Madison Things to Do

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Best Rated Things to Do in Madison

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    Best place to hang out and kill an afternoon

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Jun 24, 2006

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    .........studyin'
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    Memorial Union (campus student union, but open to everyone)

    Best place to be on a sunny, warm day in Madison. Situated right on Lake Mendota, with a huge terrace to have a soda, beer, lunch or dinner, ice cream, read, see a band, watch the sailboats cruise by or people watch.

    Free movies on wed(?), lectures, travel center, music, ice cream made on campus, etc...

    Two cafeterias and Babcock ice cream right here to get food and go out on the terrace on the lake to eat. It's right next to the Red Gym, a huge old gym that looks like a castle sort of which is used for offices now. There's a little art gallery on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the Memorial Union that's pretty cool too. The Lakeshore path starts at the Union next to the lake, and goes along the lake for about 4 miles out to Picnic Point. Very walkable or bring/rent a bike and go out there. Real nice out there.

    Friday afternoon, friday evening & saturday evenings there's music. In the summer it's on the terrace, in the winter inside. Free. In the summer this is great. I've seen the Indigo Girls here among others.

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    Thai Pavilion

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Aug 6, 2007

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    The pavilion from afar
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    The people of Thailand gave the U of Wisconsin a gift of a Thai Pavilion, the only one now in the US. It's mainly a little pavilion in a natural setting, in a Thai tropical gaden, with water gardens. Very peaceful.

    The cool thing about the struture is it has no nails. It's built so it just fits together naturally. It's been stadning for years.

    You get to it by going thru a tropical garden made to resemble something in Thailand.

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    Frank Lloyd Wrights designed Convention Center

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Nov 14, 2006

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    From the east on a cold February day.
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    Monona Terrace Convention Center
    New convention center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Nice location, futuristic looking or something like that. Lots of photos inside too of Wright and his buildings, homes, etc. Some think the orange carpet is a bit ugly though, but he wanted that orange color....Bike path around Lake Monona (13 mile trip) goes right outside.

    On top of the center is a real nice, huge terrace area for relaxing, free group tai chi in the summer, great place for a quiet lunch, great view of the lake, free concerts on fridays after work, and a plaque memorializing Otis Redding (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay), see other tip about it.

    Michael Feldman's "Whad'ya Know" on National Public Radio is taped here almost every saturday--tix are $8, show up at 9am on saturday for the 10am show, or get them in advance. http://www.notmuch.com/

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    Farmers market

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Aug 6, 2007

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    Sunflowers.........
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    We've got one of the biggest markets in the country, meets saturday from late April until first weekend in Nov. Have everything from apples to pumpkins to flowers and of course cheese.

    Takes place around the Capitol. Smaller one on wednesdays on Martin Luther King Blvd, and smaller ones yet at various locations around town. Prices are ok, about the same or higher than other spots but most of it is fresher and locally produced.

    I suggest getting there before 8am or after noon, really crowded otherwise, and it takes forever to get around it. If you get there betwen 8 & noon, don't be in a hurry, otherwise you'll be frustrated.

    In addition to the market, it's spreading down State St with vendors selling jewelry, art, coffee carts galore, and other things.

    On the other hand it's so sad markets like this are few and far between. I've been to so many in Paris, Montreal, and all over Europe. I wish we could have more like this, it would be so much healthier, even if 98% of the city does drive a car to it, unilke the rest of the world (and this one wouldn't be so dman crowded! :) )

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    Otis Redding Memorial

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Dec 4, 2007

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    east side of the terrace, looking out over lake
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    There is a small memorial to Otis Redding on the terrace on top of the Overture Center 2 blocks south of the State Capitol. It's on the far east side of the terrace, the wide open garden spot on top of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Convention Center.

    Otis Redding was scheduled to play in a little bar in madison on the evening of Dec 10, 1967. (Scheduled to open for him was a new group made up of near-area residents, The Grim Reapers, later renamed to Cheap Trick).

