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Free Things To Do In Milwaukee, WI

Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

What can you do for free in Milwaukee?

Museum and Zoo Free Days

Jazz in the Park and Other Free Concerts

Beaches

Hiking and Biking Trails

Yoga

Architecture Tours

Festivals

Art Fairs

Sledding and Holiday Events

Reclaiming Our Heritage

Fish Fry and a Flick

Miller Tour

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.]

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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!

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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.
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Grant Park in South Milwaukee, WI

Grant Park in South Milwaukee, WI

Beaches

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

BeachAddress

Atwater Beach

East Capitol and North Lake Drive, Shorewood

Bender Park

4503 E. Ryan Rd., Oak Creek

Big Bay Park

5000 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay

Bradford Beach

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

Klode Park

5900 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay

McKinley Beach

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.
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the Oak Leaf Trail in downtown Milwaukee

the Oak Leaf Trail in downtown Milwaukee

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.

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Yoga tips for beginners - Mamta Aurora | TheHealthSite.com

Yoga

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.
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Architecture

  • 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.
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5K participants finishing up the latest stretch of the race during the 2015 Lake Moon Festival.

5K participants finishing up the latest stretch of the race during the 2015 Lake Moon Festival.

Local indie rock band I'm Not a Pilot performing at Bastille Days 2015.

Local indie rock band I'm Not a Pilot performing at Bastille Days 2015.

Germanfest Milwaukee 2010

2017 Cedarburg Festivals

FestivalDates

Winter Festival

February 18 and 19, 2017

CedarBrew

April 21, 2017

Strawberry Festival

June 24 and 25, 2017

Wine & Harvest

September 18 and 19, 2017

Oktoberfest

October 14 and 15, 2017

A Cedarburg Christmas

Mid-November to Christmas

Free Festivals

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.
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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.
free-things-to-do-in-milwaukee-wi
Don't let the Milwaukee winters scare you! You can still get out and have some fun during the cold winter months.

Don't let the Milwaukee winters scare you! You can still get out and have some fun during the cold winter months.

2016 Dates

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

free-things-to-do-in-milwaukee-wi

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.

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Enjoy the Milwaukee lakefront at Discovery World while taking in a movie.

Enjoy the Milwaukee lakefront at Discovery World while taking in a movie.

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.

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Miller Tour

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.

BreweryCost

Sprecher Brewery

$5 for adults, $3 for minors

Lakefront Brewery

$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.

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More Milwaukee resources from the author.

© 2012 Rose Clearfield

Comments

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 16, 2014:

Thanks, Vicki! There are so many neat things to do here in Milwaukee. Yes, you do! :)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on April 16, 2014:

Looks like a great place! Lots of neat things to do! I need to write a hub about the town where I live. :-)

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 21, 2013:

So sorry to hear that they've both passed away, wabash annie. I'm glad that this article brought back some good memories.

wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on May 21, 2013:

I was looking through your hubs when I noticed this one. In the late fifties, two of my brothers lived in Milwaukee and I visited them a few times. We had some good times! Thanks for reminding me of this. They both died several years of cancer but I still remember the good times.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 30, 2013:

Thanks for the information!

pplynch on April 30, 2013:

Please note that Reclaiming Our Heritage is on hiatus for 2013. For information on Memorial Day at Wood National Cemetery, including a version of "Voices of Wood National Cemetery," visit http://historicmilwaukeeva.org/Events.html

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 26, 2013:

It's great to hear that, Dianna! I hope that you're able to get back this way someday.

Dianna Mendez on January 25, 2013:

I was there a couple of times while visiting friends. It has some wonderful places and the people are so friendly. Lovely post and makes me want to return there some day.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 25, 2013:

You are absolutely right about that, Cyndi!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on January 25, 2013:

You know, no matter where you live, you can actually adapt these ideas to your area: festivals, parks, biking, etc. What a great hub because it gives you LOTS of ideas that you might not think of, or forget. Thanks for sharing!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 16, 2012:

That's so awesome. :) We love the Milwaukee Zoo.

