Get off the ground for some of the capital city’s best views and vibes, especially during warm and sunny weather. Two of these open-air spaces are accessible all year long.
On the roof of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is indoor fine dining and an outdoor, rooftop sculpture garden that is perfect for lingering with a cocktail during pleasant weather. Look down to see the antics of patrons on State Street, the city's most popular pedestrian thoroughfare. Fresco is a part of the Food Fight Restaurant Group and serves American fare with contemporary twists. Start off with a Fresco Champagne Cocktail or Strawberry Basil Mojito.
View Capitol Square activity and Lake Mendota from the fifth-floor Rooftop Ramble, an all-year urban park. It is home to a clubhouse, greenhouse, solar oven, waterfall, trees, shrubs and a seasonal garden of veggies and flowers. Coops of chickens and homing pigeons live here. So does a 3,400-pound, two-headed bird, a fun and odd sculpture made from salvaged materials. The artist is Tom “Dr. Evermor” Every of Baraboo.
One of the finest places to land near sunset is the restaurant's rooftop patio, which offers a clear view of water lovers in action on Lake Monona and strollers to bicyclists on the recreational path following the shoreline. Paisan's, in business since 1950, moved to this location in 2006 because of University Square redevelopment. Patio seating only is offered when the weather cooperates, but the restaurant's Porta Salad – lettuce with chickpeas and shredded cheeses, salami, and ham – is a hit during all seasons and one of our favorite Madison foods.
Catch a late matinee at Sundance Cinemas, and then head to the third-floor, open-air cocktail lounge to talk about what you've seen. The theater was developed by actor Robert Redford as a home for fine art films that are independently produced. It is a part of Hilldale Shopping Center on Madison's west side, and the Rooftop Bar opens at 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when weather cooperates. Share an order of Quesadilla Bites and wash it down with an icy Wisconsin Amber brew.
The crown of Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, a Frank Lloyd Wright design that overlooks Lake Monona, is a free and sleek urban oasis with sweeping views of the water and State Capitol. Look for the Otis Redding Memorial; the soul singer died in a 1967 plane crash not far from Monona Terrace. Unless the weather is difficult, the rooftop garden opens at 8 a.m. daily and can be visited until late evening. Call ahead to make sure it is open. The area is well-lit, spacious and a rooftop cafe operates seasonally. Free, rooftop music performances draw a cross-section of locals during warm weather, and the tunes move indoors at other times.
State Capitol Observation Deck
What better way to view the heart of Madison than from the Observation Deck of the building that is the heart of Wisconsin? During summer months, the sixth-floor deck is open to visitors, who can circle the statehouse dome as they walk and enjoy sweeping views of downtown Madison's lakes and loveliness. Bring a camera, take an elevator to the fourth floor, then look for signs that point the way upward. Where you walk is the lowest of three decks that circle the dome's exterior.