Big City of Little Neighborhoods

Most of us have probably traveled to a destination, planned or unplanned, not having high expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised. We recently had one of those “ah, this is so nice” moments when we visited the “big city of little neighborhoods” – Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We knew Madison, the state capital to be special, as Terry had lived there many years ago, but we weren’t expecting Milwaukee to charm us like she did.

We were doing a housesit for three weeks in one the smaller towns nearby and when our hopes of hiking and biking the trails were quashed due to the plummeting temps, a visit to the big city situated on Lake Michigan rose to the top of our sightseeing plans, and we found it so inviting that we kept going back for more.

In no particular order, here are our top 10 picks of Milwaukee gems:

1/ St. Josaphat Basilica

Built in 1888 by Polish immigrants, this beautiful church was designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood, on Milwaukee’s south side. When the plans for this spiritual house were nearing completion, the priest at the time, Fr. Grutza, was told that the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was going to be razed, so he purchased it for the sum of $20,000 and had the salvaged materials brought to Milwaukee by flat cars. For this reason, many of the doorknobs today bear the seal of the U.S. Treasury. It was the third church in the United States to be raised to Basilica status.

2/ Milwaukee RiverWalk

The Milwaukee RiverWalk meanders through the heart of the city, tying together three riverfront neighborhoods – the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. The RiverWalk extends more than twenty blocks from north to south and is sprinkled with permanent and changing art exhibits. It was a delight to walk on a warm autumn day when the trees were sporting their deep red and gold attire. It is a wonderful way to discover so much of what Milwaukee has to offer, lovely boutique shops, craft breweries, and award-winning restaurants.

3/ North Point Lighthouse

Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, the site of this picturesque lighthouse was chosen and built in 1855 to mark the north point of Milwaukee Bay. Located in the Historic Water Tower neighborhood, the height of its tower is not that impressive, standing at just 28 feet, but with its bluff-top perch, it hovers 107 feet over the lake, and its Fresnel lens projected out across the water 20 miles. Unfortunately in 1888 bluff erosion forced the government to build another lighthouse further inland. It stood vacant for years until the Friends of North Point Lighthouse brought it back to life as a museum in 2007.

4/ Historic Third Ward

The Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood onto itself, is one of Milwaukee’s more creative endeavors, home to studios and art galleries in former warehouses and performing arts venues like the Broadway Theater Center. Restaurants are trendy and boutique shops sell fashion and home accessories. The indoor Milwaukee Public Market, open all year, has a wide array of interesting shops, including the renown St. Paul Fish Company, where Terry had his first lobster roll and a long walk afterward to walk it off. 🙂

5/ St. Joan of Arc Chapel

In the Avenues West & Marquette neighborhood, tucked among a mix of modern and vintage architecture, a “sacred heart”, born of medieval France, graces the grounds of Marquette University. The oldest building in Milwaukee, dating back to the early 15th century, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel is the heart of this Catholic university community. In the 1920’s a railroad magnate and devotee of St. Joan of Arc purchased this chapel, had it dismantled in France, and shipped to her property on Long Island. Over the years she sold the property and the new owners in time offered it to Marquette University, where it now sits nestled among the towering trees. Today it serves as a spiritual community gathering place.

6/ Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park, situated in the East Town neighborhood, has a network of walking/jogging trails running along Lake Michigan. It is a great place to fish and has a marina where boats can be chartered on sunny days. For us, it was a great place to get some exercise while enjoying views of the city skyline.

 7/ Milwaukee Art Museum

Also in the East Town neighborhood, the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the United States. The museum’s unique design, sitting near the bank of Lake Michigan, is like none that I have seen, looking more like a futuristic airliner ready to take flight. It was one of our favorite attractions in Milwaukee.

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The Burke Brise Soleil, the museum’s signature movable wing-like sunscreen, can be raised or lowered to control heat and light in the glass-enclosed reception hall below it. Weather permitting, the wings open at 10 am when the museum opens and close at 5 pm when the museum closes. The wings also flap (open and close), at noon each day, to a musical accompaniment. The wingspan spreads 217 feet at its widest point, wider than a Boeing 747-400 airplane, and weighs 90 tons. It would be wonderful to see these wings from a sailboat on a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan.

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8/ Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse

Located in the Harbor District neighborhood, the Pierhead Lighthouse marks the location where the Milwaukee River flows into Lake Michigan. Built in 1872, the lighthouse had a keeper until 1926, and today is solar-powered and operates on auto-pilot. From the pier you can get a peek of the Breakwater Lighthouse as well, two for the price of one. 🙂

9/ Black Cat Alley

The Black Cat Alley had to be included on my top 10 list, due to my love of street art. Located in the East Side neighborhood, this alleyway was transformed from an unlit walkway into one of Milwaukee’s top photography destinations, thanks to the talent of a dozen local artists.

10/ Harley Davidson Museum

Located in the Menomonee River Valley neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee, this museum may well be the crown jewel of the city. Even if you are not a motorcycle fan, or not a Harley Davidson enthusiast, one cannot deny the rich history of this company, nor its staying power. This company most likely deserves its own post so I will leave you with just one photo to piqué your curiosity.

“Serial Number One”, the oldest Harley Davidson in the world, built in 1903, is a bit of a mystery and a Harley legend.

One thing that was for certain, we weren’t leaving Wisconsin without reconnecting with friends we met during our time living in Mexico, a lovely couple we haven’t seen in over seven years, who now live near Milwaukee. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the historic Fox and Hounds Restaurant in nearby Hubertus and were thrilled to catch up with them. Theirs is the kind of friendship that neither time nor distance can diminish.

Although the photo quality may not be the best, the company certainly was. Thanks so much David and Les for taking the time to reconnect.