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Free Things To Do In Milwaukee, WI
What can you do for free in Milwaukee?
Museum and Zoo Free Days
Jazz in the Park and Other Free Concerts
Hiking and Biking Trails
Sledding and Holiday Events
Reclaiming Our Heritage
Fish Fry and a Flick
Free things to do are always appreciated, no matter where you live and what your budget is. Milwaukee offers a wide range of free activities and attractions from museums to festivals and fairs to brewery tours. There is something here for everyone with a wide range of family-friendly options. You'll be able to keep busy with your kids just about every weekend of the year.
[I last updated the dates and links in this article in March 2017. All information is subject to change at any time without notice.]
Museum and Zoo Free Days
- Milwaukee County Zoo Family Free Days: Free admission for the entire family the following dates in 2016: January 7, February 4, March 4, October 7, November 4, and December 2.
- Milwaukee Art Museum Free Dates: The first Thursday of every month.
- Mitchell Park Domes Milwaukee County Residents Free Days: Every Monday 9:00 a.m. to noon. Must show a proof of residency.
- Milwaukee Public Museum Milwaukee County Residents Free Days: The first Thursday of every month with proof of residency. Check the website for additional free days, such as free for mothers on Mother's Day.
- Betty Brinn Children's Museum Free Days: Third Thursday night of every month from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Please note that free dates do not necessarily include parking. Check with individual facilities for current parking rates and options.
The following museums and historical opportunities are always free!
Walter, Roberts, & Deitch at Jazz in the Park, Milwaukee WI 08/18/11
Get a comprehensive listing of individual concerts across the city for the current season.
Jazz in the Park and Other Free Concerts
- Jazz in the Park concert series in downtown Milwaukee's Cathedral Square. Thursday nights with happy hour at 5:00 p.m. and music from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. from early June through early September. Enjoy jazz as well as blues, funk, big band, reggae, and R&B.
- Chill on the Hill concert series in Humboldt Park in Bay View. Tuesday nights from early June through late August. Open acts at 6:00 p.m. with main acts from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dogs are welcome. Food and beverage vendors available. A little bit of everything from jazz to Irish to salsa.
- River Rhythms concert series in the Pere Marquette Park (on Old World Third Street between State and Kilbourn). Wednesday nights 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. mid-June through late August. Jazz, blues, rock, and much more.
- Boerner Botanical Gardens Concert Series. Thursday nights mid-June through late August. The park grounds have free admission after 6:00 p.m. on concert nights. Concerts run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Classical, world, oldies, rock, R&B, and more.
- Lake Park Friends: Music in the Park. Monday concerts run 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday concerts run 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and are geared for families and children. Concerts take place in Lake Park Summer Stage in Lake Park Picnic Area #3 right off of Lake Dr. In inclement weather conditions, concerts are held at Marcia Coles Community Room in the lower level of the Lake Park Pavilion. Classical, country, jazz, choral, theater, and more. Click on the link and then the "Music in the Park" tab on the left for the current schedule.
- Live at Peck. Live at Peck takes place at the Peck Pavilion right in between the Milwaukee River and the Marcus Center from late July to late August. The line up includes Sunday afternoon band concerts, Tuesday evening dance concerts, Friday lunch concerts, and Thursday / Friday evening movies. Sazama's River Edge Patio is open during all performances, serving food and drink.
People don't automatically think of Milwaukee when they think of beautiful beaches, but it is a wonderful city to enjoy gorgeous Lake Michigan views while swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, and much more. Bradford Beach provides lifeguards Monday through Saturday from mid-June through Labor Day. Do you enjoy boating? Consider using the boat launch at Bender Park. If you enjoy the cold temperatures that Lake Michigan offers much of the year, consider taking the Polar Bear Plunge this year.
An Overview of Milwaukee Beaches
East Capitol and North Lake Drive, Shorewood
4503 E. Ryan Rd., Oak Creek
Big Bay Park
5000 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay
2400 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., Milwaukee
Doctors Park / Tietjen Beach
1870 E. Fox Ln., Fox Point
Grant Park Beach
100 S. Hawthorne Ave., South Milwaukee
5900 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay
1750 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., Milwaukee
South Shore / Bay View Park Beach
2900 S. Superior St., Milwaukee
- Bradford Beach
Bradford Beach offers free volleyball courts, volleyball leagues, beach parties, a summer music series, and more.
Hiking and Biking Trails
Milwaukee is home to many hiking and biking trails. One of the most popular trails is Oak Leaf Trail, which consists of 114 miles of multiple loops that weave through many major parks and parkways. These loops consist of park drives, off-road paved trails, and municipal streets. Oak Leaf Trail is open to walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters. Another popular trail is the Hank Aaron State Trail, which stretches for over 11 miles from Lakeshore State Park to the connection to the Oak Leaf Trail at the Milwaukee/Waukesha County line. It is also open to walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters.
