Self-Care Challenge Day 2: Let’s Take a 24-Hour Trip to…


Just so we’re on the same page about what’s happening behind the scenes over here, this post is published thanks to my friend Kate. She texted me at 6:15 p.m. today, while I was procrastinating on YouTube, to say she’s looking forward to reading this series of self-care posts. So, now I’m writing because, dangit, she held me accountable and didn’t even know it. (Thanks, Kate!) Also, I wrote yesterday’s self-care post over takeout enchiladas. The moral of the story is that the path to balance is winding and never ends. Some days you’re on the straight and narrow, and other days you’re in a ditch. When you find yourself in a ditch, that’s when you need self-care.


Today’s challenge is to plan a vacation or staycation. So, we’re taking a trip to…Milwaukee!

Are you clicking off this post? I get a similar reaction in person, too. When I tell someone I’m voluntarily taking a trip to Milwaukee, I get Moving on… or Why???

Before I explain, let’s explore why vacays and staycays are tools for self-care.

Vacations vs. Staycations

You know the health benefits of taking time away from work. But there are different opinions about the pros and cons of vacations versus staycations. An article from AARP lays ‘em out:

Vacations are more meaningful than staycations, according to a survey, because they often expose you to new cultures, places and ideas. Regular vacations are also linked to a reduction in stress and blood pressure. On the flip side, vacations don’t necessarily boost  long-term happiness. When your vacay is over, you’ll likely find that your happiness level is the same as before you left. Oh, vacation also leads to weight gain – an average of a pound. It’s not much over one to three weeks but can still affect your health.

Staycations are usually less stressful because there’s no travel to worry about. At the same time, you may erase the stress savings if you struggle to let go of daily responsibilities. Staycations also tend to be less expensive. But, in the comfort of your own home or city, you may miss out on trying something new, which makes for a healthy brain.

Travel or stay local? Experts agree that the right choice is the less stressful choice, and that’s up to you. It’s just important that you dedicate time to doing what you enjoy.

So, About Milwaukee…

My husband and I vacation there every October. Our first trip was in 2014. We love it because it has all the perks of vacations and staycations. With great restaurants and lots to do (seriously!), we try something new on every trip. It’s also affordable, walkable and a quick 90-minute drive from Chicago (no traffic). Besides that, Milwaukee is a cool mash up of new and old. Our go-to lunch spot is in the Historic Third Ward, and we typically stay in East Town, home to the commercial towers of the financial district. In 24 hours, you can find yourself strolling on brick streets or across a modern suspension bridge. Milwaukee has become such a special getaway for us. When we get back home, we always feel relaxed and connected.

If you live in Chicago or plan to be in the area, I hope you’ll consider a day-trip trip to Milwaukee. Twenty-four hours is all you need. To jump-start your planning, I put together a rundown of our favorite places to eat, play and stay. I’m also including 24-hour itineraries based on different neighborhoods and interests. Yes, I created the latter around some really sweeping generalizations; so, by all means, mix it up.

Milwaukee Guide

24-Hour Milwaukee Itinerary

East Town: Downtown, lakefront, popular attractions

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play*: Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Eat Dinner: Harbor House
  • Drinks: The Pfister Hotel Lobby Lounge or BLU Bar and Lounge
  • Stay: Westin

Westown: Entertainment district, historic German community

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play*: Oktoberfest
  • Eat Dinner: Mader’s
  • Drinks: The Pfister Hotel Lobby Lounge or BLU Bar and Lounge
  • Stay: Aloft

Walker’s Point and Bay View: Foodie heaven, LGBT hub, hip, eclectic

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play*: Great Lakes Distillery
  • Eat Dinner: Odd Duck
  • Drinks: The Pfister Hotel Lobby Lounge or BLU Bar and Lounge
  • Stay: Iron Horse Hotel

For Art Lovers

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play: Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Eat Dinner: Odd Duck
  • Drinks: BLU Bar and Lounge
  • Stay: Aloft

For History Lovers

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play: Pabst Mansion or Oktoberfest
  • Eat Dinner: Mader’s
  • Drinks: The Pfister Hotel Lobby Lounge
  • Stay: Iron Horse Hotel

For the Chic

  • Eat Brunch: Milwaukee Public Market
  • Play: Great Lakes Distillery
  • Eat Dinner: Harbor House
  • Drinks: BLU Bar and Lounge
  • Stay: Westin

*Add Pabst Mansion! It’s three miles west of downtown, so you can stop on your way in or out.

