While Madison, Wisconsin wears its college-town moniker proudly, the city's vibrant arts, culture, and foodie scenes prove it has much more to offer. Although we would never suggest skipping the seemingly city-wide football tailgate parties on Saturdays in the fall, there is definitely more to experience. Madison is also home to several James Beard-nominated restaurants, more than 200 miles of bike trails in and around the city, and five Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings.
If you happen to find yourself in Madison on a weekend when the University of Wisconsin football team is playing, you're in for a treat. From the Capitol building all the way down to Camp Randall football stadium, you can find students on lawns, decks, porches, and rooftops celebrating another Game Day Saturday.
If you're looking for a more family-friendly tailgate, check out the University-sponsored Badger Bash tailgate. This free event located on the grounds of Union South, one of the school's two student unions, features appearances from the University of Wisconsin marching band and school dance team, as well as food and drink, and live music.
For some Madison residents, there is another big event to look forward to on Saturdays April through November — the Dane County Farmer's Market. Encircling the ground of the State Capitol building, the farmers' market features fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and, of course, cheese from more than 250 vendors. While you may not be able to visit every stall, don't miss the famous spicy cheese bread from Stella's Bakery.
Located on the shores of Lake Mendota, the Memorial Union Terrace is a favorite hangout spot for students, alumni, and local families. The multi-tiered outdoor space features plenty of seating, food and drink, and live music in the warm summer months.
For a more upscale waterfront setting, check out the Boathouse Bar and Grill at the Edgewater Hotel. Although the floor-to-ceiling windows offer a beautiful view of the lake, we suggest trying to snag a table on the outdoor patio. The wait will be worth it.
Once the epicenter of Madison's hippie culture, the "Willy Street" neighborhood (centered around Williamson Street) is also home to some of the city's best restaurants. With chef Daniel Bonnano recently nominated for the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef award, the Mediterranean-inspired A Pig in a Fur Coat easily rivals any of the big-name restaurants found in larger cities.
You can still find a dose of the counterculture with a visit to Lazy Jane's for Sunday brunch. Formerly a two-story house, this funky spot features a wealth of breakfast (and non-breakfast) options, including a seitan hash good enough to convert any carnivore.
Situated between two lakes, Madison is a haven for outdoor activity. The Memorial Union offers reasonably priced canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals. If you're looking to stay dry, check out the scenic bike trails — the loop around Lake Mendota and the trail through the wooded UW Arboretum come highly recommended.
With Bascom Hill (the University's version of a quad) at one end and the State Capitol building at the other, State Street is made for leisurely strolls. Closed off to car traffic, the lively thoroughfare is dotted with cafes, boutiques, museums, and bars.