Named for the Algonkian word milliocki -- which means "gathering place by the waters" -- Midwestern Milwaukee is the longtime home of bratwurst and beer and the future home of the Harley-Davidson Museum (slated to open 2008). Dubbed "the great American City," it's a fine destination for summertime travel; its position on the western shore of Lake Michigan helps keep things cool in the summer, where the average temperature is 77°. There's a veritable plethora of activities involving art, music, food, sports, and theater, from now until it starts to get frosty in this metropolitan area of 1.6 million. Here are some of the most promising and popular.
A good starting point for an overview of the city, including its dozen or so cultural festivals, is the Milwaukee Convention and Visitor's Bureau (tel. 800/554-1448; www.milwaukee.org/multicultural/index.cfm?action=festivals). From early June through the fall, you'll find the Milwaukee Highland Games to PrideFest to festivals honoring German, Russian, Indian, Mexican, Polish and, in September, Arab ethnic conclaves. The Asian Moon Festival (tel. 414/483-8530; www.asianmoonfestival.com), held at Henry Maier Festival Park from June 17-19, is the first ethnic festival in the summer and the country's largest outdoor Pan-Asian event, celebrating more than a dozen Asian cultures. Bastille Days Festival (tel. 414/271-7400; http://bastille.easttown.com) sets up around Cathedral Square from July 14-17 and honors French history and culture, complete with an Eiffel Tower and a 5K run/walk called "Storm the Bastille." Another good site, On Milwaukee (www.onmilwaukee.com) provides an insider, local angle to restaurants, movies, theater, and other happenings, as it's the city's only daily online magazine and guide.
In its March issue, Smithsonian Magazine named the Milwaukee Art Museum (tel. 414/224-3200; www.mam.org) one of "Seven Special Places to Visit This Summer," with its adventurous, recently completed expansion, over 20,000 in holdings, and an exhibit of one of the most popular Impressionists on display. In conjunction with the exhibit Degas Sculptures, which runs through June 5 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Convention and Visitors Bureau offers several travel packages (www.milwaukee.org/packages/index.cfmat) at area hotels for the duration of the exhibition. For travel in early May, for example, the rates average around $100 a night or less, even for the Park East Hotel, a contemporary property overlooking Lake Michigan; The Wyndam runs $109 per night on average. A quick search at the end of the month for accommodations reveals plenty of rooms within the aforementioned price range, too. Two tickets to the museum, a Degas poster and a Visit Milwaukee booklet with over $400 in coupons will be presented to you upon check-in. Also, be sure to check out the quirky exhibit Tea Table, Coffee Table -- a funky, 200-year look at these specialized tables including some from local collectors. It's on display through June 12 at the Decorative Arts Gallery.
Another June activity scheduled is the 43rd annual Lakefront Festival of the Arts, (tel. 414/224-3854; http://18.104.22.168) held on the museum's front drive, from Friday, June 17 through Sunday June 19. Jury-selected works from 170 artisans will be on display and for sale, along with activities for children, a sculpture garden, a variety of music (blues, Celtic, jazz, pop) and, of course, food. Tickets are $10 at the gate, $7 in advance, with a special $8 gate price on Friday only. Special discounts are available to Milwaukee Art Museum and Friends of Art members. Children 16 and under are admitted free.
There are three other packages under the "Reconnect Across the Lake," deal, also listed on the Conventions Bureau site (tel. 800/554-1448; www.milwaukee.org/housing/index.cfm?action=View&packageID=3), running through June 26. Aimed at providing a getaway for "curing the springtime blues," (who knew there was such a thing?) choose among "Family Fun," which includes trips to the Milwaukee County Zoo; "That's Edutainment," which highlights the Art Museum, Milwaukee's Public Museum, and the Pabst Mansion; and "Go Team Go," which sends you to a Milwaukee Brewers game, the Milwaukee Mile (a mile-long race track), and ice skating at the Pettit National Ice Center, an official U.S. Olympic training facility. Promotional codes are available if you book your travel through Midwest Airlines, as well; just read the fine print.
Even the city's summer music festival boasts its German roots. The late mayor Henry Maier had just visited Germany, so the story goes, and was inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich, and envisioned a festival that would be good for instilling downtown community pride and have something for everyone. Founded in 1968, Summerfest (tel. box office: 414/276-4545; www.summerfest.com) is now billed as "the world's largest music festival," according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and runs from Thursday June 30 through Sunday July 10th. The award-winning event -- it's garnered kudos from Pollstar Magazine, and AAA Home and Away Readers among others -- features big names such as Tom Petty (July 1), Santana (July 2), Tim McGraw (July 9), and James Taylor. The festival spans 75 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown, and is held at a 23,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater with eleven side stages. Of course, as with many festivals, it's loaded with ancillary activities to keep families, kids, and appetites satisfied too.
Speaking of German roots, the Miller Brewing Company Visitors Center (tel. 800/944-LITE; www.millerbrewing.com/brandsBreweries/tourInfo.asp) provides tourists with an overview of the company's history (founded in 1855 by German-born Frederick J. Miller) on its free, one-hour tour that includes a close look at the company's brew house, packaging center and historical caves. At the end of the tour, you can enjoy cold 'n' frosty samples (for those of legal age).
Midwest Airlines Vacations (tel. 888-235-9693; www.midwestairlinesvacations.com) offers all-inclusive round-trip airfare and hotel packages. A Memorial Day weekend check of availability, departing from Boston to Milwaukee on Thursday May 26 and returning Tuesday, May 31, revealed a total of $933.34 for two people; $466.67 per person, exclusive of taxes and fees. The hotel, however, is not in the thick of things; it's the Best Western Midway Hotel, off an interstate but within a quick drive to downtown. There are other flights available into Milwaukee from cities such as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Newark, Orlando, Cleveland -- the list goes on. To be fair, though, many of the specials on the site are geared toward those who are booking trips out of Milwaukee to popular cities such as New York, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, and not necessarily toward those who are interested in coming to Milwaukee.