Before we head out, here are some of my favorite things/places in Madison. Mind you, I live on the near east side so most of my favorite things are on that side of town. You’ll also notice a trend that I tend to like places that are a bit more low key and not overly formal. I also love food and Madison has some top tier restaurants; there are so many more that I could have put on here.
When you think of ‘Madison’s Best,’ there are obvious answers that we frequently hear: farmer’s market, State Street, The Memorial Union, the state capitol building, and The Old Fashioned. Instead of talking about the usual suspects, I wanted to talk about some other, less known gems. If you haven’t checked out any of these parts of Madison, you’ve gotta check them out. They’re known for a reason. Especially the Union. Stop by the Union (get a beer), farmers market, capitol and State Street all in one summer day. It’s fabulous.
Johnson Public House (JPH) & A-ok: Both owned by the same lovely people, Gwen and Kyle Johnson. They’re both so sweet and the people they hire are equally as awesome. Not to mention, they have the best coffee in town (if you ask me). They also have delicious food as well. JPH is a low key spot on Johnson street (a lot of fun shops/restaurants in the area) whereas A-ok has a bit of a retro-vibe with old fashioned phosphate sodas and is joined with a bar and restaurant.
Heritage Tavern – They also serve lunch and dinner as well, but their brunch is phenomenal and super reasonably priced for the amazing quality you get. Seriously, you’ve gotta check this out. Dan Fox is a genius. Oh, and if I haven’t convinced you, they have duck fat hash-browns. Drool.
Bradbury’s – A cute (and small) creperie and coffee shop off of the capitol square. They rotate their crepes weekly and typically include seasonal ingredients. It’s very small and gets jammed on the Saturday/Sunday morning rush (10:30-11:30), but you can usually squeeze in if you’re a small group. It’s well worth it. Coffee and crepes are both delicious and it’s a great spot to people watch.
Daisy’s Cafe and Cupcakery – I only recently ate here for the first time, but I loved it. I love how low key and cozy it is in there. The service is fantastic and the food is delicious. You’ve gotta try their strata. Yum.
Batch Bakehouse – The ‘artisinal’ style bakehouse with incredible variety and deliciousness in both savory and sweet form. They make pastries (of all forms), croissants, pies, cookies and bread-loaves.
Greenbush Bakery – Traditional kosher style bakery with THE BEST OLD-FASHIONED DONUTS around. This is more of your classic donut shop, and for really cheap. Did I mention that they’re open late night?!
Weary Traveler – Another cozy dinner space. This place is one of my favorite winter hangouts. They have delicious warm drinks, perfect to escape the winter cold. Their food and service are both always excellent.
Umami – Dumpling, hot bun and raman bar. Pretty much everything I’ve ever eaten at Umami is good. They make a delicious seaweed salad and solid drinks. They’ve got a green tea créme brûlée that has to take the cake for best desert. It’s amazing.
Ha Long Bay – Oh man, their menu is long and all so good. Get your fill of curry here along with a variety of Vietnamese and Thai food.
Sol’s – Their Bibimbap is awesome. Add some of their extra sauce for some real spice. If you get a chance to go on a Tuesday, get their Korean fried chicken. SOOO GOOD.
Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry – Surprisingly, no dumplings, but delicious burgers, fries and shakes. I love the vibe of this place. They’re always playing oldies and black and white films. My favorite part (aside from the food) is the cozy style wood booths.
La Taguara – Tasty Venezuelan food on the East side. If you want flavor, you’ve got it. It’s nothing fancy, but the food is so good.
Banzo – Delicious falafel, but if you ask me, their platter is where it’s at. Comes with a little bit of everything and it’s all so good.
Glass Nickel – Delicious pizza and they deliver fast and until 3am most nights. This is for late nights. You want tots w/cheese? They’ve got them.
Natt Spil – My favorite bar in Madison. Delicious food (3 cup chicken/tofu or brick oven pizzas), snacks (check out the salsa or hummus plate) and drinks. They have DJ’s every night starting at 10pm so there’s always good/atypical music. The space itself is super cool and the service is off the chain. Love this place.
