181

STH-181“State Fair to the Covered Bridge”

Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 181 runs along western portions of Milwaukee and Ozaukee County communities, serving as a major artery for the Wisconsin State Fair, the city of Wauwatosa, northwest Milwaukee, Mequon, and the “Five Corners” area in Cedarburg, just south of where Wisconsin’s last covered bridge can be found. Along this route is a mix of big city neighborhoods, rural farmland, growing towns, suburban villages, and of course the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair and the Milwaukee Mile. All in a 22-mile drive.

Wisconsin Highway 181 Road Trip

The Drive (South to North): Highway 181 begins at Highway 59/Greenfield Avenue in West Allis (pop. 60,411), which was called North Greenfield early on. The establishment of a huge Allis-Chalmers factory in 1902 led to the town changing its name and incorporating as West Allis in 1906; that company dominated manufacturing in the area – and the nation – for decades before closing in 1987. For nearly eighty years, tens of thousands of workers descended on the West Allis plant, as well as other manufacturers in town – some of which are still cranking out products. Hundreds of thousands head to State Fair Park in early August for the Wisconsin State Fair, one of the nation’s leading state fairs. After starting in Janesville in 1851, the Wisconsin State Fair made West Allis its permanent home in 1892. The grounds includes the Milwaukee Mile, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world; it’s hosted most of racing’s legendary drivers at one time or another, from Barney Oldfield and A.J. Foyt to Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick. The Milwaukee Mile continues to host NASCAR and Indy events, including IndyFest, on its legendary oval. And during the State Fair, you can park on it!

State Trunk Tour Tidbit:
The Green Bay Packers made the infield of the Milwaukee Mile at State Fair Park their home field for Milwaukee games between 1934 and 1951, even playing the 1939 NFL Championship Game there: a 27-0 defeat of the New York Giants – the first shutout in NFL playoff history.

Highway 181 runs along 84th Street in West Allis, and intersects with I-94 just north of State Fair Park. The Pettit National Ice Center is at the junction with the freeway; it’s one of the few Olympic-qualifying speedskating rinks in the world! After all, this area has sprouted the likes of gold medalists Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen – it’s obviously a haven for champions. The Pettit National Ice Center features two full-size hockey rinks and a quarter-mile speedskating rink, among other features that make it a center for Olympians, athletes in training, hockey players, and just people who love to skate. The oval is open to the public for skating, and there’s even a .28 mile running track along the outside of the oval.

Wisconsin Weekend: US Olympic Training Facility, the Pettit National Ice Center at I-94 & Highway 181

“The Skater” statue in front of The Pettit National Ice Center.

Pettit National Ice Center

I-94 & Highway 181 is where you’ll find one of only two indoor Olympic speedskating tracks in the nation. The Pettit National Ice Center attracts athletes from around the world for training… and you can skate, play hockey, or even jog around the outside of the ice all year ’round!

Just north of I-94, Highway 181 ducks into a brief silver of the city of Milwaukee and intersects with U.S. 18/Blue Mound Road into Wauwatosa (pop. 47,000). This area was originally settled by Charles Hart in 1835 and was named “Hart’s Mills” for a mill he built along the Menomonee River. The railroad came through shortly thereafter, as did the Watertown Plank Road, an early toll road (seriously built with planks) that connected Milwaukee and Watertown by 1849. The town – then village, then city – was renamed Wauwatosa, the Potawatomi word for “firefly.” Wauwatosa mixes tree-lined residential neighborhoods, a world-class medical center with the Medical College of Wisconsin as an anchor, a downtown village brimming with shops, restaurants, and historic crossroads, industrial parks, factories, a major regional shopping mall… basically, Wauwatosa has a bit of everything.

Highway 181 enters Wauwatosa as 84th Street and becomes Glenview Avenue until it reaches the historic Watertown Plank Road. You literally jog over a few blocks on the road before turning left on a tight bridge that leapfrogs the Menomonee River Valley and lands in the “downtown” – Wauwatosa’s village. The old road continues downhill to a railroad crossing and a bridge over the Menomonee River; that’s the original Watertown Plank Road and Highway 181 until the bridge was built in the 1970s to ease congestion.

(More on Highway 181 to come!)

Big Head Brewing Company


wauwatosa_bigheadbrew_outsideBig Head Brewing sits just a little over a mile west of the behemoth known as the Miller Brewery. Opened in 2013 just off State Street in Wauwatosa, Big Head brews a variety of craft beers, with an eye also on specializing in a diabetic-friendly line of beers with low carbs that still taste like craft brews.

wauwatosa_bigheadbrew_taps

Along with the beer variety, they have quite the tap handle variety – including ball-peen hammers, wrenches, and custom metal designs serving to help draw the draught.

Their Tasting Room is open Thursday-Saturday and features pool, darts, games, and bands playing on select evenings. While still new and brewing under 1,000 barrels annually, Big Head has big plans.

You’ll find Big Head about 1 1/2 miles west of the Highway 175 freeway, one mile east of Highway 181 (76th Street/Harmonee Avenue), one mile north of U.S. 18/Bluemound Road, and a few miles north of I-94 and east of I-41/U.S. 45. It’s also just east of the Village of Wauwatosa, a charming little area in its own right. It’s also mere minutes from Miller Park.

wauwatosa_bigheadbrew_coolers

Clearly, the cooler named after The Fonz is cooler than the cooler named for Richie Cunningham.

Address:
6204 W. State Street
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 257-9782
Website

Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens


The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the nation’s best, hands down! Opened in 1958, it’s home to over 2,000 animals including mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles – many of whom reside in specialized habitats. The grounds of the Milwaukee County Zoo spread across over 200 acres of forests, exhibits, a large pond, indoor and outdoor habitats. Along with viewing and learning about animals, the Zoo offers opportunity to enjoy wildlife shows, ziplines, a carousel, a 15-inch gauge miniature railway the whole family can ride that loops around the grounds, and more.

Other fun features of the Milwaukee County Zoo:

  • The Zoo features one of the largest groups on bonobos in one location outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • The aviary features over 60 species, including one large “cage-less” room where the birds fly free.
  • The “children’s zoo,” now called the Northwestern Mutual Family Farm, gives kids educational presentations and access to hedgehogs, porcupines, box turtles, bald eagles, and more.
  • At the Giraffe Deck, you can climb a deck to end up face-to-face with them – and even help feed them.

You’ll find the Milwaukee County Zoo nestled between I-94, I-41/U.S. 45, Highway 100, and U.S. 18/Bluemound Road on the far west side of Milwaukee, with Wauwatosa to the north, West Allis to the south, and Brookfield & Elm Grove to the west. The main entrance is off U.S. 18/Bluemound Road.

The Zoo’s hours vary by season. Admission fees run as follows (Milwaukee County residents with ID get additional discounts, see their website for details.)

ADMISSION
January 1 through March 31 & November 1 through December 31
Adult: $11.75
Child (age 3 to 12): $8.75
Child (2 and under): Free
Senior Citizen (age 60 and over): $10.25

April 1 through October 31
Adult: $14.25
Child (age 3 to 12): $11.25
Child (2 and under): Free
Senior Citizen (age 60 and over): $13.25

Parking is an additional $12 for passenger cars.

Address:
10001 Bluemound Road (U.S. 18)
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 256-5412
Website