Doodlehead from Northern California on September 16, 2012:

Hey Random---my brother supplies the alfalfa to the Milwaukee Zoo!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 16, 2012:

The winters aren't for everyone. I'm glad that you have good associations with the place, though. Iowa City is a pretty neat area. We're glad to be in Milwaukee now, but we had some good times there.

Doodlehead from Northern California on September 15, 2012:

random..I grew up 40 miles south of Milwaukee....as soon as I was able, I moved to California....were it not for the winters I might have stayed....but I spent some time in Iowa City and that also is such a cute place!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 15, 2012:

Thanks, Shasta! Yes, for sure about Milwaukee. You should look into it more in your area. I knew about less than half of these ideas before I started researching for this article. You'll be amazed what you can find.

Doodlehead, YES YES YES, everything that you said about Milwaukee is absolutely true. After living in the Iowa City area for 4 years, the winters here are pretty nice. I'm sure that it's an adjustment coming from California, though.

Doodlehead from Northern California on September 15, 2012:

Milwaukee is deceptively wonderful. It is a hidden prize on Lake Michigan, has fabulous suburbs like White Fish Bay, has yummy cheap European food and you get LOTS OF IT, and there are cheap and good art festivals and music and art museums.

My opinion though is to go in the summer. Winter is a severe ordeal.

Shasta Matova from USA on September 15, 2012:

Wow, there are a lot of free things to do in Milwaukee. What a great resource! I will definitely have to keep them in mind if I am ever in the area. Makes me want to find out what other free things to do may be lurking in my area! Voted up.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 06, 2012:

Thank you much, vespawoolf! I hope that it will be helpful for both tourists and residents.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 06, 2012:

This is a valuable resource for tourists and residents alike. I vote for the zoo and sledding! Voted up.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 05, 2012:

You definitely wouldn't! I hope that you're able to make it out this way sometime.

Om Paramapoonya on September 05, 2012:

Not sure when I'd ever go to Milwaukee but at least I know that I wouldn't need much money to have fun there! Thanks for this amazing guide.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 05, 2012:

Thanks, agusfanani! I hope that you're able to make it out here and take in a concert in Milwaukee sometime.

Thanks, Mhatter!

That's great, Paul. You'll have to take in a brewery tour if you're ever back this way. I've done Sprecher and Lakefront, and they're both great. You're absolutely right about the people here. We were in Iowa for 4 years before this where people were friendly everywhere. I was worried coming back to a larger city it wouldn't be that way, but Milwaukee has blown me away. People are so friendly here.

Doodlehead, thanks for the tip about the War Memorial Art Center! I'll have to look into that. There aren't enough hubs out there about Milwaukee so I'm trying to fill that void. You're right about the food here. I have written one article about Milwaukee restaurants but could easily write many more.

Doodlehead from Northern California on September 05, 2012:

Do not mss the War Memorial Art Center. It's on the Lake (that's Lake Michigan), and it has cool architecture and great art.

Who'd have thought a hub on Milwaukee would be out there? Milwaukee also has outreageouly cheap and good European food.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on September 05, 2012:

This is a great hub and very interesting. It certainly brings back memories of the city where I was born. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time at the Public Museum and Public Library. I've never gone on a Brewery tour, but I heard they were really good. One thing about Milwaukee is its great people. It's hard to experience people more friendly. Voted up and sharing.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 04, 2012:

Thank you for the useful tips

agusfanani from Indonesia on September 04, 2012:

What a very interesting city and Jazz in the Park and Other Free Concerts is absolutely the most attractive event for me to enjoy if I had the opportunity.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 04, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this, Leah! Milwaukee is a great place to hang out by the lake.

Thanks, moonlake! We haven't made it to the domes yet either, but it's on our list.

moonlake from America on September 04, 2012:

Great hub. I always wanted to visit the Mitchell Park Domes but never got the chance to. Maybe someday I will still get there. Voted uP!

Leah Lefler from Western New York on September 04, 2012:

I have a few friends who live in Wisconsin - I'll have to share this with them! What a great guide - so many activities are free of cost, and the beach picture makes me want to take a road trip and hang out on the lake!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 03, 2012:

Thanks, Terrye! Milwaukee is a great place to visit. There is so much to do here.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on September 03, 2012:

You make Milwaukee, WI look like a great place to visit, Random! :) Great information and a very well put together package!