Table of Contents
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.”
Nestled on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is certainly beautiful and pleasant. But is it pleasant enough move here? Not everyone thinks so. The growth of this city can be compared to its pace of life: slow and steady. But believe it or not, a move to Milwaukee can be a transformatie experience. The Greater Milwaukee area is full of possibilities given its prime location and ample job resources, particularly in precision manufacturing.
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 a ton of moving to Milwaukee advice and know-how to get you started.
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 approximately 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 four adjacent counties totaling over 1.57 million residents as of 2016. Those counties include Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee.
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 $900 – $1,000 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 $900 – $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 northern section of Milwaukee County is perfect for the growing family. If you’re looking for character, Shorewood is packed with tons of charming historic Tudor style homes. Expect to find varying price points in the village, but there’s not much in the way of entry level houses here. Along with the Bayshore mall, there are a ton of other very desirable shopping destinations and a quality school district to boot.
Rental Prices: Between $750 – $1,000 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 Colgate and Brookfield, we’ve highlighted some other suburbs that are also worth checking out.
This community is one of the fastest growing of any in the state of Wisconsin. Why? Mostly because of its positioning around Pewaukee Lake. The country setting is charming, and the town has its own picturesque downtown area that includes specialty shops and restaurants. There’s a mix of affordable housing along with some highly sought after homes. Consider this suburb your entryway into lake country living. If you’re looking for another awesome lake community, look up the city of Muskego as well.
2. Richfield & Hubertus
Both of these towns are located in Washington County and are part of the Greater Milwaukee area. Living out here is much different from what you’d expect in the city. As you start to get further out, homes have more land attached. Many homes are on well and septic systems and may be located as far as 10-15 minutes away from a grocery store. People choose these neighborhoods because they crave that country feel. Expect reasonable property taxes and quality school districts.
3. New Berlin
This Milwaukee suburb has been around for a while but has undergone some redevelopment in recent years. There is a wide range of buyers looking for homes in New Berlin, mostly because residents love the school district, location, and classic suburban feel. The area is located just south of I-94 and is in Waukesha County. If you want to settle here, make some time for a thorough house search. It can take you a while to find something that suits you since inventory is low and demand is high.
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 Rust Belt City?
Historically, Milwaukee has been 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. Whether vacant or still in production, you’ll find many manufacturing plants, stockyards, and other related industries.
Since the 1960’s, Rust Belt cities have been plagued with many businesses closing their doors and never looking back. However, Milwaukee is not without its fair share of jobs. In truth, Milwaukee is still home to a lot of big business.
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, Boucher Automotive Group, Sargento Foods, and Baird.
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. The district blames insufficient funding for poor performance in both graduation rate and standardized testing, making the choice of school for your children even more important.
Maybe a private school is the answer. 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.
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 and is 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 can rise to the occasion. The city is also known to be vegan and vegetarian-friendly, a feat for a market this size. Another point to appreciate is the absence of chain restaurants in the city. This helps create an environment where true creativity and passion can find their way into your food.
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.”
When chefs move to Milwaukee, it is with purpose. The truly competitive could just as easily head a few hours away to Chicago. But as the adage goes, the rising tide lifts all boats. Chefs come to Milwaukee and stay here to grow and learn from one another, which makes eating and dining here a formative experience for all.
Move Over Bland Beer. Welcome in Craft & Cocktails.
But what about all that beer Milwaukee is known for? Though Pabst is starting to brew in Milwaukee again, there’s a lot more to the beer and cocktail scene, too. Craft beer has taken over with ten smaller breweries opening up in the city in the past year and a half alone. 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.
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
- Brenner Brewing Co. — Home-brewed beer mixed with arts and music
- Broken Bat Brewery — Small, baseball themed brewery
- Twisted Path Distillery — Certified organic spirits made entirely from scratch
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. And if you’re moving to Milwaukee from the south or west, a lack of an early spring might not sit well with you.
However, what the city lacks in equal seasons, it fully makes up for in outdoor activities. When trapped beneath snow and freezing temps for months, the residents of Milwaukee know exactly how to embrace the good weather when it finally hits. Contrary to what you might expect, there are plenty of things to do in Milwaukee.
Greater Milwaukee is positioned by 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? First, they visit some of their acclaimed beaches like South Shore or Atwater. Then, 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 140 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 108-mile trail borders most of Milwaukee County and connects various parks with other notable destinations. It is one of the most visited of all the trails in Milwaukee.
- 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. If you’re a fan of hockey, the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals are a professional hockey team that’s 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.
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 and a Mittens Fest in the winter. 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!
Just for the Kids
- 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 that is 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.
- 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.
- Get organized! Search for a Life Storage location in Milwaukee to store excess belongings during your relocation.
- Milwaukee has some crime issues like any other city. Stay vigilant and safe by taking extra precautions. Don’t walk or run trails alone after dusk and be sure to always let someone know where you are when 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. What do you know and love about Milwaukee? Let us know in the comments below!