Across the cheese curtain with a dog friend
August 12, 2016 1:14 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are spending Labor Day weekend in Madison, WI with our dog. Help us find all the best things to do.

We're staying right downtown, just a couple blocks from the capitol. We like craft beer, cocktails, good food, contemporary art/architecture, and nature. Our dog (a 3 year old, 40lb border collie mix) likes frolicking, licking his own butt, and long walks. This is our first vacation with the dog, so we're looking for some fun activities we can do with him. Are there good parks or walking trails we should know about? Dog-friendly bars or patios? We'll have a car but prefer to minimize driving.

This AskMe was a good start for some restaurants and bars, but it's 5 years old, so I figure y'all might have updates. Thanks!
posted by torridly to Travel & Transportation around Madison, WI (10 answers total)
The dog-friendly Lakeshore Nature Preserve is a long walk or short drive from downtown (info, interactive map). If you're feeling up to it, I recommend getting out to see sunrise at Picnic Point, about a 20-30 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.

On the south side of the Isthmus, quite a lot of Lake Monona's shoreline is ringed by a bike path and residential streets and makes for a really pretty walk. Start at the Monona Terrace and go southwest along the path until you feel like turning around. (I think it's about 11 miles all the way; I haven't gone all the way around, so I'm afraid I can't tell you how friendly the southern/eastern parts are for walking.) When you get to the John Nolen Causeway, stay on the north side of the lake to continue around the bay for a quieter walk, instead of taking the bridge with all the cars.
posted by esker at 4:34 PM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Memorial Union Terrace is the ne plus ultra patio experience in Madison (in all of the Midwest for my dollar) and afaik there's no prohibition on bringing dogs. (It will be crowded.) It's one of the few student unions in the country that sells beer, and it's quite a list. Get yourselves a pitcher of Fantasy Factory and enjoy a sunset over Lake Mendota. Nothing finer.

There are lots of great places to get food and drink and most of my recommendations are based on nostalgia more than anything else, but I can vouch for and strongly endorse a meal at Alchemy, based on a recent visit. The "kid's cheese sandwich" and the BLFT are life-changing sandwiches.

Enjoy your trip! Madison is a wonderful town.
posted by ndg at 5:20 PM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think a walk on the Lakeshore path is a really good suggestion. There is a small off-leash dog park at the corner of John Nolen Ave and Broom Street. So if you follow esker's suggestion and end up near John Nolen Blvd, you should be right across the street from the dog park. Dog-friendly patios is a bit trickier to suggest. It was my experience when I had a dog several years ago that many places would allow dogs at sidewalk patios. I took my dog to sidewalk cafes along the Capitol Square and on State Street with no problems -obviously dog was well-trained and never entered the restaurant or bar. Places I would call dog friendly although I'm not sure of their official policy: Argus Tavern (block off the square), Collectivo Coffee (also serves beer, right on the square), Barriques (coffee shop that also serves wine and beer). Mickey's Tavern on Williamson Street has great pub food and a patio, but I just read online they don't allow dogs anymore. Maybe call them and ask because they used to encourage dogs. You would need to drive to Mickey's, but from there you could walk along the Yahara River a bit and then walk along the bike path or the really fun neighborhoods off Williamson Street. If you go toward Atwood Ave, you'll be near the bar Alchemy and their sidewalk patio. There's a vegan cafe called the Green Owl right there as well, but I can't remember if they have a patio. Or from Mickey's, head up Williamson Street for a pastry at Batch Bakehouse and get a feel for Madison's liberal epicenter. That St. Vinnie's you'll see is a great thrift store FYI, but no dogs allowed. Hatch Art House is a really cute, affordable art gallery and local boutique on Willy. You could get awesome jerk chicken at Jamerica or grab a smoothie and healthy snack from the Willy St. Coop. That would be a highly Madison afternoon!
I also feel obliged to mention the outdoor patios at The Malt House and High Noon Saloon. Both should allow a dog and are fun places, but you'll have to drive to both. The Malt House has a huge, huge beer selection.
Then for big dog parks, my favorite is Cherokee Park on Madison's north side. This is a pretty big drive, but it was my favorite dog park relatively close to the city. Stop at Culver's on Northport for a milkshake on your way there. Warner Park's dog park is my #2 suggestion and it is much closer to the downtown, but still a drive. Both parks have swimming areas for dogs too.

On preview: the Memorial Union Terrace is an awesome place. Dogs are generally allowed only on the row of tables closest to the lake. Some construction at the union entrance right now, but definitely worth a visit.
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Cheers!
posted by areaperson at 5:32 PM on August 12, 2016

Oh since you mention art, if you do walk around the Williamson Street area you could look for Sid Boyum sculptures. Quirky outsider art.
Downtown, there's also the MMOCA and Chazen museum. The Madison Central Library is new, has some fun art, very cool architecture and a public maker space. Obviously no dogs allowed at these places. The Monona Terrace Convention Center on Lake Monona is likely an easy walk from your hotel. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and while dogs are not allowed inside, you could see the cool exterior and walk on the rooftop patio.
posted by areaperson at 5:44 PM on August 12, 2016

Better previously.
posted by teremala at 6:06 PM on August 12, 2016

Labor Day weekend + Madison = Taste of Madison.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:18 PM on August 12, 2016

Best answer: Welcome (in advance)!

