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Mad about the 'burbs

103 summer activities to do in the Madison suburbs

They aren’t suburbs, really.

That’s what one city mayor explained to writer Mary Erpenbach in 1999 about Madison’s surrounding communities. 

“I have never used that term, ‘suburb,’” said Dan Ramsey in 1999, when he was mayor of Middleton and was being interviewed by Erpenbach for the first Rating the ’Burbs survey that ran in Madison Magazine.

What he meant was that Dane County suburbanites don’t really consider their communities offshoots of Madison. These surrounding cities claim their own histories and traditions. “They were farm towns or railroad stops or lakeside vacation spots, for instance,” Erpenbach wrote in the 2013 report.

Most suburbs were born with no relation to Madison, she reported. In fact, some communities, including Stoughton and Cambridge, both founded in 1847, came just over a decade after the isthmus city was marked on the map in 1836. And while proximity to Wisconsin’s second-largest city does qualify these outliers—like Verona, Mazomanie, Waunakee, Fitchburg, Oregon and other nearby communities—as suburbs, the same can still be said about the ’burbs Ramsey described nearly 20 years ago.

They’re standalone gems in their own right. And in the 20 years since the magazine first published an in-depth rating that quantified each suburb based on a specific set of criteria, two things are clear: Suburbs have experienced exponential growth in population and economic development, at certain points outpacing the growth of the city, and despite the interconnectedness of the Madison area, these communities continue to write their own stories while preserving and celebrating their histories.

And while the Rating the ’Burbs reports—which ran in Madison Magazine for 15 years—dubbed a single ’burb the reigning champion of that year, we’ve come to the conclusion that numbers will never adequately determine which ’burb rises above the rest. They’re all interesting places to live, work or visit, and the qualitative factors certainly outweigh the statistics.

So instead, this year we give you just one number—103. Here are 103 things to do in Madison’s suburbs this summer.

GO TO A WINERY

  • There’s a Sangria Saturday on July 15 and the 22nd annual vintage celebration featuring classic automobiles at Botham Vineyards & Winery this summer. Barneveld
  • Fisher King Winery recently moved from Mount Horeb to Verona, so check out the new tasting room, where you’ll find live music every Friday night. Verona
  • Catch a summer happy hour on July 20 or Aug. 17 at the Wollersheim Distillery—a new addition to the gorgeous Wollersheim Winery grounds. Prairie du Sac
  • While there’s a Cambridge Winery on Madison’s west side, visit the tasting room in Cambridge east of Madison, which offers tasty small plates from experienced Madison chef Noah Przybylski. Cambridge
  • Many of Drumlin Ridge Winery’s wines are limited production, so try the family-run winery’s pinot gris, syrah rose or another varietal before they’re gone. Waunakee

GRAB A SLICE OF ’ZA
A ’burb original and the reigning champ of tomato pies is Patrick DePula’s Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. Check out the newly relocated and renovated restaurant on the corner of East Main and King streets in Sun Prairie.

PLAY AT THE PARK

  • A building erected in 1894 still stands in Historic Library Park, paying tribute to a structure that was once a village hall, library, firehouse and jail. Belleville
  • Find effigy mounds at High Cliff State Park, which is situated along limestone cliffs. Mounds are sacred to local native tribes. Sherwood
  • McKee Farms Park has just about everything you could want in a park (that doesn’t have water access) including playgrounds, sports fields, tennis courts, picnic tables, trails and more. Fitchburg
  • Panoramic views at Pheasant Branch Conservancy offer glimpses of the downtown Madison skyline and wetlands and springs feeding Lake Mendota. Middleton
  • The secluded Castle Creek Conservancy is a hidden gem for a quiet stroll or jog. Waunakee
  • OK, the ’burbs have way too many great parks to list. Here are a few of the best: Black Earth Creek Sunnyside, Black Earth; Token Creek County Park, DeForest; Indian Lake County Park, Cross Plains; CamRock County Park, Cambridge; Blue Mound State Park, Blue Mounds.

SMELL THE FLOWERS
Visitors flock to Pope Farm Conservancy for the annual Sunflower Days, where 9 acres of sunflowers are at their peak. This year, the best bloom is expected August 12-20. Verona

VISIT A MUSEUM

  • The Mount Horeb Area Historical Society Museum was recently reopened as Driftless Historium, an expanded cultural center focused on the history of Mount Horeb and the entire Driftless region. Mount Horeb
  • Opening its doors for the first time this summer is the Black Earth Children’s Museum. Black Earth
  • And don’t forget about the National Mustard Museum. If you haven’t already, check out this ultra-quirky collection of more than 5,600 mustards. Middleton

ENJOY DINNER
Savor a Bavarian smorgasbord of wiener schnitzel, spätzle, kraut and more the first Monday of every month and also the third Monday, June-October, at Dorf Haus Supper Club. Sauk City

Enjoy more than just dinner and the mixologist’s creations at The Wall Street Gallery & Bistro—its stellar featured artists give the restaurant a gallery feel. Mazomanie

Even with new owners taking over Green Acres in 2017, the great food and fun times promise to continue at this longstanding restaurant. Sauk City

Come for the crab cakes and the cozy yet upscale atmosphere at Big Sky Restaurant and stay for the outstanding homemade desserts. Stoughton

Read about the unique dining experience, Campo di Bella. in Mount Horeb.

