Stretching along the western shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a fairly spread out city, but most of the main attractions are conveniently situated in and around the downtown area, making the city pretty easy to explore. 

Whichever area you choose to stay in, expect to have a good time. But be sure to venture out to more Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Bay View

Best neighborhood for families

Families with children will find comfortable accommodations all over Milwaukee, but what makes Bay View especially family friendly is that it’s a safe, easily walkable neighborhood that has a little bit of everything. From parks and playgrounds to outdoor restaurants and the city’s beloved Avalon movie theater, Bay View is the sort of neighborhood where you can have a look at the flyers tacked to the wall of cafes and coffee shops to see what family-friendly concert, festival or farmers’ market is going on that week.

Just because Bay View is especially good for families doesn’t mean that kid-free travelers should avoid the neighborhood. This trendy area is packed with excellent bars, beer gardens and restaurants, plus a handful of unique retailers like comic book shops and thrift stores, meaning it is a great place for any visitor. You won’t find hotel chains in Bay View, but there is a boutique guesthouse and lots of private home rentals available. 

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Kayakers on the Milwaukee River near the RiverWalk
Kayakers on the Milwaukee River near the downtown RiverWalk © Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

East Town

Best neighborhood for lovers of the outdoors

Milwaukee is known for its cold winters, but from May through October, the weather is quite pleasant and the city has loads of options for outdoor enthusiasts. The East Town neighborhood, a section of downtown nestled between the Milwaukee River and the shore of Lake Michigan, is perfect for visitors seeking outdoor options in an urban setting. The RiverWalk runs along the Milwaukee River and is great for strolling, but in warm weather months, you can also take a relaxed riverboat tour or rent a paddle board or kayak. Closer to Lake Michigan, you can explore several parks – Veterans Park is the largest and has the most activities – or jump on the Oak Leaf cycling and pedestrian trail. 

The area also frequently hosts festivals and is packed with great restaurants, bars and attractions like the famed Milwaukee Art Museum.

Walker’s Point

Best neighborhood for LGBTQI+ visitors 

In general, Milwaukee is an LGBTQI+-friendly city and hosts a large annual PrideFest, but visitors specifically interested in LGBTQI+ bars and nightlife should look no further than the Walker’s Point neighborhood. In addition to being home of Wisconsin’s largest and oldest gay dance club and several LGBTQI+ bars and nightclubs, Walker’s Point also treats visitors to antique shops, farm-to-table dining, art galleries, distilleries, craft ice cream shops and a food truck park.

Shoppers considering options at Milwaukee's Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market is the place to go for locally made food and drink © Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock

Third Ward

Best neighborhood for shopping 

In the southern part of downtown, Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward neighborhood is bursting with art galleries, trendy national retailers, and stylish boutiques stocked with original and locally designed creations. If locally made food and drink items are on your souvenir shopping list, head to the Milwaukee Public Market on the north end of the neighborhood where you’ll find cheesemongers, olive oil purveyors, candy confectioners, spice stores and wine shops – not to mention plenty of restaurants. As for accommodations, this district has national hotel chains, homestays and boutique hotel options all within walking distance of the shops.

Like most downtown and downtown-adjacent neighborhoods, Third Ward is relatively quiet in the evening, at least until summer rolls around. Henry Maier Festival Park, which hosts ethnic, cultural and food festivals nearly every weekend in summer, is within walking distance from the Third Ward, so even if you don’t attend the festival, you’ll likely hear some of the music drifting your way.

Historic Mitchell Street

Best neighborhood for foodies

While most guidebooks will (accurately) recommend the nearby neighborhoods of Bay View, downtown and the East Side as being great foodie destinations, travelers looking to taste the world within a few blocks should add Historic Mitchell Street to their itinerary. The neighborhood is predominantly Mexican, so you’ll find lots of excellent Mexican restaurants, taquerias and bakeries, but you’ll also find Puerto Rican, Pakistani and Syrian cuisine.

The area, located within the larger Walker’s Point neighborhood, doesn’t have a lot of hotels, so your best bet is to stay in another neighborhood and swing through for a few meals.

Businesses on Brady Street in Milwaukee
Brady Street has the perfect blend of college student hangouts and bars popular with young professionals © Getty Images / iStockphoto

East Side

Best neighborhood for nightlife

Given the diversity of evening entertainment options in Milwaukee, it’s hard to choose just one neighborhood as the best for nightlife. But if we must, the title goes to the East Side. The East Side, which is sometimes broken down into the Lower and Upper East Sides, is one of the largest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, bordered to the west by artsy and eclectic Riverwest, to the south by downtown and to the east by Lake Michigan.

The area doesn’t have many hotels, but there are plenty of private homestays. Otherwise, you can snag a room in a hotel in nearby East Town and then head toward Brady Street, which has the perfect blend of college student hangouts (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is nearby), watering holes popular with young professionals, and upscale bars and theaters.

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