For a city that was literally born from its access to water, it's not every day the average Milwaukean gets to see Downtown via boat. Last weekend, however, some friends invited us aboard their small powerboat for a Sunday cruise around town. As someone who has tooled around the city by boat at least a handful of times in my life, let me tell you this: you haven't seen Milwaukee until you've seen it from the water.
We began at our friends' boat slip off of Canal Street, which put us in the water in (you guessed it) a canal, leading into the harbor under the Hoan Bridge. From this perspective, we could witness a Milwaukee of yesteryear. Shuttered factories and grain silos, views of buildings we never see, and lots more that harkens back to a time when the waterways powered Brew City. We also saw at least three herons lounging around, which isn't something I spy every day on land.
Just past the Hoan, we made a right turn (that's starboard, for you boaters) and zipped south toward South Shore Marina, home to the South Shore Water Frolics. Unfortunately, even though the Water Frolics were in full swing, from the harbor, we couldn't see much of the action.
We boated out past the breakwater and sped north toward the new Lakeshore State Park. Once we got beyond the rocks, the difference in the lake was noticeable. Waves pounded the small boat, and we caught a little bit of air before we returned to the "no wake" portion. We also noticed some boaters flagrantly ignoring the wake rules, but by and large, the traffic was friendly and quick to offer a wave. Between the pontoon rentals, the yachts, the kayaks and the sailboats, the Lake truly bustled with activity.
The tour of the new park served as my first up-close and personal view of the newly completed island. It looked great, and for the first time, I noticed the beach on the eastern part facing toward Summerfest. I plan on returning, by foot, to check it out soon.
Next, we sailed up the Milwaukee River, as far north as The Harp, 113 E. Juneau Ave. I noticed several opportunities for public docking, but eventually we turned around and settled at Water Buffalo, 249 N. Water St., for an early dinner. Docking next to the restaurant was easier than parallel parking the Third Ward.
Before we knew it, the sun was starting to set, and it was time to end this three-hour tour. But Milwaukee is loaded with scenic and dining opportunities that present themselves when you step off the street and onto the water.
I, for one, plan on taking advantage of any invitation to see more of this city from an entirely different perspective.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.