Madison, Wisconsin. Madison does three things well: beer, cheese, and people. And not necessarily in that order. According to the locals the city is the perfect mixture of outdoorsy, progressive, proud, friendly, and generous. With the state motto being “Forward” you can count on Madison to do everything with excellence. If you want the most out of Madison go in August when the locals are taking full advantage of everything the city has to offer. Whether it’s the unbelievable weather, the stunning scenery, or the rowdy nightlife Madison can’t help but capture your heart and hold it tight. That is, after it has pumped you full of beer and cheese before sending you on your way.
Madison loves their capitol and proudly boasts as a center for democracy and progressive thinking. If you want to get to know the city stroll around the capitol. You’ll see locals biking, walking, and maybe if you’re lucky you can catch one of the summer concerts on the capitol lawn. Make sure you pay a visit to Lady Forward, the progressive mascot who proudly watches over State Street and also sits atop the capitol dome. A fun fact- they had to cut her off at the shins to ensure she wouldn’t be taller than the national Capitol. She’s also pointing East to pay tribute to her D.C. superior. Head inside the building to check out the architecture and look up into the dome. You may see some of the 24 hour protestors who take shifts protesting the current conservative Governor who has Madisonites up in arms over certain social policies.
Since you’re already at the capitol you might as well pop over to The Cooper’s Tavern located right across the lawn on W. Mifflin St. Grab a table outside, it’s worth the wait to get a dreamy sunset view of the capitol. It’s time to dive right into Wisconsin culture with a local brew. And they aren’t called the brewers for nothing- there’s a long list of craft beers to choose from brewed right in Madison. Grab an Ale Asylum-they’ve got some of the best beers around with the Unshadowed topping the list- and start off with an appetizer because you’re not in a hurry. Soak in the people, the view, and the good food. You can’t go wrong with the pork tenderloin sandwich- pork, caramelized onions, cheese, and a sauce that will make you throw your table manners out door. Go ahead. Lick your fingers and order another wheat beer.
Rise and shine! There’s no time to waste when there’s so much to do in a city that has it all. Snag breakfast or brunch at Marigold Kitchen on 118 S. Pickney St. If you sit at the cute tables on the street you have a clear view of one of the lakes that creates the isthmus that downtown Madison sits on. Plus you’re guaranteed a great breeze. You can’t go wrong with the chilaquiles- a mexican breakfast full of flavor and spices. But if your stomach needs to settle from the night before the breakfast quiche gives you the most bang for your buck and is a great way to ease into the day ahead.
Downtown’s version of Main Street is always bustling. There are plenty of cute shops, bars, and restaurants on this pedestrian only road. With a clear view of Lady Forward and the capitol towering in the background, State Street might encompass everything that is Madison. There are plenty of fair trade stores and coffee shops as well as nightlife that could keep you out long enough to see an incredible Madison sunrise. Take a stroll and pop in different places. By this point you’re already in love with Madison and it could be time to get a token of time well spent in Wisconsin. Anthology is the place to go if you’re looking for cute and different Wisconsin memorabilia. It’s adorable, well priced, and a local business you’re going to want to support. Try not to buy every print or shirt in the store. Dare you.
It isn’t a trip to Wisconsin or even the Midwest if you aren’t stopping at Culver’s. Since you’re on your way to Devil’s Lake you can stop at the original Culver’s in Sauk. Order one of their famous Butterburgers and a side of Wisconsin fried cheese curds. Your stomach and mouth will thank you as you play a game of orange and white- trying to guess the color of your cheese curd before you bite into it. Still hungry? See what the Flavor of the Day is. That’s right, there’s a different flavor of ice cream every day. If you’re thinking this might be one of the better fast food experiences you’ve ever had, then you’re right. Wisconsin has wooed you with her dairy and beef yet again.
The lake is life during a Madison summer. Instead of heading to shark infested waters you can take a refreshing dip in Devil’s Lake- rumored to go all the way to hell because it is so deep. It’s a bit of a drive but the scenery will keep you entertained as you drive through the town of Sauk. After you’ve taken in enough sun and sand you can make the climb to Devil’s Doorway. It’s a moderate 45 minute hike up into the woods surrounding the lake and the view from the top is absolutely stunning. The doorway is a collection of rocks hanging over the cliffs forming a doorway. If you’re lucky, you’ll figure out how to climb inside the doorway. It’s a risk worth taking for the view, but don’t come after me if you plummet to a devil’s death.
The Great Dane
You’ve worked up an appetite after swimming and hiking all afternoon. As you leave Sauk you’ll head back to Dane
County, where downtown Madison is located. There’s a great local restaurant called The Great Dane Pub. I recommend
the downtown location even if it means waiting a bit because their outdoor beer garden has a great vibe. They brew their own beer, so you’re in for a treat with the Crop Circle Wheat among others. In case you haven’t had enough daily dairy get the bacon grilled cheese and sit back. The night is young, the weather is perfect, and you’ve had a phenomenal day exploring Madison.
