First off, if you haven't entered the Map-Making Contest, what are you waiting for? You can win an ARC of BOUND!!! Go!
We're trying to have more family adventures this summer, aso over the weekend, we visited my younger sister up in Madison. It might possibly be the best way to spend a summer weekend in the entire world: relatively short, scenic drive (if you like looking at old barns and gently rolling farmland, which I do), warm-but-not sweltering weather, activities that appeal to a variety of ages. (Our group ranged from "post-my-age-on-the-internet-and-you're-out-of-the-will" to three.)
For reference, here's a picture of my gorgeous, stylish, adventure-loving, hard-working, gourmet-cooking sister. (Though not from this weekend.)
1. Dane County Farmer's Market, Capitol Square (Saturdays)
Admittedly, the crowds here are daunting, but load yourself up with some reusable grocery bags and try it anyway: squeaky cheese curds, ginger-rhubarb jam, tiny ruby-colored strawberries, hot & spicy cheese bread, the sweetest sugar snap peas you've ever had, and whatever else is growing. You can also get free-range meat and a zillion types of cheese, but make sure you have access to a fridge. Small fries who don't appreciate the hunt for the perfect tomato can play on the capitol lawn.
We recently joined a CSA, and were able to meet two of the farmers on this visit. Kurt "probably guaranteed" strawberries in this week's box (which is as good of a guarantee as one gets in farming). My kids loved meeting the people who work so hard to bring us amazing produce each week.
Small, but packed with activities, including the coolest art studio imaginable: we painted on a glass wall, made a pirate ship out of nature materials, played with something that looked like a TARDIS, ran in a giant gerbil wheel, and petted chickens and mice. There's even a five-and-under area for Big Marshmallow and her compatriots.
I kind of want a chicken now.
We didn't visit Sardine this time around, but it's a family favorite: delicious food that's interesting without being confusing and a gorgeous lake food. Yes, that's my sister in their website's banner. I told you it was one of our favorites.
This is my absolute favorite restaurant, perhaps in the entire world. Delicious, interesting southwestern food and the most incredible margaritas I've ever had. Get there early or prepare to wait. And make sure to order the Texas Tornadoes.
Fancy locavore food at reasonable prices in a beautiful location. Also, they have crawfish beignets. Again, arrive early. It's one of the trendiest places in town, but don't let that deter you.
My sister's favorite coffeeshop, and I am inclined to agree. It's a tiny, friendly neighborhood place, and the coffee is strong and delicious.
Madison has something of a reputation for...granola-ness, and a walk down Willy Street will show you why. It's a funky, eclectic mix of houses, shops, and restaurants. Give yourself time to wander and browse.
Every time we go to Madison, I force my husband to stop at this old-fashioned Ace Hardware. It has the dusty, oily, wood-shaving smell of a real hardware store, aisles crammed together with the usual supplies (and some surprises). Most of all, it has its own blend of coffee: Just Coffee's Tradesmen Blend.
Oh, my children love the Madison Zoo. We love it as well, because 1.) cute animals and 2.) like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it's not too big and not too small. You can manage it in an afternoon and still have time for other adventures.
10. Boring, but necessary: Courtyard by Mariott
Yes, it's a chain hotel in a town whose spirit is decidely indie. Yes, it's on the far east side of the city. Yes, my child did say to me upon waking, "If you're looking for a breathtaking view, look somewhere else." But here's the deal: the cool hotels in downtown, near the Capitol? Expensive. The B&Bs are quaint but tiny. The Courtyard has spacious suites, a pool for the kids, a great lobby/work area with a bar, decent food, and a Starbucks. It's clean and affordable and the staff is insanely nice. It's a bit of a drive into downtown, so I recommend leaving the car in a parking garage and walking as much as possible. We've tried other hotels in the area, but this is the best we've found for families.