Madison is a lot of things: hipster town, college town and Wisconsin's capital city. It also happens to be a great place to take the kids. Here are some of the best spots for families:
This lake is in a residential area in the center of the town, and it's peaceful and scenic.
For $10, we got two fishing poles for an hour, a plastic tub of live night crawlers and a quick how-to fishing lesson. We sat on the pier with our poles dangling in the calm lake, staring at the passing sailboats and kayakers, trees and birds. It was our first fishing trip, and to be honest, my kids got bored quickly. It was late in the day and the only thing we caught was seaweed. I squealed in horror every time I had to bait a hook. But overall, I loved this outing.
My 6-year-old wasn't a strong enough swimmer to try the stand-up paddleboarding, but it's definitely on my to-do list for next time. Kayaks, canoes, sailboats and paddle boat rentals also are available at very reasonable prices.
There's an 11-page dessert menu. Need I say more?
I still dream about the turtle sundae I had there. It was served on top of a piece of warm pound cake and it's the kind of dessert you can only justify ordering when you're on vacation.
While the food is good, Ella's main draw is its wacky décor. It's sort of like a moving carnival inside a Jewish deli -- everything inside the restaurant is colorful and moves. Most tables have some sort of built-in game on the tabletop. One had magnetic pens so you could pick up items under the table glass. Ours had a light-up "moving" aquarium that we activated by pushing buttons.
As we ate, a clown swung over our heads, a papier-mâché Superman floated past and a replica of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band hovered behind my shoulder.
Things move outside, too. That's where you'll find the second best thing about Ella's, the old-fashioned carousel. Rides are $1 per person.
The big draw here is the water balloon slingshots. There are two shelters with half-walls on opposite ends. It was the kids against me, slinging water balloons at each other, sometimes hitting and sometimes missing. But when I hit the target on their roof, KA-POW! They got doused with a "depth charge" of water. Super fun on a hot summer day.
The place is known for its massive, colorful outdoor mini-golf and driving ranges, but I recommend the indoor mini-golf course, which features a different Madison site on each hole. There are also batting cages for kids ages 8 and up.
Biking around town.
Madison might be the most bike-friendly city I've ever seen. There are lanes on the streets and bike racks everywhere. If your family likes to pedal, you can bike your way around the downtown area, the University of Wisconsin campus or some of the bike paths around the lakes.
My kids aren't big farmers market lovers unless there's a freshly made cookie in it for them. But on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the fall, a large, pleasant farmers market is set up next to the capitol building on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
The kids got their melt-all-over-their-hands chocolate chip cookie (it was 90 degrees outside) and I /bought some freshly made garlic-and-dill cheese curds.
Parking near this on-campus ice cream and cheese shop is impossible, but there are three good reasons to visit:
1) It's a nice stop while walking around the University of Wisconsin campus.
2) You can walk upstairs and look down through the glass window at the ice cream-, milk- and cheese-making operations. There is no explanation of what they're doing, but there are big machines and people walking around in lab coats. Dairy production is science these days.
3) The ice cream is above-average and they have some creative, fun flavors to try.
Reprinted from TravelingMom.com.