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Explore Madison

We love all things Madison and rave about Madison experiences with our guests. Let’s start with the location. Situated between Lakes Mendota and Monona and near the smaller Lake Wingra, the city is surrounded by water. Opportunities are numerous to swim, boat, fish, kayak, and watch gorgeous sunsets.

Madison lake

Favorite Lake Views

Memorial Union Terrace: iconic yellow, green and orange chairs and tables; brats, beer, popcorn, ice cream, people watching, boat rentals, live music.

The end of Picnic Point: terraced garden, rock seats, views of State Capitol.

Rooftop of Monona Terrace: café, live music.

Olbrich botanical gardens
Madison Aboretum

Parks & Paths

Madison Parks are plentiful and filled with hiking trails. Madison is a biker’s paradise with over 200 miles of bike paths in and through the city. Renting a bike is easy with BCycle, the City’s bike share program operated by Trek bikes.   

Some of our favorite parks:

Olbrich Botanical Gardens16 acres of outdoor landscapes, Thai pavilion, indoor tropical conservatory.

Owen Conservation Park: 96 acres, 3 miles of hiking trails, birding, show-shoeing.

University of Wisconsin Picnic Point: part of the UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve, mile-long peninsula jutting into Lake Mendota, hiking, beach, fire pits.

University of Wisconsin Lakeshore path: part of the UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve, 2 miles from Memorial Union to Picnic Point entrance, walking, running, biking. Follows shore of Lake Mendota.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum: 17 miles of trails for walking, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing.

Tenney Park: historic park with storybook scenery, beach, panoramic Lake Mendota views, fishing and boat-watching at Yahara River locks, ice skating on frozen lagoon.

Vilas Park: free zoo, beach on Lake Wingra.

Wisconsin state capital building
Farmers Market

Capitol Square

The Capitol Square is the setting for favorite events all year, and the Wisconsin State Capitol Building is not to be missed. Glass mosaics, marble, bronze and a granite dome create a stunning building. Free informative tours are offered daily. Be sure to stand in the rotunda and stare up at the dome. In late spring, summer, and fall access is allowed to the outdoor 6th floor observation deck. From this perch you can see Lakes Monona and Mendota and much of State Street.

Our favorite events on the Capitol lawn and public sidewalk “The Square”:

Dane County Farmers’ Market held Saturdays from 6:15 am-1:45 pm mid-April to mid-November. Produce, flowers, cheese, meats, honey, and sweets. Grab a cup of coffee from a coffee stand and browse the farmers’ stands. There is a smaller Wednesday market from 8:30 am-1:45 pm on the 200 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Same fresh produce.

Art Fair on the Square held annually the second weekend of July. The farmers’ market moves off the square for the weekend of this favorite juried art show. Enjoy creative and beautiful art of all kinds.

Concerts on the Square held six Wednesday evenings in summer, late June to early August. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs this favorite show from the steps of the Capitol. Pack a simple picnic basket of wine, crackers and cheese or an elaborate dinner-to-go complete with a bouquet of flowers (from the Farmers’ Market of course!). Food and beverages are available for purchase. Don’t forget your blanket or low-to-the-ground chair.

Museums: Madison Children’s Museum, Wisconsin Historical Museum, and Wisconsin Veterans Museum are all located on the Square.  Check out the gift shop of the WI Historical Museum for fun and informative books and gifts from Wisconsin.

State Street
Madison Bookstore

State Street

State Street connects the Capitol to the University Campus in a mile-long street filled with shops, restaurants, bars, a museum, and The Overture Center, a cultural arts center. Cars are not allowed on this pedestrian and transit mall but people are! Walking from one end of the street to the other you may hear a saxophonist, violinist, vocalist, guitar, and drummers.  You may see artists painting or jugglers juggling. 

Our favorite shops on this favorite street:

Little Luxuries: books, purses, jewelry, toys, cards, and gifts.

Anthology: Madison-themed cards, buttons and clothes. Most of the items are created by the owners of the shop.

Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream: All the creamy goodness.

University Bookstore for all your UW Badger gear.

Orange Tree Imports
Mystery Book Store

Monroe Street

Monroe Street is our neighborhood shopping area. The stores and restaurants here are mostly small businesses run by hard-working people. Trader Joe’s is the largest store on the street. 

Our favorite stores and restaurants:

Orange Tree Imports: a fantastic store filled with gifts, supplies and surprises. Kitchen gear, jewelry, toys, cards, candles.

Bloom Bake Shop: a lovely café run by a creative baker. Coffee, sweets, breakfast, lunch. Vegan and gluten-free items available.

Hive of Madison: outdoor clothing and gear for men and women.

Mystery to Me Bookstore: an independent bookstore run by knowledgeable bibliophiles.

Madison Chocolate Company: creators of The Buckingham Inn chocolates! Coffee, sweets, and gluten free items.

Everly: A vegetable-forward menu, good sandwiches and salads. We like the inside/outside bar in the summer.

Gates and Brovi: Burgers, Friday fish fry, pizza, creative specials. Family friendly.

Madison boasts many more fun places and activities. Check out the Destination Madison, Travel Wisconsin and Isthmus Daily Page websites.