City life meets life at the lake(s) in Madison, Wisconsin. Located on an isthmus nestled between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Madison is one of the country’s best known college towns, but also boasts various family friendly activities, quality restaurants and rich state history.
There is no shortage of great hotels to stay at when visiting Madison. The most recent addition is the stylish AC Hotel Madison Downtown by Marriott located just off of Capitol Square. The modern hotel offers fantastic views of Madison from the rooftop restaurant and bar, Eno Vino Wine Bar & Bistro, so it’s most definitely worth a stop even if you decide to stay the night somewhere else.
After checking in to your hotel, make your way to the Henry Vilas Zoo, located just south of the University of Wisconsin campus. The Henry Vilas Zoo is a 28-acre public zoo that is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The zoo is home to various animals, such as African lions, polar bears and of course three American badgers, fittingly named Bucky, Dekker and Kaminsky. Admission to the zoo is free.
Post zoo trip, make your way by bicycle or car to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, a teaching and research facility that offers more than 20 miles of footpaths, boardwalks and fire lanes to explore. You can stroll through the beautiful forests, prairies and wetlands for hours and snap some picturesque photos. The peaceful and stunning arboretum trails are open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
A day spent in Madison is not complete without stopping for an after-dinner dessert or late-night snack at Greenbush Bakery, which opened in 1996 and has been serving delicious donuts to the public ever since. Their late-night hours are ideal for a college town — they are open until midnight Monday through Thursday and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Another perk of Greenbush: their classic donuts are only a dollar a piece. There’s no better way to spend a dollar in Madison.
Set your alarms and get up bright and early on Saturday morning. Saturday on the Square, the Dane County Farmers Market, begins at 6:15 a.m. The farmers market surrounds the Wisconsin State Capitol Building and offers many fresh and local vegetables, fruits, baked goods and fresh-cut flowers. Saturday on the Square is the place to be on Saturday mornings, and it fills up quickly, so be sure to go early to get the best selection.
Next, head west down State Street toward the University of Wisconsin campus. While the walk down State Street should normally only take about 20 minutes, there are numerous stores to stop in and explore. Ranging from chain clothing stores like Gap and Urban Outfitters to local bookstores and art galleries, State Street has something for everyone. If you didn’t get your fill at the farmers market, there are plenty of coffee shops, bars and restaurants to choose from along State Street. The street is closed to local traffic apart from buses — yet another reason to make the walk.
There’s no better place to spend an afternoon (and evening!) in Madison than at the Memorial Union Terrace, situated on the shores of Lake Mendota and recently renovated. After getting your picture taken in one of the large, iconic terrace chairs, head to Outdoor UW to rent a paddle board, canoe or kayak and spend the afternoon out on the water. If water sports aren’t your forte, locate a table on the Terrace and bask in the sun all afternoon while enjoying some delicious Babcock Ice Cream.
Not ready to leave the Terrace yet? No worries. There are plenty of dining options inside the Union, including sandwiches and grilled food from Der Rathskeller, Italian dishes from Strada and plenty of healthy options from Carte. Don’t lose your spot on the Terrace, though, as sunset over Lake Mendota is not a sight to be missed. The festivities don’t stop after the sun sets, either: Terrace after Dark, a summer program that includes free concerts and movies, runs from May 12 to September 4.
Sunday brunch in Madison is a must. And Madison’s brunch scene is an embarrassment of riches. Some of the most iconic venues include Bassett Street Brunch Club, The Old Fashioned and of course Mickies Dairy Bar. Located near Camp Randall, Mickies Dairy Bar has been around since the 1950s and hasn’t changed much since then. Be prepared to wait, as there is most always a line to get in the door. Their scrambler is legendary.
Before leaving the city, visit the State Capitol Building and learn about the building’s and state’s history on a free guided tour. Tours are offered daily and begin at the information desk. If you don’t have the time to spend 45 minutes on the tour, at least wander into the rotunda and take a moment to appreciate the beautiful architecture.