Milwaukee County is also home to two mountain biking trails: Alpha and Hoyt. Alpha is located at the Whitnall Park Winter Sports Area, northeast of the golf course and parking lot. This 3-mile single-track narrow trail takes you through the Crystal Ridge section of the Root River Parkway. The Hoyt trail starts at the Hoyt Park parking lot. Winding along the Menomonee River, the 2.5 mile loop is primarily a single track with one direction for bikers and the other direction for hikers.
Both the Alpha and Hoyt Trails are designed with beginners in mind. The trails feature a few steep or rocky segments but are otherwise fairly straightforward, which is ideal for novice bikers.
Free bike maps are available at all area libraries, bike shops, City Halls, and County Parks. PDF maps are available from the city via the Bike Maps link below.
Yoga tips for beginners - Mamta Aurora | TheHealthSite.com
There are quite a few opportunities to take free yoga classes in Milwaukee. All of these classes are open to all levels. If you're brand new to yoga and aren't sure if you want to shell out a lot of money for classes or are simply looking to save money while staying in shape, free classes are a great option.
- Lululemon. The Third Ward Lululemon location at 322 N. Water St. offers a free class for all levels every Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Each month a different local yoga studio runs the class. Mats are available for use, and street parking is free for the first two hours.
- Yoga @ the Parks. Free yoga is offered at multiple Milwaukee parks on Saturdays in July and August. Donations are welcome. You must bring your own mat unless you want to do yoga on the grass. Click the link for the current schedule.
- Yoga @ the Museum. The Milwaukee Art Museum hosts free yoga once a month in the gorgeous Windhover Hall on Saturday mornings at 8:15 a.m. It is open to all levels. Paid parking is available in the museum lot or across the street in the O'Donnell Park structure. Click the link for upcoming dates.
- Basilica of St. Josephat. Free tours are conducted every week after the 10:00 a.m. mass. For groups of 15 people or more, contact the Visitor Service Representative at 414-902-3523.
- St. Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University. Free tours are available 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. They last approximately half an hour. To schedule a tour, contact Marquette University's Campus Ministry office at 414-288-6873.
- Tripoli Shrine Temple. There are no guided tours, but the temple is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Doors Open Milwaukee. The annual Doors Open Milwaukee takes place in late September. It includes over 30 in-depth tours of various areas of Milwaukee, with over 150 buildings featured total. All tours are free but do require tickets.
- Milwaukee Public Library: Central Library Location. Free tours take place every Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Meet in the rotunda. Call to schedule tours at additional times and to schedule sign language interpretation: 414-286-TOUR.
Germanfest Milwaukee 2010
2017 Cedarburg Festivals
February 18 and 19, 2017
April 21, 2017
June 24 and 25, 2017
Wine & Harvest
September 18 and 19, 2017
October 14 and 15, 2017
A Cedarburg Christmas
Mid-November to Christmas
Milwaukee is home to numerous festivals throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a number of which are free. Here are just a few of them.
- Bastille Days. Cathedral Square. Mid-July. Live music, food and wine demonstrations, international marketplace, French and Cajun cuisine, entertainment, and an Eiffel Tower replica that stands 43 feet tall and has hourly light shows.
- Brady Street Festival. Brady Street. Late July. Bands, other entertainment, food, drink, and homemade craft vendors.
- Cedarburg Festivals. The town of Cedarburg in the Milwaukee area is well known for their festivals. They host a handful of prominent events every year as well as many smaller festivals, art fairs, and more.
- Lake Moon Festival. Concordia University Wisconsin. Early August. A family-friendly festival on the gorgeous bluffs of Lake Michigan featuring food, drink, live music, art activities, local businesses, carriage rides, and more. [ON HIATUS for 2016]
- Summer Sizzle - Third Ward Jazz Festival. Historic Third Ward. Early August. Four music stages, Taste of the Ward events, shopping, a parade, and a raffle.
Free Art Fairs
Milwaukee is also home to many high-quality craft fairs that feature artists from all over the state of Wisconsin. Here are just a few of the free art fairs in the area.
- Celtic Christmas Boutique. Mid-November. One day. Milwaukee Irish Fest Center. Food available at the Cafe Celtique.
- Maker Market. Monthly art, craft, and maker fair in the Bay View Colectivo Parking Lot, just off of Howell Avenue with a fresh line up at each event. May through September as well as a November holiday market at Discovery World.
- Morning Glory Fine Arts Fair. Early or mid-August. Two days. Grounds of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
- NEWaukee Night Market. Monthly from June through September. Takes place on Wisconsin Avenue between 2nd and 4th Streets. Arts, crafts, and produce vendors; live music; food trucks; and family-friendly activities.
- Rep Holiday Artisan Craft Fair. Early December. Rep's Stiemke Studio.
- St. Therese Harvest Craft Fair. Early November. Two days. Raffle, food, coupon books, collection for Hunger Task Force.
- Third Ward Art Festival. Early September. Two Days. Historic Third Ward. Food, live music and other entertainment, artist demonstrations, hands-on activities and other family friendly fun.
- Urban Garage Sale. Early December. One day. Turner Hall. Art, clothing, and gifts for the holidays.
- Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival: Nov. 17, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017
- Best Christkindlmarket Milwaukee: Nov. 17-20, 2016
- Holiday Folk Fair International: Nov. 18-20, 2016
- Milwaukee Holiday Parade: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.
- Deck the Streets of Old Milwaukee: Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 29, 2017
- Annual Tree Lighting @ Bayshore Town Center: Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.
- Candy Cane Lane: Nov. 25-Dec. 25, 2016
- Christmas in the Ward: Dec. 2-3, 2016
Sledding and Holiday Events
- Tobogganing & Sledding. There are seven day-time sledding hills and five lighted sledding hills that allow for both day and nighttime sledding. Sledding is free. Toboggan rentals are available. Click on the link for a complete list of parks, current toboggan schedule, and guidelines.
- Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival. Mid-November through the end of December. Downtown Milwaukee features 360 wreaths, 35 animated sculptures, and 17 Moravian stars as well as more than 500,000 Christmas lights and numerous activities throughout the six weeks.
- Candy Cane Lane. Late November to late December. 6:00 to 9:00 p.m weekdays, 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It takes place in West Allis between Oklahoma and Montana Avenues and 92nd to 96th Street. The decorated neighborhood is a one of a kind winter wonderland. The event is free, but all of the donated proceeds go toward the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) fund, which contributes to children who have cancer and related blood disorders.
- Christmas in the Ward. Late November/early December. Take part in an old-fashion Christmas tree lighting in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. The festivities start at 5:00 p.m. in Catalano Square at Broadway and Menomonee. The event includes Santa, reindeer, fireworks, Trinity Irish Dancers, and much more.
- Milwaukee Holiday Parade. Mid-November. Enjoy Santa, bands, floats, balloons, costumed characters, specialty vehicles, and local TV and radio personalities.
2010 Milwaukee Holiday Lights
Unfortunately Reclaiming Our Heritage is on hiatus for 2016. Stay tuned for details about the 2017 event at the Zablocki VA Medical Center at 5000 W. National Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Reclaiming Our Heritage
Reclaiming Our Heritage is two days of free family-friendly, patriotic celebration right in the heart of Milwaukee on the Zablocki VA Medical Center grounds. The weekend includes veteran tributes, multi-era military encampment, tours of the Wood national Cemetery, entertainment, exhibits, and guided tours of the VA buildings and grounds. The event includes a Civil War School Day that takes place the Friday preceding the weekend. It servers over 600 2nd through 5th grade students. The weekend event draws over 15,000 visitors each year.
Fish Fry and a Flick
Stevens Point Brewery presents Fish Fry and a Flick. Enjoy a free movie outdoor on a big screen right on the Milwaukee lakefront at Discovery World. Of course POINT Brewery beer is available as well as the Bartlottas Fish Fry and a number of Milwaukee food truck options. Food and beverage carry-ins are not allowed, but people are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. Bikes are welcome. All movies are on Friday nights and start at dusk. Click the link on the right for the current schedule.
A brewery tour is a quintessential component of a visit to Milwaukee. Although minors cannot sample alcoholic beverages, this is still a fun experience for the entire family. The free, one hour Miller Brewery Tour takes you through 155 years of brewing history. Learn about the rich history of the brewery from Fredrick Miller's initial arrival in Milwaukee to the modern brewery technology and high-speed production lines that are used today. You'll get a first hand look at the packaging center, brew house, warehouse for shipping and distribution, and the unique historic Miller Caves. Visit the Plank Road Brewery replica house, famous Miller brew kettles, and MillerCoors veterans memorial. Of course don't forget to stop in at the Miller Inn afterward for samples. Soda is available upon request for minors. [Source]
Milwaukee features several other great brewery tours, all of which are inexpensive.
$5 for adults, $3 for minors
$7 per person
Best Place Milwaukee: Historic Pabst Brewery
$7.00 per adult, free for kids 12 and under
Milwaukee Brewing Company
$10 per person
You don't have to stop at Miller.
- Sprecher Brewing Company
Dedicated brewers brewing fine European and traditional beers and gourmet sodas.
- Lakefront Brewery - Lakefront Brewery Home Page
Lakefront Brewery is a leader in brewing the best beers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Started in 1987, Lakefront Brewery has been brewing for more than 20 years.
- Best Place Milwaukee - Home
Welcome to Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, WI.
- Milwaukee Brewing Co.
More Milwaukee resources from the author.
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- Things to Do in Milwaukee for Mother's Day: Brunch Specials and More
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- Milwaukee Bungalows: Craftsman Style Homes
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- Restaurants Near Miller Park: Milwaukee, WI
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- Milwaukee, WI Events: Annual Events and Things to Do in November
This November, you can get out and enjoy a different event or thing to do in Milwaukee every weekend. Consider concerts, festivals, and more in the downtown and suburbs.
- 10 Great Locations to Take Photos Within One Hour of Milwaukee, WI
Are you looking for new places to take pictures around Milwaukee? Go beyond the same old list of popular parks and other destinations that you see everywhere and explore some new spots!
© 2012 Rose Clearfield