Moving to Milwaukee isn’t something most non-residents jump at that chance to do. It’s not because it’s unworthy, but perhaps because it’s often misunderstood as being too cold (literally) and too small. When people think of living in Milwaukee, beer and baseball come to mind — two iconically American qualities.
But this Midwestern city has a rich history that begins with the Native Americans. Say what you will about the Trail of Tears, but there wouldn’t be Milwaukee as we know it without this checkered past. The city embraces its Native American heritage even in its name; Milwaukee comes from an Algonquian term meaning “beautiful land” or “pleasant land.”
Things to Know Before Moving to Milwaukee
Milwaukee was originally inhabited by five different Native American tribes, and later primarily settled by French, Irish, Italians, Germans, and Poles. Native American records show that African Americans were living in Milwaukee as early as the 1700s, and now comprise 40% of the city’s population. More recent additions include Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants.
Milwaukee is learning to embrace and celebrate its diverse population. It is home to a number of organizations and annual events that celebrate the LGBTQ community. The Islamic Society of Milwaukee operates three mosques. There are temples for Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation offers information about local synagogues.
The Greater Milwaukee area is full of possibilities given its prime location and ample job resources, particularly in precision manufacturing. The headquarters for FoxConn, which will add hundreds of jobs, just opened in 2018. Mayor Tom Barrett said the city is undergoing a historic renaissance and expressed hope that Foxconn’s downtown presence will add to the trend.
If you want or need to move to Milwaukee, begin by exploring the best neighborhoods, the cost of living, and even take some time to familiarize yourself with the culture. What are some things to do in Milwaukee? Find out! You’ll be living here, so it’s important to take advantage of every pro and weigh every con. We’ve gathered some moving to Milwaukee advice and know-how to get you started.
Table of Contents
- Cost of Living
- Job Market
- Food and Drink
- Places to Visit
- Tips for New Residents
Is Milwaukee a Good Place to Live?
Demographics and Geography
Located just a couple hours from Chicago, Madison, and Green Bay, this section of the Rust Belt has undergone intensive redevelopment since its inception. The primarily blue collar city is positioned at the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and is considered the Freshwater Capital of the World.
Because the city isn’t sprawled out like Los Angeles, there is an ease of transportation and traffic is rarely an issue. With a population of nearly 600,000, the city of Milwaukee isn’t so small that it is insignificant. Consider this: Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and ranks the 31st most populous city in the US.
The Greater Milwaukee area consists of five adjacent counties totaling over 1.75 million residents as of 2018. Those counties include Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Racine and Ozaukee. There are dozens of smaller communities, as well as rural landscapes and rolling forest terrain.
Best Milwaukee Neighborhoods for Any Resident
When you move to Milwaukee, your specific needs and lifestyle will dictate which neighborhood is best for you. Your search won’t be limited to the city unless you want it to be.
We had the chance to chat with long-time realtor and resident, Natalie Kieffer about why moving to Milwaukee can be a worthwhile decision.
“We have some of the most diverse small businesses from the standpoint of restaurants, and transportation is a breeze. From north to south, it might take you half an hour to get through, which makes Milwaukee unique,” Kieffer explains. “It really is a thriving city that has a smaller city feel. If somebody must have a bigger city, they might not be satisfied with Milwaukee. But they might be surprised with what they find when they come to visit.“
In addition, Kieffer took the time to point us to some of the best neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Here’s where she thought you should start your search.
Find the Ideal City Neighborhood
Living in the city isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is a way of life for many families. Choosing to live in the city of Milwaukee will be rewarding in immeasurable ways. Whether it’s the yearly festivals, chef-driven dining, or miles upon miles of trails, there’s a lot to love by staying inside Milwaukee County. There are eleven quaint neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Here are three prime locations to start your search in what is known as the Big City of Little Neighborhoods.
1. Bay View
Bay View is a prime area for a growing family, and prices are increasing everywhere in this neighborhood for good reason. Home to Humboldt Park and a portion of Oak Leaf Trail, this thriving community has access to a plethora of small businesses that offer unique shopping and restaurant experiences. Expect to find charming antique shops here. This neighborhood is close to the lake, airport, and the downtown area.
Rental Prices: Between $800 – $1,250 for a one bedroom
2. Historic Third Ward
This Milwaukee neighborhood has undergone an incredible revitalization over the last decade, with tons of single millennials now calling it home. Significant development has offered new business and living opportunities. Vacant buildings are being converted into luxury condo complexes with renters and buyers lining up to move in. This area is within walking distance to the iconic Summer Fest grounds and is such a great community for young people and empty nesters alike.
