What's fun to do in Madison?
May 22, 2011 7:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some fun things to do in Madison, Wisconsin?

My GF and I will be in Madison for four days next weekend (May 26-29). We're both 30-somethings and we've both visited Madison a few times before. We love The Arboretum and The Mustard Museum. Those are already on on the list.

We will have a car, so far flung attractions are definitely possible. Thanks!
posted by at the crossroads to Travel & Transportation around Madison, WI (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Solidarity with the Unions in the State Capitol.
posted by the foreground at 7:22 PM on May 22, 2011

On Saturday, go to the Farmers Market on the square. It's open from 6am to 2pm. It surrounds the whole Capitol building, and there's plenty to see/buy/eat even if you can't take home bags of produce.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Dane County Farmers' Market is on Saturday. The market is the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country. 6am to 2pm, and you really need to go early (definitely by 9).

(on preview: what Meg said.)
posted by thebestsophist at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let me guess - Wiscon? I'll be there too!

Definitely check out the Farmer's Market around the Capitol Bldg on Sat morning. It goes until 1pm or so, and there's always scrumptious food there.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK, I'll add something else then - eat at Himal Chuli. Incredible Nepali food, and right downtown as well.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

What about spending the day in Spring Green, WI? It's about an hour from Madison, and you can take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, check out the House on the Rock or possibly see a play at the American Players Theater (outdoor amphitheater in the woods).
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 7:37 PM on May 22, 2011

Madison, how I miss thee...

Capital Brewery - Insanely good beer; probably in the top 10 beweries in the USA. And they have a biergarten!

The terrace at UW Memorial Union is a great place to have a beer and sit by the lake.

Pancake Cafe has insanely good breakfast food. It's always busy, so arrive early or be prepared to wait.

The Great Dane Brewpub brews really good beer, serves hearty food, and is really fun as a bar. They have a couple of locations, all are good though downtown is the best.

Vilas Zoo is pretty good. Not amazing - it's somewhat small - but it's fun and it's free. It's within Vilas Park, which is very large and a great place to BBQ and drink a few beers (yay Madison for allowing alcohol in some parks!).

If you want something fancy, L'Etoile is good.

I assume that you've walked down State Street before...

The water might still be too cold, but you can rent canoes and kayaks on Lake Wingra. It's much smaller than the other lakes, but the shore has been well-protected. There are usually lots of lillypads, and there are some overgrown areas that are fun to explore by water. Just be very careful - three years ago I had a pretty bad hypothermic episode (had to be ordered out of the water and taken care of for hours) around this time of year because I capsized in Lake Mendota and was too bull-headed to just stop paddling and dry off.

Seconding all of the suggestions for the Farmers Market. It's of the pricey variety, but there's lots of good stuff there and it's a fun atmosphere. Look for free cheese samples!
posted by Tehhund at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Three meal plan in Madison:
Have breakfast at Marigold Kitchen.
Lunch at Myles Teddywedgers.
Eat hamburgers and drink a myriad of Wisconsin-brewed beers at the Old Fashioned.
posted by cog_nate at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2011

(Oh shit I forgot to mention; Myles Teddywedgers serves pasties.)
posted by cog_nate at 7:49 PM on May 22, 2011

Eat at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry. Jesus, I miss that place. Seconding Himal Chuli.
posted by msali at 8:28 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Walk up Bascom hill to the Lincoln statue (on campus) and look at the Capitol!
posted by apdato at 8:35 PM on May 22, 2011

Spend an afternoon at The House on the Rock. That place is worth the trip, believe me.

The best meal I ate in Madison was at the Eldorado Grill.
posted by sugarfish at 8:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, you should hang around with us, of course :)

Keep in mind that the Madison Marathon will be on Sunday, so between that and construction traffic will likely be iffy, especially in the morning and/or downtown.

The Farmer's Market is really not that pricey. Especially if you're there early, look for these vendors:
Goose Gulch (on N. Carroll between W. Wash and State) for their awesome potato doughnuts Sugar River Bakery (ex-bookmobile on the corner of W. Wash and S. Carroll -- my brother worked there for years, and Glen and Kathy are some of my favorite people) has scones, cookies, bars and tea breads. Their ginger cookies are the best, and oh my god the bars -- apricot, blueberry, apple, date -- with streusel topping. OMNOMNOMNOMNOM.
Anywhere with honey sticks -- I think there are some right on that W. Wash and Carroll corner, but if you're on Main there's Marsden's, recognizable by his beehive hat :)
Cheese is good pretty much anywhere -- Bleu Mont on Carroll, etc. -- but Brunkow, on the corner of Main and MLK, is great.

Breakfast at Marigold is indeed great. If L'Etoile is too up-market for you, go to its more wallt-friendly sibling Graze next door. Other must-eats on or near the Square include the Old-Fashioned and Ian's Pizza (mmm, mac and cheese). Cooper's Tavern is also good. Cooper's and the Old Fashioned will have a fairly long wait, but are still great.

Umami is an amazing new restaurant about a mile off the square. It's a little blocked by construction, but it's totally worth it for the pork buns, dumplings, ramen (locally made!) and tasty cocktails. Wonderful atmosphere -- peaceful and fun.

To get away from the downtown crush -- and it will be a fun crush, but a crush, especially if the weather is good -- head out for breakfast or lunch at Manna Cafe. OMNOMNOM.

Fromagination is fantastic for snacks, souvenirs and very, very tasty sandwiches. If you have time to sit around a little, do have some of that Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. Expensive, but super great. They have Bourbon Butter Pecan in right now, which is divoooon.

If you or your gf enjoy the occasional massage, try to book some time with Jennifer (aka The Amazing Jennifer) at Cinema. She instantly makes you feel peaceful, and she has the best hands evarrrr. (She's a larger lady who welcomes folks of all sizes and shapes, and she really really knows people's bodies -- she's a trainer for Aveda.)

If you know where the Mustard Museum is in Middleton, have you been to Hubbard Avenue Diner? If not, you must remedy that right away. Really, what you need to do is this: have a light and/or early lunch, then have dinner at the amazing but very homey Vin Santo. Eat half of your massive entree and order the tiramisu to go, then pack up the leftovers (which reheat beautifully) and get some pie at Hubbard Avenue. And if you can, get it a la mode -- Chocolate Shoppe is awesome, and I recommend the Zanzibar Chocolate or Espresso Oreo.

Do NOT go to Bratfest, and stay away from the John Nolen/Rimrock area.
posted by Madamina at 9:08 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just wanted to clarify that the entire point of going to the Hubbard Avenue Diner is for their amazing pies. They have good food, but going there without getting any pie is like ordering fish at a steakhouse - possibly tasty, but completely missing the point.

Their pie is to die for.
posted by Tehhund at 10:09 PM on May 22, 2011

try out madison's new bike share program
posted by nanhey at 10:35 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's an Alternative Brat Fest in Orton Park, which will have delicious brats and good music in a more shady and pleasant surrounding. That one, I'd recommend.

The Wisconsin State History Museum, on the Square, is really nice.
posted by mimi at 3:48 AM on May 23, 2011

Things I haven't seen from skimming the list: Olbrich Gardens. (Especially the greenhouse, for the adorable ground quail wandering around.)

Renting bikes and taking the path around lake Monona. It's better-labeled going counter-clockwise, for some reason.

Breakfast at Lazy Jane's. Then a wander around Willy St., for me, because I miss it.

Farmer's market, certainly.

If you're going to the arboretum, the Vilas Zoo is just around the corner.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:30 AM on May 23, 2011

a wander around Willy St.

Willy St. is delightful and I'd recommend stopping by if you have a chance, but: it's all torn up with construction. It's one lane, one-way for now (westbound). Walking is pretty easy, but driving and parking is kind of a pain.

If you are in the Willy St. area, the Old Sugar Distillary at East Main and Brearly (a couple blocks over from Willy St.) is nice. They have outdoor seating when the weather is good. Right on Willy St., the Weary Traveler is a great bar with good food. I can also vouch for Umami, mentioned above.

If you're there earlier in the day, the coffee at Mother Fools is really good--they only have vegan food, though, so if you want something buttery and delicious, go to Batch Bakehouse down the road for their excellent pastries (go early, though, because they sell out pretty quickly!). Madison Sourdough is also excellent--best sourdough my Californian husband has had away from his hometown. If you want to take some treats to go for a picnic, there's Orton Park, the lakefront, and... other park-type places I don't know the names of.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2011

MeFite meetup on the 29th.
posted by brainwane at 8:36 AM on May 23, 2011

I've been a transplant in Madison for about a year now and I love it here--I agree with all the recommendations made so far, with a doubled recommendation for the farmer's market on the Capitol Square.

Devil's Lake is a really beautiful park and has some really wonderful hiking trails. It's about 50 minutes from Madison, though, which is pretty far flung.

Dr. Evermor's Forevertron, The House on the Rock, and The Cave of the Mounds are all within an hour from Madison as well.
posted by Slurgi at 8:41 AM on May 23, 2011

Sophia's Bakery is only open on weekends and has about 5 tables and an incredible wait, but its absolutely worth it for breakfast. The owners don't need the money anymore but keep it running on weekends because they love breakfast so much.

Dr. Evermore's Forevertron is a 30 minute drive north, by Baraboo, and free to visit.

As amazing as the Old Fashioned is for variety of Wisconsin beers, absolutely nothing beats The Malt House about 2 miles west of the capitol.

Speaking of beers, go to any of the nearby breweries for a tour.

If you're a baseball fan, you can catch a Mallards game.
posted by Theiform at 8:43 AM on May 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the excellent recommendations!

We were in town visiting for a family wedding, so most of our activities and meals had already been planned. We didn't have much free time, but with the time we did have to get away we took quick tours of Taliesin-Hillside Studio and The House on the Rock in the same day -- how opposite! Then yesterday I went on a solo jaunt up to Devil's Lake and Dr Evermor's Forevertron. Had a wonderful time and found it all to be quite interesting.

I hoped to catch a Mallard's game, but their season doesn't start until day after tomorrow.
Did not attend Brat Fest. Avoided downtown. Had fun on the Willy watching heavy machinery operators: backhoes and boom lifts and dump trucks and trash collectors all working together in such tight spaces.

I didn't tour any breweries but had generous samplings of several of the offerings from the Capital (Capital Supper Club, Capital Amber); and New Glarus Fat Squirrel, Spotted Cow, Moon Man ... All tasty. Not enough time to pick a favorite.

Thanks again y'all.
posted by at the crossroads at 3:25 PM on May 30, 2011

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