BOWL A PERFECT GAME

  • Take your pick of 12 burger choices, order some drinks at the bar or sign up in August and September for a bowling league at Black Earth Lanes. Black Earth
  • If pizza is your jam, then check out Riviera Bowl & Pizzeria for a fine pie to accompany bowling festivities. Sauk City
  • Almost every Friday night enjoy live music on the patio after a thrilling couple of games at Ten Pin Alley. Fitchburg
  • There are few things better than a round of bowling followed by free Wednesday Bar Bingo at Middleton Sport Bowl. Middleton

INDULGE YOUR SWEET TOOTH
If you’re looking to celebrate National Pecan Pie Day on July 12, National Lemon Meringue Pie Day on Aug.15 or any other pie holidays, Hubbard Avenue Diner and Bakery has you covered. Middleton

Previously a line cook for Estrellón and a baker at La Brioche, Vincente Sacramento recently opened Monona Bakery and Eatery, where you can pick up Mexican conchas (sweet bread), a delicious cinnamon morning bun, a cupcake or other pastries. Monona

Vegan and gluten-free treats never tasted so good. Bloom Bake Shop’s flagship bakery storefront is the place to go for delicious goodies (and somewhat nutritious offerings, too). Middleton

BREAK BREAD

  • Literally eat a bite of history at Fosdal Home Bakery as it’s been in operation since 1938, still crafting some of its original creations. Stoughton
  • Every Friday in the summer, pick up a fresh loaf of bread made using antique methods from Cress Spring Bakery, which also hosts pizza nights on the farm Wednesday nights through October. Blue Mounds
  • Enjoy the quiet, relaxing atmosphere of The Mixing Bowl Bakery while sipping Kickapoo Coffee and munching baked goods and breads made completely from scratch. ­Sauk City

CATCH A SHOW
Stop by the Stoughton Opera House during the Catfish River Music Festival, July 7-9, and throughout the year for great musical selections. Stoughton

Summer is the time for American Players Theatre’s newly renovated outdoor amphitheater. Catch “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Cyrano de Bergerac” or “The Maids” this summer. Spring Green

Check out “Ragtime the Musical” Aug. 10-13 at the Middleton Players Theatre for a story on the American Dream. Middleton

SIP COFFEE

  • While the monthly drink specials are always unique and delicious at Mary’s Coffee Express, Mary’s homemade scones make any coffee gathering a real treat. Mount Horeb
  • Specializing in Stone Creek coffees and espresso drinks, Windsor Breads Bakery & Coffeehouse is the place to go for seasonal soups, huge cookies and a solid cup of coffee. Windsor
  • Stop by “Oregon’s living room,” Firefly Coffeehouse, the second Thursday of every month for euchre game night—$5 gets you time to play, a beverage and dessert. Oregon
  • If not for the house-brewed coffee from Ancora, stop by the McFarland House Café right next to the train tracks for a cozy atmosphere in a historic building that used to be a hostel for train commuters more than 100 years ago. McFarland

EAT A BURGER
When you want the mac daddy of all burgers, order up the Shack Daddy at The Shack Bar & Grill. It’s a handmade half-pound fresh burger that comes with everything. Black Earth

Watch your patty get the flip on the flattop grill behind an old-school bar at Village Green. It’s a no-frills bar burger, but it’s inextricably tasty. Middleton

Varsity Bar & Grill’s flagship burger is a 1/3-pound patty with pepper jack cheese, bacon and hand-battered deep fried onions on a pretzel bun with a special Varsity sauce. Sun Prairie

Who could forget the award-winning Gritty Burger at the Nitty Gritty? It’s the traditional (and oh-so-official) burger to get at “the official birthday place.” Middleton and Sun Prairie

MAKE BREAKFAST PLANS

  • At Crema Café, known as the place “where everyone knows your name,” prepare to feel at home with the casual setting and tasty breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch offerings. Monona
  • You know where your food comes from at Cow & Quince—your meal likely was made with many of the ingredients offered on the shelves of the breakfast and lunch restaurant’s mini market. New Glarus
  • For more than 100 years, Schubert’s Downtown Restaurant has served up classic breakfast plates, baked goods and samplings from an old-fashioned soda fountain. Mount Horeb
  • Order up the lobster Benedict made with fresh seafood tarragon hollandaise on Saturdays and Sundays at the Green Lantern. McFarland
  • Enjoy a classic breakfast at Three Sisters Inn with daily specials, eggs any way you can think of and plenty of sides to keep everyone satisfied. Middleton

APPRECIATE GOOD ART
Catch a gallery opening on July 28 at Abel Contemporary Gallery (formerly Artisan Gallery), where you can enjoy the works of Randall Berndt. There’s also “Exquisite,” a new group show, and “Building the Future,” an exhibit that looks toward the future of buildings. Belleville/Paoli

Find a selection of original paintings, limited edition prints, offset lithographs and fine American crafts at Gary’s Art & Frame Shop. Middleton

What started as a one-man potter’s studio has grown into the bustling factory Rowe Pottery Works. Cambridge

Catch the soulful tunes of The Jeffrey James Show on July 21 while perusing the art gallery at River Arts on Water Gallery. Prairie du Sac

If you’re looking for the perfect piece of North American art, check out Artisan Woods Gallery, where handmade woodcrafts from more than 80 different artisans are for sale. Mount Horeb

Learn about a DeForest artist who has painted portraits for stars like George Clooney and Robert Redford.

