Forget shopping at the Dane County Farmers’ Market or kayaking on Lake Mendota. Just like in Milwaukee, winter brings a quiet stillness to this college town. It also introduces new activities like ice skating, snowshoeing, and sipping decadent cups of hot chocolate. Are you ready to chill?
Check into The Edgewater, a 202-room hotel on the shores of Lake Mendota just southwest of James Madison Park on the near East side. This Art Deco beauty got a major $100 million makeover in 2014 . A spa, dining concepts and room designs are among what’s new since the hotel’s 1948 construction. But what draws wintertime stays is the outdoor ice rink on the property’s plaza, open Thursday through Sunday. Skate rentals run $3 and admission is $7 ($4 for kids 5-12).
Warm up with a Friday fish fry at The Icehouse, a food-hall-style eatery inside The Edgewater and close to the plaza entrance.
Snow on the ground? Head to one of seven city parks to cross-country ski. There’s no need to bring your own skis or pick up rentals in Milwaukee because you can do that here. Three of the parks rent out skis , shoes and poles (Odana Hills Golf Course, weekends only; the 250-acre Elver Park, daily; and Yahara Hills Golf Course) All three locations require a cross-country ski permit, but the other four trails are free to use. Snowshoeing is permitted at all city parks (where there is good snow cover and not on a groomed trail), including Elver Park, where you can check out snowshoes.
Another option is to take a guided snowshoe hike (led by a UW-Madison student from Outdoor UW) either across Lake Mendota or on the Lakeshore Path, organized through the Wisconsin Union. The two-hour hikes cost $45 per person, and you can book online.
Regardless of weather, an indulgent cup of hot chocolate is the perfect afternoon pick-up. Being a college town, there are many coffee shops in Madison serving hot chocolate. Michelangelo’s Coffee House and Fair Trade Coffee House, both on State Street, are two options for indie cafes. Ancora Coffee Cafes on King Street and University Avenue also offer spiked hot drinks, like a Cider Mimosa or Maple Cream (espresso, maple syrup, Kringle Cream liquor and steamed milk…topped with whipped cream).
Historic movie theaters are especially cozy during winter. The Orpheum Theater along State Street in downtown Madison, constructed in 1927 in an Art Deco design, hosts bands and stand-up comedians. Since 2013 it’s been under the same owners, who have lovingly restored its interior.
You probably think of Olbrich Botanical Gardens on the East side as a place to visit when roses bloom in June. However, the gardens’ Bolz Conservatory — home to orchids, birds, exotic plants and a waterfall, and kept at a hot temperature — make this a year-round destination. Admission is free. From Feb. 16 to March 24, 2019, an art show inside the conservatory features “LOOK: Tropical Tessellations” with kaleidoscope-inspired art by Peter Krsko and Robert Anderson.
Before hitting the road, pretend that it’s tropical weather over lunch at Jamerica on Willy Street (the East Side), one of Madison’s three Jamaican restaurants. Dishes like fried plantains, jerk chicken and curried goat are served in a colorful interior, paired with reggae music.