Madison Wisconsin is a lovely place for a spring or summer getaway but don’t forget just how charming this city can be in the cooler, even frigidly cold, months of the year. Here is a list of the top or first 10 things that the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn recommend to their visiting guests.
1. The Dane County Farmers Market The largest producer-only farmers market in the nation is a year-round affair. In mid-November the market moves indoors to the Monona Terrace Convention Center and then after Christmas you can visit the market at the Mifflin Street Senior Center. You will be amazed at the bounty of the market while the gardens sleep. The markets just before Christmas are a wonderful source of supplies for decorating, gift-giving and holiday feasts.
2. Madison’s Restaurant Scene Creative chefs, farm-fresh ingredients, and the quirky spirit of Madison combine to present a dazzling variety and abundance of really fine eateries. Visit one of the tiny ethnic cafes on State Street or one of the big boys with stars after their name and you will be very well fed. This is why we always ask guests what they want to eat before we start recommending restaurants. Guests could starve to death before we get to the end of the list of Madison’s great places to eat. A favorite dining scene for us is a window seat at a restaurant on the capitol square on a snowy evening. It’s pure magic.
3. University of Wisconsin Campus UW keeps things lively in the winter seasons with their sports and cultural offerings. Take in a basketball or hockey game, men’s and women’s for both. The Hall of Fame in the Kohl’s center is worth a visit even if the team is on the road. Recitals, concerts, and theater really get going in the winter months and Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum is a seasonal delight. Stroll through the galleries while listening to the live music performed in the atrium. That famous ice-cream is available all year round at Babcock Hall or the Memorial Union.
4. State Street Madison’s well-known pedestrian mall that connects the capitol square with the UW campus is always a lively place to enjoy a cup of coffee, ethnic dining, or browsing the bookstores, boutiques and galleries. During the holiday season it twinkles with thousands of white lights. State Street Posters is one of our favorites and is the source of much of the art work in the Madison Lakes room at the Inn.
5. University of Wisconsin Arboretum 1,200 acres of nature right in the center of the city provide residents and guests with ample space to walk off some of that fine dining. The prairie and woodland areas and Lake Wingra attract abundant wildlife. Occasional night-walks conducted by the naturalists on staff introduce participants to the wonders of nature that we seldom experience during our daylight encounters with the world. Can you identify an owl by its hoot?
6. Madison’s City and County Parks Golf, picnics, and tennis give way to sledding, skating and skiing in the coldest months. Most parks remain open in the winter and are a great spot for walking and admiring the city without the crowds of summer. The lakeside parks are occasionally decorated with nature-made ice sculptures and the ice-fishing huts on the lakes themselves are, at the very least, a photo-op that proves how crazy those folks in Madison really can be.
7. The Lakes There are 5 of them here. Two of the largest are right in the center of the city and we managed to just squeeze the downtown area between them and then spread the rest of the city around the perimeter of them. What is more relaxing than watching the sunset across the water? Hearty fishermen bobbing about in their boats under the sometimes stormy fall skies amaze us. Ice boats flying across the frozen lakes are awesome. Locals judge the ‘coldness’ of the day by the width of the open water under the Yahara River bridge on the Beltline Highway. The waterfowl there are beautiful.
8. A Wright Place Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his youth in Madison and designed a Convention Center that was the inspiration for the one that the city actually constructed years after his death. Wright also designed the Unitarian Society Meeting House, which is open for tours, and several area homes. A concert at the Unitarian Society Meeting House is a treat for the senses.
9. Wisconsin State Capitol It’s simply a must see. The architecture, the art, the history, or even the grandeur would be reason enough to go. Tours are free and leave on the hour from the visitor info desk in the rotunda. The tour guides have the keys to take you into the Supreme Court, The Legislative Chambers, and the Governor’s Conference Room but most importantly, they know all those fun little stories that bring the building to life. Before the holidays local choral groups perform around the holiday tree in the rotunda. The tree is lovely as it rises up three or more stories high and the acoustics of the performing musicians will give you goose bumps.
10. Madison Civic Center This is the Cesar Pelli designed home of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Center for the Performing Arts. It seems like there is always something going on. The museum has rotating and visiting nationally acclaimed exhibits (and a very nice gift shop). The Overture Center hosts everything from Broadway Shows, The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and opera to brown bag lunch performances.