How Milwaukee celebrates summer like no other

Mar 22, 2024

Milwaukee is a place of many names: Brew City, thanks to its storied beer brewing history; Cream City in honor of the light-colored clay bricks on its buildings; The 414, the area code worn as a symbol of pride for residents—we could go on. But during summer, Milwaukee's trademarked moniker as the City of Festivals is on full display, because you'll find at least one in the area every single weekend. 

Summerfest

Here, everyone is welcome to join events big and small, in celebration of heritage and culture, cuisine and beverages, music and art plus more. While the festivities may bring you in, friendly people, food from James Beard award-recognized chefs, a vibrant culture and Lake Michigan beaches paired with ideal Midwest summer weather will keep you coming back. 

Read on for our guide to a summer trip in Milwaukee. 

A festival every weekend this summer 

With so many to choose from, here's just a sampling of the celebrations you'll find each month in Milwaukee this season:

June 

Start off Pride Month with PrideFest June 6-8, Wisconsin's largest LGBTQ festival and one of the longest-running in the country. The event is held in Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakeshore, where a lineup of live entertainment plus an array of food trucks and vendors await. 

PrideFest

On June 19, the Juneteenth MKE street festival and parade commemorating the end of slavery in the United States will be held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The holiday specifically observes the date in 1865 when enslaved people of African descent in Texas received word of their freedom—more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. While Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday in 2021, Milwaukee's Juneteenth festivities date back to 1971, making it one of the longest running Juneteenth Day celebrations in the country. 

The summer season kicks off in a big way with Summerfest (June 20 – July 6), a 9-day music festival spanning three weekends that feels like the best tailgate you’ve ever been to. Headliners like Keith Urban, Mötley Crüe and Kane Brown rock out to the 23,000-seat American Family Insurance Amphitheater each night, but one of the best ways to experience Summerfest is to get a grounds pass, and wander amongst the event’s 11 other stages. You’ll hear everything from indie bands to big names adding to the soundtrack that makes this one of the nation’s best music lineups. In addition to good tunes and beautiful views, enjoy a taste of Milwaukee-area restaurants and peruse unique small-business vendors in the marketplaces situated throughout. 

July

One of Milwaukee's best-known festivals is its annual Bastille Days, held July 11-14. The French-themed event is held in Cathedral Square Park. Find French and Cajun cuisine (beignets, anyone?), live performances, and the highlight—the Storm the Bastille 5k. The run/walk, which kicks off the weekend's festivities, is a beloved evening tradition that observes the anniversary of the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille in Paris.

Harley-Davidson Homecoming Festival

The 4-day Harley-Davidson Homecoming Festival begins July 25. On Friday and Saturday night, musicians like Jelly Roll and Red Hot Chili Peppers will take the stage in Veterans Park. The world's only Harley-Davidson Museum campus is on full display festival weekend as well. Purchase tickets to enter the museum's interactive exhibits, or partake in the free activities, live music and bike shows on the museum grounds.

Saturday, July 27 is Brew City's 14th annual Milwaukee Brewfest. Tickets for the 21 and older-only event will get you unlimited samples from breweries pouring craft beers, ciders, meads—all set against the lakefront backdrop. The list of participants isn't released yet, but it's sure to include brewmasters from around the world. 

August

West of Milwaukee in West Allis, Wisconsin is 200-acre State Fair Park, grounds for the highly anticipated, 173rd-annual Wisconsin State Fair (August 1-11). Every state fair has its claims to fame, and one of Wisconsin's is its Original Cream Puffs. These sweet, crowd-favorite cream-filled pastry puffs have been sold at the fair since 1924.

Cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair

Celebrate Celtic culture at Henry Maier Festival Park's Milwaukee Irish Fest, August 15-18. The festivities include over 100 music acts, exhibits on Irish history plus tasty items like sausage rolls and corned beef and cabbage. 

The Fresh Coast Jazz Festival (more on this nickname later on) hosts its fifth installment August 22-24. In addition to live performances at The Pabst Theater, tickets are available for the Fresh Coast Cruise, entailing lunch, live jazz and a cash bar as you cruise along the coast; and The Pairing, an evening that couples a selection of wines and a performance of Grover Washington Jr. music.

Mexican Fiesta

Starting as a small street fair in 1973 to mark Mexican Independence Day, Milwaukee's Mexican Fiesta has blossomed into an over 50-year tradition honoring Mexican history and culture. Held August 23-24 on the same grounds as Summerfest, attendees can expect live performances from Mariachi bands, delicious food (the fiesta is known for its Pan de Feria, a traditional Mexican bread) and a display of arts and crafts from Mexican artisans. 

