With its location on the banks of Lake Michigan, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the perfect destination for a fun-filled lake trip. Additionally, this Midwestern city is home to a ton of hidden attractions. Look forward to experiencing unique ice cream flavors; visiting parks hidden in plain sight; and trying out plenty of delicious eateries that only the locals seem to know about. After settling into your Milwaukee vacation rental, head out to explore these great hidden gems.

1. Comet Cafe

Comet Cafe is located in north Milwaukee along Lake Michigan. It boasts a range of homemade food and craft brews ranging from duck confit poutine (fries topped with slow-roasted meat and slathered in beer gravy) to mac ‘n cheese, the ultimate comfort food. Plus, the kitchen is open until midnights all week long, so you can enjoy this food to the wee hours of the morning. Other than good food and drinks, the Comet Cafe also hosts live music and brewer gatherings with fresh suds from some of the best local breweries. The cafe is just a few blocks from the McKinley Park and Lake Michigan, making it a great place to walk off the calories.

2. Ian’s Pizza

Ian’s Pizza is another eatery you have to try while in town. Like Comet Cafe, it’s off the beaten path and boasts equally off-the-beaten pizzas. One of the local favorites is the mac ‘n cheese pie which pays homage to the cheesiness of Wisconsin. Ian’s also delivers if you’re staying in a vacation rental within the delivery zone which covers the east side of the city. After eating, head to the Black Cat Mural Alley and then visit the Landmark Oriental Theatre, both of which are nearby. You can even catch a show to round out your day.

3. Holy Hill

Take a short road trip to the rural outskirts of the northwestern Milwaukee metropolitan area, and visit the Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary. The shrine, built in 1926, looks like a castle on a hill. Add in a surrounding of woods and green fields, and it looks like something out of a fairy tale. Take a tour of the medieval-style church and climb to the top of the scenic tour to truly appreciate the view. Dine at the in-house cafe before heading back to the city, refreshed from your jaunt in the country.

4. Milwaukee Blacksmith

Blacksmithing is a lost art mostly, only living within the minds and hands of a select few such as Milwaukee Blacksmith. This family-run business creates everything from wrought-iron fences to delicate jewelry to public art. Stop by and watch the blacksmiths at work, get a tour, or even sign up with one of the blacksmithing workshops where you can also learn how everything’s done. Don’t leave without picking out a souvenir. Milwaukee Blacksmith lies just south of downtown in the Bay View neighborhood just down the block from Humboldt Park.

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5. Indulgence Chocolatiers

Indulgence Chocolatiers might be off the beaten path for now, but it’s surely only a matter of time before visitors and locals alike flock to this sweet spot. Stop for chocolate-dipped fruit, toffee, and truffles, and eat them while watching masters craft these chocolates. There are classes on pairing wine, craft beers, cheeses, and chocolates to create the must scrumptious combination. With three locations around town, you’re bound to be within easy driving distance regardless of where you get a vacation house.

6. Clock Shadow Creamery

Wisconsin is known for its cheese, and Milwaukee boasts a number of creameries and cheese-making factories, but Clock Shadow Creamery is one of the best in town and a hidden gem to boot. This hidden gem status is surprising considering its location in the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown area in the Harbor View area not far from the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, both of which you can visit after indulging in cheesy goodness. The creamery offers a tour in which you can watch how cheese is made, discover the squeaky wonder of cheese curds, and taste test some of the different kinds. If this is an adult-only trip, take the ultimate Wisconsin Cheese and Beer tour in tandem with the Milwaukee Brewing Company across the street. Don’t leave without stocking up on your favorite cheese products.

7. Urban Ecology Center

Discovery World is usually the major Milwaukee attraction when it comes to learning about the natural world, but the Urban Ecology Center is just as good and has fewer people to navigate around. The center lies in the Cambridge Woods neighborhood along the Milwaukee River and Riverside Park. Here you and the family can explore the local flora and fauna, learn about Milwaukee ecology, and take guided hikes of the area. The center hosts regular family-friendly events such as the annual birding festival, so check out their calendar before you visit to see what they have to offer.

8. Three Bridges Park

Three Bridges Park is just one 24-acre park among 150 in the city. It’s located beside the Menomonee River along a residential area, effectively disappearing as far as tourists are concerned. Which is good, especially if you can get a vacation rental nearby because you can have it all to yourself. It’s an escape filled with native plants, community gardens, and walking paths. Take a relaxing early-morning walk here before setting out on your vacation itinerary. Or take your walk a step further, and hop onto the Hank Aaron Trail for miles of exploration throughout the city.

9. Purple Door Ice Cream

Wisconsin isn’t just about the cheese, but cream too as Purple Door Ice Cream can attest. It’s located in the downtown area amid dozens of other eateries and cafes, so it’s easy to miss the tiny ice cream shop. However, if you make your way there, you’ll find dozens of delicious, bizarre flavors from delectable apple pie and caramel cashew to strangely delicious balsamic strawberry and butternut squash.

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