Milwaukee is blessed to have so many great arts and cultural amenities, from one of the largest performing arts organizations in the country (UPAF) to world-renowned museums. We're in the midst of Milwaukee Museum Week, which continues through Sunday. A variety of admission specials and events await, you can find them here.
Now we all know about the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM), Discover World, and the Harley-Davidson Museum. Parents probably know about the Betty Brinn Children's Museum. But are you aware of so many others? A museum of bobbleheads? Museums that explore Jewish or African-American history? Or industrial art? Or the "museum of flight" inside our airport? Here's a pretty hefty list of museum options in Milwaukee that I originally wrote - not kidding - for my cousin's wedding guide for their visitors. Explore and enjoy!
Milwaukee Art Museum
700 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, Milwaukee 53202
The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) features 30,000 works of art and has roots back to 1888. The 341,000-square-foot Museum includes the War Memorial Center (1957) designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the Kahler Building (1975, with a big renovation just finished in 2018) by David Kahler, and the Quadracci Pavilion (2001), home to the internationally recognized “wings” created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava – his first North American commission.
Milwaukee Public Museum/IMAX Theater
800 W. Wells Street
The Milwaukee Public Museum features abundant natural history displays, exhibits on the city’s history, and huge collections in the areas of anthropology, botany, geology, and zoology. The MPM’s featured exhibit through July 7th is called “The Power of Poison” (YouTube sample: https://youtu.be/YOIF0XL7ILs) but the snack bar there is perfectly safe. The MPM Planetarium are both top-notch, with 3D animations and immersive experiences. The Dome Theater, formerly an IMAX, has a screen six stories high and wraparound digital sound; I’ve been hoping they’ll one day bring us “Caddyshack” the way it was meant to be seen.
Discovery World Science & Technology Museum/Pier Wisconsin
500 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee 53202
Discover World hovers out over Lake Michigan and features interactive engineering exhibits, an Innovation Station and “Design It!” Lab, and energy displays. The Les Paul House of Sound is a fascinating exhibit on Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar who hailed from nearby Waukesha (and is godfather to Steve Miller.) For those who like the water, the Reiman Aquarium lets you walk over, along, and even under a variety of aquatic creatures; the Great Lakes display, the City of Freshwater & Liquid House exhibit, and The Challenge, a replica of a Great Lakes schooner from the 19th century, all grab your attention. Outside, the S/V Denis Sullivan is a real sailing ship that plies the waters of Lake Michigan regularly, although it may be traveling around the Great Lakes as part of the Tall Ships Festival this summer. Back outside but on land, the interactive musical instruments and wind chimes in front of the museum offer a cool way to see and hear things under the downtown skyscrapers amidst all the huffing and puffing of joggers along the lake.
Grohmann Museum of Industrial Art
1000 N. Broadway, Milwaukee 53202
This Grohmann Museum is part of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and features some remarkable paintings, sculptures, statues, photos and more saluting industry, inventors, crafters, and workers. Paintings that depict forge shops feature brilliant colors depicting fire that literally make you think you’ll burn yourself if you touch them (and they don’t want you to touch the paintings anyway.) A trip to the roof to see the industrial workers’ statues perched along the building’s edges is worth the trip in itself.
400 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee
Opened in 2008, the Harley-Davidson Museum showcases the legendary Milwaukee motorcycles, from Serial Number One (built in 1903) to the latest models, and everything in between… even the bikes from the AMF era. MOTOR, their restaurant and attached event space, features BBQ & Blues Presented by Bulleit Bourbon Saturdays 5-9pm and the Bike Night Concert Series every Thursday evening during summer months, with live bands and hundreds to thousands of Harleys and riders partying. It’s nestled within branches of the Menomonee River, just south of downtown, west of the Third Ward, and north of Walkers Point along the 6th Street Viaduct at the end of Canal Street.
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum
2220 N. Terrace Ave, Milwaukee 53211
This gorgeous 1923 Italian Renaissance-style villa overlooking Lake Michigan is now a museum featuring fine and decorative arts from the 15th through 18th centuries, wrought-iron masterpieces by Cyril Colnik, a formal garden and changing exhibits. It’s open Thursday 1pm-8pm and Friday-Sunday 1pm-5pm.
National Bobblehead Hall of Fame & Museum
170 N. 1st Street, 2nd floor, Milwaukee 53204
Love bobbleheads? This is the place to go. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame & Museum just opened in February 2019, and it houses the world’s largest collection of bobbleheads along with plenty of exhibits and information on bobbleheads, plus news on upcoming bobblehead giveaways at stadiums and other places all over the country. It’s right above a great burger place called Stack’d and a Colectivo Coffee. The hours are 10am-6pm Monday-Friday and 10am-5pm Saturday & Sunday.
Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear
839 N. 11th Street, Milwaukee 53233
The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear is right along I-43 on the Marquette University campus side, across from downtown. The former house of the Chudnow family was built in 1869 and now serves as a city history museum. The museum includes a wide collection of the late Avrum Chudnow’s eclectic collection of 20th century Americana items, primarily 1910s through 1940s. With over 275,000 items, you won’t easily run out of stuff to look at.
America’s Black Holocaust Museum
401 W. North Avenue, Milwaukee 53212
Founded in 1988 by James Cameron, the United States' only known living survivor of a lynching, America's Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) examines the tragic legacies of slavery and promotes racial repair, reconciliation, and healing through developing awareness and empathy. The museum originally opened in a different location and is in the process of opening in its new space on North Avenue, which is hopes to do in early 2020. In the meantime, the museum is online-only and you can explore the 3,200+ exhibits online at ABHMuseum.org.
Jewish Museum Milwaukee
1360 N. Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee 53202
The Jewish Museum Milwaukee explores the history of the Jewish community in Southeastern Wisconsin. Through engaging displays and interactive components, JMM celebrates Milwaukee’s Jewish community and explores the broad American and Jewish experience. Hours are Sunday Noon-4, Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, and Friday 10am-3pm; it’s closed on Saturday.
The Pabst Mansion
2000 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee 53233
Beer built a lot of landmarks in this city. As its name implies, the Pabst Mansion rose to become a continuing testament to America’s “Gilded Age” as Captain Frederick Pabst and his wife Maria commissioned their new mansion in 1890. It opened in 1892 at a cost of $254,000, which included the house, furnishings, and artwork, which depresses the crap out of all of us when we realize what $254,000 buys us today. Anyway, this mansion is beautiful and incredibly well-preserved, the history is rich and detailed, and the tours are fun and informative. It’s been open to the public since 1978, three years after it was put on the National Register of Historic Places to prevent it from being torn down for use as a parking lot, a 70s occurrence even more popular than disco and loud plaid clothing patterns. The Pabst Mansion itself is open Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday Noon-4pm; tours are available on the hour through 3pm. Adults are $14, Seniors, Military, and college students $12, children 6-15 are $8, kids 5 and under are free (although overall, I’ve heard kids are actually quite expensive.)
Mitchell Gallery of Flight
inside Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, 5300 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee 53207
Hey, if you’re flying into MKE and you like planes (at least when you’re not sitting in a coach seat in one), why not check out this aviation museum? Located inside the Main Terminal within eyeshot of Renaissance Books (perhaps the best used bookstore in any airport in the world), the Mitchell Gallery of Flight traces the flight heritage of Wisconsin and this area, right now to the guy the airport was named after. General William “Billy” Mitchell was widely regarded as the Father of the U.S. Air Force. Other icons like Milwaukee native Captain James Lovell, Charles Lindbergh, and Major Dick Bong (America’s leading fighter ace and owner of one of the best immature humor names in history) are also honored, with photos and memorabilia featured. Models of aircraft and airships, parts like propellors, and even the original beacon from 1926 that used to guide flights between Chicago and Minneapolis are on display. The museum is free and outside the TSA checkpoints.
Mitchell Park & the Mitchell Park Horticultural Domes
524 S. Layton Blvd/Highway 57/27th Street, Milwaukee 53215
This unique horticultural conservatory sports three geodesic glass domes that, well, look a little boob-like as you drive by (they’re visible from I-94, especially eastbound past 35th Street). “The Domes” house three unique environments for plants, trees, other flora: an arid/desert dome complete with cacti and the requisite low-humidity air; a tropical dome, featuring rain forest-y plants and plenty of warm mugginess; and a show dome that rotates features throughout the year. It’s like a long trip with plenty of scenery along different walkways, all within one park on Milwaukee’s near south side.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
929 E. Wisconsin Avenue
This awesome museum targeting kids 10 and under (and their parents!) offers a huge variety of interactive exhibits and places to play and learn. The museum is designed to promote school readiness, including the development of early literacy, beginning math and science concepts, problem-solving, and physical and social skills. Betty Brinn is open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, and Sunday Noon-5pm. It’s right by the lakefront, within eyeshot of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World.
Lots of choose from, right? Take advantage of Milwaukee Museum Week, and check all of these out when you can!