Delight in Wisconsin's Uncommon Coast 

Whatever you choose to celebrate when visiting Milwaukee, be sure to make the most of the trip by experiencing some the city's other highlights in the warm, sunny weather and fresh lake air. Enjoy America's favorite pastime at American Family Field where MLB's Milwaukee Brewers play. While here, make sure you experience these three things: You’ll want to put the Secret Stadium Sauce on your hot dog or bratwurst. If the Brew Crew hits a home run, don’t miss mascot Bernie the Brewer’s plunge down the slide above the left field stands. And, finally, be in your seats for the running of the Racing Sausages before the bottom of the sixth inning. (Polish Sausage won the most races last year, edging out the Bratwurst.) Thanks to the stadium's unique retractable roof, every day is a great day for baseball—no rain checks required. Don’t be afraid to arrive to the ballpark early, because tailgating is Wisconsin’s favorite pastime.

If you can't catch the Brewers, how about grabbing some affordable tickets to see the ... mooers? South of town in Franklin, you'll find the home of the Milwaukee Milkmen, an American Association of Professional Baseball team. In addition to their name, the team pays homage to the state's dairy reputation with milkshakes and fried cheese curds at the concessions stand, seating in "the pastures" (lawn seating) and their mascot—a bull sporting the number 2% (for his favorite milk).

Bradford Beach

With miles of Lake Michigan shoreline plus three rivers—Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic—running throughout the city, you don't have to look far for aquatic vistas. This city calls itself the "Fresh Coast" for its many freshwater beaches, including Bradford Beach, located a few miles north of the Summerfest grounds. Lounge on the beach, feel the sand between your toes and enjoy this Great Lake's cooling waters. One of the most accessible beaches in the country, it features a pathway to the water's edge and beach wheelchairs available to rent for free. You could also get out onto the water with Edelweiss Boats, which has a variety of themed cruises including a narrated tour focusing on the history of Milwaukee.

A culinary scene up there with the best of the Midwest 

Milwaukee has built a culinary reputation beyond creamy custard and crispy fish fries (as tasty as they are). The food scene is represented with award-winning chefs and was even named Midwest Living's Best Culinary City in 2023. In February, Eater readers voted Milwaukee onto their "Where to Eat in 2024" list. Even "Top Chef" is getting into the act, with a Wisconsin-themed season debuting in late March.

For a taste of this, head to Chef Dane Baldwin's (2022 James Beard award-winner for Best Chef in the Midwest) restaurant The Diplomat. It has a shareable plate format with fun cocktails like the Diplomanhattan and Mezcalculated Risk; and a seasonal menu with rotating dishes like chicken leg confit, salt cod hashbrowns and peanut butter pie. James Beard Award-nominated chef Karen Bell's Bavette La Boucherie started out as a butcher shop and evolved into a popular dining destination (reservations are recommended). Some of the menu favorites include smoke trout deviled eggs, jamon iberico and a corned beef tongue Reuben. 

Kopp's Frozen Custard 

When in town, you can't forget about some of Milwaukee's food staples. There's fried cheese curds, a delightful battered curd of cheese often served with a dipping sauce; frozen custard, a type of ice cream made with eggs; and bratwurst, savory sausages that, when grilled to perfection, make for the ideal summer dish. The city also has a Friday fish fry tradition going back a century (which just makes sense for a city lucky enough to call one of the Great Lakes home). You'll find these dishes all over town, especially if you're seeking out the city's other staple: beer.

It's called Brew City for a reason

Brew City's history of beer began in 1840 and has been home to brewing powerhouses like the Pabst and Miller brewing companies. Today, you can go on brewery tours with the big names, like the Miller Brewery Tour that brings you through historic underground caves and teaches about modern operations; and hometown favorites like Lakefront Brewing, which hosts one of the most popular tours in town. Here, a ticket comes with an engaging 45 minutes of beer facts and fun, four 8-ounce pours (for those 21 and older) and a souvenir pint glass to commemorate your trip. It's also worth noting their restaurant menu includes cheese curds, brats and a fish fry every Friday evening. 

Naturally, a place known as Brew City has a thriving craft beer scene. The Explorium Brewpub in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood has a house made tap list including their Cream City Crusher, a cream ale, and a Hard Root Beer seltzer. Broken Bat Brewing Co. stays true to its baseball theme with brews like a Soft Toss cream ale and a High and Tight New England IPA. (Travelzoo Tip: This Brew City Beer Pass will get you BOGO beer at over 30 local craft breweries.) Sip on beers like the Dogfather, a pale ale with mosaic hops, on Black Husky Brewing's large outdoor patio (where as you might imagine, well-behaved pups on leash are welcome).

Black Husky Brewing

Open from April to October, Milwaukee's public, open-air beer gardens come to life in summer. These novelties re-opened in Milwaukee in 2012, the first since Prohibition. There are six permanent beer gardens throughout the area, plus a traveling beer garden that sets up temporary posts at some of the county's parks—dreamy spots to sit back, enjoy a good brew and a wonderful view. 


Ready to go? Start planning your summer trip to Milwaukee.

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