Fun & free things to do in Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Olbrich Botanical Gardens via Instagram.

By Britteny Dee

March 25, 2024

There are plenty of things to see and do in Wisconsin, from brewery tours and professional sports games to water parks and luxury spas. But many of these attractions and activities come with a hefty price tag. Fortunately, the Badger State is also beaming with budget-friendly and completely free entertainment options!

Keep reading to discover some fun activities in Milwaukee, Madison, and La Crosse that won’t cost you a penny. We’ve included family-friendly options as well as several things you can do solo or with a group of friends. 

Milwaukee

Explore Oak Leaf Trail

Oak Leaf Trail is a multi-use trail system that spans more than 135 miles. Most of the trail system is smooth asphalt, meaning you can easily explore it by bike or on foot. With seven main “branch lines,” two scenic loops, and two east-west connectors, Oak Leaf Trail provides access to many Milwaukee County parks and other places of interest. 

Looking for a lake view? You’re in luck. About a quarter of Oak Leaf Trail travels along the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Museum Day

Many of Milwaukee’s museums offer free entry on certain days of the month. Plan accordingly, and you can soak up the city’s best art and history without spending a dime. 

Admission is free at the Milwaukee Public Museum — which is home to four million objects and specimens spread across three and a half floors — on the first Thursday of the month. With your free ticket, you get access to all of the museum’s permanent exhibits. 

Visitors can also get one free adult admission ticket per group on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. 

The Milwaukee Art Museum also offers free admission on the first Thursday of the month. Here, you’ll find more than 30,000 works of art, ranging from drawings and paintings to sculpture and textiles. The museum’s Burke Brise Soleil, or wings, are also a sight to see. Weather permitting, they open each day with the museum, close and reopen around noon, and close again with the museum. 

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum via Instagram.

If you prefer taking in unique works of art in an outdoor setting, check out Black Cat Alley, located in Milwaukee’s East Side district. This curated street art gallery spans two blocks and features more than 20 murals created by local artists, as well as creators from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, and as far away as Berlin. 

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Black Cat Alley via Instagram.

Alice’s Garden Urban Farm

Alice’s Garden Urban Farm was established as a place where Milwaukee residents could grow their own food. Now, the two-acre farm, which has about 100 garden plots representing 80 local families and organizations, also hosts events and activities for community members, including weekly walks through its herbal labyrinth. You can also take a self-guided or guided tour of the farm and learn about its role as a stop on the Underground Railroad. 

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm via Facebook.

Bradford Beach

Beach day, anyone? Pack your towel and some sunscreen and head to Bradford Beach. It’s undoubtedly Milwaukee’s most popular public beach — and for good reason. There’s plenty of space to relax, and tons to do too. Go for a swim in Lake Michigan, watch (or join!) a sand volleyball game, or sit back and soak up the sun. There are also restrooms and two concession buildings. 

Madison

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Immerse yourself in nature at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, where admission is always free. There are 16 acres of outdoor gardens to tour, including the Serenity Garden, Herb Garden, and Woodland Garden, plus an indoor, tropical conservatory.

The Royal Thai Pavilion and Garden is a highlight of the outdoor gardens because it features the only Thai Pavilion in the continental U.S. This particular pavilion is also the only Thai Pavilion outside of Thailand that’s surrounded by a garden.

Henry Vilas Zoo

Free zoos in the U.S. are rare these days, but you can still visit Henry Vilas Zoo for absolutely no charge (even the parking is free!). Henry Vilas Zoo is home to more than 800 animals, including Amur tigers and African lions (Big Cats Exhibits), tropical birds and fish (Tropical Rainforest Aviary), and polar bears and harbor seals (Arctic Passage).  

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Henry Villas Zoo via Instagram.

Picnic Point

Pack a picnic basket with all your favorite treats and head to Picnic Point. This picturesque peninsula along Lake Mendota’s south shore is almost a mile long and easy to access. You can reach Picnic Point by foot, car, bike, bus, or boat. Once there, take a relaxing stroll surrounded by nature. Then, pick a spot and set up your picnic. You can even reserve a fire circle (wood is provided for free) to cook your meal or roast marshmallows.    

Dane County Farmers’ Market 

Grab your reusable grocery bags and head to the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Held every Saturday from April through November around the Capitol Square area, this market is the biggest producer-only farmers’ market in the U.S. During your visit, you can chat with the more than 300 vendors and learn about the produce, meats, cheeses, flowers, and other goods they’re selling. 

You can also check out the holiday market at the Monona Terrace in December, or the late winter market at Garver Feed Mill from January through April.  

While the goods on offer aren’t free, the experience is! 

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Dane County Farmers’ Market via Instagram.

La Crosse

Grandad Bluff

Take in a new view of La Crosse from Grandad Bluff. Atop this 600-foot tall bluff, you get a gorgeous view of La Crosse and the Mississippi River Valley. Getting to the top is relatively easy too — follow the paved road to the parking area near the top of the bluff. Grandad Bluff also has restrooms, a covered shelter, and a picnic area. 

Continue your adventure by hiking one of the many trailheads along the road leading up to Grandad Bluff. 

Riverside International Friendship Gardens

Riverside International Friendship Gardens is a collection of public gardens that celebrates the sister-city relationships La Crosse has with locales in China, Germany, France, Russia, Norway, Ireland, and Cameroon. Each sister city has its own garden that features different plants and objects from the region, such as Digitalis, the national flower of Norway, and peonies (sister city Luoyang is the peony capital of China).

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Riverside International Friendship Gardens via Facebook.

Hear, Here

Hear, Here is a self-guided walking tour of downtown La Crosse during which you can discover stories of locals — past and present — and uncover lesser-known parts of La Crosse’s history. When you see an orange street sign that says Hear, Here, call the toll-free number on the sign to hear a first-person account of events that took place in that location. 

There are currently more than 69 stories from a diverse group of people who call downtown La Crosse home. 

Free Activities For The Whole Family In Milwaukee, Madison, & La Crosse

Photo courtesy of Hear, Here.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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