I don't know anything about canine friendliness of various places, so I won't hazard anything there. (Also, heretically, I don't know too much about the craft beer and/or cocktails scenes that others can't tell in much more detail.)

I can agree with just about all of the restaurant info in the various previous Asks cited (though I'm surprised no mention of Lao Laan-Xang or Pizza Brutta). Lots of new restaurants since then but I have no experience with most of 'em so I'll leave that to others.

Yes of course to the Farmer's Market and to Taste of Madison (assuming crowds are OK). You can put together an excellent picnic basket with the former and take it on your walks. You can use the latter to identify restaurants you'd like to try during the balance of the trip.

Re contemporary art, you won't be able to avoid MMOCA, and you shouldn't (avoid it that is). Also check out some of the works on display within the adjoining Overture Center. I particularly like the works currently on display in the long curved hallway between the Henry Street entrance to Overture and the lower-level Rotunda. (The Chazen also has some interesting contemporary art mixed in with older works.)

Re architecture, if a trip out to Taliesin would be too much of a hike, a ramble through University Heights has some interesting and beautiful houses to offer (scanned walking tour guide here).

For long naturey walks, Cherokee Marsh (adjacent to the dog park mentioned above) is almost unbeatable... though the UW Arboretum comes close. Both will be shortish drives from downtown. Olbrich Gardens (also a short drive) is also worth a look.

The Lakeshore bike path (shown in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve interactive map above) is much closer to downtown and quite nice too. From the Capitol area, head down State Street (exploring en route) to the university. Go to the Memorial Union, have some Babcock ice cream, hang out at the aforementioned Memorial Union Terrace. From the Terrace and boat launch area, westward right along the lakeshore you can pick up the bike path. It'll take you up to Picnic Point (passing some university dorms and the crew boathouse along the way) and from there you can explore the rest of the nature preserve shown in that map.

Not far from Picnic Point, also, is the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Church.

A slightly more urban but still nice walk would be along the Southwest Bike Path. If you check out Monona Terrace as mentioned above and then head down along John Nolen Drive (by the Lake Monona lakeshore), you can pick up this bike path across the street (check maps for exact location). It heads past the Kohl Center, through some of university and university-adjacent neighborhoods, and past Camp Randall Stadium at Regent St; it then becomes a nice neighborhoody / woodsy bike path (intersecting various local streets, some busy some quiet) all the way to the Beltline. You can detour from it to Monroe St. for various treats, including Michael's Frozen Custard.
posted by sesquipedalia at 10:48 PM on August 12, 2016

The Lakeshore Path down to and including Picnic Point is the best place where you can go on foot, as others have observed. The Union Terrace (at one end of the path) is a very fun place to hang out, but you might be asked to take the dog out. Officially, dogs are not allowed. Since there are 2 humans, though, one could stay by the lake with the dog while the other goes up to buy some ice cream or brats.

It's also fun to walk all over town, and you'll run into lots of people who are likely to be friendly and say hi because you've got a dog. That's our experience here. It's just magic — Madison + dog. .

If you want to drive somewhere where you can walk in the country and let the dog off the leash, I recommend Prairie Moraine County Park, which is part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

There's also Governor Nelson State Park on the north shore of Lake Mendota, which is good for a long walk with the dog on leash and has an off-leash area too, where you'll find friendly people with dogs. This is best if your dog likes to jump in the water. You'll have views of Madison from across the lake.

We love Wingra Boats on Lake Wingra and have taken a Lab out on the stand-up paddle boards, but your dog may not be the swimming type. If you've got a swimming type dog though, just tell them you've got a dog and they have a board they'll let you use with the dog. This is great fun for a dog that likes to do some serious swimming and the people out on the lake — a gentle, calm place — will be delighted to see a dog out swimming.

Enjoy Madison. I think with a dog you are most likely to end up interacting with very nice, friendly people here.
posted by Alizaria at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Afterthought: Check out the food carts on Library Mall. You'll be eating outside, so the dog won't be a problem. The students will be coming back into town and it should be great for people watching. There's a construction project in that area making it less pleasant than usual, but it should be excellent nevertheless. The Chazen Museum is near there, so you could take turns going in and having the other person stay out in the square with the dog. (Or maybe only one of you likes museums.) The permanent collection there is varied and interesting, and there are good temporary things there coming up (one of which relates to Shakespeare, which makes me want to urge you to go out to see the American Players Theater productions, but that is not dog friendly).
posted by Alizaria at 5:03 PM on August 13, 2016

By the way, Olbrich Gardens and the Arboretum are highly recommended, but you can't bring a dog in there.
posted by Alizaria at 5:06 PM on August 13, 2016

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