Summerfest (also known as the “Big Gig”) is one of the best summer festivals in the U.S. And since it’s in my hometown, I can say this too: Milwaukee is one of the most underrated summer cities in America. BOOM! You heard it here first.
Though located in Wisconsin, which is notorious for cold winters, the ice does melt and the cold does transform into heat for everyone to enjoy summer! One of the main summer activities in Milwaukee is Summerfest. Started back in the mid-1970s, about 800,000 to 900,000 come to Milwaukee for the festival every year. Thus, it is certified by Guinness as the world’s largest music festival! I went a lot as a kid, and this year I partnered with Summerfest’ team to show you why Summerfest should be on your summer festival travel list every year.
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WHY IT IS ONE OF THE BEST SUMMER FESTIVALS IN THE U.S.
- There are activities for people of all ages, whether you are with family, children, or friends looking to celebrate summer.
- General admission includes all the grounds stages, meaning you get multiple artists throughout the day for one price! This year it was $21 for general admission.
- There is Milwaukee-area food and beer! Keeping it locally delicious for all visitors.
- Summerfest is a prime location in the heart of downtown, right off the lakefront.
- There are hundreds of artists who perform over the 11-day festival, and you can see multiple in a day for the general admission price!
- Summerfest has music for everyone! Some people who performed this year include: J.Cole, Blake Shelton, Imagine Dragons, Trace Adkins, Janelle Monae Kesha, Tory Lanez, Steven Tyler, Shawn Mendes, Lil Uzi Vert, and many more.
Fun fact: Summerfest was featured in Time Magazine as one of the best summer music festivals of 2018!
WHAT TO DO AT SUMMERFEST
This is a classic Summerfest activity. These bright gliders ride above the festival with a view of everybody, and everything, below. Two people can ride in one, and you pay per person. Even though I’ve been to Summerfest numerous times, I’ve only ridden the sky gliders twice! You have the option to go one-way or take the whole ride roundtrip above the festival grounds.
Shop at the Market Place or the Summerfest Store
As one of the best summer festivals in the U.S., of course there is shopping available for visitors. Festival shopping is my favorite type of shopping! You find so many unique deals and items that you can only find at a festival. Summerfest is no different. The vendors are from the area and sell a variety of clothing, jewelry, crystals, keychains, etc. These can be great, handmade gifts to bring back home, or to enjoy them on your own. The Summerfest Store has even more souvenirs for you to remember you trip to the Big Gig!
Ride the “Wheel in the Sky”
Is a festival real if it doesn’t have a Ferris wheel? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, Summerfest has you covered! Hop aboard a colorful Ferris wheel while you’re at Summerfest. For a few extra dollars, you and a friend can spin around and around on a Wheel in the Sky. The views from here are also stunning and a super cool photo opportunity with your backdrop being the city and Lake Michigan.
Wrestling match at the SportsZone
One of the most surprising parts of my trip: seeing a wrestling match! Brew City Wrestling held a match at the Gruber Law Offices SportsZone, which is an area for activities and games during Summerfest. This was a hilarious and completely unexpected addition to my day. Summerfest truly has something for everybody. Just remember to bring a visor or a hat because the sun was out in full force!
Note: I’ve seen basketball games and relay activities in this area too! If you paid for a general admission ticket (i.e. the initial entry to get in), the SportsZone events are not at an additional cost and you can come and go as you please!
WHO TO SEE AT SUMMERFEST
Take your pick
Summerfest has hundreds of artists perform each year, from music to general entertainment. There is a mix of local artists to big name/mainstream artists. The best way to decide who to see is checking their website! They start announcing the headliners at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater in the Spring, and continue until the festival begins at the end of June.
Note: There are 11 “grounds stages” such as the Harley Davidson Roadhouse, BMO Harris Pavilion, and the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, that are included with your general admission ticket price. Meaning, you get 11 stages of artists for $21! The American Family Insure Amphitheater is a separate ticket that doubles as your admission Summerfest and for the show, depending on who you are seeing. For example: I saw J. Cole!!
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK AT SUMMERFEST
Fish tacos from Bel Air Cantina
Tacos aren’t just good on Tuesdays! Bel Air Cantina was my first stop upon arrival, and quite delicious. Fish tacos were my food of choice for lunch, accompanied with a side of plantains I shared with a friend. However, there are over 40 vendors who serve attendees. They have Saz’s for barbecue, roasted corn, AJ Bombers for burgers, and Angelo’s Pizza too. Many vendors also offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options too. It’s a food lover’s heaven for sure!
Snack time with Cedar Crest Ice Cream
As the dairy state, we have the best ice cream and custard in the country! Thus of course, the ice cream of choice is local. Every time I go to Summerfest, I always end up with Cedar Crest Ice Cream. They have tons of flavors, from traditional vanilla to cookie dough and dirt ice cream with gummy worms and Oreos. It’s my favorite snack at Summerfest, which only adds to its title of being one of the best summer festivals in the U.S.
Indulge with locally made wine and beer
Milwaukee is known for their breweries, but don’t forget the wine too! Lakefront Brewery is one of the most popular breweries in the city. They had a variety of craft beers to drink, including a Mexican Ale with Citra and Centennial. For wine lovers, there were also wine and cheese bars on both ends of the grounds that served wine from Cedarburg, Wisconsin at the Summerfest Corkscrew.
Fun fact: Summerfest was inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany!
TIPS FOR SUMMERFEST AND FESTIVAL TRAVEL
- No car, no problem! Summerfest has an entire Uber Zone for Uber drivers to drop off and pickup attendees. It’s equipped with water to keep you cool in the heat, couches for seating, and charging stations.
- Wear comfortable shoes! There is plenty of walking at Summerfest, or any summer festival, and you want to enjoy it all for as long as possible.
- Stay hydrated! I went on a 95-degree day, so I did everything possible to stay cool. The Milwaukee County Transit System supplies an air-conditioned bus to help people cool down too! Find shade when you can, run through the splash pad, and drink lots of water.
- If you travel for any summer festival, follow their social media to get updates on what’s going on. That’s how I found out about the relaxed water bottle rule!
- Summerfest is open from 12pm to midnight. Thus, you can sleep in or explore the downtown are before heading out for the festival!
- If you come for an entire weekend, Friday to Sunday, consider the 3-day pass! This year it costs $51, meaning you save $12 since the price for general admission is $21 per entry. During the week from 12pm to 4pm, tickets are just $14.
From the price tag to the food and music selection, you can’t beat how much you can do, even if you just have a day to see everything. Summerfest is truly one of the best summer festivals in the U.S. I’ve had a blast as a kid and now an adult. You get a feel for the downtown area and the lakefront, while enjoying some of the best music and food that Milwaukee has to offer. Be sure to put Summerfest on your destination list for now and the years to come!
Disclaimer: I was compensated by Summerfest to attend the festival. All opinions are my own.
Thanks for reading! PIN this post for more summer festival tips!