    His small plane carrying him, and a few members of the Bar-Kays backing him up crashed into the freezing cold water of Lake Monona, the lake that makes the south end of the isthmus Madison lies on. It went under and didn't surface. There was 1 survivor, trumpet player Ray McCauley.

    3 days prior his only #1 single, "(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay" was recorded.

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    Tour the State Capitol

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated May 27, 2006

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    Looking up at the ceiling
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    State Capitol tours.

    M-F 9am, 10, 11, 1pm, 2pm. Free, meet at the desk.

    Gorgeous outside and even moreso inside. Go in, wander around, don't worry if you get lost--I still do.

    You can also go up to the top of the Capitol, and outside. You can walk around the top and view the city--no charge. There's a little 'museum' of old photos, designs of the capitol, and how it was made, a history of Madison right below where you ascend to the top of the building and go to the belvedere.

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    Halloween Party

    by Tom_In_Madison Written Dec 26, 2005

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    For better or worse, Madison has the largest attended halloween party in the Midwest. It's great fun until about 11pm. For the last 3 years we've had what might be called riots at 'closing time'. If you go, leave before the pepper spray comes out. If you want to riot, please don't come--Stay away.

    So about 100,000 people throughout the night pack the main steet, State St, on the saturday before Halloween. Most of them come in costume, and there's some very elaborate costumes. No alcohol is allowed, but there are many bars on State St. Fines are heavy if you byob. It really is great fun to see all the people, most of them sober, and all the wild costumes.

    At about 11 pm for the last 3 years things change. A different element come out. People, mostly students, from all over the country come to this, and some come to make trouble. They aren't costumed (first tip-off), and are usually a bit drunk (2nd tipoff). Bonfires pop up. When it becomes too crowded, when they don't listen to the police, when they don't disperse the police will shut it down. If you don't leave, you will be pepper-sprayed, guaranteed. It stings real bad. If you don't leave, you will be arrested, so just don't be there then.

    But otherwise, this really is great fun. Book your hotel early. Some of the costumes are x-rated.

    Things are always changing in regard to this unsanctioned event. They really are trying to stop this, and I really hope they do. The police costs alone top a half million dollars. Who knows what will happen next year.

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    Botanical Gardens

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated May 27, 2006

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    From the outside, greenhouse on the left.
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    Olbrich Gardens on the east side is nice if you like flowers, plants, etc. Not a whole lot of flowers, but there are some. Lots of plants though. Doesn't compare with the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee, but it's ok. Free in the outside garden part. Inside is a greenhouse, and they charge about $2-$3.

    There's a Thai House next door given to us by the country of Thailand....It's real nice, bright colors and put together without the use of nails, just interlocking pieces. Pretty cool.

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    • Eco-Tourism

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    Music in a nice setting.

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Aug 6, 2007

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    blankets holding a spot

    Concerts on the Square

    6 times on wed evenings in Mid June to early Aug. Madison Symphony Orchestra or a portion thereof does free concerts on the Capitol lawn. People put blankets out, bring (or buy there) picnic lunches, drink wine and listen to, or at least pretend to listen to the music. They all seem to enjoy it.

    I'd suggest getting there by 4, putting down a blanket. You can still hear it if you get there later, but it's nicer to see the musicians too.

    Rules: Don't dump alcohol on the lawn. Don't put your blanket out before 3pm-though some people start puytting them out by 1pm

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    The country's best artists gather on the Square

    by Tom_In_Madison Written Nov 20, 2005

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    rows of booths
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    Art fair on the Square

    the 2nd weekend in July.

    Around the Capitol (do you sense a pattern here?? ;) ) are about 200 little stalls with artists from all over the country. Bands at the 4 corners, plenty of fried cheese curds, brats and beer and more 'upscale' cusine. Supposedly over 180,000 people attend this.

    If that's not enough art, just one block over is the Art Fair OFF the Square. Another 150 or so artists from Wisconsin selling their stuff in little stalls. Cusine is pretty much the same.

    I'd suggest getting there after 3pm saturday, or after 2pm sunday. Less crowded.

    mmm.....fried cheese curds. Yep, it might be Madison, but it's still Wisconsin--sort of.

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    Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated May 27, 2006

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    from outside
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    Located on one end of the new Overture Center on State St.

    Contains a lecture hall, rooftop sculpture garde, galleries, and a restaurant on the top floor with a great view of the street. Glass on one end, with glass stairs leading up to all the floors. Kinda cool, kinda nerve-wracking if heights do you in like they do for me.

    There is a gift shop on the far end, and it's done beautifully. Hats off to whoever designed it and got it done inside, they did a great job!

    It's free, except for special events.

    You'll spend 1-2 hours here

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    • Museum Visits

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    Capital Square Saturday Market

    by yooperprof Written Feb 6, 2004

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    Bring an Appetite

    Everyone comes to Capital Square on Saturday - it's Market Day, and this is one of the outstanding markets in the Midwest. Many organic and natural food producers cater to a knowledgeable and sophicated consumerate. You'll find everything here from fresh honey to Amish Breads and Jellies to Wisconsin Cheeses (of course) and wines from local producers.

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    Overture Center....New Performing Art Center

    by Tom_In_Madison Written Nov 19, 2005

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    Overture Center for performing arts built on 200 block of State St. Architect Cesar Pelli designed it, after the city got a $200 million donation--and in true Madison fashion they spent every dime of it, and now they need more.

    Walk thru it, though it's better to see something there, but it's pretty glitzy. Looks great at night when something is going on. At least go in and use the bathrooms.

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    University of Wisconsin - tours, classes, etc..

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated Jan 14, 2006

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    Red Gym, info center.

    UW-Madison Campus Assistance and Visitor Center
    located in "the Red Gym" , you can orient yourself with a free campus tour (3 p.m. weekdays, noon weekends) and get a list of free campus events. Located right next to Memorial union on Langdon St.

    The University of Wisconsin's main campus stretches over 930 acres next to Lake Mendota. The nicest spot on campus is probably behind the Memorial Union, where visitors plop down on an extensive outdoor pavilion to enjoy a fine view of the lake and sometimes free music. When colder months come, the action turns to the Rathskellar, a German-style cafeteria/alehouse inside the Union that also hosts free concerts and events (look for posters titled "Today in the Union" or ask at the Red Gym).

    Among other campus-affiliated spots free and open to the public are the Clazen Museum of Art (800 University Ave., (608) 263-2246) and its 15,500 exhibits (from 2300 B.C. to modern times, including an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe); the Geology Museum (1215 W. Dayton St., (608)262-2399), where you can eye the skeleton of a 33-foot-long duck-billed dinosaur; and the Arboretum (1207 Seminole Hwy., (608)263-7888), a 1,240-acre preserve that's heaven for hiking and cross-country skiing and free guided walks.

    You can even sit in on classes, even in summer. Have in mind what kind of class you'd like to attend, and someone at the Red Gym will find a match. In bigger classes (which tend to be straightforward lectures like Biology 101), no one blinks when a stranger shows up. For small seminars (the more disciplined stuff, usually), it's a good idea to get an OK ahead of time. If you have something specific in mind, don't barge into a classroom unannounced, but ask the Visitor Center to contact the department that interests you.

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    Worlds Largest Brat Fest

    by Tom_In_Madison Updated May 28, 2006

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    mmm...brats
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    Brat, rhymes with 'hot', not 'hat'.

    Free to get in. Brats are $1. 16 oz bottles of pepsi are $1.
    Memorial day weekend for 4 days there is a huge Brat fest on the Alliance Center fields. Brat = bratwurst. They have demos, lots of entertainment, a huge and I mean huge grill cooks the brats. I think they sell something like 200,000 over the weekend. That's 18 miles of sausage if stacked end-to-end. Boca brats are also available for the vegetarians. Hot dogs for kids. This is a fundraiser for a whole bunch of non-profit agencies. You might want to go for a meal and spend a half day here, or a couple hours.

    They used to have it on Labor day too, and might resurrect it. I'm not sure at this time. Oddly enough the Madison marathon ends right near here too, so if you get done with the marathon that saturday and need a bite, just slide over for a brat or four.

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