A weekend in Wisconsin is a breeze from Chicago. With six round trips daily, the journey to Milwaukee from Chicago takes just 90 minutes on Amtrak. The new Intermodal station takes one within walking distance to all the fun. Milwaukee is rich in German heritge and interesting architecture and there are lots to do.
Your first stop should be the Milwaukee Public Market just east of the train station. Foodies will love it and, of course, you can pick up some Wisconsin cheese. Then head to the beautiful Milwaukee Art Museum on Lake Michigan. The building alone is worth the trip. Other fun things to do include the historic Third Ward where you will find many of the LGBTQ bars. The German Village and river walk are also must-sees.
I stayed at the Milwaukee Athletic Club because you can use the two indoor pools and gym for free. Rooms start at an affordable $109 and it has a great espresso bar in the lobby. You will find it on Broadway Avenue. Other options include the historic Pfister Hotel and the usual assortment of chains.
Bring your bike helmet and rent the shared bike system, Bubblr ( Wisconsin-speak for water fountain ). The new Milwaukee Streetcar opens this fall and will be free courtesy of the Potowatami Casino.
You will want to recharge with a coffee drink or pastry at the Stone Creek Coffee Factory Cafe, at 422 N. Fifth Ave., just north of the Intermodal Bus Rail Station.
For a list of the bars and LGBTQ news, pick up a copy of Quest Magazine or read it online. The weekly, Shepherds Express, also has a few pages of LGBTQ news. The Wisconsin Gazette also has LGBTQ as well as progressive news.
Upcoming events including Pride in June and their music festival, Summerfest.
After you have explored Milwaukee, head back to the Intermodal Station for a quick trip on the Badger Bus over to the beautiful state capital, Madison, which is on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona.
If it is a Saturday, check out the farmers market on Capitol Square, arguably one of the best in the country.
Lunch at Cosetta's Kitchen, 222 West Washington, is a must. The Italian sausage soup and kale salads are excellent. Grab a coffee at Barrique's across the street ( both just off the Capitol Square ). Get a sandwich or some Wisconsin cheese to take home at Fromagination which you will also find on the Square.
Nightlife in Madison includes The Shamrock Bar at 117 West Wilson. Woofs for the leather/Levi's crowd is also near the Square while Plan B, the popular dance bar is located on Williamson Street. You will find the Club 5 south of downtown along the Beltline ( Madison-speak for its only freeway ).
Being from Madison, I stay with family but the newly renovated Edgewater Hotel is right on Lake Mendota while the Hilton Monona Terrace faces Lake Monona. The Concourse Hotel and Best Western are also other downtown hotel options. On the west side, the Tru Hotel by Hilton is brand new and allows a work out at the fabulous Princeton Club next door. Bargain hunters will like the AmericInn on the west side and The Radisson.
Save time for a trip to the UW Memorial Union Terrace and Alumni Park where you can enjoy a brat and micro brew on the outdoor patio overlooking Lake Mendota. Walk along the Lakeview Path to beautiful Picnic Point to work off the food or stop by at night for an outdoor concert or movie in the summer.
For more Madison trip-planning ideas, check out Our Lives Magazine. The weekly, The Isthmus, also lists upcoming events.
If you have a car, a trip west to Spring Green makes for a beautiful ride, as does a trip north to Baraboo and the Devils Lake State Park.
For your return trip to Chicago, hop on the VanGalder Bus for the trip ( pick up on Langdon Street near the Memorial Union ) or take the Badger Bus back to Milwaukee to take the Amtrak back to Chicago. Both trips take just about the same amount of time.
If you are driving back, stop at the Belvedere Oasis for some Mediterrean food and fresh juices along the Illinois Tollway. They also have one on I-94 toward Milwaukee near the Wisconsin border ( at a Tollway Oasis ).
It's amazing how many people have never been to nearby Wisconsin. The rolling hills and red barns are charming. And it makes for a perfect get a way weekend from Chicago.
Bill Malcolm also writes for the Broad Ripple Gazette in Indianapolis. His syndicated travel column has appeared in Detroit, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.