Milwaukee in 48 Hours: Eating, Drinking and Lounging

A short hour and a half drive from the Windy City, a trip to Milwaukee in the fall is a great weekend escape. Whether your MO is to sightsee, sample some amazing beers or eat some of the best cheese you’ve ever had in your life, the Brew City has a little something for everyone.

With only a weekend to spare, it was tough to squeeze everything in that the city has to offer. Lucky for me one of my best friends, none other than a native of the Brew City himself, made it his mission to give us an authentic experience in his hometown. Check out my top picks for spending 48 hours eating, drinking, and lounging in Milwaukee.

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EAT

Kopps Frozen Custard

A trip to Milwaukee isn’t complete without a trip to Kopps, a Milwaukee staple famous for its hamburgers and most notably, its frozen custard. Established by the Kopps family in 1950, the family still owns two of the three locations. We just couldn’t get enough of the restaurant’s comfort food – Kopps was our first stop on Friday when we arrived and our last stop before heading back to Chicago on Sunday.

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Know Before You Go: Check Kopps’ website for the scrumptious flavor of the day, approved by the Karl Kopp legend himself.

Kasana

For Saturday brunch, our group dined at Kasana, a trendy spot in the Third Ward. Not clearly visible from the street, we walked down a few steps and entered a Latin American paradise. Doubling as an event space, the white furniture and hints of turquoise create an elegant ambience.

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Know Before You Go: Don’t go here if you are in a hurry. Although the food was delicious, we were served at a very leisurely pace. A delicious Bloody Mary will hit the spot after a night out spent exploring a few of Milwaukee’s finest establishments.

La Merenda

A cozy restaurant in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, La Merenda is small plate heaven for a tapas lover like myself. From the pork belly confit crepes to the prosciutto salad, this restaurant with international flair certainly didn’t disappoint. We all agreed that the highlight of our meal was the goat cheese curds, topped with a chorizo cream sauce and crostini. With $5 glasses of wine and tasty sangria, I would highly recommend La Merenda for date night, happy hour, or a night out with friends.

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Know Before You Go: Come in on Mondays for half priced bottles of wine. Get here early on the weekends – this place fills up fast!

Trocadero

After a fun day soaking up the last of summer at Indian Summer Fest, we stopped in Trocadero, a gastropub in the Lower East Side neighborhood. Exhausted and starving, we were ready for a hearty meal. Delicious cheese plate? Check. A generous serving of short ribs and mashed potatoes? Check. Dark and cozy, we were surprised to see that it wasn’t too crowded on a Saturday night.

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Know Before You Go: Offering up four different kinds of Bloody Marys, Trocadero is one of the hottest brunch spots in Milwaukee. Also, did I mention they have really good-looking bartenders?

DRINK

Lakefront Brewery

A trip to Lakefront Brewery was one of the highlights of the weekend. Ranked as the fourth best American brewery tour by TripAdvisor, the brewery is touted by many as a Milwaukee landmark. Your $8 entry fee includes a souvenir class, 4 6 oz. samples of beer, and um, a rather interesting experience. You’re sure to get a colorful, probably inappropriate tour guide that will make you cringe as he recounts the company’s history, which began with two brothers and a brew-making book back in 1987.

After the tour, mix and mingle with your tour guide and check out the outside bar for amazing views of the river as you sip your brews.

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Know Before You Go: Buy your tickets in advance and go early to enjoy a brew at the bar before your tour begins. Don’t forget to head to the store after the tour is over for your souvenir pint glass!

Hinterland Gastropub

We ducked in Hinterland Gastropub to kill a little time before our Lakefront Brewery tour and I’m so glad we did. I was instantly impressed with the industrial chic decor of this place and the bartender’s friendly banter. Founded by a couple of college grads, Hinterland began as a brewery in Green Bay and expanded to include three restaurants. It was the perfect way to relax and recharge after a day spent walking the Summerfest Grounds.

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Know Before You Go: If you visit in fall, try the Cherry Wheat on tap. It was so good I brought some back with me.

Colectivo Coffee

After an action-packed weekend, coffee on Sunday was a must. Checking out a local coffee shop is always on my agenda when I travel. Locally owned and operated, Colectivo Coffee got its start in 1993 in an old warehouse in Walker’s Point. The brand has grown exponentially ever since, with 16 locations all across Madison and Milwaukee.

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Know Before You Go: Colectivo Lakefront, the most popular Colectivo location, hosts a popular music series during the summer months. Don’t be deterred by the long lines – the breathtaking lakefront views are well worth the wait.

SEE

Indian Summer Festival

The heart of the Midwest is the perfect location for Indian Summer Fest, the largest Native American festival in the United States. Held in September at the Summerfest Grounds, the gathering is hosted by the eleven tribes that call Wisconsin home. With dancing, a Pow Wow competition, storytellers, cooking demos and tribal village re-creations, Indian Summer Fest is a great way to close out summer while relaxing by the lakefront.

