Located on the edge of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is perhaps best known for its boisterous bar scene. While there’s no shortage of brewery tours you can book, the city has plenty of under-the-radar attractions as well. Whether you’re in the mood to enjoy the great outdoors or support a local restaurant, be sure to put these 10 hidden gems on your bucket list so you can truly appreciate everything The Cream City has to offer.
1. Peanut Butter and Jelly Deli
Billing itself as “Wisconsin’s only shop dedicated to serving America’s favorite sandwich,” this casual eatery features almost every kind of peanut butter and jelly concoction that you could imagine. Whether you’re hankering for a grilled cheese and jelly sandwich or a peanut butter, banana, and Nutella concoction, it’s all on the menu here. You can even pick up a jar of locally made jam or nut butter on your way home. This innovative, playful shop is sure to be a hit with kids (and kids at heart).
2. Koz’s Mini Bowl
What’s the only thing better than bowling? Mini-bowling, of course! Opened in 1978, the family-owned historic landmark is distinguished as the last duckpin bowling alley in the U.S. With four lanes, a full bar, a pool table, and darts, there’s guaranteed to be something here for everyone. It’s a great place to go if you’re in the mood for a fun night out with friends or a casual date night. Each game costs $5 per adult and $3 per child.
3. Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
If you’re in search of unique things to do in Milwaukee, look no further than Bryant’s, which dates back to 1938. Recognized as the oldest cocktail lounge in the city, Bryant’s features plush velvet walls and vintage tunes. Rather than ordering from a set menu, guests can tell the bartender what they’re in the mood for, and the bartender will create a custom, inventive cocktail just for them. Reservations are recommended and can be made through the website. (Depending on the day and event, some reservations may require a non-refundable deposit that can be used as credit toward your drink bill.)
4. Milwaukee River Greenway
If you love the great outdoors, you’ll want to head to this 878-acre restored riverfront, which features dozens of biking and hiking trails that unfurl alongside the Milwaukee River. Located just a mile from downtown Milwaukee, the restored riverfront offers a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of city living. Visitors can go kayaking, fishing, or running on one of the winding waterfront trails.
If you’re in a more low-key mood, you can pack a picnic or bring a book instead. Regardless of which activity you decide to do, spending time on the riverfront is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee.
5. The Riverfest Filling Station
We’ve all heard it said that the journey is just as important as the destination, but let’s be honest — sometimes the destination is really fun too. That’s certainly the case at The Riverfest Filling Station, an old-timey gas station that has found new life as a gastropub serving up a wide assortment of pub fare, craft beers, and a cocktail program that includes CBD-infused options. Designed as a community gathering spot, it’s a laid-back establishment that’s the perfect alternative to Milwaukee’s more traditional breweries.
6. Kaszube’s Park
Distinguished as the smallest park in the city (clocking in at just 0.15 acres), this plot of land was once home to a fishing village. Today, the tiny park is located squarely between a road salt storage silo and a shipping depot. Though i’'s more of an educational and historical site than a place you would probably frequent for picnics or sports events, the park does have a few benches to sit at as well as an anchor that once belonged to a ship that sank in the nearby depths.
7. Milwaukee’s Swing Park
If you want to continue the park-hopping spree, head to Milwaukee’s Swing Park, which is hidden just underneath the Holton Street Bridge. As soon as you walk under the bridge, a whole new world emerges with regular and tire swings for visitors of all ages to enjoy. After you swing to your heart’s content, head up to the top of the bridge to see some panoramic waterfront views.
8. Swingin’ Door Exchange
As soon as you walk into Swingin’ Door Exchange, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the Wild, Wild West. Decorated like an old-school Western saloon, this is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for something a little different than the normal bar experience. In addition to a range of drink options, they also serve burgers, sandwiches and other simple menu items. It’s a great place to warm up with a bowl of soup on your way home from a ski trip.
Located in downtown Milwaukee, SafeHouse bills itself as a spy-themed hideaway where guests can “enter a world of espionage.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to spend the night solving puzzles, going on scavenger hunts or sipping cocktails in the dining area (where the walls are covered with espionage and Cold War memorabilia). Trap doors, secret codes, and hidden nooks and crannies make the building a blast to explore. There’s just one catch: to get into the building, you’ll have to know the password first. (If you don’t, you’ll have to do a dance to get in.) Once your mission is complete, you can order a meal of cleverly named food items, from a “Mission Impossible” burger to a “Cuban Missile Crisis” sandwich. It’s one of the more unusual things to do in Milwaukee, but it’s guaranteed to be a fun way to spend an evening.
10. Shanghai MKE
Envisioned as a back-alley speakeasy with a secret entrance on Black Cat Alley, Shanghai MKE is a snug, candlelit space that serves up classic cocktails. Getting there is half the fun since there’s a labyrinth of doors and codes you’ll have to get through to make it down to the actual bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order the “Dealer’s Choice” and have the bartender craft something that is uniquely tailored to your taste buds.
11. Other Unique Things to Do in Milwaukee
Want to learn more about this bustling Midwest hub? Whether you're moving to Milwaukee or flying in for a weekend getaway, check out our Ultimate Guide to Living in Milwaukee. We offer up the best tips on the best restaurants and activities as well as insights on the cost of living, best neighborhoods, weather and more.