City Life

101 things to do in Madison this summer

Cross off everything on this list!

It's finally here — the season of long sunny days, warm summer nights and outdoor activities galore. It's time to bask in the sun and explore the city surrounded by lakes. The only downside to summer in Madison? It's too short. So we suggest making every second count by tackling this ultimate summer to-do list. 

Download our checklist so you can take it around Madison this summer!

Madison Musts
These classic summer activities should be on everyone's list.

1. No summer in Madison would be complete without a visit to the Memorial Union Terrace. Grab a pitcher of locally brewed beer and a group of friends and pull up a few iconic sunburst chairs.

2. If you're looking for an excuse to visit the terrace, catch a Terrace After Dark activity. For students, faculty and Union members, there is free music Friday and Saturday nights, free movies on Monday nights and an open mic night on Wednesdays.

3. Saturday mornings are for the weekly Dane County Farmers' Market, the largest producer-only farmers' market in the U.S. Check out the "The ultimate guide to Madison farmers' markets" for tips and schedules.

4. Venture out to Picnic Point for a bonfire. Before you visit be sure to make a reservation for one of the fire circles online.

5. For six Wednesdays in the summer, Capitol Square becomes a hot spot for classical music and picnicking during Concerts on the Square. Starting at 3 p.m. concertgoers begin laying blankets on the lawn in anticipation of the 7 p.m. show.

6. Before the show, climb the stairs to the top of the Capitol building for one of the prettiest views from the center of the city.

7. Stop at Henry Vilas Zoo to see the animals and ride the carousel or train. Best of all, it's free!

8. Afterward, head to Wingra Park for a perfect picnic spot with Lake Wingra as a backdrop.

9. While in the area, visit the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, which includes more than 17 miles of trails through prairies, savannas, woodlands and wetlands.

10. Celebrate summer and the Fourth of July at Shake the Lake on June 29. For one of the best viewing spots, snag a ticket for the iHeartRadio Rooftop Party on the Monona Terrace rooftop.

Fun Festivals
Rock all summer long during Madison's fests.

11. Summer in Madison kicks off with the World's Largest Brat Fest on Memorial Day weekend. Nothing says summer in Wisconsin like brats, beer and rockin' music.

12. The 30th annual Marquette Waterfront Festival at Yahara Place Park from June 8-9 brings music and the popular Fools' Flotilla — where hundreds of people in costume hop in boats and flotation devices to paddle into the festival.

13. Music abounds on June 21 during Make Music Madison. This free, citywide outdoor day of music celebrates the summer solstice with hundreds of concerts.

14. With three music stages and a vintage Ferris wheel, La Fête de Marquette is a true party in the Wil-Mar Neighborhood, July 11-14.

15. Get funky with AtwoodFest's lineup of roots, blues and funk bands from July 27-28. In addition to music, there will be craft vendors, four parades, kids' activities, a makers market and local food and drink vendors.

16. Visit Lake Farm County Park from Aug. 2-3 for the Sugar Maple Music Festival, a celebration of traditional music styles like Americana, bluegrass and classic country.

17. The Eken Park Festival on Aug. 17 turns 3 this year. Expect music, local cuisine and Wisconsin brews.

18. Take part in one of the longest-running outdoor music festivals in the U.S.: the Orton Park Festival. Expect aerial trapeze performances, a jazz brunch and more at the 54th annual event from Aug. 22-25.

19. No Labor Day weekend would be complete without Taste of Madison, a two-day culinary bonanza with more than 80 participating restaurants, three entertainment stages and 27 drink stands.

20. Close out the summer season with the Willy Street Fair from Sept. 14-15. Be sure to catch the Willy Street Fair Parade, an eccentric display of color.

Celebrate the Arts
Become acquainted with Wisconsin and world artists throughout the summer with visual art.

21. Go on a mini-scavenger hunt downtown for Madison's latest outdoor art installation. Downtown Doors allows visitors to view 29 pieces of art featuring images by 27 local artists. A print guide and an interactive online map will help guests find each piece of art.

22. Along with Downtown Doors, the Madison Arts Commission and Madison's Central Business Improvement District is opening the Summer in Your City Café at the top of State Street, a spot to eat lunch downtown throughout the summer.

23. Nearly 500 artists will come to Capitol Square with their prints, photographs, jewelry, sculptures, clothing and fine art for Art Fair on the Square from July 13-14.

24. Wisconsin artists and craftspeople will exhibit their wares at the 40th annual Art Fair Off the Square at the same time as Art Fair on the Square.

25. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art turns its rooftop sculpture garden into a movie theater in June. The Rooftop Cinema series on Friday nights showcases artistic and avant-garde films.

