Milwaukee Public Museum: Must-See Exhibits & Pro Tips

Attention all explorers, adventurers, and curious minds: The Milwaukee Public Museum should be your next stop!

It’s definitely one of our favorite Milwaukee museums for families.

With exhibits that showcase everything from prehistoric creatures to ancient civilizations and the Streets of Old Milwaukee, this museum will be a hit with all ages.

But with so much to see and do, where do you even begin?

That’s where we come in!

In this guide, we’ll give you the inside scoop on the must-see exhibits, family-friendly activities, and insider tips to help you make the most of your visit.

Pack up some snacks and a sense of adventure, and let’s get started.


Overview

The Milwaukee Public Museum is a natural and human history museum located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The museum was founded in 1882 and has since grown to become one of the largest natural history museums in the United States.

The museum has more than 4.5 million objects in its collection, which are used to create exhibits that showcase everything from the natural world to human cultures throughout history.

Some of the most popular exhibits include the Streets of Old Milwaukee, which recreates life in Milwaukee in the late 19th century, and the butterfly vivarium, which allows visitors to walk among live butterflies from around the world.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum also offers educational programming for all ages, including school programs, public lectures, and special events.

The museum is open daily, and admission prices vary depending on age and residency.

Future plans for a new museum were recently unveiled, projected to happen in 2026.


Must-see exhibits

Streets of Old Milwaukee

The Streets of Old Milwaukee is one of the most popular exhibits at the Milwaukee Public Museum. It’s a meticulously crafted recreation of a late 19th-century Milwaukee street, complete with storefronts, homes, and even a life-size trolley.

It originally opened in 1965 and was renovated for its 50th anniversary in 2015. The future museum will have similar exhibit called “Milwaukee Revealed”.

After entering through an old-fashioned street car, visitors get an glimpse of what life was like in Milwaukee in the 1800’s by strolling along cobblestone streets and peering through dozens of store-front windows and residences.

The storefronts are filled with authentic artifacts from the time period, giving visitors a sense of what life was like in Milwaukee over 100 years ago.

Don’t miss Granny: Be sure to wave to Granny in her rocking chair (she has her own Twitter account), and stop by the Watson family home to learn about one of the most prominent African-American families in the 19th century.

Fun Fact: Many streets of Milwaukee’s past have since been renamed. Grand Ave is now Wisconsin Ave; Chestnut St is now Juneau Ave; Biddle St is now Kilbourn Ave; River St is now Edison St.

European Village

The European Village, adjacent to the Streets of Old Milwaukee, is an imaginative re-creation of carefully selected examples of homes and shops as they may have appeared about 1875 to 1925.

The Village provides a picture of daily life, skills and traditions that were characteristic of many Europeans who came to the United States at the time.

It represents the buildings and other structures of 33 cultures, including Austrian, Belgian, Bulgarian/Romanian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scottish, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Ukrainian, and Welsh.

Butterfly Vivarium

Another popular exhibit is the Butterfly Vivarium, a beautiful indoor garden filled with live, free-flying butterflies from all over the world.

One of the unique features of the Butterfly Vivarium is that visitors can actually interact with the butterflies. Some butterflies may land on visitors’ hands or clothing, offering an up-close look at these beautiful insects.

Pro Tip: To get the butterflies to land on you, wear red or orange!

The Third Planet

No visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum is complete without stopping by The Third Planet exhibit, which focuses on plate tectonics and dinosaurs.

This is where generations of school children have stared in awe at the life-size T-Rex taking a bite out of another dinosaur, with immersive sound and light effects.

Fun Fact: More than 1,000 pieces of plywood were used to create the Hell Creek diorama of T-Rex and a Triceratops. More than two tons of clay had to be flattened prior to applying it to a wire sculpture that was the framework for the Triceratops.

Daniel Soref Planetarium

The Milwaukee Public Museum planetarium MPM’s Planetarium is the first in the world to debut a Digistar 6 computer projection system.

The Dome Theater boasts a six-story-tall screen and digital surround sound, and delights families with stunning 3D animations and vistas of the night sky, Mt. Everest, dinosaur life, and more.


Tips for planning your visit

Planning your visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum can make your experience more enjoyable and rewarding.

Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Check the museum’s hours: Make sure to check the museum’s operating hours before planning your visit, as they may vary depending on the day of the week and the season.
  2. Purchase tickets in advance: Consider buying tickets online before your visit to avoid lines and save time.
  3. Plan your route: The Milwaukee Public Museum has many exhibits spread across three floors. Plan your route in advance to make sure you don’t miss any exhibits that interest you.
  4. Bring comfortable shoes: The museum is large, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes to avoid discomfort and fatigue.
  5. Plan your eating schedule. There are food and snacks available on the ground floor of the Museum Complex and ample seating is available. There are also patio tables when the weather allows.
  6. Take advantage of free admission: The museum offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month. If you’re on a budget, this can be a great opportunity to visit the museum. (Here are more Free Admission Days in Milwaukee >>)
  7. Allow plenty of time: Depending on your interests, you may need several hours to fully explore the museum. Plan accordingly to allow plenty of time for your visit.

By following these tips, you can have a fun and rewarding experience at the Milwaukee Public Museum.


Pro Tips & Insider Secrets

Pro Tip #1 To get the butterflies to land on you, wear red or orange!

Pro Tip #2: There are three secret buttons in the Milwaukee Public Museum. The most widely known one is found by the Bison Hunt exhibit. If you press it, you’ll activate a rattlesnake noise and movement. Another is found in the Rainforest exhibit near the howler monkey. And the final one is found in the Exploring Life on Earth exhibit.

Pro Tip #3: Visitors can see the skeleton of the Hebior Mammoth without even paying admission. The exhibit is open to the public on the ground floor. The mammoth is is over 14,000 years old and was found in Kenosha County. It’s notable especially because it helps date human habitation in our region of North America.

Keep an eye on their Events Calendar for special events and monthly themes, like Native American Heritage Month.


Parking

There are metered spaces available on most downtown streets. Meters are free on Sundays.

There are also several municipal lots near MPM, including MacArthur Square parking structure which is adjacent to the Museum and is accessible via James Lovell Street.

The parking structure includes an entrance to the Museum on the Ground level, eliminating the need to walk outside. 

Additional parking is available through Hilton Milwaukee City Center

For more parking options and maps, visit parkmilwaukee.com.


Additional resources

To learn more about the Milwaukee Public Museum, visit their website and social media channels.


The Milwaukee Public Museum is an excellent destination for families looking for a fun and educational experience.

With a variety of exhibits and interactive displays, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

By following the tips outlined in this guide, families can make the most out of their visit to the museum, from planning their route to utilizing the museum’s parking structure.

With its commitment to inspiring curiosity and learning, the Milwaukee Public Museum is a must-visit attraction for families in the Milwaukee area.


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