Located along the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee offers beach and water-based activities throughout the year. From swimming and paddle boarding in the summer to freshwater surfing in the winter, here are Milwaukee’s best beaches and what makes them so great.

South Shore Beach

Best beach for adults and an ice-cold beer

What could be better than a day at the beach? A day at the beach with an ice-cold beer. At South Shore Beach in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, lovers of sun and sand are welcome to bring a cooler full of cold ones to the beach, but you can also swing by the adjacent South Shore Terrace Kitchen and beer garden for a wide selection of crisp, crafty goodness. Grab a picnic table overlooking the water or head back to the sand to get your sip on.

The sun rises over a beach lined with picnic benches
Catch the sunrise over Bradford Beach © AMCImagery / Shutterstock

Bradford Beach

Best beach for all-day activities

Perhaps the most famous in Milwaukee, this half-mile stretch of sand stays packed on weekends during the summer because the beach is beautiful and easy to get to, with a parking lot nearby. Should you prefer to visit without a fuel-filled vehicle, Bradford Beach is right off the city’s Oak Leaf pedestrian and cyclist trail.

Watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan in the morning, join a game of volleyball in the afternoon and then picnic on the beach in the evening. Pack your own food or grab burgers and custard from MooSa’s waterfront restaurant then find a spot of sand to spread out on. Not only is Bradford Beach great for swimming, paddle boarding and surfing, but the beach, located on Milwaukee’s East Side, is near the Milwaukee Art Museum, one of the city’s top attractions.

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A narrow dusty pathway leads through bushes to a clifftop. A body of water is in the distance
Grant Park Beach is a top choice for visitors with small children © Tony Savino / Shutterstock

Grant Park Beach

Best beach for families with little ones

Most Milwaukee beaches are family-friendly, but Grant Park Beach is especially great for families with young children because it has a large playground for kids to explore. On-site bathrooms and a concession stand specializing in burgers and ice cream means that families can show up at the beach without much pre-planning or packing and enjoy the day without having to hike around to find facilities.

Adults and older children can make use of the beach’s volleyball nets during the summer, but you’ll have to bring your own ball. Grant Park also has stunning wooded trails throughout the park, so if the kids get sick of swimming and playing on the playground (if that’s even possible), you could drive five minutes to the Seven Bridges trailhead.

A series of large sticks piled together to form a teepee-like structure on an empty sandy beach
If you're looking to get away from it all, Doctors Park Beach is your best choice © James Meyer / Shutterstock

Doctors Park Beach

Best beach for peace and quiet

Nestled within Doctors Park in the village of Fox Point, Doctors Park Beach is one of the quietest and most secluded beaches in Milwaukee County. The 49-acre park, named after a doctor who donated his private home to public recreation, sits atop a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Follow the path (which includes stairs) down to the beach and you’ll find a remote stretch of sand to swim, read or doze off to the soothing sound of lapping waves.

Since the beach is bordered by wooded parkland, has no lifeguard and offers only portable toilets from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it receives fewer visitors than most Milwaukee beaches, so it’s possible you might have the beach all to yourself. This section of the lakeshore is also along a migratory bird path, making the beach a good place for birdwatching. The native plants that populate the park, like black-eyed susans and bloodroot, provide fuel for migrating birds. If you want to help support bird, bee and butterfly populations, you can volunteer with Doctors Park to remove invasive species and plant more native species around the beach and park area.

Atwater Beach

Best beach for surfing

Wisconsin might not be the first US state that comes to mind when you think of surfing, but Lake Michigan is home to a vibrant freshwater surfing scene. While most people associate surfing with summer, sun and warm weather, Wisconsin’s surf season is actually from September through May, when the wind and waves are the strongest. The temperature is frigid, so if you want in on the action during the depths of winter, you’ll need a wetsuit. While experienced surfers will enjoy the thrill of wild waves in winter, novice surfers should stick to surfing in August or September.

Milwaukee’s only surf shop, Lake Effect Surfshop, is the place to rent boards and suits or to sign up for a weekend surf lesson. Rental hours coincide with business hours, which vary by season, and you can speak with them to arrange overnight and long-term rentals. The shop is less than a mile from Atwater Beach.

Atwater Beach also has yoga sessions, sandcastle competitions and other events during warm months. Since the beach is slightly removed from the city center and requires visitors to climb down a long staircase to access the beach, it tends to attract smaller crowds than Bradford Beach, which is also good for surfing.

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Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA - January 10, 2018: Winter Surfing in Lake Michigan. The Malibu of the  Midwest freezes and doesn't stop visitors to the water for a new experience in fresh water surfing.; Shutterstock ID 1600796347; your: Brian Healy; gl: 65050; netsuite: Lonely Planet Online Editorial; full: Best beaches in Wisconsin


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