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We sampled the fry bread, which is exactly what you think it is; flat dough fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening or lard. Albeit delicious, fry bread is a somber link to the past for many Native Americans. According to tradition, this Midwestern staple was created by the Navajo in the 1800s using ingredients given to them by the U.S. government after being displaced from their land out West. We tried the Indian taco and dessert variations.

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Know Before You Go: A fun fall activity, Indian Summer Fest brings history to life. Make sure to bring cash – many of the shops and vendors don’t accept credit cards.

Milwaukee Art Museum

An oasis of meticulously manicured gardens and postmodern architecture, the Milwaukee Art Museum is every photographer’s dream, offering stunning views of Lake Michigan. Built in 1888, the museum’s impressive collection contains works from Picasso, Monet, Warhol and Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keefe, just to name a few.

Don’t have time to check out the exhibits? Explore the museum grounds and walk around the main pavilion. Take a walk around the Burke Brise Soleil, a wing-like movable structure, or Windohover Hall, a grand reception with 90 foot ceilings, awash with sunlight on a clear day. The high ceilings in the Hall combined with the wings create an illusion that you are on a ship.

Know Before You Go:: You don’t need to pay to see beauty at this museum. If you only have a couple of hours to spare, there’s plenty to do and see on the museum grounds (without having to pay the entrance fee).

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Scenes from a Day Trip to Block Island, RI

Last year I visited Block Island, located about 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island in the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, Montauk, NY can be seen off in the distance. With a population of only 1,000, Block Island is the perfect destination for those looking for a relaxing weekend getaway.

Accessible via ferry from Newport, an excursion to Block Island makes for the perfect day trip. Departing Perotti Park at 8 am sharp, we arrived in Block Island around 9:15 am.  After a hearty breakfast, our group rented bikes and spent hours exploring the hilly terrain of the island, including a popular, family-owned farm and the spectacular Mohegan Bluffs.

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The bluffs, located on the southern shore of the island, are large clay cliffs about 150 feet tall. The cliffs were named after the battle between the Niantic, a tribe of New England Native Americans, and the Mohegans, a federally recognized Indian tribe from Connecticut. The two tribes fought over land ownership of the area, and as a result of the battle, the Mohegans were forced to their death over the cliffs.

Although the story behind the cliffs is somber, the view of the rocks and Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking.

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Our next stop was Block Island Southeast Light, a lighthouse constructed in 1875. Located on Mohegan Bluffs at the southeastern corner of the island, it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The lighthouse’s original optic was a Fresnel lens, containing four circular wicks burning whale oil. The whale oil was replaced by kerosene in 1880, and the lens was modified to rotate in a pool of mercury.

In 1993, because of the erosion on the bluffs, the entire lighthouse (all 2,000 tons of it) was moved back about 300 feet. After the move, the lens was replaced again, this time with a more modern lens originally used at Cape Lookout Light in North Carolina (loved reading this piece of history!)

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After several hours of biking (it was more difficult than I thought), we ended our trip with frozen drinks and snacks at Oar Restaurant. After a long day of sightseeing, it was nice to conclude our day trip with mudslides and spectacular views of New Harbor.

As about 40 percent of the island is set aside for conservation, the Nature Conservancy added Block Island to its list of “The Last Great Places”, which is one of only 12 historic sites in the Western hemisphere. I recommend this lush, sparsely populated island to anyone looking for a break from reality, which is certainly what my experience was like on that muggy August day.

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New England Charm in Newport, RI

Nautical chic, seaside swanky, classically preppy; there are so many ways I could describe Newport, RI, a seaside resort town about 40 minutes from the capital city of Providence.

Called the Hamptons of Rhode Island by many, Newport is known for its luxurious resort living; a place where the New England rich elite live, and others vacation during the summer. I visited the week prior to Labor Day weekend, so the city seemed to be winding down for the season. Nevertheless, I was still able to experience the essence that is Newport – boating, fine dining and meandering through the hilly estates of the country’s wealthiest families.IMG_0495photo

Newport was an 18th century port city, famous for sprawling mansions and colonial buildings. The town was an early center for shipbuilding and served as the center for trade with China in the early 1800s. In present day, it’s a haven for sailing, mansion tours, and many vibrant festivals year round.

Our hotel was a quick walk to Bowen’s Wharf, an outdoor shopping and dining area located right on the water. The wharf, lined with brick walkways, was formerly a thriving seaport. Now, the wharf is a symbol of Newport’s rich history and flourishing culture.

