapham Peak. Travel 25 miles west of Milwaukee and 1 mile south of Interstate 94 near Delafield, on County Highway C. Visit http://www.iceagetrail.org for more information. Note: Your car will need a state park admission sticker.
See historic Milwaukee on a daily walking tour that focuses on the city’s architectural and cultural history. Tours of downtown are available daily at 10:15 a.m. and last two hours. On weekends, explore Brady Street, the Riverwalk, Milwaukee’s skyways, the Lake Drive mansions or many others. Tours are available until Oct. 15. Call (414) 277-7795 or visit http://www.historicmilwaukee.org for details.
7. Pet a Puppy!
Cheer up a four-legged friend by visiting a local animal shelter. The dogs and cats really appreciate the companionship, and you get free kisses and unconditional love. Plus, you never know when you’ll stumble upon your newest best friend! Visit the Wisconsin Humane Society at 4500 W. Wisconsin Ave. or call (414) ANIMALS (264-6257).The Elm-Brook Humane Society, 21210 Enterprise Ave. in Brookfield, can be reached at (262) 782-9261. In Waukesha, visit the Humane Animal Welfare Society at 701 Northview Road or call (262) 542-8851. Check out the Ozaukee County Human Society at 2073 County Truck W. in Grafton or call (262) 377-7580. For additional information and further shelter listings, visit http://www.petfinder.org.
8. Drink Like a Lady
It’s no secret that women drink cheap–or even free–in Milwaukee. Grab a female friend, take her out and make sure she’s willing to share drinks. On Wednesdays, visit Vitucci’s, 1832 E. North Ave.; Victor’s at 1230 N. Van Buren Street; FlyBar, 606 S. 5th St. or Judge’s Irish Pub at 1431 E. North Ave. Also be sure to check out Womyn Wednesdays at Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh for an entirely different vibe.
Thursdays call for the Mantra Lounge, 1905 E. North Ave., Have a Nice Day Café at 1103 N. Old World 3rd St., Centanni, 218 N. Water St., Da Jungle at 618 N. Broadway or Flirt/Finlandia Vodka Night at the Hi Hat,1701 N. Arlington Pl.
9. Park and Ride
Explore Milwaukee in eco-friendly style–on mass transit. It will save you money on both gas and parking, take you everywhere that’s interesting and costs next to nothing! Don’t forget to ride the Milwaukee Trolley Loop, which operates every twenty minutes Wednesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. Sunday’s operation hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $1, or 50 cents for seniors and the disabled. Visit the Milwaukee County Transit’s Web site at http://www.ridemcts.com for maps and schedules.
10. Read a Book
Milwaukee’s public libraries are excellent places to read, relax and enjoy free air conditioning in the summer. Plus, unlike Barnes & Noble, the books are free (provided you return them on time). And Milwaukee’s central branch offers the most amazing free service in the world–Ready Reference, available at (414) 286-3011–that can answer any fact-based question you have that is researchable within three-five minutes. Additionally, tours are given at the central branch, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Other tour times are available by appointment; call (414) 286-TOUR (8687).
Extra Tips To Help Save Money:
- Pack a lunch. Eating out adds up quickly and can easily cost more than your whole day of fun.
- Carry a bottle of water. You don’t want to get dehydrated or price-gauged by street vendors.
- Carpool. Gas is expensive; travel with a friend and share the cost.
- Check those meters! A parking ticket can easily break the bank or, at the very least, ruin your day.
(Originally published July 22, 2004)
**Note: This was the cover article and 2004′s fastest moving issue of the paper**