Argus – A local dive with outdoor seating and a range of sandwiches/eats. Their food is super reasonably priced and delicious. Same goes for the drinks. It’s a fun evening spot to chill and hang with friends.
Alchemy – Low key space, with delicious food and drinks and frequent live music. It’s definitely a cozy space. Love going there in the winter time, but in the summer they also have outdoor seating.
Caribou Bar AKA ‘The Bou’– If you’re looking for some local color, the Bou is perfect. It’s a true Wisconsin dive-bar with a strange and entertaining mix of people. Where the townie crowd meets college kids and everything in between. It’s no frills, but they make a damn good burger, and for five bucks. Not to mention, your usual fried food variety: cheese curds, jalepeno poppers (personal fave), fries, etc. The bartenders are typically super friendly too and make a mean drink.
Comeback Inn – So many beers, FRIED PLATTER, free popcorn and $3.50 late night burgers?! It’s a drunk haven. They have late night music and it’s huge. Great for larger parties.
Ale Asylum – I just took a tour here for the first time (they offer them every Sunday). If you ever get a chance, check it out. It’s a lot of fun and pretty mind blowing. Not to mention, their beer is delicious. I’m partial to Nut-brown or Unshadowed. Their salsa is also great.
James Madison Park – This is one of my favorite places to walk in the summer. Best sunset views in Madison, no doubt. I had the luxury of living across the street from this park for years. It’s always super lively with all kinds of people their to grill-out, play basketball/volleyball, hoopers, picnic-ers, musicians, you name it.
Wingra Park – You can rent pontoons, paddle boats, paddle-boards, a swan (supe-cute) or just feed the ducks. It’s gorgeous and you even get a view of the capitol.
Central Park – In the summer time this park is host to numerous festivals including outdoor live music.
Picnic Point – It’s fun to bike out onto this peninsula. There’s plenty of space to make campfires with wood provided on site; an in-the-woods experience right near downtown.
Devil’s Lake – Beautiful hiking and swimming. Definitely check it out during the fall colors. It can get really busy this time of year so if you get a weekday off, take a day trip. While you’re at it, check out the apple farms near by. So much fun. They also have cross country skiing trails. A little over a half hour drive from Madison, but well worth it.
Capitol City Trail – There are so many great biking paths in Madison. This trail goes all around Madison and is a great half day trip. You can stop and picnic in a couple fun areas as well.
Schuster Farms: This is a great fall activity. Get cider donuts, cider, carmel apples, seasonal pies and people watch. So much fun. You can also pick out some fun pumpkins, go through their corn maze, take a hayride, and if you dare, check out their haunted house. This is about 25 minutes from Madison.
Sector67 – Local maker space on the near east side in the Atwood neighborhood. Consider a membership to have access to a range of equipment: wood and metals shop, computer lab, laser cutter, 3D printing, sewing machines, car lift and pretty much anything else you can think of. There are quite a fun variety of people working there and it’s a great way to meet people.
Foshizzle – A collective of DJ’s in Madison who through a range of parties, including the monthly (summer) James Madison Park parties, and caboose parties (held in, you’ve guessed it: a caboose of a train). If you like to dance, this is a pretty great start.
Tenney Park Ice Skating – If you’re not partial to ice skating, you can even just walk the paths around Tenny Park. It’s beautiful.
Walk the iced-over lake – Although it looks like this year we won’t get a frozen lake in the history of ever. During a usual winter when it does freeze, you can even cross country ski across the lake.
Obrich Botanical Gardens – Although you can go here year round (check out their gorgeous outdoor gardens in spring/summer), this is great to check out in the winter when you need some greenery and warmth to cheer you up. It’s only $2!
Boulders Gym – Rock climbing. They also offer yoga and other classes as well.
UW Hockey @ Kohl Center – This is always a fun alternative that I frequently forget about. I’m not a ‘sports person’ per-se, but it’s quite entertaining. At the very least, you can eat nachos and other stand foods. Never a bust.
Sled down Elver – Elver Park has the best sled hill. It’s always a scene watching people come down.
And of course all of the food places listed above too. 😉