Bring the Family Along for These Fun Summer Activities

By Katie Vaughn | Photo by Hillary Schave

Madison and summer are made for each other, so branch out to explore nature, art, history and science — coupled with delicious food along the way.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art + Library Mall food carts

At the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, changing exhibitions constantly provide new art to view. Kids can peruse work by their peers at the “Young at Art” show through Aug. 6. Or perhaps they’d like to make their own masterpiece — the museum’s Art Cart program brings creative activities to Dane County parks each summer (check for the schedule). Then stroll down State Street to take your pick of colorful food carts dishing up falafels, empanadas, spring rolls and other treats at Library Mall.

Cafes & More

Olbrich Botanical Gardens + Daisy Café & Cupcakery

Stroll through 16 acres of stunning plants and flowers at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and be sure to visit the Thai Garden and Pavilion. Kids love crossing the big bridge, greeting stone elephants, exploring reflecting pools and the ornate pavilion. Rainy day? Duck into the indoor tropical Bolz Conservatory (and from July 13-Aug. 6, check out the Blooming Butterflies experience). Continue the flower theme at Daisy Café & Cupcakery. Enjoy a yummy breakfast or lunch and — obviously! — a fresh-baked cupcake.

Wisconsin State Capitol + Ancora Café & Bakery

There’s lots to see at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Look way up at the ornate ceiling of the grand rotunda, track down fossils embedded in the building’s marble and granite interior, and take a spin around the sixth-floor observatory deck, with views of lakes Mendota and Monona and downtown Madison. Free tours are also held almost daily. Afterward, trek a block down King Street to Ancora, a cheerful café that’s locally- and woman-owned, where you’ll find elevated breakfast and lunch favorites.

Eugster’s Farm Market + Wildwood Café

Visit Eugster’s Farm Market, a nearly 350-acre farm on the outskirts of Stoughton, for its annual Sunflower Days, held mid-July through early August. Take a wagon ride out to the fields and wander through breathtaking rows of golden flowers. (And say “hello” to goats, sheep, pigs and more before you leave.) Then head to downtown Stoughton, where the charming Wildwood Café awaits with house-made bakery treats and a breakfast menu ranging from avocado toast to honey amaranth waffles to a rainbow bowl.

UW Arboretum + Pizza Brutta

At the UW Arboretum, explore prairies, forests and wetlands along 17-plus miles of trails, or simply wander the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens — and let your kids run down the big hill! The Arb also offers activities for families with kids elementary age and younger; choose among a nature walk on the first Sunday of the month or a nature program on the third Sunday. Follow all that fresh air with a stop at nearby Pizza Brutta, and bring your wood-fired pizzas to the back patio for an alfresco meal.

Geology Museum + Union South

At the Geology Museum at UW-Madison, peep geological and paleontological specimens — including a rock containing zircon crystals that are 4.4 billion years old! Explore on your own or sign up for a tour, but don’t leave without seeing the giant Boaz mastodon. Then cross the street to get to Union South, a university hangout where you can grab pub food at The Sett and a scoop of Babcock Dairy ice cream at the Daily Scoop.

Fireman’s Park + Sugar River Pizza Company

Originally a limestone quarry, Fireman’s Park in Verona is a summer oasis boasting a big, swimmable watering hole with a sandy beach (staffed with lifeguards in the afternoons) and a giant splash pad, plus a playground and large park shelter. Cap your visit with a meal at Sugar River Pizza. Ask for a table out on the patio and dig into flatbreads, calzones and, of course, pizzas while watching the sun set.

Parks & Bites

Governor Nelson State Park + Lone Girl Brewing Company

Take a beautiful hike at Governor Nelson State Park, set on the north shore of Lake Mendota, with eight miles of trails winding through lush grasses and cool forests. Visitors can often spot wildflowers as well as views of the Capitol, or opt for the one-mile Woodland Trail to see a 358-foot panther-shaped Native American effigy mound. Afterward, cool off at the Lone Girl Brewing Company in Waunakee, with hearty burgers and perhaps live music on the rooftop patio.

Marshall Park + Hubbard Avenue Diner

Enjoy a chill beach day at Marshall Park in Middleton. You’ll find a small beach for sandcastle-making and swimming in Lake Mendota, along with docks for fishing and green space for playing. Marshall Boats also offers paddleboat and kayak rentals on-site. Next, go to Hubbard Avenue Diner for the retro vibes and all-day breakfast dishes, stay for the pies — find the day’s selections in the glass case up front.

Donald County Park + Mount Vernon Tap

Find nearly 800 acres of woodlands, prairies, rock outcroppings and cold-water springs at Donald County Park just west of Mount Vernon. Walk along the burbling Deer Creek, or bring your fishing pole to drop a line — the area is known for its trout. Bluebirds love it here too, thanks to nesting boxes placed throughout the park. Just minutes away, the Mount Vernon Tap is a cozy, wood-paneled tavern with thick-crust pizzas, burgers, wings and more to refuel you.

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