Rental Prices: Between $1000 – $1,500 for a one bedroom
This area is actually a distinct village within Milwaukee County as opposed to being a neighborhood within the city. With easy access to downtown, this urban village is walkable, bike-friendly and architecturally diverse. When you live here, you’re close to everything — the lake, a major university, a school district known for excellence, the businesses that have what you need, bike trails, and parks. 51% of the residents are renters.
Rental Prices: Between $750 – $1,300 for a one bedroom
Settle Down in a Milwaukee Suburb
Commuting into the city from a neighboring suburb is not a problem for many families in Milwaukee. Whether you’re looking for more acreage or a country lifestyle, consider one of the many suburbs resting just outside the city limits. Though many residents love areas like Elm Grove and Brookfield, here are some other suburbs that are also worth checking out.
1. Fox Point
Living in Fox Point offers residents a suburban feel and most residents own their homes. Lots are larger but there are no sidewalks and few street lamps, so cars are necessary. With mature trees, it offers the feeling of being in nature, but only 12 minutes from downtown. Nearby Glendale offers plenty of shopping choices at Bayshore Mall.
2. Whitefish Bay
Similar and adjacent to Shorewood, this walkable/bikeable community offers the small-town Americana feel. There’s a main street full of shops, grocery stores, and churches all within walking distance. Events like holiday parades and ice cream socials make it family friendly. Most residents own their homes. Whitefish Bay is ranked #1 for schools, so it’s a likely choice for relocating families.
3. Oak Creek
This is a fast-growing community, where homes are still affordable, with more being built. Just under 50% of the residents are renters. It boasts a new IKEA store and easy access to the highway making it an easy commute north to the downtown. Nearly 500 apartments will be built over the next two years. The addition of Drexel Town Square will add a downtown to the sprawling area, which includes parks, wetlands and new civic buildings.
Cost of Living: Is Milwaukee Affordable?
Living in Milwaukee is affordable for most families. For the price of a studio in less desirable sections of Sacramento, you can find a single family home in a thriving section of Milwaukee. It is actually 189% more expensive to live in Sacramento than it is in Milwaukee.
Kieffer emphasized that high property taxes may be the only thing that can damper a first-time home buyer’s journey. But despite being more expensive than many cities in the south, property taxes have been decreasing the past few years.
“Since our property taxes have been coming down, Wisconsin is becoming much more affordable,” she says. “Starting prices make Milwaukee an accessible destination for most first time home buyers, even for the very budget conscious.”
What’s the job market like in this region?
Milwaukee is known for its prolific wheat growers. All this wheat served as a starting point for age-old breweries like Miller, hence the beer connection.
Waterways also helped Milwaukee become one of the thriving hubs after the Industrial Revolution. Three rivers flow through the city, now used for recreation. Years of industrialization created pollution and killed off fish. Clean-up efforts are on-going with local organizations like Milwaukee Riverkeeper.
In fact, one large reason families relocate to Milwaukee is for a job. Many people move because they were recruited, possibly for one of the seven Fortune 500 companies that call Milwaukee home.
Moving here without a job? Some of the best companies to work for in Milwaukee include Aurora Health Care, Harley Davidson, Boucher Automotive Group, Sargento Foods, and Baird. FoxConn boasts that it will employ 13,000 people in its new facilities, which are currently under construction.
Sending Your Kids to School in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Public School District is the largest in the state of Wisconsin, teaching over 75,000 students across 154 schools. You might choose a neighborhood school where children can benefit by walking, but specialty schools include Montessori, language immersion, and schools focused on the arts or technology. Headstart is available to 3 and 4-year-olds.
Milwaukee was the first area to adopt a charter school program in 1990. This allows families to send their children to other alternative private schools at no cost. There are currently 8 to choose from.
Some families choose the suburbs for better school choices. Whitefish Bay leads the region, but Elmbrook, Greendale, and others made the list.
College-age children can stay in Milwaukee and attend one of the seven colleges in the area including Marquette University or Milwaukee School of Engineering. If there isn’t an ideal choice here, Madison is a short drive away. It’s known for its institutions like the University of Wisconsin or Herzing University.
Eating and Drinking in Milwaukee is an Experience
Milwaukee has a dining heritage that residents are proud to call their own, but this Midwestern locale is so much more than bratwurst and beer. We caught up with Senior Food and Dining Editor of OnMilwaukee, Lori Fredrich on all things food and drink.
