(Madison, WI): Madison and Milwaukee are only about an hour apart and both have such unique offerings to their residents. We polled our friends over at Madison Mom and asked them what the must-sees or must-visits are in Madison, WI for families. So below, we are highlighting all of the insider tips we received (and there are lots of good ones!) so that your family can make the most of a weekend adventure (or day trip) to Madison, WI this summer!
Madison Children’s Museum | The Madison Children’s Museum contains exhibits on the arts, sciences, history, culture, health, and civic engagement. Don’t forget to check out their rooftop ‘Wonderground‘ playground (which was new in 2021!).
Explore Children’s Museum in Sun Prairie, WI | New in 2021, Explore Children’s Museum in Sun Prairie exists to provide meaningful opportunities, participate in purposeful play and promote lifelong learning.
Black Earth Children’s Museum | One of the only “small-town” children’s museums in the nation, the Black Earth Children’s Museum (BECM) is a unique and enriching place that inspires discovery, creativity and community!
UW Geology Museum | On display at the Geology Museum are rocks and minerals that glow, a model of a Wisconsin cave, dinosaurs and meteorites and more!
Henry Vilas Zoo | Henry Vilas Zoo is a 28-acre public zoo with FREE admission year-round! So you can stop for an hour or two, or spend all day here! It’s surrounded by playgrounds and Vilas Beach.
Memorial Union Terrace | A must visit for any local or out-of-towner! The Memorial Union Terrace sits on Lake Mendota (best known for their colorful sunburst chairs) and you can grab a cold brew, Babcock Ice Cream or some food (like pizza, hot dogs, etc).
Dane County Farmers Market | The largest ‘producer only’ Farmers’ Market in the nation! It runs on Saturday mornings from April through November and wraps around Capitol Square in Downtown Madison. Guests are welcome to throw a blanket on the lawn — we recommend the Stella’s Cheese Bread, some fresh cheese curds and Potato Donuts!
Olbrich Botanical Gardens | Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a 16 acre, award winning outdoor botanical garden and 10,000-square-foot conservatory.
Cave of the Mounds | A little bit of a drive (approx 20 miles south of Madison) you will find this National Natural Landmark. The cave is the main attraction (and you can do tours through the caves), but the property also boasts scenic walking trails; gardens; a gift shop; a snack bar and beer garden; and fossil, gemstone, and geode activities.
Epic Campus | While in the area, head to Verona and check out the amazing Epic Campus world HQ! They offer self-guided tours on weekends from 10am-3pm. You will feel like you are in another world – from Harry Potter and Willy Wonka – to galaxies far, far away – this campus is incredible to explore!
Get on (or in) the Water
Betty Lou Cruise | Betty Lou Cruises offers Private Group Charters and Public Motoryacht Cruises on Lake Monona and Lake Mendota – they operate June – October.
Capitol Boats | You can rent a pontoon or deck boat to cruise on Lake Mendota. They also offer add-ons for things like lily pads, tubes and even a captain if you don’t feel confident (or don’t want to be the one) driving the boat yourself.
Madison Boats | With three convenient locations on three different lakes, (Wingra Boats, Brittingham Boats and Marshall Boats), they have over 400 boats for rent. They rent canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards or SUPs, paddle boats, row boats, and pontoon boats.
Watch or Play Sports
Madison Mallards | The Madison Mallards (part of the Northwoods League) are a collegiate summer baseball team – they play at Warner Park on Madison’s north side. Their field, known as the ‘duck pond’ is very family-friendly!
Madison Forward | Forward Madison FC is an American professional soccer team – they play their games at Breese Stevens Field.
UW Athletics | Various sports to check out year-round. We love watching the UW women play softball, volleyball and basketball — but there are a lot of sports and options to check out!
Mad-City Ski Team | The Mad-City Ski Team is a competitive water ski show team. They are free to watch at Law Park (next to the Monona Terrace).
Vitense Golfland | Vitense Golfland features a large double deck golf range, two 18 hole miniature golf courses, and a 9 hole par 3 golf course. They also have baseball and softball batting cages, Jump Shot & Aeroball – trampoline games, Water Wars – water balloon slingshot fun, “The Rock” – a 5 station 3 story climbing wall and more.
Murals to Check Out
Notable Treats & Eats
Jet Room Restaurant | Daytime American cafe with views of planes taking off & landing at Dane County Airport.
Monona Bait Shop | Down-home institution dispensing Babcock Hall ice cream desserts, burgers & classic subs, plus live bait. (Insider Tip – it’s near the Winnequah Dream Park in Monona, WI!).
Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream | Delightfully rich ice cream crafted in Madison, WI and scooped in small businesses across the US since 1962. There are several Madison area locations – it’s SO good!
Michael’s Frozen Custard | Your local destination to find some of the best frozen custard in the world. They take great pride in sourcing the finest ingredients to create all of the great Sundaes, Twisters, Floats, flavors of the day and they also serve burgers.
Creekside Scoop | Located on the Black Earth Creek in Cross Plains – the Creekside Scoop offers ice cream and ice cream treats, shakes and floats, old-fashioned candy, tap root beer and more!
- Olbrich Biergarten | German-style beer garden featuring local food and drink on the shores of Lake Monona in Madison’s beautiful Olbrich Park. View the downtown skyline over Lake Monona with friends and family all around and a cold drink in your hand.
- WI Brewing Company | Known as ‘Wisconsin’s Backyard’, you can enjoy a pint (or two) in the taproom or backyard bar. The brewery is kid and dog-friendly. They do not offer food service onsite, but you are welcome to order delivery from one of the local restaurants! We recommend Sugar River Pizza. They also have live music throughout the summer!
- Capitol Brewery | Time-tested hot spot offering tours & a beer garden featuring craft brews & outdoor seating. The Capital Brewery Bier Garten is open April through October and often hosts live music as well as numerous public and private events. It is known as ‘Middleton’s Backyard’!
- More Breweries in the area!
Parks for Exploring and Hiking
Indian Lake County Park | Cross Plains (if you go here, you will definitely want to also check out the playground at Glacial Valley Park AND then end it with a treat from Creekside Scoop, which is not your typical ice cream shop (nearby in Cross Plains!).
Donald County Park | Mt. Horeb (if you go here, check out the Grumpy Troll for some lunch or dinner and then head to Icki Sticki for ice cream)!
Picnic Point Marsh Trail | Picnic Point Trail is open from sunrise to sunset and is about two miles long. At Picnic Point you’ll enjoy a wooded trail with beautiful views of Lake Mendota, wildflowers, and even some birds along the way. Once you reach the ‘point’ you will be greeted with a beautiful view of the capitol building overlooking the lake.
UW Arboretum | The UW Arboretum features over 17 miles of trails, gardens and natural areas.
Allen Centennial Gardens | The Allen Centennial Garden is a free public garden on the grounds of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (open dawn to dusk). The grounds feature the Agricultural Dean’s House, a brick Queen Anne-style home built in 1896, and the home of the first four deans of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Best Parks for Playing
- Dream Parks
- Splash Parks
- Glacial Valley Park in Cross Plains
- Brittingham Park in Madison
- Great Sauk State Trail + Sauk City Riverfront Park
- 20 of the Best Parks
Hilldale offers a vibe similar to the Corners at Brookfield. Kids can run around on ‘The Green’ (located just outside LL Bean, The Apple Store and University Bookstore. You can get cupcakes from Gigi’s, a smoothie from Blended, coffee from Crescendo or you can grab dinner. Our favorites are bartaco (kids love it, too!) and Great Dane (a Madison staple!).