DRINK A BEER

  • Apart from the unique and iconic troll theme of The Grumpy Troll, the brews in its 10-barrel brewhouse also make this place a standout. Mount Horeb
  • Catch live music every Thursday at Woodshed Ale House, along with craft beer from Vintage Brewing Co. and handcrafted pizzas. Sauk City
  • Throughout July, August and September, enjoy live music at Capital Brewery, and don’t miss out on Dogtoberfest on Sept. 10. Middleton
  • Friday night is the perfect time to visit Wisconsin Brewing Co. for free live music in the backyard throughout the summer. Verona
  • While this brewery is technically in Green County, we’d be remiss not to name New Glarus Brewing Co. as a Madison-area destination for an only-in-Wisconsin beer best enjoyed on the cobblestone patio with an incredible view. New Glarus

PICK IT YOURSELF
Listen to some folk and bluegrass music under the apple trees or take a horse-drawn hayride at the Norwegian-style farm Eplegaarden. Fitchburg

There’s a lot more than just heirloom apples at Door Creek Orchard—get your hands on fresh pears, grapes and apple cider, plus yarn and roving from the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep the family raises. Cottage Grove

After you pick strawberries or raspberries, take a stroll through the oak savanna at Appleberry Farm, which has breathtaking views toward Blue Mounds. Cross Plains

Starting at the end of August, explore a 4-acre corn maze or play with barn kittens during your visit to Sutter’s Ridge Farm. Mount Horeb

Don’t miss Orchard Days in September and the Fall Festival in October for some family fun at Eugster’s Farm Market & Petting Farm. Stoughton

SLEEP IN AT A B&B

  • Few things are better than a staycation at Walking Iron Bed & Breakfast, where it feels like stepping into a piece of history. Mazomanie
  • Revel in some privacy at Prevailing Winds Lodge, where the area looks more like backcountry Colorado than Wisconsin. Blue Mounds
  • Experience the perks of being close to downtown Madison without all the traffic by staying at The Victorian of Cambridge, a private getaway spot next to Lake Ripley. Cambridge
  • Make a lifetime of memories at Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn, surrounded by opportunities to hike past rock formations, snowshoe private trails and bask in the summer rose gardens. Belleville

MELT AWAY
Madison’s suburbs are dripping with chocolate offerings at several storefronts and chocolatiers. Pick up a box for a loved one (or treat yo’ self) at Paul’s Chocolates in Prairie du Sac, Sjölinds Chocolate House in Mount Horeb, The Chocolate Caper in Oregon or Candinas Chocolatier in Verona.

JUST KEEP SWIMMING

  • Take a dip, slide down a water slide or dive in at the Monona Community Pool. Monona
  • Even in the winter, practice some forward flips in the 13-foot diving well and swim in eight lanes at the Cambridge Area Community Pool. Cambridge
  • Every weekend, make a splash at the Goodman Aquatic Center with its six 25-meter lanes in a salt-water pool. Verona

EXPLORE THESE ATTRACTIONS
If you haven’t already, it’s worth spending a day to check out these well-known landmarks: House on the Rock, Spring Green; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, Spring Green; Cave of the Mounds, Blue Mounds

Find out about four large companies making a name for the 'burbs.

SHOP ’TIL YOU DROP

  • The Shoe Box, Black Earth
  • The Purple Goose, Verona
  • Stori Anne Co., Stoughton
  • Neena, Middleton

WATCH THE SUNSET
Hauge Historic District Park offers a breathtaking view of Blue Mound, made even better at nightfall. Mount Horeb

Let your feet dangle off a dock at Lake Kegonsa State Park while you breathe in a spectacular sunset over Lake Kegonsa. Stoughton

Watch a tangerine skyline drip into Lake Mendota and dip behind the bluffs at Maple Bluff Marina or Maple Bluff Beach Park. Maple Bluff

PARTY AT A FESTIVAL

  • JULY 27-30 – WaunaFest, Waunakee
  • AUG. 19 – Agora Art Fair, Fitchburg
  • AUG. 25-27 – Good Neighbor Festival, Middleton
  • SEPT. 1-2 – Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw & Festival, Prairie du Sac
  • SEPT. 9 – Thirsty Troll Brew Fest, Mount Horeb
  • SEPT. 8-10 – Wild West Days, Mazomanie
  • SEPT. 22-24 – Oktoberfest, New Glarus

For information about free music in the 'burbs, click here.

Andrea Behling is managing editor of Madison Magazine. Maija Inveiss is web editor of Madison Magazine.


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