I’m so excited to be part of the big Summer Staycation posting today that bloggers all over the blogosphere are taking part in hosted by The Happy Housewife and Springs Bargains! The idea behind this is that with rising gas prices, as well as so many other things that we budget for (like food) going up, more and more families may need to have a Staycation this year instead of a Vacation.
What is a Staycation?
It’s when you stay in your own town (or perhaps go somewhere close) to have your family vacation, instead of traveling far away. It would be very possible to do this and still spend lots of money, of course. But, the goal of the bloggers writing is to share some free and inexpensive things to do in whatever area they are writing about.
I was asked to write about Madison, Wisconsin for my Staycation post. This gorgeous Midwestern city is one that my family is able to go to several times each year, and we have a good time every time we go. (Of course, our visits also often involve hanging out with family, which makes it even better.)
For this piece, I’m going to focus on ten fun, family-friendly summer activities that abound in Madison:
1. The Henry Vilas Zoo – This might well top most people’s lists of something free or inexpensive to do while in Madison. The Henry Vilas Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and was started with a generous gift of money and land from the Vilas family (it is named after their son, Henry, who died at an early age of complications from diabetes). One of their requirements is that it must always remain free of admission. And, so the zoo still has free admission and parking. (There is a carousel and a train, each of which can be ridden for a token which costs $1.00.)
The Henry Vilas Zoo covers an area of 30 acres and is home to all of the kinds of animals you might normally find at a larger zoo (and some you might not, like a red panda and a badger). The zoo is open from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm daily.
2. Dane County Farmers’ Market – In the beautiful setting of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building (in an area known as The Square), you will find the Dane County Farmers’ Market each Saturday from 8:30 am – 2:00 pm throughout the summer. (This is actually year round, though it is held at an indoor location during winter months.) This farmers’ market is the largest producer only farmers’ market in the nation. This means that you will find items like: vegetables, fruits, organic produce, meats and cheeses, baked goods, specialty goods (like honey, preserves, maple syrup, etc.), and flowers. (Across the street, not officially part of the farmers’ market, you can find single serving foods and crafts.)
Note: If you are driving to the area, you will likely have to pay for parking. The maximum price for this is typically $3.
3. A Day at the Beach – If you are not from the Madison area, you may think, “Wisconsin just doesn’t scream beaches to me as an option.” However, let me assure you that Wisconsin gets plenty hot in the summer time. (It does not snow year round, as one of my dear sisters convinced someone in high school, when we moved away from Madison, when they noted what a pale complexion she has.)
Indeed, Madison is surrounded by two large lakes. The Madison Parks department has 13 beaches, of which 10 have life guard services during the summer months. Sand castles, swimming, and a picnic lunch, anyone?
4. Ella’s Deli – This kitschy, sensory overload deli is a fun stop for an ice cream and maybe even a carousel ride. The ice cream, I will warn you, is a little on the pricey side. They make their chocolate and vanilla in-house, while all other flavors are from The Chocolate Shoppe, which is local to Madison as well. (The Chocolate Shoppe makes some of our favorite ice creams!) I would skip out on actually getting a meal, as it is very expensive for what you get, and I’ve never been crazy about anything I ate there. But, it is definitely worth popping in and taking in all of the decorations in this kid paradise.
5. Tour the Wisconsin State Capitol Building – An excellent lesson in history, government, and architecture, you can schedule a tour to visit the Capitol Building in Madison. Reservations can be made for a tour, but if there are less than 10 people in the group, then reservations aren’t required.
6. Governor Nelson State Park – Located on the north shore of Lake Mendota, “Governor Nelson is a 422-acre day use park. It has a 500-foot sand beach, bathhouses with solar-heated showers, a four-stall boat launch, a fish cleaning facility, picnic areas, barrier free playground equipment, prairie restorations, 8.4 miles of hiking/cross country ski trails, and a scenic overlook of Lake Mendota.” (source: Governor Nelson State Park website) This would make an excellent full day outing, with picnic areas and grilling areas available.
7. Dream Park – Clued into this attraction by my friend Becca, there is a park like this in both Monona and Sun Prairie (both close suburbs of Madison). Monona Parks website tells about Monona Youth Dream Park, “The central area of the Dream Park resembles a large castle with turrets, walls and bridges, a painted moat at the entrance and a dragon sculpture rising from it. A wizard statue welcomes you into this magical land.” This park, or the similar one in Sun Prairie, would make a wonderful destination for a day at the park with a picnic lunch!
8. Madison Children’s Museum – Although not free, at only $6.95 for children and adults (under one year old is free), this is very reasonable for a museum entrance. (There is also a charge for parking, with 0 – 3 hours costing $4.00. Also, please note that in some instances, there is a $1 admission fee.) The Madison Children’s Museum is a hands-on museum that is geared for birth to 12 years old, though they say that is can be fun for everyone in the family. To help cut down costs on this trip, you are allowed to bring in a packed lunch, rather than buying through their food service provider. The museum is open 9:30 am – 5:00 pm each day, with extended hours on Thursdays until 8 pm. (The first Thursday of the month is Twilight Thursday and admission is free after 5 pm.)
9. Mackenzie Center – Located in Poynette, which is 25 miles north of Madison, Mackenzie Center is a 250 acre nature center which offers numerous learning opportunities. Mackenzie Center “has a variety of habitat types including prairie and forest land that is a wonderful place for; hands-on outdoor experiences, family outings and picnics. The center has many features including a live wildlife exhibit, self guided nature trails, museums, fire tower, large picnic area, lodge and dormitories and so much more!” (source: Mackenzie Center website)
Poynette is also a quaint place to visit, boasting a few gas stations, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, Willy’s Weenie Wagon, and my Grandparents’ house, amongst other things.
10. I’m going to use number ten to link you up to ten more things to explore on your own online that are free or inexpensive in the Madison area: Art Fair on the Square (this year its July 9 – 10), Wisconsin State Historical Society Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Geology Museum, Wisconsin Veterans Museum, and browsing (and shopping) on State Street (my favorite of this is Maxwell Street Days, which is actually on State Street annually in July).
I have to give one last shout out that is not free or inexpensive. Just in case you are traveling to Madison or you live in the area and just want a family-friendly night away, my family loved our stay at the Comfort Suites in DeForest (another suburb of Madison). With a friendly staff, nice rooms, and a wonderful pool area, we just loved it. The pools are all saltwater, and include a very shallow kids area with fountains (which were a hoot), a regular pool with basketball hoops, and a large hot tub. Loved it!
Thanks so much for joining me on my overview of a Staycation (or an actual vacation, if you’re not in the area but want to visit) in Madison, Wisconsin! Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a list of links to all of the participating blogs, featuring sites in almost state.