Whether you’re visiting Madison for a WIAA tournament game, the weekend or all of spring break, you’ll want to carve out some time to explore our capital city—and there’s no better way to learn about a new locale than to experience activities that locals love. Mix and match these ideas to create an active itinerary that works for your whole family.
FOOD & DRINK: FUEL UP
With only an hour for lunch, Ian’s Pizza is perfect for families with busy itineraries. Ian’s features hearty slices with creative toppings and is probably best known for its mac 'n' cheese pizza—this best seller is topped with creme, mozzarella, noodles and cheddar (no red sauce!).
In two hours, you’ll be able to sit down and enjoy a burger and brew (or two!) at The Nitty Gritty. This family-friendly spot is located across from the Kohl Center and is known for its wide variety of burgers, sandwiches and an extensive tap list. If breakfast is more your style, head down Johnson Street to Bassett Street Brunch Club, where you’ll find comfort food favorites and grab-and-go doughnuts.
If you have a whole night, hit the town to experience a Wisconsin fish fry. Though this tasty tradition is typically reserved for Friday nights, you can find plenty fried goodness most days in Madison. Near the Capitol Square, try local favorites like the Old Fashioned, the Great Dane or Coopers Tavern. Lakeside, try longtime eateries like Mariner’s Inn or Captain Bills.
FAMILY FUN: TAKE A WALKING TOUR
If your sightseeing time is short, visiting the Wisconsin State Capitol should top your list—free tours of this impressive building are given daily. Wave hello to Wisconsin, the statue atop the Capitol’s dome, then see if you can spot the starfish fossil located inside on the north wing staircase! In warm-weather months, you won’t want to miss the sixth floor Observation Deck, which has some of the best views of Madison, Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.
If you love the outdoors, Henry Vilas Zoo or Olbrich Botanical Gardens provide a nice change of scenery. The zoo is admission-free, open every day and has polar bears, badgers, lions, primates and more. Olbrich features 16 stroll-able acres of outdoor gardens and its Thai Pavilion is the only one of its kind in the continental U.S.
GET ACTIVE: CAPITAL CITY CARDIO
Get your heart pumping by jumping! Sky Zone Madison has trampolines and much more. You can play dodgeball, free climb, and even test your skills on a Ninja Warrior Course. You can buy time in half-hour increments with a minimum of one hour.
Rent a BCycle and take a spin on the bike path that leads from Madison’s downtown around sparkling Lake Monona. Get started by taking the Monona Terrace bike elevator down to lake level; then pedal the 12-mile Lake Loop, which features stunning lake views, quaint neighborhoods and a chance to stop for ice cream at the Monona Bait & Ice Cream Shop.
Madison plays host to tons of fun runs and races each season, including a springtime tradition called the Crazylegs Classic in April. The course begins in downtown Madison, winds through the UW-Madison campus and finishes with a celebration in Camp Randall Stadium. Check our calendar of upcoming events in our Spring Races article.