“People who haven’t been to Milwaukee in a number of years are always surprised at how much our dining scene has evolved. We’re a scene that’s still proud of our homemade sausages and craft beer,” Fredrich emphasizes. “But, the diversity of options for dining in Milwaukee is truly impressive. We have everything from fast-casual ramen joints, taquerias and sandwich spots to acclaimed fine dining restaurants run by James Beard Award-winning chefs.”
So whether you’re looking for tried-and-true ethnic restaurants or newly opened chef-driven spots, Milwaukee will rise to the occasion. The city is known for being vegan and vegetarian-friendly, a feat for a market this size. During summer, food trucks line up along city streets during the lunch hour. You’ll find them in parks adding flavor to outdoor movie nights or farmers markets too.
Chefs Work Together in Milwaukee
If you’re looking for an exclusive dining experience, Fredrich knows just the idea. “We have a really collaborative chef community. Chefs here love to work together, share ideas and support one another,” she explains. “There’s always the opportunity for attending unique collaborative dinners, street festivals and events that incorporate some of the best food in the city.”
Move Over Bland Beer. Welcome in Craft & Cocktails.
But what about the beer Milwaukee is known for? Giants like Miller and Pabst are still brewing in the city, but craft beer has taken over with a total of 30 breweries. There were 15 beer gardens in regional parks, with a traveling beer garden as well.
Over the last few years, residents of Milwaukee have also seen an increasing number of innovative cocktail bars that are really pushing the envelope when it comes to craft cocktails. Small batch craft spirits are made right here with local ingredients.
We ended our talk with Lori Fredrich right where it began, discussing each and every restaurant and brewery new residents should add to their list. She made some great suggestions we think you’ll love.
Restaurants to Try
- FreshFin Poke — Fast casual Poke bowls
- Irie Zulu — Authentic African and Jamaican cuisine
- Dandan — Modern Chinese-American fusion
- Third Coast Provisions — Seafood restaurant and oyster bar
- Iron Grate BBQ Co. — Unique take on barbecue, including the “Milwaukee rib”
Breweries & Distilleries
- Lakefront Brewery — Industrious and inventive brewery located on the MKE River
- Great Lakes Distillery — Small batch products made with old world methods
- MKE Brewing Co. — Take a tour of this brewery that locally sources its ingredients
- Broken Bat Brewery — Small, baseball-themed brewery
- Twisted Path Distillery — Certified organic spirits made entirely from scratch
- Night Market — A free, outdoor event that takes place on certain Wednesday nights during the summer months on Wisconsin Ave.
- Milwaukee Chili Bowl — Milwaukee’s top chefs and restaurants compete for best chili and the coveted Golden Ladle Award.
- Zoo A La Carte — Enjoy music and a variety of foods at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
- Santa Rampage — part bike ride, part bar crawl. Thousands of cyclists ride together in December dressed as some version of Santa.
What to Expect Outdoors
There’s an undeniable appeal to freshwater, but one thing you can’t avoid in Milwaukee is the snow. Yes, it snows here and winters can feel long unless you embrace it. Locals meet for coffee and try skating at Red Arrow Park. Or sled down hills at 12 different parks. Free snowshoe rental and trails at Havenwoods State Forest are a treat. Ice fishing on the park lagoons is fun for fishermen and kids alike.
Weather in Milwaukee
When the snow melts, the residents of Milwaukee know exactly how to embrace the warmer weather. Greater Milwaukee is near the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee rivers. Two smaller rivers, Root River and Lincoln Creek, carve their way through the city. You also have Lake Michigan on the city’s coast. So how do Milwaukeeans take advantage?
They visit one of nine acclaimed beaches like Bradford or Atwater, for swimming, surfing (yes it is possible), or beach volleyball. Or they hop in a kayak or go for a dinner cruise on the river. They grab a Bublr bike from one of the 87 bike racks placed in the area and hit the trails. They get outside and appreciate these great city assets.
- Milwaukee County Park System — Milwaukee is home to a world-class parks and recreation system thanks in part to organizations like the Urban Ecology Center. There are over 160 parks spanning 15,000 acres throughout Milwaukee County. Check out Lake Park, Whitnall Park, or venture around with the Traveling Beer Garden.
- Oak Leaf Trail — This 125-mile trail borders most of Milwaukee County and connects parks with other notable destinations. It connects to the Hank Aaron Trail adding 13 miles to the west through the Menomonee Valley.
- Mitchell Park Conservatory — Have you ever seen the movie Bio-Dome? The Domes here will let you explore tropical, desert, and other climates just by stepping inside. They remain the world’s only conoidal glass houses and make a great destination for anyone particularly interested in plants, ecosystems, and nature.
Is There Even a Sports Scene?
The Milwaukee sports scene is rich with professional teams, most notably including the MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Both have new taxpayer-funded facilities that are noteworthy. Hockey fan?The AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals are a professional hockey team affiliated with the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Even though there’s not an NFL team located directly in the city, football fans won’t be without a team to cheer for on Sundays. The Green Bay Packers are the pride of Milwaukee and are located a quick 90 minute drive away.
Looking for lesser known but equally entertaining sports? The Brewcity Bruisers are the ladies roller derby league. The skaters and volunteers own and operate the Bruisers. Milwaukee Curling Club is the oldest curling club in continual existence in the United States. Milwaukee Torrent is the professional Soccer team. The National Cricket League is a newcomer to Milwaukee sports.
Activities and Events: Things You Absolutely Must Do
Milwaukee is a place that enjoys the simple pleasures of summer. Music, a good beer, and some fun children’s events round out some of the best happenings for families relocating to this Midwestern town.
For the Entire Family
- Summerfest — If you thought Coachella was big, think again. This festival is the world’s largest musical festival featuring over 800 acts. If you’re not a big music fan, check out one of the dozen different ethnic festivals like Irish Fest or Festa Italiana. There is even an Indian Summer Fest. The area lives up to its name as the City of Festivals.
- Milwaukee Art Museum — This museum is one of the most iconic architectural gems in the Greater Milwaukee area. The art museum has wings called Burke Brise Soleil that open and close. If winds get too intense, the wings automatically close, which even if you’re not an art fan, that is something you’ll want to see.
- Sailing Vessel Denis Sullivan — You can’t live in Milwaukee without taking advantage of all that fresh water. Nearly 1,000 volunteers worked to complete this ship in 2000, making it the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century three-mast Great Lakes schooner. We encourage you to sail, learn, and explore! Docked at Discovery World Science & Technology Museum.
- Milwaukee Public Museum– Learn about fossils, local history, and take in an IMAX movie.
Just for the Kids
- Miltown Moms puts out a weekend list of the top activities for families. You’ll never be stuck trying to find something to do.
- Milwaukee Zoo — This large-scale zoo is home to more than 3,300 animals. You have to check out one of the largest zoo-born groups of bonobos, an endangered species of great ape.
- First Stage Children’s Theater — Kids in Milwaukee are encouraged to use their creativity and imagination through theater. First Stage is a nationally acclaimed theater company. It’s the second largest in Milwaukee. Whether your kids want to act or just sit back and watch, they will certainly learn something in the process.
- Betty Brinn Children’s Museum– interactive displays and hands-on fun Wisconsin State Fair — Bring the summer to a close by attending the state fair located in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. Enjoy numerous family-friendly activities, pet some cute animals and taste-test tons of food.
Some Tips for New Residents
Moving to Milwaukee might be a welcomed change of pace, but the move might also be hectic. Make your journey easier by preparing yourself. Before, during and after your relocation, consider the following:
- Learn to navigate the main roads and the two main interstates: I-94 and I-43. Your average commute will take you about 20-25 minutes, but there are still areas you’ll want to avoid during rush hour if possible.
- If you’ll be moving to the city without a car, get familiar with the extensive bus network. There is no subway transit like you’d find in NYC or Chicago, but there is a new Milwaukee Streetcar. It makes a good alternative for getting around within the city.
- Search for a Life Storage location in Milwaukee to store excess belongings during your relocation.
- Like any other city, Milwaukee has some crime issues. Stay vigilant and safe by taking extra precautions. Don’t walk or run trails alone after dusk. Always let someone know where you are before you venture off alone.
- Plan work trips in advance. The Amtrak Hiawatha train has seven daily round trip services between Chicago and Milwaukee, making a work trip to the Windy City both convenient and affordable. There’s even a WiFi feature aboard.
Are you ready to move to Milwaukee?
Milwaukee natives are passionate and take pride in the simple pleasures that make home, home. They also know that progress is the key to making their city a place people want to stay for the long haul. Take a peek at the Discover Milwaukee Relocation Guide to learn more.
What do you know and love about Milwaukee? Let us know on Twitter, @LifeStorage!
Update: This post was originally published on May 17, 2017, and was revised on April 23, 2019, with new information from Milwaukee expert, Barbara Ali.
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