Travel

Actually Cool Things to Do in Milwaukee this Fall

The Bucks are back, baby.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Winter is coming, and COVID-19 once again threatens to force us all into another season of solitude. So, now is the time, Milwaukeeans, to get out there and enjoy all the autumnal excitements the city has to offer. This year, that means a buzzy taproom opening, the Bucks’ triumphant return to the court, and haunting happenings galore. Here are the absolute best things to do in Milwaukee this fall.

City Tours MKE
City Tours MKE
City Tours MKE

Learn what goes bump in the night on a haunted tour

Wisconsin is really haunted, and Milwaukee is no exception. Learn about all manner of unexplained Cream City phenomena by embarking on a series of spooky tours, from discovering what lurks in the Third Ward to tipping one back on a haunted pub crawl and communing with the spirits at Shaker’s Cigar Bar.

Elegant Farmer
Elegant Farmer
Elegant Farmer

Embrace wholesome family fun at the Elegant Farmer’s Autumn Harvest Festival

Pack up the kids, siblings, and niblings and head to Mukwonago for apple-picking, corn-mazing, laser tagging, and more, every Saturday and Sunday through October 24. Pro tip: Don’t leave without buying at least one of the roadside stop’s famous apple pies, which are baked in a paper bag for some (delicious) reason.

The Milky Way Drive-In
The Milky Way Drive-In
The Milky Way Drive-In

Creep yourself out (in a good way) at the Milky Way Drive-In Fright Nights

Leave the city limits and head to Franklin for a classic drive-in experience, now through October 29. This season, spooky flicks, including family-friendly options, are on deck. We recommend rolling in on October 21 for a double feature of Ari Aster’s modern horror classics, Midsommar and Hereditary.

Historic Third Ward
Historic Third Ward
Historic Third Ward

Get cultured at Gallery Night MKE

Kicking off October 15, this two-day event invites Milwaukeeans to explore the artful offerings of the city’s myriad artists. Hop among galleries, hotels, bars, and restaurants across town and get your own creative juices flowing.

Central Waters Brewing Company
Central Waters Brewing Company
Central Waters Brewing Company

Be first in line at the Central Waters Milwaukee Pilot Brewery and Taproom’s grand opening

Amherst’s Central Waters, dubbed one of the best breweries in the Midwest, is finally opening its doors October 16 inside the former Captain Pabst Pilot House. Expect Central Waters staples like Mudpuppy Porter, seasonal offerings, and several barrel-aged options. Before you start imbibing, build a base layer with a visit to partner restaurant Dairyland Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.

Meet very good (costumed) girls and boys at the Halloween Barktacular

Coo over canines in costume at this October 27 pup-focused Halloween event that gives new meaning to the words “trick” and “treat.” The dog-friendly festivities-yes, you can and should bring your pup-are sponsored by Think Pawsitive Dog Training LLC in Waukesha.

The Rave / Eagles Club
The Rave / Eagles Club
The Rave / Eagles Club

Get dirty at GWAR

Still not costumed out after Halloween? Head to the Rave on November 4 to see this iconic band known for its elaborate getups (and, more recently, their forays into the liquor business). Even if you’re not into heavy metal, this shock rock outfit’s stage antics are not to be missed -just don’t wear anything you’d like to keep clean.

Nerd out at the Midwest Gaming Classic

Pinball, crane games, and cards-oh my! Games of all types are taking over the Wisconsin Center starting November 5 for this three-day event that’s sure to unleash your inner child (or outer nerd). You better start stretching out your phalanges, stat.

Remember how to laugh with Mike Birbiglia at the Pabst

Birbiglia’s shows are known as much for knee-slapping humour as they are for incisive cultural commentary-and it’s a mix that’s made his Netflix specials a roaring success. Head to the Pabst on November 7 for a night that’ll have you laughing hard and thinking deep.

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks

Score some championship Bucks swag at a regular-season Fiserv game

Get your Bucks gear! The team has announced its lineup of giveaways and theme nights for the upcoming season, kicking off October 19. (We’re eyeing the December 1 fanny pack.) Can’t make it to a game? Tune in at any of these Thrillist-approved sports bars for a guaranteed good time.

Celebrate women who rock at an Alanis Morissette and No Doubt tribute show

Here’s an event you oughta know: Swing by Shank Hall for this November 20 double-header event celebrating two of the 90s’ most iconic singers. Jagged Little Pill covers all of the classics from our favourite Canadian pop-star-turned-alt-rock badass, while Don’t Speak puts on a frenzied show that channel’s the SoCal band’s ska-inflected jams.

Avoid the busiest bar night of the year at Mondo Lucha!

Skip out on wrestling the crowds in packed bars this Thanksgiving Eve and instead, head over to the Pabst on November 24 for a night of lucha libre, complete with masked competitors, burlesque performers, and high-flying antics.

Pregame your Thanksgiving feast at the Milwaukee Turkey Trot

Run, walk, or waddle your way through this Thanksgiving Day 5k/8k-the choice is yours. Proceeds benefit the Hunger Task Force, and the Cranky Al’s Doughnuts stand perched at the finish line truly sweetens the deal.

Milwaukee Makers Market
Milwaukee Makers Market
Milwaukee Makers Market

Shop small at the Milwaukee Makers Market

Support local makers and artisans-and tell big-box stores to kick rocks-at this Shop Small Saturday event on November 27. It’s the perfect opportunity to find actually cool holiday gifts for your loved ones (not to mention steer clear of those imminent shipping delays).

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Become one with the Force at the MSO’s Return of the Jedi performance

From November 26 to 28, you can catch a screening of the final installment of the best Star Wars trilogy ever made, set to a live score courtesy of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Run, don’t walk.

Mama Tried Motorcycle Show
Mama Tried Motorcycle Show
Mama Tried Motorcycle Show

Rev your engines at the Mama Tried Motorcycle Show

Marvel at chrome-studded vehicles and rub leathered elbows with bike builders and enthusiasts alike at this December 4 and 5 event celebrating of the city’s motorcycle heritage.

Revisit your teen angst at Snail Mail

Imagine if someone set your teenage diary to music, and you’ve nailed Snail Mail’s 2018 studio debut Lush right on the head. The solo project from singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan is back with the forthcoming Valentine on December 7. Be sure to catch her at Turner Hall and prepare to feel things.

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Sarah Probst is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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