Water world

Whether you call them “splash pads” or “spray parks,” if you want to have fun cooling down on a hot day, there’s nothing better than letting colorful, funky-looking water features shower, mist and squirt you. Madison has three such water playgrounds, located at Cypress Park, Elver Park and Reindahl Park, and they are open daily through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. There’s also a spray feature at the Goodman Community Center. Spray parks at Cottage Grove, DeForest, Deerfield, Fitchburg, Middleton, Poynette, Sun Prairie and Windsor also invite you to make a splash.

Groovy lunch

YOUR Lunch Time LIVE, hosted by Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, returns for another summer of free Tuesday afternoon concerts on the South Hamilton Street corner of the Capitol Square. Local artists take the stage from noon to 1 p.m. for 13 weeks — June 7 through Aug. 30 — and this year’s lineup announced so far includes blues (Madtown Mannish Boys), Celtic rock (The Tooles), Latin music (Angela Puerta Band), and hip-hop (Urban Community Arts Network). Don’t forget to support the artists by purchasing some merch!

Ringer!

Three Madison city parks have dedicated horseshoes courts: Yahara Place Park on Lake Monona, Orlando Bell Park on the far east side, and Marlborough Park in the Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood. The city claims these can double as bocce courts, but in our opinion they are more suited to horseshoes. So the upside — you don’t have to drive a metal stake into your lawn and cart in a bunch of sand. The only downside: it’s BYO horseshoes.

Music everywhere

During the past decade, June 21 has become a day that local musicians and music fans keep circled on the calendar for the return of Make Music Madison. First taking place locally in 2013, the summer solstice becomes a celebratory day of music making by anyone from seasoned pros to absolute beginners. And rather than being venue-based, most performances take place in random spots, from parks to perhaps your neighbor’s porch or back yard. Find the Madison schedule at makemusicmadison.org. Other Dane County communities participating in 2022 include Middleton, Sun Prairie and Waunakee; find links at makemusicday.org/cities.

Inflatable screen and chill

Monona’s Food Cart Cinema night brings together a selection of food carts and a free family-friendly blockbuster movie on an inflatable screen at Schaefer Shelter at Winnequah Park. The city of Monona will also be selling beer. Bring a blanket and chairs, bug spray and leave Fido at home. This year’s event is Aug. 20; the film is yet to be determined. Madison Parks also has the Sina Davis Movies in the Park program with free films at different parks all summer long. The full schedule is at cityofmadison.com/parks/events/movies. We’ve already marked Dune (the one with Timothée Chalomet, not Kyle MacLachlan) on our calendar — July 10 at The Glen Golf Park.

Proceed to Paoli

The best vibes this side of the Sugar River are in Paoli Sunday mornings. The farmers’ market at The Mill Paoli is an oasis with plenty to explore, just 25 minutes south of Madison. The market features a good selection of small vendors selling veggies, baked goods and non-edible stuff like soaps. There are little shops and boutiques throughout the one-block stretch of Paoli. An abundance of shady spots to relax and take it all in may be the market’s most charming attribute. (The food’s not free, but the Molino Taqueria serves fresh tacos, burritos, and on the right Sunday, pork sandwiches. Plus, the bloody marys and cocktails start flowing at 9 a.m.) There is always free live music starting at 10 a.m. And it’s an excellent destination to take out-of-town guests. The outdoor market is dog- and kiddo- friendly, too.

Bollywood glamor

If TikTok has proven nothing else, it’s that Americans want to shake it. All the time. Get the kids started early with the best moves on the planet with Bollywood Kids Dance Camp on Tuesday, July 19, on the roof at Monona Terrace as part of the Lakeside Kids program. Manisha Bhargava teaches the flowing, energetic dance style professionally, and this dance fitness routine will develop kids’ coordination, confidence and joy — and may prompt requests for Bollywood streaming. No experience necessary.

Stick your neck out and make like a giraffe

As one of the country’s few free zoos, the Henry Vilas Zoo is a popular go-to spot for locals and a destination for tourists. We wish we had some insider information on the best times to go, but the truth is it’s busy on most days. If you can, try a weekday — it’s usually a tad less crazy than weekends — or, if you’re up for it, a day when the weather is a bit challenging. If the timing is right, you will see lions — and hear them roar — camels, red pandas, alligators, giraffes, tigers and more. There is a restaurant, but, in the spirit of free or low-cost adventures, pack a picnic. There are tables around the zoo, and in the adjacent Vilas Park as well. Then, if you feel like a splurge, get a cone made with Chocolate Shoppe ice cream, made right here in Madison.

The Great Pyramids

Heading to Law Park to see the Mad-City Ski Team perform their incredible balancing acts is a must at least once every summer. All volunteers, the skiers perform free most Sundays, Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, 6-7:30 p.m. The team has won 11 national championships, one as recently as 2019. Bring a chair and your best cheering voice. And if you sit close to the lake, prepare to get splashed.

Rock in the garden

There are few spots more comfortable for a concert than sprawling out on a blanket with a picnic dinner on the great lawn at Olbrich Gardens. This year the Summer Concert Series is once again free to attend (though, a donation to support the Gardens is appreciated) and takes place every Tuesday from June 14 until Aug. 16. First-time performers at Olbrich include ska kings Something to Do (June 21), hip-hop heroes Supa Friends (June 28), Irish rockers The Kissers (July 19), and the eclectic all-stars of Combo Noir (July 26). Find the full lineup at olbrich.org.

Mark-making

The Art Cart continues to be one of the most joyous activities in town and still, absolutely free to all. The mobile studio shows up with all the needed art supplies and plenty of inspiration at parks all over town, co-sponsored by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and Madison School & Community Recreation. Yes, it’s for kids — the only way you can make it in as an adult is to accompany someone younger than 6. For ages 3 and up. Find the full summer’s schedule at mscr.org.

— contributions from Dylan Brogan, Judith Davidoff, Linda Falkenstein, Bob Koch and Michael Popke





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