We originally wrote this post in early March 2020, before everything changed. It didn’t feel relevant to share at the time, but now as we’ve learned to adapt, we thought we’d share this post about how we spent a day exploring Middleton, WI
We are always up for a day trip and exploring new places. However, sometimes we just simply don’t have the time because, you know, life. We (Katie & Sara) were both really sick this past week and even up to this weekend were still not 100%. BUT – Sunday was looking to be a beautiful day and we were determined to make the most of it. It would have been really easy to just have a lazy day and we both had plenty of things to do around the house. We ultimately decided to just head to Middleton, Wisconsin, a suburb on the western edge of Madison. The downtown area has changed over the past couple years and we wanted to explore and check out more of what it had to offer.
Pheasant Branch Conservancy
We started the afternoon by heading to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy for a walk. It is a pretty area with trails to explore and its very close to Madison. Even though the temps have been rising here, the trails were still snow-covered in most places. We were in so much of the spring vibe we didn’t exactly put the kids (or ourselves) in the best footwear. The kids wore sneakers, which would have been fine if we would have planned ahead and packed a change of shoes and socks. But we didn’t — mom fail. Luckily, the wet socks and shoes didn’t stop the kids.
We just took our time strolling and letting the kids just be kids. Easier said than done most times. We like to keep them moving but also letting them just be. They had fun “gathering twigs” and just being out in fresh air. As you can see, it was still really brown outside but we’re looking forward to going back when the leaves start coming in!
After our walk, we wanted to head to downtown Middleton for lunch and walking around. Not going to lie, we had somewhat high expectations but our energy from illness didn’t quite match that. If you want to explore downtown Middleton, just be aware that many things aren’t open on Sunday or might have shortened hours.
We ended up with a bit of time to kill before the restaurant opened, so we poked into the National Mustard Museum. In all our years being so close and with a huge mustard fan like Travis, none of us had ever been. There were free taste-testing so we stopped in, had some samples, and left. Too many breakable jars with little kids for our liking – but Travis loved all the mustard options and it was something different.
Of note, the Mustard Museum is still open according to their website.
There are so many cute new shops that have opened up. Sara and I walked through Cloth & Metal Boutique. It had fun and trendy women’s clothing. Also – notice the paw print in the bottom window? Dog friendly!
There were a few other shops we were hoping to go into but were closed on Sundays.
We were really excited to check out Fontaine Home on Hubbard Ave. It looked like a really pretty home store. We would’ve had to leave the kids with the dads though, because it did not look kid-friendly and do we do our best shopping without the kids and dads anyways!
Tradition Market is a children and womens’ boutique with lots of fun items, but was also closed on Sundays. We’ve both been in here on separate occasions and are fans. The price point for the children’s items can be a little high compared to what we normally spend on our kids but it’s more unique apparel and gifts.
Food + Drinks
We were debating what we wanted for food. One of our go-to’s in Middleton is the Village Green. The boys wanted to try something different so we didn’t eat here this time, but do highly recommend if you’re in mood for a great burger! It is a “hole in the wall” bar but in the best kind of way.
Another favorite that we like in Middleton is the Free House Pub. We love their ABLT – avacado BLT sandwich! (actually that sounds really good – might need to make ABLTs this week.)
We ultimately ended up at Longtable Beer Cafe. We had visited Longtable soon after it first opened but hadn’t been back so we wanted to try it! The atmosphere is fun and open, featuring several long tables, hence the name. They have a children’s menu and I would say is fairly kid friendly place, with board games available for the tables.
Another fun place we recently visited for a friend’s birthday party is a self-serve wine bar across the street called Grape Water. While this wouldn’t be somewhere we’d take our kids, it’d be a good place for girls’ night out or hosting a shower, party, or other get-together.
The Middleton area just has so much to offer year-round. It has the small town feel but many food options, activities, and outdoor places to explore with the family. Seasonally, Middleton also has a free trolley that loops around the area so it’s a good way to park and visit the city. (Trolley is suspended at this time, but hopefully will open again soon) Some other suggestions to do with kids if you’re visiting for the day include:
- Play N Wisconsin – an indoor space with many playground structures set up to use, along with trampolines and basketball areas. See our post on Surviving Winter for more info about this place. Update: Play N is open by appointment only.
- Capital Brewery – Can’t mention things to do in Middleton without including this on the list. We LOVE visiting Capitol Brewery in the summer time, although it is open year-round. There is a huge outdoor beer garden with live music and different events going on each night. It’s very kid-friendly and even dog-friendly during the week, and has the option to bring your own food in or get something delivered.
- Greenway Station Shops – while not walkable from the downtown area, a few minutes drive is Greenway Station. There are so many good restaurants and stores – we particularly love visiting Loft, Home Goods, and World Market when we’re here. There is also a Farmer’s Market here during the week in summer.
- Governor Nelson State Park – located on the edge of Middleton in the village of Westport, this is a lakeside state park that does require a state park sticker to get in. A nice place to walk with the kids and dogs and also has a beach and playground.
- Local parks – so many options, but here’s a few of our kids’ favorite parks in the Middleton area:
- Mendota County Park – located on the edge of Lake Mendota, the playground doesn’t have much to offer but the kids have fun playing in the sand and watching the kayakers and boaters go by.
- Lakeview Park – features a splash park in summer! Big open spaces, pavillion area, nice playground and gardens and ponds to walk around
- Harvey John and Lucille Taylor Memorial Park – Sara has personally met Lucille and later read the story behind this park, so it has a pretty cool background. Not to mention, the kids love the playground – so many different play options than a normal park.
- Tiedeman Pond Conservancy – nice area to walk around “the ponds” and several smaller playgrounds nearby
- Firefighter’s Memorial Park – this is a bigger sports complex with soccer and baseball/softball fields, so there’s always something going on. However, a small playground with astroturf surface and a firetruck play structure is something unique and the kids always ask to go here!