The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has many wonderful museums and attractions for visitors and guests. You don’t have to be a student or a parent of a student to enjoy these popular destinations:
The Geology Museum is free and open to the public and is conveniently located near the heart of campus. Small enough to visit in a morning or afternoon, the museum involves a self-guided journey through five different exhibits: rocks and minerals, fossils, dinosaurs, meteorites, and a fluorescent display. If you have a group of eight people or more, guided tours are available for $2 each (call ahead).
Smaller kids will enjoy a replica of a cave and touching anything not encased in a formal display. From the giant spinning globe at the main entrance to the outdoor rock garden/courtyard, the museum is a “gem” of a find. Consult the museum website for area outreach and other special events and programs (like museum scavenger hunts and weekly story time).
The UW Space Place is located at 2300 S. Park Street in the Villager Mall . Part museum, part classroom, UW Space Place offers education and outreach for tots to teens. Open only during programs and for special events, UW Space Place is free to the general public. That said, an annual membership gives you special discounts on merchandise, workshop fees, and insider information on events and goings on.
Our family visited UW Space Place for a Saturday morning workshop and enjoyed the presentation almost as much as the exhibits and hands on displays for younger kids. Activities like star gazing nights and field trips (eclipses, meteor showers) happen off site and are best planned using the website.
In fact, the largest exhibit is called “Planet Trek Dane County” and is a scale model of our solar system. Spread out along the Southwest Commuter and Military Ridge bike trails, the Sun is located at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in downtown Madison. Pluto is 23 miles away near a trail marker sign in the western village of Mt. Horeb.
Located on the main floor of Chamberlin Hall, the L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum is geared towards older kids and school groups and uses hands-on exhibits to teach wave and sound, light and optics, computer based physics, modern physics, mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. Admission is free to the public and welcomes visitors Monday – Friday between the hours of 8AM and 4PM.
Part of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, you’ll find Babcock Hall on the west side of campus, near the University Hospital system. A learning “laboratory,” the dairy plant is operated by university students and staff.
Guided tours of the plant can be scheduled a week in advance for groups of 10 or more. Tours consist of a climb to a second-story observation deck, where you can watch milk transform into different end products. However, the observation deck usually open to the public and the machinery is labeled and visible from the windows (according to the website, Wednesday mornings are the best day for a tour).
Whether or not you take a tour, many people visit Babcock Hall just for the ice cream and dairy case. Inside the main entrance is a seating area for visitors. You can also watch an informational video (more facility history and dairy industry footage) on the flat screen TV in this room.
Nestled around Lake Wingra near the popular Henry Vilas Zoo, the UW Arboretem exists as a tribute to nature. With 1200 acres and over 20 miles of trails to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby city life, many people consider the UW Arboretum as Madison’s “open space” as it was intended back in the founding year, 1934.
Options for enjoying the UW Arboretum include: going for a hike, observing nature, photography, reading, painting, and breathing fresh air. Inside the Visitor Center you’ll find a library (ranging from field guides to board books), a gift shop, clean bathrooms, literature, and a museum area.
The Memorial Union is known as the heart and soul of the University; it’s the social, cultural, and recreational center of campus. Linking the campus to the community, the Memorial Union offers performances at the Wisconsin Union Theater, not-for-credit courses, outdoor recreation programs (including sailing on Lake Mendota with the Hoofer Outdoor Recreation Club), canoe rentals, and ice cream fresh from the nearby Babcock Hall Dairy.
The Memorial Union Terrace, most recognized by the brightly colored metal chairs, is a wonderful place to read a book, people watch, or eat a meal from one of the onsite cafes and restaurants. Outdoor concerts are popular reasons people pilgrimage to the Memorial Union during the summertime.