Insiders' Guide to Madison, Wisconsin | Midwest Living

Insiders' Guide to Madison, Wisconsin

What do locals know about Madison, Wisconsin, that the rest of us don't? We've tracked down the best of the well-trod turf and the secret spots for 16 cool places to visit.
  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art vs National Mustard Museum

    Housed in the airy, expansive Overture Building near the capitol, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (pictured) holds engaging exhibits from global artists. (608) 257-0158;

    The quirky yet classy National Mustard Museum has more than 6,400 mustards and mustard memorabilia. Don't miss the gift shop's tasting bar. A sample of Chicago Fire Mustard, anyone? (800) 438-6878;


  • State Street vs Monroe Street

    State Street bustles with more than 250 shops, restaurants and nightclubs.

    A walk down quieter Monroe Street, starting at the Badgers' Camp Randall Stadium, offers roughly three dozen places to shop and dine. Standouts include Orange Tree Imports (pictured), featuring gourmet kitchenware and bakeware, and Art Gecko, a riotously colorful shop selling handmade items from Bali. For lunch, try a rice bowl or steamed buns at Macha Tea Lounge.



  • Babcock Hall vs Sassy Cow

    Want ice cream in Madison? Then go to Babcock Hall (pictured), which has churned out great gallons for more than 60 years on the UW campus. (608) 262-3045;

    Opened in 2008, Sassy Cow's freezer only makes 20 quarts at a time. Try one of the unique flavors—salted caramel, green tea, pear ginger—at the pastoral creamery in Columbus, 15 minutes north of Madison, or at Beans 'n Cream in nearby Sun Prairie. (608) 837-7766;


  • Arbor House vs Speckled Hen Inn

    Arbor House birthed Madison's ecofriendly lodging movement 18 years ago with its use of fluffy organic bedding and quality low-flow devices throughout its Monroe Street B&B. From $125. (608) 238-2981;

    The Speckled Hen Inn (pictured) opened in 2000 on 50 acres of bucolic land just outside town. Flowers come from cutting beds outside the front door, and breakfasts feature eggs from the inn's chickens, seasoned with herbs grown on-site. From $135. (877) 670-4844;

    Arbor House

    The Speckled Hen Inn

  • Photo by Melanie Radzicki McManus

    Avenue Bar vs Mickey's Tavern

    Friday night fish fries have drawn patrons to the Avenue Bar since the 1970s. (608) 257-6877;

    Follow locals to another slightly worn gem: Mickey's Tavern. Housed in a 1902 flatiron building, Mickey's features a retro bar, living room-style dining areas and a spacious patio. Try the Sexy Fries (pictured)—potato wedges tossed in white truffle dressing and sprinkled with Parmesan and red pepper flakes—and the mac 'n' cheese, bathed in melted smoked Gouda. (608) 251-9964

    Avenue Bar

  • The capitol and campus vs the arboretum

    Madison's well-tended Capitol Square and university campus beg for strolls, especially during the Dane County Farmers Market (800) 373-6376;

    Want to escape the crowds? Head for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, a 1,280-acre oasis featuring prairie, savannah, marsh and deciduous forest, plus gardens and more than 20 miles of trails (608) 263-7888;

    Capitol Square

    University of Wisconsin Arboretum

  • Photo Courtesy of Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau

    Betty Lou Cruises vs Rutabaga

    Step aboard a Betty Lou motor yacht for a leisurely cruise around Lake Mendota or Monona. (608) 246-3138;

    Or flirt with the lakes more intimately by renting a canoe or kayak at Rutabaga, which offers solo and tandem canoes. The staff provides as much instruction as you need before you're off to quietly paddle past stately homes. (608) 223-9300;

    Betty Lou Cruises


  • Ian's Pizza vs Glass Nickel

    Ian's Pizza on State Street cemented its reputation selling pizza by the slice (and opened satellite shops in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood and in Milwaukee). Patrons gobble up its top-selling mac 'n' cheese pizza (608) 257-9248;

    A short drive to the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood leads to lesser-known Glass Nickel (pictured). While you're noshing on the best-selling Fetalicious pizza, with its tender mushrooms, fresh spinach, tomatoes and crumbled feta, sip a hearty Scottish ale or peppery Cabernet and enjoy the restaurant's Bohemian-chic decor (608) 245-0880;

    For more information on Madison, contact the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 373-6376;

    (A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2012.)

    Ian's Pizza

    Glass Nickel

    Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau

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