The Student Union
Head back to school after dinner. That’s right, back to school, back to school, to prove to….well you might be a fool but that’s besides the point. The Union Terrace is pretty much the center of life in Madison and not just for college kids. The patio outside is breathtaking and right on the lake. You can jump off the dock, grab some ice cream, or even a beer. Yes, in typical Madison fashion you can do anything and drink. This includes college. A pitcher of local Spotted Cow beer is the perfect way to enjoy one of the free concerts on the terrace. It’s not just a student union, it’s the social center point for Madison especially during the summer. From here, you’ve got plenty of options to enjoy Madison nightlife or you can just spend it sipping Spotted Cow and listening to great live music. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Watch out coffee lovers, this one might top your list for favorite coffee shop. Crescendo Espresso Bar might be the best kept secret in Madison. It’s off the beaten downtown path on Monroe Street, so you won’t be bumping into any tourists. The coffee- impeccable. They specialize in pour over so your coffee is individually ground just for you. And it might be the best bang for your buck coming in with around three cups for three dollars. Like any great cup of joe you won’t need cream and sugar, just let it sit and open up for the flavor. Honduras might top the charts with a nutty and smooth flavor. Ready for breakfast? Just one word: scones. But you won’t want just one. They are soft, light, and fluffy making sure you come back for more. And more. And ok maybe one more. If you love Crescendo during the day you just might want to swing back by at night when the music scene cranks up with local artists performing live music. If you’re going anywhere for coffee, make sure it’s Crescendo. When you’re done you can head over to the zoo nearby which is free to the public or stroll up and down Monroe and the surrounding neighborhood.
Want to get back on the water? Relax. Per usual Madison has yet another lake nearby. Lake Wingra is huge with plenty to offer in terms of facilities. There’s a beach on the far end if you’re looking to tan the traditional way. But, if you’re feeling risky and ready to get even more sun then it’s time to hop on a paddle board. Madison loves their water sports and the paddle board just might be their number one summer recreational activity. For good reason- it’s a blast and great exercise all at the same time. Wingra Boats is the place to rent and you can paddle out to the middle of the lake to lay out for the perfect tanning experience. If you’re not feeling as adventurous don’t worry, there are swan and paddle boats for rent as well.
Just when you think your day can’t get any better you’re wrong. This local winery is the best and that’s not just a personal opinion either. Wollersheim Winery was named Winery of the Year in 2012 at the San Diego International Wine Competition. It’s easy to see why- when you pull up you instantly feel like you’ve taken a trip to Italian wine country. For just $5 take the winery tour and learn all about the Wollersheim tradition and commitment to excellence. You’ll see where they grow, age, and ferment the wine. The tour is the perfect mix of educational and fun ending with an excellent tasting. Stick around for the brandy tasting afterwards and you’ll be primed and ready to buy bottles to take home. Speaking of brandy, the Wollersheims are branching out and adding a distillery. After speaking with winemaker and owner Phillipe Coquard it’s easy to tell their spirits will be made with the same care and excellence as their wines. Plus, it will all be from local Wisconsin grains. The River Gold and the Ice Wine will take your tastebuds to a whole new level,
especially the Ice Wine. Buy some bottles to take home and you can buy one to drink on the terrace by the wine cave overlooking the grounds. Pack a picnic with Wisconsin sausage and cheese to go with your new favorite wine on the terrace. Or, head to Blue Spoon Cafe which is Culvers’ nicer sit down restaurant. If you do anything in Madison, this is the thing to do and totally worth the drive.
Pope Farm Conservancy
Full off wine and cheese it’s time to enjoy the Wisconsin’s fields. Head over to Pope Farm Conservancy for some of the most breathtaking views around Madison. It’s free to the public which might seem crazy because this is the experience of a lifetime. Climb to the top of the hill and you’ll be greeted by sunflowers as far as the eye can see. Often higher than your head and bigger than your face, these sunflowers add to an already relaxing day. If you look closely you can spot Lady Forward and the capitol off in the distance. Rolling hills, Wisconsin farms, soybeans, sunflowers, and wild flowers will suck you in so drink it all up. Bring a blanket and just sit on top of the hill and watch the sun at its golden hour and reminisce on the trip thus far.
If you’re willing to take a little bit of a drive to the tiny town of Mt. Horeb you won’t be disappointed. Known as the Trollway because of its Norwegian roots, this little suburb is full of character. There’s a farmer’s market on main street and you can even take a tour of the town’s claim to fame- the trolls. That’s right, all over Mt. Horeb there are troll statues originally crafted by one local artist. Everything is named after the trolls which leads to a dinner spot that will sum up your Wisconsin experience all in one meal. The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub is Mt. Horeb’s own little brewery and as local as you can get. Share their famous Uff Da Pretzel a huge pretzel with Wisconsin cheese since you can never have enough cheese. The beers in typical Wisconsin fashion go well with the local dairy and meat cuisine you’ve fallen in love with. The Sunflower and Trailside Wheat are a light way to start what could be a very long last night.
Madison’s nightlife downtown is alive and hopping. Whether it’s free live music, huge street concerts, bars, or dance clubs there’s a little something for everyone. You never know what’s going on downtown on the weekend so the best way to find out is discover for yourself. A great place for specialty cocktails is Merchant. The hand crafted drinks are prepared by bearded bartenders complete with black rimmed glasses and tattoos. Every drink is created with care and precision and presentation is key. The vibe is more trendy and hip than your typical bar with the DJ pumping music after 11. From here, the opportunities are endless depending on the mood. No matter what, Madison has treated you well so live it up and enjoy your last night in a city who has offered you so much.