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After exploring the wharf, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the city’s sights on a boat. The views were breathtaking – see for yourself.newportbyboatnewportsunsetboatphoto (1)

All the locals we talked to said a trip to Rhode Island is not complete without New England Clam Chowder, which I quickly discovered was the best I’d ever had. Scallops, lobster, and seafood galore – I’m pretty sure I tasted some of the best fish in the world during my short five day stay.

On my last day in Newport, I went off on my own to explore the downtown historic district. My first stop was the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Built in 1954, the museum spans over 20,000 square feet and contains six grass courts and 18 galleries chock full of videos, interactive exhibits, and memorabilia from current and former tennis champions.

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Even if you aren’t into tennis, this a definitely a place worth visiting. Housed in the historic Newport Casino, a social and recreational club built in 1880, the first ever U.S. National Championships were held on the legendary museum courts. The Casino hosted the event until 1915 when the tournament moved to Forest Hills, N.Y and was renamed the U.S Open.

The Casino’s historic courts are the world’s oldest continuously used competition grass courts and the only competition grass courts open to the public for play.

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My next step was the famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile stretch of rugged trail along the Newport shoreline. Although the weather was chilly and overcast in the mid-50s (not ideal photo taking weather), I worked up a sweat as I trekked over rocks and narrow walkways to catch a glimpse of New England’s most famous vistas. viewsofshoreIMG_0474duckonrockIMG_0489flowersnewport

As I continued to make my way down the Cliff Walk, I passed by The 40 Steps, a stone staircase that drops down the side of a cliff to a balcony overlooking the sea. During the mid 19th century, the wooden steps served as a gathering place for the servants working at the nearby mansions. After being destroyed by a hurricane in the early 1900s, the steps were reconstructed with stone and cement. Carved into each of the 40 steps is the name of an individual who donated money for this restoration in 1980.

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And last, but certainly not least, the mansions! Along the walk you’ll see many historical homes, including the Breakers, Newport’s most famous summer cottage, serving as a symbol of the Vanderbilt’s financial and social significance in the late 1890s.

Beauty, elegance, and style – the homes along the Cliff Walk, the history of a thriving seaport, and the exclusivity of a posh casino allow us to reminisce (and only dream) about what life in Newport’s gilded age must have been like.

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East Coast Reunion Tour: 48 Hours in New York

Visiting New York City in the fall is by far one of the best times to go. My trip to NYC earlier this year was during the sweltering hot summer and jam-packed with work meetings, so it was nice to spend a relaxing weekend hanging out with some of my best friends. From bar-hopping all over the Lower East Side to leisurely strolling around Central Park, we had a great girls weekend and a blast catching up on life.

After spending a few days in DC (my second home) hanging out with friends, I took the four and a half hour bus ride up to NYC to continue my east coast reunion tour. Well, four and a half hours turned into seven, and I didn’t get into the city until close to 8 pm. We were all pretty beat from the week, so we spent Friday night catching up over dinner and drinks, resting up for Saturday’s festivities. For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a bit starstruck when it comes to celebrities, and can be asked at just about any given time who is dating who in Hollywood. So, when talking about the next day’s itinerary, a celebrity sightseeing tour was obviously in order.

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On Saturday afternoon (after a diner-style brunch of course), my friend and I set off on the TMZ celebrity tour. Our Australian tour guide, Mathew Chatwick, was so charming. A former finalist on Australian Idol, he charmed us with obscure celebrity facts and showed us the posh pads of Katie Holmes, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and Marc Jacobs, just to name a few. Nothing beats traveling around the city in a bus hearing facts about Jim Carrey’s weird art obsession, or seeing the venue where Lindsay Lohan’s infamous bar fight took place. If you are looking to explore NYC in style, I would highly recommend checking out the TMZ tour here.

By the way, if I’ve sparked your interest with the Australian Idol tidbit, please check out Mathew’s new album,  Undefined. His Australian accent is adorable and his music gives me the chills!
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After a Saturday night out in the Lower East Side, we were ready to soak up some of the crisp fall air in Central Park on Sunday. For many New Yorkers, Central Park is a safe haven for relaxation. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of it all every so often is so necessary. One minute we walked past eccentric musicians playing flutes and the next we approached the Central Park fountain, where a dance troupe was jamming out to Taylor Swift songs. From the naked cowgirls and toy story costumes in Times Square to the attention-seekers in Central Park, the people watching in NYC is unparalleled to any other city.

To top off this gorgeous fall day, walking around Central Park with two of my best friends makes for a pretty awesome Sunday!

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Picasso and Chicago

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Ever since I was old enough to remember, there was a Picasso print hanging in my family’s dining room. Today, when I see that piece of art, memories of childhood come flooding back. It’s nice to bask in the warmth of memories when nothing really seemed to matter, except maybe how far I could ride my bicycle around the block without getting in trouble.

