7 Madison sites you can't miss

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On the rooftop of the Monona Terrace Community Convention Center, you’ll find one of only two memorials to the great soul singer Otis Redding who died in a plane crash on Lake Monona on Dec. 10, 1967.

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They say: The best things in life are free. The Madison, Wisc. area does a good job of proving this, with dozens of free attractions, tours and events. Plan a trip packed with free fun, saving your getaway dollars for comfortable lodging and dining in the capital city’s outstanding restaurants. See the Madison Visitors Guide online at www.visitmadison.com, download the smart-phone app at the iTunes store or request a free printed copy at (800) 373-6376.

No Place Like Dome

The Wisconsin State Capitol dome dominates the Madison Skyline. It rises some 200 feet, and the statue “Wisconsin” tops it. The building is considered one of the finest in the nation with exquisite art filling the interior. Free 50-minute guided tours are offered daily except New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. No reservations are required.

(608) 266-0382


Gotta Have Art

This city loves art. The cutting-edge Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters are both located in the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street. Each offers excellent changing exhibits and free admission. The Overture Center itself is an architectural delight open to the public. About a mile down State Street on the University of Wisconsin Campus, admission is free at the expanded Chazen Museum of Art whose collection includes more than 20,000 works ranging from ancient Greece and Western Europe to the Soviet Empire, Japan, Africa and the USA. A short stroll across UW Library Mall takes you to the Memorial Union where changing exhibits in galleries and selections from the permanent collection are displayed.

Sit Back, Relax, Stroll

The UW Memorial Union features the Terrace on Lake Mendota’s shore dotted with iconic, bright red, green and yellow sunburst chairs. It’s a favorite spot for students to study, meet friends, catch some rays or watch sailboats on the lake. The Union sells a great variety of food, including the UW Dairy Farm’s Babcock Hall Ice Cream ranked with the finest in the country. Sitting is free and ice cream is reasonably priced. Take a free, 100-minute guided walking tour of campus highlighting campus life, academics and University history. Tours start at Union South near Camp Randall Stadium. Reservations are recommended.

(608) 263-2400.

Do it Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was a UW Student and some of his finest works are on display in Madison. Drive by the famous Unitarian Meeting House on University Bay Drive (free) or take a guided tour for a small donation. The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center just off the Capitol Square is open to the public and offers guided tours for a nominal charge. On the rooftop, you’ll find one of only two memorials to the great soul singer Otis Redding who died in a plane crash on Lake Monona on Dec. 10, 1967.

Vets and the Civil War

During the Civil War, Madison’s Camp Randall served as a training ground for Union Troops. In 1862, it became a prison for about 1100 captured rebel soldiers, some of whom died. They are buried in Confederate Rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery, the northernmost of any Confederate cemetery. Nearby, Union Army soldiers lie in rest. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square honors veterans of all wars and has excellent Civil War themed exhibits. Admission is free.

Wild Animals, Great Gardens

About a mile south of Camp Randall is the free, 26-acre Henry Vilas Zoo. It has dozens of animals including Polar Bears, Pythons, Monkeys, Zebras, Fish, Emus, Lions, Rhinos and other exotic species. Across Lake Wingra is the 1200 acre UW Arboretum. Widely recognized for research in ecological restoration, it includes the oldest and most varied collection of restored ecological communities in the world: tallgrass prairies, savannas, several forest types and wetlands. It also houses flowering trees, shrubs, a world-famous lilac collection and offers educational tours. Across town is award-winning Olbrich Gardens. Visitors may tour the outdoor gardens free and Bolz Indoor Conservatory admission is $2.

A Short Drive to Zesty Mustard and the Winery of the Year

The zany National Mustard Museum (free) is in Middleton, on Madison’s west side. Visitors are invited to sample as many of the hundreds of mustards as they care to taste. The museum has more than 5,300 jars, bottles and tubes from all over the world as well as antique mustard pots, tins, mustard advertisements and memorabilia. Wine lovers should take scenic drive 25 minutes north to Wollersheim Winery at Prairie du Sac. Sip and sample free at the 2012 San Diego International Wine Competition’s Winery of the Year.

For additional free events and exhibits pick up a free copy of Isthmus weekly newspaper or visit www.thedailypage.com/theguide/.