Eat + Drink

Everything: Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water Street
It has everything! First, go to Thief Wine Shop & Bar for a glass, taste or flight of 30+ wines. Then meander over to West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe for a free sample. Now that I’m 30, I love free samples. For a meal, try St. Paul Fish Company. Order to go and eat on the second floor, which overlooks the market, or wait about 30 minutes for a table and get great views of the Historic Third Ward. Colin orders the lobster plate – a steal at $16.45 – and I get the lobster roll or seared tuna salad. Before we head out, we’ll sometimes stop at Kehr’s Candies for hand-dipped chocolates.

German: Mader’s, 1041 N. Old Word 3rd Street
Mader’s opened in 1902, making it Milwaukee’s oldest authentic German restaurant. It’s located in the heart of the city’s historic German community. Today the area around Mader’s is dotted with pubs, restaurants and specialty food shops, like the Wisconsin Cheese Mart and Usinger’s Famous Sausage. Colin gets the largest portion of meat available, which is the pork shank, a house favorite.

Seafood: Harbor House, 550 N. Harbor Drive
This New England-style seafood restaurant is the only lakefront eatery in the city. It’s well worth the rating of $$$. You’ll get seafood that’s delivered fresh every day with a side of stunning skyline views. The restaurant specializes in oysters, so save room if you’re into it. Make sure to reserve a table in advance.

Small Plates: Odd Duck, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue
I’m so sad to report that our favorite restaurant, c.1880, closed in April 2018. We loved the cocktails and small plates. But I’m happy to suggest an alternative, Odd Duck. It comes highly recommended by the Milwaukee natives in our lives for a dynamic menu of small plates. You can expect locally sourced ingredients and a global flair.

Cocktails: The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Avenue
This 1893 hotel is home to The Lobby Lounge and BLU Bar and Lounge. We always grab an after-dinner drink in the lobby. It’s the epitome of old-school elegance with comfy couches, a fireplace and live piano performances. We’ve had the same server for three years running! Colin and I sip on a Manhattan and Prosecco, respectively, while people-watching. Usually, there’s a wedding or some other fancy event going on.

BLU is a martini lounge on the 23rd floor of the hotel. We tried to get a drink here once, but it was so bumpin’ we couldn’t find a seat. Readers of voted it the best hotel bar in 2017, so it’s pretty popular. It has plush blue seating, live jazz and great views of downtown and Lake Michigan.


Great Lakes Distillery, 616 W. Virginia Street
We think there’s a fine line between “things to do” and “eating and drinking”, so sorry for the overlap here. This small-batch distillery is the first in Wisconsin since Prohibition, and we visited because yours truly doesn’t like beer. For $10, you’ll get a tour and tasting of six spirits (60 minutes). It was one of the best booze tours we’ve taken. I brought home a bottle of the Rehorst Citrus Honey Vodka. After the tour, have a seat in the tasting room and try the Milwaukee Mule or Whiskey Cocktail, our faves.

Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive
The Milwaukee Art Museum is a lakefront gem. The building is stark white and contemporary, which contrasts its colorful collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and decorative art. I especially love the ever-changing photography exhibit. If you’re a fan of Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, you’ll like her exhibit here; it’s one of the largest in the country.

We stumbled upon Oktoberfest on our second trip to Milwaukee, in early October. There’s live polka music that’s free to watch, plus a brat eating contest, wiener dog contest and corn hole tournament. Given Milwaukee’s German heritage, it’s definitely worth stopping by Oktoberfest.

Pabst Mansion, 2000 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Captain Frederick Pabst built this ornate mansion in the early 1890s, just a few years after the Phillip Best Brewing Company became Pabst Brewing Company. Pabst descendants sold the mansion in 1908 and for the next 67 years, it served as the archbishop’s residence. In 1978 it opened to the public. The mansion is a beautiful example of late 19th-century architecture and takes obvious inspiration from Pabst’s native Germany. Take a 75-minute tour for $12.


We’re an SPG family, so we stay in two SPG hotels depending on availability. Our go-to is the Westin (550 N. Van Buren Street), which opened in 2017. It’s in the East Town neighborhood, right on the lake. Aloft (1230 N. Old World 3rd Street) is another option. We don’t love the style and set up of Aloft, but the location of this one is awesome. It’s right on the river. On one side there are theaters, sports venues and the historic German district and on the other side, there’s a popular bar district. I’m also recommending Iron Horse Hotel (500 W. Florida Street) because I’ve only heard nice things. It’s a luxurious and industrial boutique hotel built in a former factory/warehouse that dates from 1907. Before becoming a hotel, the building served bedding, box and cold storage companies.

Do you prefer vacations or staycations? Sound off in the comments!

If you’re interested in this self-care challenge, check out the intro post.

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