When I lived in DC, I had the opportunity to see Picasso’s collection at the National Gallery of Art. When I found out there was an exhibit in Chicago, I knew I had to check it out. What I didn’t know prior to doing some research was that Picasso had a special bond with Chicago. The funny thing is that throughout his life, while being highly celebrated in the United States, he never set foot on US soil.

In the 1960s, an architect from Chicago wrote a poem to Picasso asking him to design a sculpture for the city. Picasso normally did not accept commissions for work, but said that because he considered Chicago a “gangster city” (alongside Marseille, France) he would do it.  What Chicago and Marseille have in common, I have no idea, but it was enough of an explanation for me. So lo and behold, in August 1967, Picasso’s unnamed sculpture was dedicated to the City of Chicago. He was offered $100,000 in payment but refused – he wanted the sculpture to be a gift.

On a sunny Saturday, I took the trip to Daley Plaza to check out the Picasso sculpture for myself. Mixed in with the photographers were some curious-looking individuals dressed in green from head to toe, rolling around and posing for tourists’ pictures on the sculpture.

The unique sculpture is representative of Picasso’s Cubism period.

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After my trek (okay, a one mile walk) to Daley Plaza, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago for the “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, which celebrated Chicago and Picasso’s relationship by bringing together 250 pieces (sculptures, paintings prints, drawings, ceramics) from all over the city.

For your viewing pleasure, I’ve put together a collection of my favorite Picasso pieces from the exhibit.

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“Mere et enfant,” 1921
"Red Armchair," 1931
“Red Armchair,” 1931
"Head of a Woman with Straw Hat on a Pink Background," 1938
“Head of a Woman with Straw Hat on a Pink Background,” 1938
"Blind Minotaur Led By a Girl Through the Night," 1938
“Blind Minotaur Led By a Girl Through the Night,” 1938
"Nude Under a Pine Tree," 1959
“Nude Under a Pine Tree,” 1959

 

A West Village State of Mind

One of my favorite things to do while visiting a new city is to chat with the locals. Delving into someone else’s mind and life for a little while is like a sweet escape from reality. I was only in NYC for 2 days last week and met a handful of interesting people – a Russian bartender, an Italian waiter and a tourist from Hamburg, Germany. They all had diverse backgrounds and such compelling stories to share about their time spent in the city that never sleeps; yet they had one thing in common – an intense pride in being a New Yorker.

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I spent my first night in the city wandering around the West Village, struggling to make a decision on a restaurant. I was overwhelmed with the number of small, eclectic restaurants jam-packed onto almost every street corner. After about an hour of walking around aimlessly, I ducked into Trattoria Toscana, a picturesque Italian restaurant boasting an old-fashioned red awning and wooden doors.

There’s just something about cozying up to a bar, in a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in a city you can just get lost in. My waiter, Mario, was originally from Genoa, Italy (although he quickly corrected me to say that according to Italians it’s GEN-va, not Gen-O-a). Mario moved to the US from Italy 30 years ago and has been in NYC ever since. He’s lived in the same rent-controlled apartment in the East Village for the past 10 years, with his daughter and son-in-law living two floors above him. His wife is Spanish and his grandson, only one and a half, is already trilingual – speaking Spanish, English and Italian.

For some odd reason, I appreciated the fact that Mario didn’t notice my southern accent. He did tell me he visited North Carolina once and wasn’t too impressed. When I asked if he liked the South he gave a one-word answer: “ehhh” (hey, at least he was honest.)

Mario was constantly greeting people and kissing patrons on cheeks. He told me what he loved most about living in NYC was that from day one, you are considered a New Yorker; that in Europe, if you move from your home country to another country, you are always considered a foreigner.

Over the course of the next few days, I met a Russian bartender at a Mexican restaurant and a businessman from Hamburg, Germany. The bartender, an older woman originally from Moscow, still retained her thick Russian accent. She told me about how much she loved NYC’s climate over Moscow’s bitingly cold winters.

The next evening, I visited The Standard Grill in the meatpacking district to meet up with one of my best friends. While I was waiting, I sat at the bar talking to a man from Hamburg, Germany, who had finally moved to NYC after visiting over forty time. He and I bonded quickly over Spanish ham (don’t ask), as we both watched, mesmerized, as a chef started skinning the meat off of a pig in plain sight.

It’s crazy to me that I met all of these interesting people in just two short days in the city. They were so thankful to be in the US, living in a city where you have the freedom to do whatever you want. This trip made me realize more than ever that I definitely take being an American for granted. I’ve moved around quite a bit – NC, DC and now Chicago – and I always feel accepted (for the most part anyways) wherever I go. I can’t imagine living in a country and always feeling alienated, almost as if I didn’t belong.

I’ve visited NYC several times over the past few years, but my time spent in the West Village was definitely the most memorable. I’ll definitely be stopping by my new favorite Italian restaurant next time I’m in town to say hi to Mario.

Arrivederci!