While the taverns and breweries of Milwaukee have burned an indelible image of the city onto the consciousness of the nation, this Midwestern metropolis — home to Miller-Coors — has a lot more to offer than just beer.

The city of Milwaukee has taken on an impressive range of green projects in recent years, from installing green roofs on buildings all over town to making school playgrounds more eco-friendly and embracing geothermal heating. All of these efforts have added up to a #12 SustainLane ranking among America’s most sustainable cities.

But the area in which this metropolis really shines is green business — particularly, in renewable energy and water innovation, and manufacturing energy-saving products. Milwaukee seems to be on the cusp of having one of the nation’s strongest green local economies, with plenty of jobs at companies like Johnson Controls, which developed a new battery for hybrid cars.

Reclaiming Wisconsin’s largest brownfield for energy-efficient buildings and greenspace produced 2,100 new jobs, and a similar effort is planned to renew the 30th Street Industrial Corridor as a "Greenlight District" for jobs.

Above, all, Milwaukee — which sits at the edge of the world’s largest source of fresh water — is positioning itself as a “Fresh Coast City” that already has plenty to offer in the eco-arena and will become an even more popular green destination in the future.

Stay green

You won’t have trouble finding a green place to stay in Milwaukee, where a long list of hotels have in-house recycling programs, reusable dining items, energy-saving lights and appliances and other eco-friendly features.

Perhaps the most notable is Hotel Metro, located in a historic Art Deco building on the corner of Milwaukee and Mason streets downtown. The first hotel in Wisconsin to apply for LEED certification, Hotel Metro features bamboo planking and cork public area flooring, recycled carpeting in guest rooms and architectural features made from reconstituted forest products and recycled glass. The hotel offers complimentary bicycles for guest use, and a complimentary Metro cab runs on soy biodiesel.

According to the Milwaukee area Hotel Green Guide (PDF), three additional hotels get high scores when it comes to sustainability: Doubletree Milwaukee City Center, Hyatt Regency Milwaukee and Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown.

Play green

Milwaukee is known as the city of festivals, making summer the best time to visit. From early June well into September, one special event after another is held in parks including Hart Park, Maier Festival Park and Lakeshore State Park. Many have international themes, like Polish Fest, Mexican Fiesta and Festa Italiana.

The crowd-averse can visit in the springtime, when the area explodes with color, or take advantage of many of the other activities the area has to offer. Go kayaking on the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail, take a stroll down the scenic RiverWalk, or get some exercise biking the Hank Aaron State Trail.

Nature lovers can observe the local flora and fauna at the city’s many parks, take a hike at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center or explore the gardens, natural habitats and trails at the Wehr Nature Center.

Head downtown to peruse the rows of colorful produce available at the city’s many farmers markets, or go on a vintage shopping binge at Yellow Jacket Vintage Clothing. Chartreuse, a cute boutique located on South Kinnickinnic Avenue, has a great variety of organic and eco-friendly clothing and accessories, while fair trade home furnishings, baby products, specialty items and more can be found right down the street at Future Green.

Eat green

Organic, local, all-natural, vegetarian and vegan: Milwaukee’s got it all, from casual cafes to fine dining. The city’s proximity to a plethora of local farms means plenty of super-fresh food, and no restaurant takes advantage of that better than Roots Restaurant & Cellar.

Featured as one of America’s top 20 green restaurants in Organic Style Magazine, Bon Appetit magazine and Gourmet magazine, Roots Restaurant & Cellar offers artfully presented seasonal variations on everything from classics to local favorites such as Blackened Gulf Catfish. 

If you’re looking for organic, vegetarian comfort food made from scratch, check out Café Manna, the only restaurant in Wisconsin to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association. Menu highlights include sesame-encrusted tofu with asparagus and sun-dried tomato risotto, the Jamaican spiced lentil burger and ginger macadamia nut carrot cake.

For an affordable yet satisfying lunch, the café at local specialty grocery store Beans & Barley is a favorite among Milwaukee natives. Fresh hot soups, sandwiches, burritos, smoothies and espresso drinks round out the menu — or grab an “all-purpose lunch box” to go. 

Photo: The "Bronze Fonz" lends some retro cool to the Riverwalk.

MNN homepage photo: Emmaphlema/iStockPhoto