Summer Fun in Madison: Your weekend in the 608

By Bill Malcolm*

Madison, Wisconsin is a great city to visit but in the summer it cannot be beat. Situated on an isthmus between 2 lakes, there is so much to do: bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, and more. I grew up there and am a frequent visitor and have watched it grow into a medium sized city from just a college town (home to the University of Wisconsin).

Getting there

I took Delta through Minneapolis (MSP). Delta now offers free internet to SkyMiles members on most flights. However, don't buy anything at MSP as they tack on an annoying 4.5% "hospitality fee" (a junk fee, a rip off charge). On the way home, I changed planes in Detroit, a much better choice with no surprise fees. Try the salmon at the Zingerman's (Ann Arbor's premiere deli) at the airport. Once in Madison, you can walk everywhere or take Madison Metro (or rent a B Cycle shared electric bike). If you stay on the Square, you do not need a car.

Where to stay

I stayed at the Concourse Hotel downtown just off the Capitol Square at 5 West Dayton. The remodeled room was nice (and quiet) and overlooked the beautiful Capitol. It is walkable to all the attractions (both lakes), has a free airport shuttle, and more. Michealangelo's Coffee is around the corner as is the State Street (pedestrian friendly) mall. They offer a free shuttle to the airport. The Starbucks is in the lobby. The restaurant features a great salad bar for lunch.

I also spent one night at the new SpringHill Suites in midtown at Hilldale (mall). It is near the Whole Foods, Target, Metcalf Market, and some great shops and restaurants, it is also very walkable. The Bartaco is the hipster hangout with a novel take on Mexican food. The Metcalf's (gourmet supermarket) nearby had a food bar which also features Asian dishes to go as well as salads. The new Whole Foods is another to go food choice. Since I travel alone, I skip the wait (and cost) at restaurants whenever I can.

Avoid the Fluno Center Hotel which now tacks on a new $35 maintenance fee. I also like the Hampton inn and Doubletree (both downtown) as well as the Best Western West Town on the west side. The Fairfield Inn in Middleton I also nice. The Edgewater Hotel on Lake Mendota has magnificent views and a lakeside bar.

What to do

The Mad City Ski Team has a free water ski shows Sundays at 6 p.m. at Law Park along Lake Monona. The Pyramid of water skiers was amazing.

Head out to Picnic Point along the Lake Shore trail west of the UW Madison campus which makes for a great bike ride. You can rent a Trek electric bike to ride along Lake Mendota and then drop it at Picnic Point for the hike out to the point.

Watch the sunset (and have a brat and beer) at the UW Memorial Union Terrace. Many nights feature music. They have a Babcock Hall ice cream stand in the lobby where you can enjoy the treat made right on campus. Other fast casual options include salad and pizza. Don't miss the German Beer Hall as well. After all that food, jump in the lake for a swim at the UW Memorial Union Swim Pier. It is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and is free.

Swim at BB Clarke Beach on Lake Monona.

Enjoy music and dancing Thursdays and Fridays on the roof of the Monona Terrace Convention Center, the Frank Lloyd Wright building overlooking Lake Monona.

Take in the Farmers Market Saturday mornings on the Square. Have some Spreckels cheesy bread or cheese curds. I got some local berries.

Pick up some cheese to take home or enjoy a cheese sandwich at Fromagination (gourmet cheese store) on the Square. Have an orphan piece of cheese for $2 or $3. Try the 5 year old aged cheddar.

Canoe or kayak on Lake Wingra or Brittingham Bay on Lake Monona. Schedule your boat and see special events at

Enjoy the fabulous (and free) Olbrich Gardens along Lake Monona. I rode a B Cycle along the lake to the gardens. Don't miss the Thai Pavilion.

Where to eat

Coopers Tavern is right on the Square. You can sit outside and enjoy the locally sourced dishes. The view of the Square is nice. Try the tomato soup and salad.

Cosetta's at 222 West Washington features sandwiches, salads, and soups (all homemade). They are only open for lunch. Try the sausage tomato soup or the roast beef salad. Their home made breads are to die for.

Colectivo Coffee on the Square (25. S. Pickney) is incredibly good as is Barriques (127 W. Washington) for coffee drinks.

The Capitol Centre Market (111 North Broom) has a hot food bar as well as salads to go.

The Fresh Madison Market at 703 University has a hot food bar as well as a salad bar. Great for a quick meal.

Enjoy the Old Fashioned Restaurant, a Wisconsin original (and have one-Wisconsin Old Fashioneds are made with brandy). You will find them on the Square.

Have a brat (a pork sausage, pronounced braht) on the UW Memorial Union Terrace. Grilled outside. Goes well with a beer. Or a pitcher of beer. Grilled outside. Sit outside on the Terrace. Watch the sailboats or the sunset.


Enjoy Woofs on King Street right off the square. It's a levi leather bar. The Sunday beer bust is fun. They have a weekend party on the street each August which is not to be missed which also features a cruise on Lake Monona during the day. This year the fun day will be August 19.

The nearby Shamrock is another fun spot. It's your neighborhood Cheers type bar right on the square. They also serve beer.

If you have a car, you will find Club V on the Beltline which features drag shows and more.

For more information

OurLives is the bi-monthly LGBTQ Magazine based in Madison.

Isthmus Magazine, published monthly, is the alternative publication with lots of current events.

Madison Magazine also has a lot of ideas of what to visit and where to eat.

Visit the Destination Madison website for other travel tips.

You cannot beat Madison in the summer although it is great any time of year. Between the lake activities, biking, or enjoying nature, it is a great.

*Bill Malcolm's syndicated LGBTQ+ oriented travel column appears in publications (and on line) throughout North America and on the travel blog site. He focuses on going local and value as well as walking, biking, and transit. He thanks Destination Madison for their travel tips and one month free B Cycle pass. Otherwise, he received no compensation for his Madison column of any kind.

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