By Jessica Steinhoff | Photo courtesy Destination Madison
Summer is the season of loosening up.
More than ever, kids (and parents!) need a break. Slowly but surely, businesses are starting to fully reopen as more people get vaccinated. While more open-ended play can help young minds flourish this summer, lots of kids still miss the comfort of their school schedule.
For the best of both worlds, try peppering your calendar with themed adventures. Designed for grade-schoolers, these itineraries combine play, learning and memory-making opportunities.
First things, first: Fuel up at one of the Capitol Square food trucks — your crew is going to need the extra energy. El Burrito Loco will appeal to Mexican food-lovers with their whimsical cart, along with their nachos, burritos, taco bowls and quesadillas made to order. Caracas Empanadas serves up stuffed dough pockets with meats, veggies or cheese. (Their sister cart, Caracas Arepas, is located on the Library Mall and specializes in grilled corn pockets with meats,veggiesorcheese.)CommonPasta will surely please mac ’n cheese lovers and other carb-loaders with their handmade noodles. Other carts dot the Square and LibraryMallbutmaynotbetheredaily,so see what’s available the day you go!
Fly over to the Crow’s Nest at the Madison Children’s Museum (be sure to reserve your tickets online, first). Located on the rooftop, it offers a bird’s- eye view of the city. You can also peer into a pond and commune with chickens at this magical outdoor space. After, re- experience the rest of the museum again after a long COVID-19 closure, as it reopened in late May!
Next, flit across the street to tour the Capitol building (open on weekdays as of press time), ooh and aah at the views from the observation deck and rub a Badger statue’s nose for good luck.
The Wisconsin State Historical Museum is guiding guests back in time with narrated walking tours in the late afternoon. Choose from three options: Madison’s strange and quirky past, influential Wisconsin women or the hidden history of the Capitol Square. The women’s history tour was created in honor of the 2020 centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting and protecting women’s right to vote. Wear your walking shoes and bring an umbrella — tours take place rain or shine.
Kick off the day at Monona’s Aldo Leopold Nature Center, which offers self-guided tours about animals and their habitats. Though the buildings are closed, the interpretive trails are teeming with feathers, rocks and other touchable treasures.
Next, venture west to the free Henry Vilas Zoo, where you can meet a reticulated giraffe and one of the world’s largest tortoises. See a live badger and watch the white rhino roll in the mud to cool off. At lunchtime, enjoy a hot meal and a cold drink while overlooking the polar bear exhibit at the Glacier Grille. For dessert, grab a scoop of Chocolate Shoppe ice cream.
Then hit the UW-Madison Arboretum, home to more than 1,200 acres of prairies, wetlands, savannas and forests. Take your wiggle worms through more than 17 miles of trails that weave throughout the arboretum, which has been restored and fostered by staff and students. On the website, download a trail map for easy navigation.
Before heading home, sniff flowers and look for butterflies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Allen Centennial Garden. With a colorful bridge, stone sculptures, a fish pond and a historic house, it’s also a great place to pose for a family photo.
Does your family love sports, games and exercise? If so, this itinerary is bound to be a winner. First, carbo- load with a Belgian waffle breakfast at the Coppertop family restaurant. Then putt your way through the outdoor mini-golf course at Vitense Golfland. For more golf-inspired fun, zip over to Elver Park for a game of disc golf (permit required) among the pines.
When you’re ready for a breather, swing by Barriques on West Washington for some refreshing iced teas. As the day’s temperature reaches its peak, cool off by paddling across Monona Bay. Brittingham Boats rents kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards seven days a week. When you’re ready to dry off, hit the playground or tennis courts at Warner Park. Then venture to the park’s Duck Pond Stadium to cheer on the Madison Mallards. The beloved baseball team is slated to play three to four home games a week in July and early August.
If the weather turns sour, or you’d like to swap in an alternate activity, visit Boulders Climbing Gym’s downtown location to possibly learn a new sport if your crew hasn’t tried climbing before!
Venture to the free Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to look at inspiring artworks. Kids can view the MMoCAkids art guide on a smartphone or tablet to supplement their viewing experience while there. Or, visit the website anytime (mmoca.org) for other creative activities to try.
Use the Pokémon GO app to collect Jigglypuffs and other curious creatures as you walk toward Central Library. Make crafts in the Bubbler room when you get there (make an appointment first), then check out some books to take home.
Revel has Make at Home Craft Kits and On-the-Go Craft kits, so kids and tweens can dig into their creative side, no matter where they are. Visit Revel’s website and select a craft to pick up, which range from felt succulent kits to doodle coasters to macramé.
Afterward, build an inspired pizza at Ian’s on State. Macaroni noodles and smoked brisket are just a few of the toppings that can decorate your dough.