Milwaukee in a Nutshell:
An old-world, largely working-class city that's long been overshadowed as a tourist destination by its relative neighbor to the south, Chicago, up-and-coming Milwaukee has enjoyed a terrific resurgence in the 2000s, with revitalized urban neighborhoods, handsome new condos, and a burgeoning retail and dining scene. This friendly, fairly affordable city hugging the shores of Lake Michigan has a sizable gay population and a vibrant gay nightlife corridor just south of downtown. Host of the nation's largest Gay Pride festival, it's a city that gay travelers are often pleasantly surprised by - come see for yourself.
Milwaukee has fairly pleasant weather most of the year, although winters can see spells of intensely cold weather, and summers sometimes bring sultry heatwaves. Fall and spring are when the odds favor moderate temperatures and pleasant days. Milwaukee, which is famed for its festivals, has many events from spring through fall.
Average high-low temps are 27F/13F in Jan., 54F/38F in Apr., 82F/66F in July, and 61F/44F in Oct. Precipitation averages 2 to 4 inches/mo. year-round, with sometimes very heavy snowfall in winter.
Arguably, Milwaukee enjoys an even more scenic perch over Lake Michigan than its cousin 90 miles south, Chicago. This gently hilly city lies 85 miles across the lake from western Michigan, and much of the city sits elevated above the lake, affording particularly dramatic views. Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city and lies in the southeast corner of the state, surrounded mostly by flat suburbs and prairies. It's connected both Chicago (to the south) and Madison (to the west) via I-94.
Driving distances to Milwaukee from prominent places and points of interest are:
- Chicago, IL: 90 mi (90 min)
- Cincinnati, OH: 390 mi (6 to 6.5 hrs)
- Cleveland, OH: 435 mi (6.5 to 7 hrs)
- Columbus, OH: 445 mi (7 to 8 hrs)
- Des Moines, IA: 375 mi (5 to 5.5 hrs)
- Detroit, MI: 375 mi (5.5 to 6 hrs)
- Indianapolis, IN: 275 mi (4.5 hrs)
- Kansas City, MO: 570 mi (8 to 9 hrs)
- Louisville, KY: 390 mi (6 to 6.5 hrs)
- Madison, WI: 80 mi (75 min)
- Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: 340 mi (4.5 to 5 hrs)
- Nashville, TN: 600 mi (8.5 to 9.5 hrs)
- Pittsburgh, PA: 550 mi (8 to 9 hrs)
- St. Louis, MO: 385 mi (5.5 hrs)
- Saugatuck, MI: 230 mi (4 hrs)
Traveling to Milwaukee:
Milwaukee is served by one of the most user-friendly, beautifully designed airports in the country, General Mitchell International Airport, which is just a 15-minute drive south of downtown. Another option is to fly into one of Chicago's two airports, which are about 90 minutes south (shuttle service is available from them to Milwaukee), O'Hare (a hub for American and United), and Midway Airport (a hub for the discount airline, Southwest). These are both comparatively less pleasant airports, however.
2014-2015 Milwaukee Events and Festivals:
- June to Early Sept.: Jazz in the Park (free jazz concerts downtown on Thursday evenings).
- Early June: Gay Milwaukee PrideFest (one of the nation's largest GLBT Pride festivals).
- Mid-June: Lakefront Festival of the Arts.
- Late June: Polish Fest.
- Late June: Summerfest.
- Mid-July: Festa Italiana.
- Late July: German Fest.
- Early Aug.: Wisconsin State Fair.
- Early Aug.: African World Festival.
- Mid-Aug.: Irish Fest.
- Late Aug.: Mexican Fiesta.
- Early Sept.: Indian Summer Festival.
- Early Sept.: Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival.
- Late Sept.: Milwaukee AIDS Walk.
- Late Sept. to Early Oct.: Oktoberfest.
Cool Neighborhoods in Milwaukee:
Milwaukee has a number of lovely, walkable neighborhoods, and three in particular resonate strongly with the gay community. Just on the southern end of downtown, the Historic Third Ward is a quadrant of stunning old warehouses that have been converted to lofts, art galleries, antiques shops, and theaters. Just southwest of here, with the main thoroughfare of 2nd Street, Walker's Point is a historic mixed-use residential and lightly industrial area that has the bulk of the city's gay bars.
From here, it's about a 10-minute drive south to Bay View, a largely residential area with a significant gay following.
Top Milwaukee Attractions and Museums:
Probably no attractions has brought the city more acclaim than the Milwaukee Art Museum, an esteemed facility by the lakefront with a much-heralded expansion designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Other cultural draws include Charles Allis Art Museum, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Market, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory; Brady Street's lively shops and cafes; the John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Miller Brewing Company tours; the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts; and the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion.
Gay Resources on Milwaukee:
Quest is the most popular GLBT newspaper and website serving Milwaukee and Wisconsin. The Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau also produces a GLBT guide to the city and has an excellent GLBT page on its website. And here's here's a blog I penned about a recent tour of Milwaukee.
As for mainstream media, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the city's main daily paper, and Shepherd Express is the city's long-running, left-leaning alternative newsweekly, a good bet for entertainment listings and cultural stories.
Getting to Know Milwaukee:
Drive - or walk - around this somewhat underrated city of 600,000, and you'll see evidence everywhere you look of a city on the up - brand-new condos and loft apartments, hip restaurants, and formerly prosaic blocks in the throes of gentrification. The city has invested huge sums of money into its infrastructure, with a stunning new Public Market in the Historic Third Ward; the massive Discover World at Pier Wisconsin, which contains a myriad of attractions; and a number of reinvented neighborhoods.
Long a progressive and gay-friendly city (it's home to one of the country's largest Pride Festivals each June), Milwaukee also has a pronounced GLBT scene. You'll find a quite a few gay bars for a city this size, and most of them within walking distance of one another in the historic Walker's Point neighborhood, just south of downtown. It's also exceedingly easy here to find gay-friendly hotels as well as restaurants and shops with strong gay followings. What you won't find as you explore the gay Milwaukee scene is attitude - this is a low-keyed, welcoming city that's quite welcoming toward outsiders.
The city has become an arts powerhouse over the years, with a number of first-rate theaters, excellent city operas and symphony orchestras, a burgeoning gallery scene, and the renowned Milwaukee Art Museum. A rich immigrant tradition imbues Milwaukee with plenty of excellent German, Polish, Italian, Mexican, and other noteworthy ethnic restaurants, and increasing numbers of contemporary eateries keep opening.
Milwaukee has great neighborhoods for strolling, cafe-hopping, and admiring architecture, among them the Historic Third Ward, Brady Street, Downer Avenue, and the gay-popular south side neighborhood of Bay View, which is loaded with fine Victorian and early-20th-century houses as well as a number of engaging, mostly independently owned businesses along the main drag, Kinnickinnic Avenue.
At the risk of making too many comparisons with Chicago, it is nevertheless fair to say that Milwaukee is steadily importing the many fine qualities its neighbor to the south has long been known for, while retaining its more affordable cost of visiting, friendly vibe, and relative ease of getting around the city. Keep your eye out on Milwaukee - it's rapidly becoming legitimate long-week destination among gay and lesbian travelers, and its future looks brighter than ever.