South Milwaukee is a lakefront community of nearly 21,000 residents just 15 minutes south of Milwaukee. The city motto is “Proud Past… Promising Future,” and it certainly celebrates its roots as a stop on the lakeshore trail that led from Chicago (Fort Dearborn) to Green Bay (Fort Howard). Originally called Lake Township and later becoming part of Oak Creek, the area was blessed with forests of oak trees and red clay that turned cream color when baked, creating of the region’s most beautiful homes. With a population of just over 2,600 residents, South Milwaukee applied for city status in 1897.
From 1915 to 1930, South Milwaukee was a well-known tourist destination on one of America’s first transcontinental auto routes, the Yellowstone Trail. There were still dirt roads in South Milwaukee when the trail first came through, but by 1917 the Yellowstone Trail had become the main auto route for travelers to Yellowstone National Park and the Pacific Northwest.
Today, South Milwaukee is still home to five businesses that served travelers along the Yellowstone Trail so many years ago: South Milwaukee Arcade Bowling Alley, the former U-R Next Barber Shop, Bobbie’s Saloon, Grant Park Garage and the former Bucyrus–Erie complex. Global companies that maintain a strong presence here include Eaton, Emerson and Caterpillar.
Homes and Neighborhoods
South Milwaukee offers an interesting blend of old and new homes, from condos and cozy ranches to gracious Cream City brick homes along the parkway. Still, the median value of owner-occupied homes here is a very affordable $158,500. Pride of ownership is evident in the many candidates for the city’s annual Curb Appeal Awards.
Residents can easily keep up to date on important news and current city events through a well-maintained website and social media presence. The city also produces Bridges Magazine quarterly, connecting neighbors to businesses and city services. South Milwaukee staff also offer emergency messages and alerts via phone or text message.
Shopping and Dining
Downtown South Milwaukee is the city’s core business district with numerous historical structures. The charming downtown area is poised for revitalization, and a plan for its future development has been completed by a graduate class at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
From the end of May to mid-October, dozens of vendors gather each Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the South Milwaukee Downtown Market at 11th and Milwaukee Avenues. An eclectic mix of merchants sells produce, including organics; arts and crafts; baked goods and other treats. The Market also features live music weekly. Other shopping in South Milwaukee runs the gamut from national big-box retailers to small, independent stores.
For dining, Undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations for authentic Mexican food and margaritas is Azteca Restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. For delectable Italian, locals go to Paisano’s on Chicago Avenue and Barbiere’s Italian Inn on Milwaukee Ave. Island Jam on Chicago offers authentic Jamaican cuisine. For traditional pub fare, try Spirits Bar & Grill, Tracker’s Pub & Grill and Slick Willies Bar and Grill.
Points of Interest and Recreation
South Milwaukee’s most striking feature is Grant Park, a Milwaukee County park of nearly 380 acres featuring breathtaking bluffs, wide beaches, a waterfall, lagoon and lots of wildlife along Lake Michigan. The .4-mile Seven Bridges Trail traverses a wooded ravine and is often photographed for its stone steps and footbridges. In addition to its natural beauty, Grant Park offers a beautiful 18-hold county golf course, sports courts and bike paths.
The South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center brings in nationally and internationally known headliners at attractive ticket prices. The South Milwaukee Municipal Band performs free concerts around southeastern Wisconsin throughout the year. The South Milwaukee Yacht Club is a popular members-only club that offers social events, a youth sailing club, a fish station and facilities for vessels up to 44 feet long.
Summer events in the City of South Milwaukee include the Grant Park Fourth of July Celebration, Lionsfest each July and Heritage Days, which features a golf outing, ice cream social, spaghetti dinner, Evening on the Avenue, car cruise, parade and duck race. The South Milwaukee Police Department plans a Community Night Out in mid-August. The Downtown Market’s Fall Family Festival is in October.
You won’t want to miss South Milwaukee’s newest June festival, Crusherfest, which celebrates Reggie “Da Crusher” Lisowski, who wrestled professionally at the highest level for over 40 years and was known worldwide as “The Man That Made Milwaukee Famous. There’s a monument honoring his memory at 1101 Milwaukee Avenue.
The South Milwaukee Recreation Department offers classes for the whole family, from preschool age up to seniors. There are varied programs for all interests, including adult basketball and volleyball leagues. The high school’s Fitness Center is available at reduced rates to residents for a variety of classes and independent exercise, including use of a 200-meter indoor walking track.
Schools, Health, Transportation
The School District of South Milwaukee educates 3,000 students in four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. According to the district website, the schools’ comprehensive, progressive program of educational opportunities “in five basic areas, covering academic skills, physical skills, aesthetic skills, career training and preparation for further education. The goal of this program is to make students knowledgeable, sensitive, and responsible.” The district encourages parents and other community residents to become involved at the schools.
Residents of South Milwaukee have fast access to the medical facilities and resources at the Milwaukee County Grounds, as well as Aurora’s Lakeshore Medical Clinic and St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Ascension Health Care campuses in St. Francis and Franklin.
South Milwaukee residents have access to bus service provided by the Milwaukee County Transit System. The I-94 corridor passes along the western edge of the city, offering fast access to downtown Milwaukee or Racine in as little as 15 minutes.
South Milwaukee celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2022, and as the city website states, South Milwaukee “is reinventing itself, embracing its proud past while reaching for its promising future, stronger, together.”