Madison Children’s Museum and Henry Vilas Zoo


No Madison childhood is complete unless you’ve been to MCM and the zoo.  We go to both multiple times per year.  Not usually on the same day!  In the last week we went to the zoo one day and the children’s museum another day.    I have some tips for both.  First up, the zoo last week.

The marmosets are very fun to watch!

The marmosets are very fun to watch!

We always park “behind” the zoo either near the entrance that is across from Vilas Beach or near the entrance with the new animal health and zoo school building.  I like these parking lots because they usually are easier to navigate and I like the location.   Getting there early is nice to avoid crowds.   We always bring a packed lunch.  There are numerous picnic tables inside the zoo, as well as in the park outside the zoo or near the beach.  If it is a hot day, staying to play on the beach after exploring the zoo can be fun too!  The zoo itself is free but bring a couple bucks to ride the train or the carousel.  The playground is amazing but gives me anxiety because it is big and easy to lose sight of the kids.  They are old enough now that it is better (5 and 4 years old), and there is only one exit, but I still do not recommend it for very young kids.

At the Children’s Museum, we always park on the lower level of the ramp onsite.  I find it easier to get out of when leaving.  It’s on the loop and there are no cars parked around the driveway like on the upper level.  If you are a Madison area resident, I HIGHLY recommend becoming a member.  We go many times during the year, and the membership is also good for discounts and free admissions to other children’s museums and science centers.  We’ve used it for admissions all over the place (Science and Industry and Field in Chicago, Discovery World and Betty Brinn in Milwaukee, Discovery Center in Rockford, Minnesota Children’s Museum, and more!).  Also, you get some guest passes too which come in handy when people visit.  We used guest passes yesterday when we were there with a friend of mine from elementary and high school that happened to be in Madison!

This is an older picture, but I find it awesome. 5 kids under 5 years old all doing the same thing quietly.  Amazing!

This is an older picture, but I find it awesome. 5 kids under 5 years old all doing the same thing quietly. Amazing!


I also bring a lunch here.  There are tables in the lobby.  They do have a  little snack stand and sell Roman Candle pizza as well.  I always bring a quarter for the lockers and put all our stuff inside.  To have the most fun…go at a time that is not busy.  We have found that mid-afternoon is great.  The day cares and field trips have gone home for the day, and younger kids are home taking their naps!  My kids’ favorite things to do are the city play table, painting wall, shadow room and pirate lookout on the roof.  But the whole place is interesting!  They could spend hours here!

Packing lunches, I like to use the bento boxes from  When I bought these, it was a relatively new concept, but I’ve since seen similar things at Target and in the Pottery Barn catalog, etc.

A typical lunch and snack for picnicking.  Although, usually only 3 boxes (me and the kids).

A typical lunch and snack for picnicking. Although, usually only 3 boxes (me and the kids).

And try these cookies for a snack.  They are the best oatmeal cookie I have tried and I’ve tried a lot.  I’ve been on a mission for awhile to find a great oatmeal cookie to make and this is it! (original recipe is HERE).


Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

– 1 cup butter or margarine (softened)
– 3/4 cup brown sugar
– 3/4 cup white sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla
– 2 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp salt
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 3 cups quick oats
– 2 cups chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Mix butter and sugars together
  2. Add in eggs, vanilla, baking soda, salt and cinnamon
  3. Stir in flour
  4. Stir in oats
  5. Stir in chips

Cook at 375 degrees for 8-10 mins. Makes about 3 dozen.


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