26. While at MMoCA, stop to visit one of the new exhibits on display this summer — "Shimon Attie: The Crossing," "Tyanna Buie: After Image" and "Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer."

Music in the City
This summer brings music to our ears on a daily basis.

27. A Madison street turns into a music festival on Friday nights throughout the summer during Live on King Street outside the Majestic Theatre. Expect big names and a lot of dancing in the street.

28. Visit Olbrich Botanical Gardens' Great Lawn for its Summer Concert Series every Tuesday, June 18 to Aug. 13. Genres range from rock and island music to funk and opera.

29. Thursday nights are for Concerts on the Rooftop at Monona Terrace. While the events are free, you must reserve tickets on Monona Terrace's website.

30. High Noon Saloon invites people to relax on the patio every Thursday for a free Summer Patio Series concert featuring live music. 

31. Once a year, Madison Opera gives the community a chance to go to the opera for free during Opera in the Park at Garner Park. This year's show will be July 20.

32. Get tickets for a show at The Sylvee, one of Madison's newest music venues. Some performers this summer include Vampire Weekend on June 11, Cheap Trick on June 13, Alice Cooper on July 10 and The Head and The Heart on Sept. 15.

33. Rock out to Greta Van Fleet on June 4, Rob Thomas on June 7, Toby Keith on June 21 and Daryl Hall and John Oates on Aug. 25 as part of Breese Stevens Field's 2019 Concert Series.

34. Once the Concerts on the Square season is over, it's time to fill your Wednesday evenings with Jazz at Five, starting in August. Every show kicks off with youth performers and then follows with two other performing groups.

35. Dance and belt it out during Dane Dances! on Fridays throughout August on the Monona Terrace. Since its founding in 1999, Dane Dances! has prioritized improving racial relations through music and dance.

36. Scour the city for musical mementos through "Let's Roam," an app-led scavenger hunt system. The "Musical Madison" Scavenger Hunt takes adventurers on a journey of landmarks to discover art and culture in the city. Since the scavenger hunt is app-led, it can be done at any point throughout the week and reservations are not required.

37. For three weeks in June, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society hosts concerts in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green as part of its Chamber Music Festival called "Name Dropping." Expect a wide variety of music all ages will love.

38. Relive some favorite songs from the movie and hear new ones in "Anastasia: The New Broadway Musical," which will stop at the Overture Center for the Arts July 30 to Aug. 4.

Shop Till You Drop
Visit the local shops around Madison and outdoor shopping experiences for some retail therapy.

39. Breese Stevens Field turns into The Bodega, a shopping space featuring small local businesses, four times this year on May 30, June 16, July 25 and Aug. 22.

40. This year, Destination Madison is hosting 608 Day on June 8. Locations around the city will host events and offer discounts on items like food and drinks. Madison Magazine will be participating by offering a one-year subscription for $6.08 to those using the code 608. It might be the perfect day to score a local deal. 

41. Gilman Street becomes a hot spot for shopping during the Madison Night Market on June 13, Aug. 8 and Sept. 12. Vendors line the street with handmade goods, art, food carts, live music and pop-up restaurants.

42. Become a bargain shopper during Maxwell Street Days along State Street. This massive summer sidewalk sale from July 19-21 features roughly 100 participants from the community.

43. Hop in the car and spend a day shopping at one of the more than 100 area stores. Find some spots in the "Guide to 110 locally owned shops in the Madison area."

Venture Into The ‘Burbs
There's even more to do in neighboring towns and cities.

44. Relax along a real-life lazy river by tubing on Sugar River. S&B Tubing in Albany has a 4-mile trail, so take your time basking in the sun, sipping a cold beverage and chilling with a group of friends.

45. Get away from the summer heat at Cave of the Mounds, which stays a constant 50 degrees throughout the year. See stalactites and stalagmites on guided tours that depart daily.

46. Catch a show at American Players Theatre in Spring Green. Tickets frequently sell out, so plan ahead to see one of the nine plays this season.

47. Take a mini getaway from Madison to nearby Lake Kegonsa State Park in Stoughton. Not only are there places to swim and camp, there are also numerous hiking trails in the area.

48. Hot air balloons fill the Green County sky during the Monroe Balloon & Blues Festival on Father's Day weekend, June 15-16.

49. Relive a bygone era with a drive-in movie at Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre in Jefferson any night of the week starting after Memorial Day weekend.

50. Spend Friday nights in the backyard of Verona's Wisconsin Brewing Co. for beer and free live music.

51. Hike, swim, bike, boat or camp at Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo.

52. While in Baraboo, stop at Driftless Glen Distillery for a tour of the rick house — where the company stores and ages barrels of bourbon and rye whiskey — and try samples of olive oils, balsamics and spirits.

53. Stop in Cambridge for the Midwest Fire Fest from July 27-28 for a celebration of all things created with fire, heat and smoke. Attractions include fire dancers, a community iron pour and a 7-foot sculpture reveal.

54. Visit New Glarus, dubbed "America's Little Switzerland." Not only can you grab a beer at New Glarus Brewing Co., you can also go on a hunt for the 14 cows on parade statues and explore the Swiss Historical Village Museum.

55. If you're looking to sample other local spirits, take a trip to Prairie du Sac and stop at Wollersheim Winery & Distillery. When visiting in the summer, take time to walk through the vineyards.

56. The sunflowers are back! After a yearlong hiatus, Sunflower Days returns to Pope Farm Conservancy in Middleton July 26-Aug.4.

57. For another opportunity to see sunflowers, Eugster's Farm Market in Stoughton is hosting its second Sunflower Days July 26-Aug. 11. Apart from more than 500,000 sunflowers across 15 acres, Eugster's has wagon rides and a 15-acre animal petting farm.

Activities for the Whole Family
School's out for the summer, so keep the kids entertained with weekly activities everyone will enjoy.

58. For $5 per family, guests can enjoy a bouncy house, sports, games, family fitness classes, movies, drop-in art projects, game room activities and more at Warner Family Fun Nights on the second Friday of the month throughout the year.

59. Cool off at one of three Madison Parks' splash parks at Cypress Park, Elver Park and Reindahl (Amund) Park.

60. Wander State Street during the Cars on State classic car show on June 1. The event spans six blocks and features cars from across the decades.

61. Get kids excited about art during Summer Spin! at the Chazen Museum of Art. The museum expands outdoors with free live music and art adventures every Thursday afternoon from June 6-Aug. 22.

62. The Madison Children's Museum is hosting plenty of activities this summer, including SummerPalooza with free music and a community parade on June 8. The 21 and older crowd can check out Adult Swim, kids-free nights on June 21 and Sept. 20.

63. Venture to the Alliant Energy Center for the Dane County Fair from July 18-21. Kids under 5 years old have free admission throughout the festival.

64. Catch a free flick during Movies With Madison Parks throughout the summer. Movies this year include "Moana," "Crazy Rich Asians," "Aquaman" and "How to Train Your Dragon."

65. Once a year, Camp Randall opens its doors for Camp Randall Movie Night, where guests can spread a blanket on the field and watch a film on the big video screen.

Embrace Lake Life
Make the most out of Madison's beautiful lakes during the warm months.

66. Take Betty Lou Cruises on Lake Monona or Lake Mendota to see sights of the city. Options include a champagne brunch cruise, a historic cruise, a Friday fish fry cruise and a Caribbean cruise.

67. Take a dip or bask in the sun at any of the 12 public beaches in the Madison area. Blue-green algae can be problematic in the summer, so check conditions at cityofmadison.com/parks/beach before you go.

68. Rent a stand-up paddleboard, canoe, kayak or rowboat and set out on the open waters through Madison Boats. The company has locations at Wingra Park, Brittingham Park and Marshall Park.

69. Watch or join the 40th annual Paddle & Portage on June 15. Grab a group and get ready for a journey from James Madison Park to Olbrich Park.

70. Try something new and take a class with Madison Log Rolling on Lake Wingra. Madison Log Rolling has been teaching individuals how to run on floating logs since 2010.

71. If you're hoping to hit the waters of Lake Mendota, Outdoor UW next to the Memorial Union Terrace has stand-up paddleboard, kayak and canoe rentals. Make the experience even more fun with a SUP Squatch, a paddleboard that allows eight people to paddle at the same time.

72. Head out on the water in a pontoon boat from The Edgewater Hotel. Groups can rent a boat for a day or a couple of hours. The Edgewater offers "Fish Fry on the Water" and "Happy Hour" excursions on the boats.

73. Snap the perfect Instagram-worthy sunset photo and grab a delicious meal at a beautiful lake-view restaurant. Check out "11 eateries with gorgeous waterfront views."

Fun In the Sun
Bask in the sunshine and explore local parks, nature preserves, gardens and more.

74. While there are plenty of places to ride bikes in Madison, which is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., the Lakeshore Path is a must for views of Lake Mendota and Picnic Point.

75. While walking around in that area, explore the rest of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which has more than 20 "preserve places" like Observatory Hill, Bill's Woods, Class of 1918 Marsh and Muir Woods.

76. Take an outdoor yoga class. Madison Outdoor Yoga on meetup.com organizes many free classes throughout the summer at local parks. Many local studios also offer outdoor sessions, and outdoor classes are offered on the Memorial Union Terrace.

77. Spend time with pups outside during Barks for Parks on Aug. 11 at Badger Prairie County Park in Verona. Activities include puppy yoga with adoptable pets from Underdog Pet Rescue of Wisconsin and other local rescues. 

78. Take your dog bestie on a field trip to one of the eight Madison or seven other Dane County off-leash dog parks. 

79. Enjoy music during Summer Sundays in the Garden at Allen Centennial Garden. Expect new genres of music each Sunday.

80. Hit Middleton's Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a 160-acre green space with great views, hiking, bird-watching, wetlands and springs. In June, the conservancy hosts Tunes on Tuesday, an event with scattered acoustic local musicians.

81. Splash, swim and slide in Madison's first municipal swimming pool, the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Swimming Pool, which opens for the season on June 13.

Summer Dining
Sample local food and drinks to your heart's content.

82. Explore what Madison's food scene has to offer with a food tour from Madison Eats Food Tours, Madison Food Explorers and Capital City Food Tours.

83. All summer long, visit food carts during Let's Eat Out! nightly dinners. Mondays through Thursdays, more than 15 food carts pop up on a rotating basis in neighborhoods in the evening.

84. On weekdays you'll also find food carts serving tasty lunches on the Library Mall and around Capitol Square.

85. In the dairy state, you better believe there are spots offering amazing ice cream. Find local staples in an article titled "9 places serving delicious ice cream."

86. High atop the Graduate Madison hotel is Camp Trippalindee, a summer camp-themed rooftop bar and eatery. Sip a boozy Capri Sun-inspired drink while checking out the view from the cozy fire pits.

87. You can find plenty of patios, porches and decks in Madison if you're hoping to enjoy a bite and an outdoor dining experience. Read "Where to eat outside now" for a list of spots to try.

88. At REAP Food Group's Burgers & Brew on June 1 at Capital Brewery, local restaurants are partnering with Wisconsin breweries to serve up burgers and beers with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.

89. Taco 'bout a good time! The Margarita and Taco Fest at Pasqual's Cantina on July 20 lets guests sample tacos from about 15 Madison chefs and margaritas from about 15 local bartenders.

90. One of the most wonderful food weeks in Madison returns July 21-26. Madison Restaurant Week brings three-course lunch and dinner menus to 50 Madison restaurants.

91. Taste and savor local spirits, wines and food during Top Shelf Summer Taste on Aug. 5 at Nau-Ti-Gal. It's a great way to sample new drinks and meet local artisans.

92. More than 190 Midwest craft brewers come together for the Great Taste of the Midwest on Aug. 10 at Olin Park. Tickets frequently sell out, but local spots will host fun beer-filled events the night before.

93. You'll be saying "yum yum" at Madison Area Chefs Network's Yum Yum Fest on Aug. 18 at Breese Stevens Field. About 30 Dane County chefs raise money for local charities while serving delectable food and drinks.   

Get Sporty
This summer is the perfect time to watch sports, get fit or try something new.

94. Check out Forward Madison FC during its inaugural season at Breese Stevens Field. You'll have more than 13 chances to see the soccer team in action at home through September. 

95. Take us out to a ballgame to see the Madison Mallards. Throughout the summer there will be special events like Lion King Night on July 19 and Star Wars Night on June 27.

96. Tee it up at one or more of Madison Parks' golf courses: Glenway, Monona, Odana Hills and Yahara Hills golf courses.

97. Head over to University Ridge Golf Course June 15-23 to see PGA Tour Champions play in the American Family Insurance Championship.

98. If you're not up for a full day of golf, visit Vitense Golfland to go miniature golfing at two 18-hole outdoor courses featuring California and Wisconsin themes. A Madison Landmark-centric indoor course is available for when the weather is a bit too hot or rainy.

99. Speaking of indoors, go rock climbing at the new Boulders Climbing Gym location in downtown Madison. The location has more than 8,000 square feet of climbing space. 

100. For the third year in a row, some of the fittest individuals in the world are coming to Madison for the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games from Aug. 1-4. Individuals can watch the competition or spend time at the 20,000-square-foot beer garden or spectator workout space.

101. Ironman Wisconsin on Sept. 8 takes spectators and competitors through a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Monona, a 112-mile bike ride through Dane County and a 26.2-mile run through downtown Madison.

Maija Inveiss is digital content editor of Madison Magazine.


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