Ah, Wisconsin. The land of cheese, lakes, and beer. Not to mention Milwaukee. Blame Chicago for Milwaukee’s prominence in the American mind??the Windy City is only a 90-minute drive up the Lake Michigan shoreline from Wisconsin’s most famous city.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Milwaukee is Wisconsin‘s capital. Instead, the actual capital of Wisconsin is one of the Upper Midwest’s true gems and well worth a visit.
What is the Capital of Wisconsin?
Madison is known as the land of cheddar, home of the Green Bay Packers football team, and the largest city in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is bordered by Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. It is one hour west of Milwaukee between the four lakes region (mainly Lake Michigan) and the mighty Mississippi River.
The capital of Wisconsin, Madison, is situated in Dane County in south-central Wisconsin, whose state motto of “forward” reflects the state’s drive to always be a national leader in the country. The city now known as Madison is nestled on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona and is home to the Native Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Peoria, Sauk and Meskwaki, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Myaamia, and O?héthi ?akówi? tribes.
A Brief History of Madison, Wisconsin
A sizeable historical figure of the area, James Duane Doty, was traveling through the isthmus and decided he wanted to purchase the site. Thirty years before the Civil War in 1836, Doty convinced the territorial legislature to turn that area into the new capital city of Wisconsin. (The original capital of the territory was Belmont.)
He named the state capital city after James Madison, the 4th President of the United States. This information was found on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
What to Do in Wisconsin’s Capital City
1. Wisconsin State Capitol Building
Located in the heart of downtown Madison, the Wisconsin State Capitol building lies on 13.5 acres of gorgeous grounds where the state government, senate, supreme court, and legislators meet during sessions. The first capitol building boasts the portrait of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the figure “Wisconsin” that sits on the top of the capitol dome.
When you visit, take a capitol tour and receive a guided journey of the historic building. Not just home to the state legislature, the Capitol Square is also where people gather for annual events, concerts in the park, and the farmer’s market.
2. Olbrich Botanical Gardens
The Olbrich Botanical Gardens are complete with outdoor gardens that span 16 acres of incredible plant life that thrive in the Midwest (this part is free!) and the tropical Bolz Conservatory, which features more rare and exotic plants.
3. Madison’s Farmer’s Market
The Madison Farmer’s Market, also known as the Dane County Farmers’ Market, is the largest producer-only market in the entire country! Started in 1972, this market takes place each summer on Capitol Square.
4. Memorial Union Terrace
Nestled alongside Lake Mendota and gathering place for amazing sunsets, summer events, and enjoy the views. The Wisconsin Union manages the area, called the “heart and soul” of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Union Terrace is a great place to snap a picture and enjoy a picnic on the lawn.
5. State Street & Downtown Madison
State Street is a vibrant road of shopping and dining, as well as a hub to Madison’s history and culture. Connected by the Capitol Square with the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, State Street is a booming pedestrian mall that has been around since the seventies.
In addition to the local boutiques and fun shops, State Street is also where the Overture Center for the Arts puts on unique events, including the free Saturday morning Kids in the Rotunda shows.
6. Lake Mendota
Perfect for fishing and boating in the summer months and ice fishing and ice skating in the winter months, Lake Mendota is an outdoor staple of Madison. This 9781-acre lake has a maximum depth of 83 feet and offers a handful of public beaches and boat landings.
Anglers will be happy to find out that there are Musky, Panfish, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, Sturgeon, and Catfish in Lake Mendota.
7. University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum
Another popular place to visit in Madison is the Arboretum on the UW-Madison campus. Recognized as the place of historic research in ecological restoration, this arboretum has one of the oldest and most varied collections of restored ecological communities on the entire globe! Make a plan to attend one of their educational programs, take a tour, or enroll your kiddos in a nature-based class while you are in town.
There are also two National Historic Landmarks on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, including the Science Hall, Madison, the University of Wisconsin Armory and Gymnasium, and the North Hall.
8. Maple Bluff
A quaint lakeside community in Madison, Maple Bluff is home to the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion. Drive by the mansion and enjoy a day of fun in the sun at one of the multiple parks in the neighborhood, including Beach Park, McBride Park, and Stoddard Park.
9. Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
Originally dreamed up by Frank Lloyd Wright as an idea for a “dream civic center” in 1938, the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center are a city hub for events, weddings, and architectural finesse.
Wright had the vision to have a gathering place that connected the shores of Lake Monona to the State Capitol, and Monona Terrace brought that vision to life.
10. Henry Vilas Zoo
Located inside Vilas Park, the Henry Vilas Zoo is a favorite among Madison locals and visitors alike. This wildlife wonderland is free to the public and hosts animals from around the world, including Africa, South America, and even the Galapagos Islands.
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