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Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Madtown with Love

A day trip to Madison (as the weather warms up)

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Milwaukee, I will always crush on you. However, I do have a second love. (Gasp!)

Oh, m’dear Madison! You are gorgeous and forward thinking and although I’ve already established some of my favorite haunts, I’m discovering new hidden gems constantly. So MKE, I invite you to spend a day with us; trade in your Harley for a bike with pedals and wander with us a bit.

Now I know you already know about the amazing Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square. You also already know to meander off on State Street to poke around all of the cute little shops. But did you know that Madison is one of the most bike friendly cities in the nation with bicycle rental stations throughout the Downtown area? Hop on and let’s do this. (Warning: This is going to be one of the most inexpensive, yet incredibly activity-laden days of your life.)

If being outdoors is your thing, you can’t beat a summer’s day in Madtown. Trade in that Great Lake of yours for a day near one of our smaller ones. Grab a beer or an ice cream cone on the Memorial Union Terrace and catch some live music while watching the sailboats glide over Lake Mendota. Or rent a paddleboat on Lake Wingra. Or head over to the Monona Terrace overlooking Lake Monona and dance your booty off at one of the Dane Dances parties. (Recap: lakes = fun stuff. And often involve ice cream.)

Kids in tow? Check out the free (!) Henry Vilas Zoo with its new Animal Health Center. You may have snagged some Babcock ice cream at the Union Terrace but how about checking out the whole process with a tour at the University of Wisconsin Babcock Hall Dairy Store? After that, explore the somewhat-hidden UW greenhouse just up the street. Of course, the D.C. Smith Greenhouse is not so quiet when its titan arum plant (also known as the “corpse flower” due to the foul odor it emits when in bloom) opens and hundreds of people descend to view (and smell) it. Yikes.

Still on that bike? Feeling brave? Head to Quarry Park just west of the university for some serious mountain biking. (If you don’t believe me, see youtube “quarry park roller coaster”). If you are seeking serenity more than possible injury, explore the much-loved Picnic Point for gorgeous Lake Mendota views.

There’s a darn good chance that no matter when you visit, you will have the fortune of stumbling across outdoor music. Aside from the well-known Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square, you can check out great bands at any of the many music series and festivals like Jazz at Five, Live on King Street and the Orton Park Festival (where you can also witness the grace of the aerial dance troupe, Cycropia as they perform from the park’s massive oak tree. Seriously!) If you are interested in driving to Spring Green to hear emerging musicians, you can catch one of the super fun Shitty Barn Sessions. (Don’t even get me started on the cool stuff just outside of Madison; that’s Part II, folks.)

And let’s get down to the real business of food and boozing. You can find a plethora of nationally acclaimed restaurants around this town like the lovely Sardine or the tiny, hip Forequarter. Or go old-school supper club at the Tornado Steak House. Afterwards, head downstairs for cocktails in the frozen-in-time Corral Room. Of course, several places around town do an amazing fish fry but the Avenue Bar and Quivey’s Grove are classics. Hit breakfast at the itty-bitty Sophia’s, open only on weekend mornings. Or trek to Middleton for one of Annemarie Maitri’s delectable treats (many of which are gluten free and vegan!) at Bloom Bake Shop.

MKE, we’re not tying to steal any of your thunder but you may want to visit some of our breweries, from the brand-spanking-new Next Door Brewing Company to the expanded Ale Asylum. Or hang out in the huge beer garden at Capital Brewery. Or take in a spattering of several breweries via a Hop Head Beer bus tour. If spirits are more your thing, head to the Old Sugar Distillery for their house-made honey liqueur.

Get here and the weather is rather unpleasant? Never fear! Visit the Chazen Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum (check out the Adult Swim nights when adults get the museum to themselves for a night of play!), tour the Capitol or explore the new, sexy Central Library. If you’re lucky, you may even arrive during a creative arts session of the library’s Bubbler series.

So come visit. Enjoy wandering around the square, our lakes, our paths, our yummy restaurants. And psst, I promise I won’t tell anyone if you decide you’ve fallen in love, too.