Madison has always been a city in Wisconsin that I love to visit. My sister went to college at UW and I have family that live there, so I’ve visited often to cheer for the Badgers and visit State Street. Of course Madison is known as our capital city and a city known for partying, but until recently, I didn’t realize what Madison had to offer for families visiting – and I’ve been missing out! From the Fox Valley area, Madison is only about an hour and a half drive. Treat yourself and your family this fall or winter to experience the other amazing things our capital city has to offer!
Kids in the Rotunda – Overture Center for the Performing Arts
Free shows for kids and families are featured on the Rotunda Stage every Saturday from October thru April. These performances are ideal for kids ages 9 or younger and their families. There are three times to choose from 9:30 am; 11:00 am; and 1:00 pm.
Henry Vilas Zoo
Did you know the Henry Vilas Zoo is FREE to visit? It is one of the only free admission, community sponsored zoos in the country. And it is so worth a visit! There is easy viewing to all types of animals that are both native to Wisconsin and from lands far away – from giraffes and monkeys to goats and cows the Henry Vilas Zoo has it all. The Artic Passage is the zoo’s newest exhibit. There are large, natural exhibits for grizzly bears, polar bears and artic seals. There is also a retired Tundra Buggy research vehicle from the Artic! Don’t forget to make a stop at the carousal or take a train ride around the park. The zoo is open daily, year round, with the exception of a few holidays.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Geology Museum
The UW Geology Museum is a little known destination to those of us that do not live in Madison. Visiting and touring the museum is free. You can take your own self-guided tour through the museum or you can register a group to experience a guided tour. Guided tours are for groups of 8 or more and do have a fee of $2 per person. There are some amazing things to see, including rock and mineral specimens and skeletons from dinosaurs and Ice Age animals!
University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum
The UW Arboretum has more than 20 miles of trails visitors can explore and observe nature. There are activities throughout the year for the entire family. Make the Visitor’s Center your first stop to get a map of the trails and speak with the receptionist to get the latest news. Before visiting, check out the website for a calendar of events and visitor etiquette. Some workshops and events have a minimal fee, but visiting and exploring the trails is free.
Babcock Hall Dairy Store
Student workers offer guided tours lasting approximately 20 minutes to see the inner workings of a the ice cream plant. The tours are free; however, reservations are required one week prior. You can also just stop in and enjoy a tasty treat from the store. There is also an observation area where kiddos can see the plant; machinery is labeled and visible from the viewing area.
Aldo Leopold Nature Center
The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has some really exciting and amazing kid’s stuff to do. The Climate Science Education Center has eco-adventures that await you to experience. There are new themes and activities each month, good for all age levels. The Nooks is another area you can visit at the nature center. They feature educational and hands-on indoor wetland, woodland and prairie exhibits for all ages. This is a great way to introduce your little one to the native habitats of Wisconsin! ALNC also has seasonal events such as snowshoeing in the snowy months and maple syrup lessons in the spring. There is a minimal fee for some events and activities if you are not a member of ALNC.
After a day of exploring, you’re going to need to eat. While Madison has many wonderful places to enjoy a nice dinner and cold cocktail, a few family friendly restaurants to check out are:
Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor
Ella’s Deli has been a main staple in Madison for nearly 40 years. Voted Madison’s Best Place to take Kids for 20 years! The menu has something for everyone. You can finish your lunch or dinner with some ice cream and a ride on the magical carousal (operates spring-fall).
If a burger is what you are craving, checkout family friendly, AJ Bombers. Although not uniquely Madison, it is worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood. The Facebook page says kids eat free on Sunday, so you might want to schedule your visit to Madison on a Sunday!
Paisan’s Italian Restaurant
Paisan’s Italian Restaurant is not necessarily noted as kid-friendly. I have it from a good source, they accommodate kids well. They offer thin crust pizza, homemade pasta and specialty sandwiches. Italian and delicious!
Special thanks to my family and friends that live in Madison for providing me with some wonderful Madison gems to share!
Other 1 Day Road Trip Ideas: