A drive to Madison is an easy day trip for families, and this capital city has lots to offer. Here are 10 top attractions in Madison to check out:
1. Henry Vilas Zoo
702 S. Randall Ave., Madison
(608) 266-4732, vilaszoo.org
Did you know that admission to this zoo is free? Yep, and there's no charge for parking either! Donations, of course, are appreciated, as this zoo relies on the community to operate. Be sure the ride the Conservation Carousel and the Zoo Train. Each are $2 per ride. If you don't take a picnic lunch, eat at The Glacier Grille, which looks out onto the polar bear exhibit.
2. Madison Children's Museum
100 N. Hamilton St., Madison
(608) 256-6445, madisonchildrensmuseum.org
The outdoor green space and rooftop chickens are worth the stop, as well as the Possible-opolis and Wildernest exhibits. Open daily from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., admission is $7.95/person and is free for children age 1 and younger. If you are a member of the Betty Brinn Children's Museum in Milwaukee, you receive 50 percent off admission. Also, visitors can enjoy free admission on the first Wednesday of each month from 5-8 p.m.
3. Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor
2902 E. Washington Ave., Madison
(608) 241-5291, ellasdeli.com
Go for the food. Stay for the carousel. This award-winning Kosher-style deli has amazing food. The top-notch kids' menu, includes 10 substitutes to choose from instead of fries. And they serve up a "baby plate" of munchies, such as yogurt, crackers and peas, for the littlest eaters. Don't forget dessert! Try the Big Red or Blue Ice - both slushy, icy drinks perfect for a hot day - go for a sundae or shake. You can't go wrong. After you eat, take a ride on the 1927 carousel.
4. Crawdaddy Cove Water Park
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Madison West
1109 Fourier Dr., Madison
(608) 826-0500, ihg.com
This Louisiana Bayou-themed water park is perfect for smaller children. It's located inside the Holiday Inn West, but they sell day passes Sunday through Thursday for $15/person or free for children 2 and younger. Call for availability. If you want to stay at the hotel, ask for the Kids Rule Package, which includes pizza, soda, accommodations for one night for up to 4 people and access to the water park. Also, Benvenuto's Italian Grill is located adjacent to the hotel, and kids eat free there if you stay at the hotel.
5. Madison Mallards
2920 N. Sherman Ave., Madison
(608) 246-4277, northwoodsleague.com/madison-mallards
Part of the Northwoods League, the Madison Mallards games are a favorite of Madison residents. The first game of 2017 is scheduled for May 30. The club's field, "Duck Pond," includes a playground, bounce house, weinermobile slide and sandbox.
6. L.R. Ingersoll Museum
1150 University Ave., Madison
(608) 262-3898, physics.wisc.edu/ingersollmuseum
This free public museum offers hands-on experiences of physical concepts from mechanics to modern physics through interactive exhibits. It's recommended for ages 5+, but all ages are welcome. The museum is open from 8 a.m--4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
7. Aldo Leopold Nature Center
330 Femrite Dr., Monona
With hiking trails outside and interactive children's exhibits inside, this nature center helps children understand more about wetlands, woodlands and prairies . The Climate Science Education Center also features various family-friendly programs. Admission to the exhibit areas is $4/adults and $3 for children.
8. Dane County Farmers Market
2 E. Main St., Madison
(608) 455-1999, dcfm.org
A Madison tradition, this market, which opens for the season on April 15, is a treat for the senses with about 160 vendors each Saturday, offering vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, flowers and more from 6:15 a.m.-1:45 p.m. It's also open on Wednesdays, starting April 19, at the 200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. from 8:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
9. Olbrich Botanical Gardens
3330 Atwood Ave., Madison
(608) 246-4500, olbrich.org
Explore 16 acres of gardens for free! Conservatory admission is only $2 but also free from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday. Plus, the gardens are located near Lake Monona.
10. Tenney Park
1414 E. Johnson St., Madison
Madison has several parks, but this gem is particularly picturesque and offers a chance to watch boats transferring lakes in the locks. It has a great beach for swimming and a decent playground area.