Take a family-friendly foray in Downtown Madison

August 15, 2019

by Amanda Wegner, Amanda Wegner Communications

Downtown Madison isn’t just for college students and office workers.

It’s a welcoming atmosphere for all, children and families included.

“Downtown Madison can really be an exciting place for children,” says Jonathon Zarov, director of marketing & communications at the Madison Children’s Museum. “Families can find things to do down here just about any time of year.”

As the summer turns to fall and you’re looking for things to do with your kiddos before school starts, we checked in with a few downtown businesses to see what makes their establishments great places for kids and to get their tips for making the most of a Downtown Madison adventure.

Ian’s Pizza
Ian’s Pizza is a must for any Downtown Madison visit with kids in tow.

“You get a fun, welcoming vibe the moment you walk in the door,” says Zachary Chapman, marketing director at Ian’s Pizza, which has a downtown location at 22 N. Carroll St. “The quick, casual atmosphere also makes it much easier for a family to swing in, have a quick bite to eat and get on with their day. Dining with youngsters is a lot of work, and when you can get the food to your table in less than five minutes, it's almost a no-brainer.

A Wisconsin-born chain selling pizza by the slice (don’t worry, whole pies are available, too), Ian’s is best known for its creative pizzas, including its Mac n' Cheese pizza, which is the most popular slice for kids.

“You wouldn't believe how many photos we see through social media that showcase their child having their first bite of Mac n' Cheese pizza,” says Chapman.

Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream
What’s the perfect complement to pizza? Ice cream, of course! And in Downtown Madison, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream , 468 State St., is a requisite stop for any family-friendly foray.

“Who doesn't love a sweet treat? Our ice cream shoppe is a place where everyone and every family is welcome,” says Rebecca Stoffs, sales director. “Our ice cream cones are decadent little joys that create special moments that families can enjoy together…. It's the perfect place for a family to soak up and enjoy the moments of summer together.”

Chocolate Shoppe offers 50 Madison-made flavors; faves for the younger set include Blue Moon, Superman, Cotton Candy Twist and Birthday Cake. But don’t overlook the ever-rotating list of flavors offered in spring, summer and fall that the business only makes one batch of each year. New in the dipping cabinet in August is Caramel Apple Pie, which joins two brand-new flavors that were recently introduced: Passion Fruit Italian Ice and Rhubarb Crumble ice cream.

A New Hope Collectible Toys & Comics
Whether you’re young or just young at heart, A New Hope Collectible Toys & Comics , 444 State St., is the place for all fangirls and fanboys.

Co-owner Zach Leavy opened the store in 2015 with his two brothers after recognizing that Madison needed a local family-owned comic shop and toy store.

“Anybody can find something they like in our store, whether you’re into popular culture, superheroes or science fiction. Star Wars and Marvel are huge right now as is nostalgia for the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s — who wouldn’t love to have a piece of their childhood back? As collectors ourselves, we take great pride in the quality and selection we have available for our customers.”

Everything in the store at A New Hope, says Leavy, can be played with.

Comics, he adds, help connect people to their favorite superheroes and the world of art, as well as teach kids valuable life lessons in equality, justice, caring. And toys are something kids and adults alike can be behind.

Freedom Skate Shop
Skater-owned and operated in the heart of Downtown Madison, Freedom Skate Shop , 434 State Street, is the destination for skaters of all ages.

“We are solely a skateboard shop,” says owner Geoff Kopski. “We sell boards, all the gear, clothes and accessories, shoes specifically for skating, and everything you’d need to put a skateboard together, from basic to more higher-end.”

He adds: “Kids love skateboarding. And so do kids young-at-heart.”

For kids and adults who enjoy skateboarding, Kopski encourages them to head about two miles east of Downtown Madison to McPike Park, formerly known as Central Park, to enjoy its 20,000-square-foot skate park.

Have a kiddo who doesn’t know how to skateboard but wants to learn? Want to learn yourself? Kopski offers skateboard summer camps and lessons for skaters-to-be of all ages at McPike Park throughout the summer.

Madison Children’s Museum
There is nothing cookie cutter about Madison Children’s Museum , says Zarov, which provides creative, open-ended play for children of all ages.

“There is really nothing else like what we have here,” he says. “Our exhibits are works of art, built on site. Here, you encounter things that are weird and wonderful, then figure out what to do with it.”

If your family hasn’t made an excursion to Madison Children’s Museum, 100 N. Hamilton St., recently, there are some new and forthcoming features on the rooftop as part of the Forces of Nature exhibit. There have also been improvements for wheelchair access and mobility.

The last week of August is always a big one at the museum as parents and grandparents try to fill the last days of summer; as such, there will be of activities available that week, says Zarov. He also encourages families to save the date for Halloween events, including Baby’s First Halloween, part of their 13 Days of Halloween event.

“That’s really one of the most popular events,” says Zarov, “second only to Summerpalooza.”

Heading downtown with your family?
Here are some tips to make the most of your time in Downtown Madison

  • Come up with a plan, including where to park and what you'd like to accomplish. “Sometimes things are a little hectic,” says Ian’s Pizza’s Chapman, “but knowing where you'll be parking and where you want to go will help relieve some of the early stress that most families deal with when venturing out for a fun-filled day.”
  • Have fun and talk to the local shop owners. “Hop into that place off the beaten path that has an open door,” says Kopski.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to take breaks and check out some of the unique features downtown Madison offers.
  • Get your walking shoes or grab an e-bicycle to tour around. Public transportation is also a great option.
  • Don’t forget to visit Downtown Madison’s other cultural assets, such as the Wisconsin Historical Museum and State Capitol. “There is a lot of fun and learning to be had in Downtown Madison,” says Zarov.

Mark your family calendar now for the annual Downtown Madison Family Halloween on October 23 and Holiday Lighting Ceremony on November 16. Check visitdowntownmadison.com for more information and dates about these events and more.

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