Image via Maxwell Thomas Haning, 2012

Local's Guide: Madison, Wisconsin 


Bassett Street Brunch Club
444 W. Johnson Street
As the name suggests, this is a brunch spot. A good brunch spot, at that. Brunch Club serves breakfast all day, a win in my book. Their menu features typical American cuisine and fantastic donuts, crafted from scratch and baked homemade daily in-house.

2701 Monroe Street 
A childhood favorite of mine, this restaurant features American cuisine with a contemporary atmosphere. They've also got an incredible selection of vodka, if that's what you're into. Searching for a low-key Sunday brunch? Look no further - their bottomless mimosas are popular with the city's college crowd. 

122 West Mifflin Street 
Perfect for the Italian lover with adventurous taste. Cento embodies an elegant atmosphere with great ambiance nicely. The restaurant highlights sustainable farm-to-table sourcing and offers well-balanced craft cocktails. 

449 Grand Canyon Drive 
This place is a serious contender for my favorite steakhouse in Madison. Delaney's is traditional steakhouse, featuring classic white tablecloth service with old school charm. It's my firm opinion that you can't go wrong with an order of button mushrooms as an appetizer and an Oscar-style filet. 

1 S. Pickney Street
Sandwiches, soups, salads and burgers... executed on a higher level. Graze takes traditional pub food beyond typical expectations. My favorites? An order of the vodka batter cheese curds and tomato bisque. This restaurant takes comfort food to a new level! The beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows give patrons an unrivaled view of the State Capitol, making for a unique dining experience. Additionally, their patio is quite possibly my favorite in Madison for dining al fresco!

227 State Street
Fresco offers an elegant twist on American cuisine. The panoramic views of Madison from this rooftop restaurant can't be beat! The restaurant opens with a cozy lounge situated at the front of house, great for pre or post dinner libations. Fresco's menu changes seasonally, but rest assured, everything is great. I especially love that this restaurant is on top of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and features a rooftop garden - a rare find in Madison. 

Madison Sweets
511 State Street
One of the only places in Madison to offer fresh macaroons daily (really the only worthwhile place to    get one!), this bakery is situated in a quaint little store in the heart of State Street. Madison Sweets also offers a variety of cupcakes baked daily, as well as a host of chocolate and fudge treats.

Michael's Frozen Custard
Multiple Locations
Another childhood favorite, Michael's has been around Madison seemingly forever. Each location embodies a cute 1950's diner kind of charm. I'll have you know it is my firm opinion that frozen custard will always taste better than ice cream! Michael's is one of my favorites for a summertime treat.

Red Sushi 
106 King Street
Located in the heart of downtown, Red is Madison's premier sushi restaurant. Red offers the ambiance of a typical sushi restaurant - cozy, dark furnishings and dimly lit. However, their unique menu and always fresh selection of fish set Red apart. My favorite rolls? The spicy king crab and rock & roll, paired with a glass of oaky chardonnay (or a lychee martini). You really can't go wrong here.

Roast Public House
558 State Street
Artisan sandwiches and craft beer; the mantra of Roast might be simple, but they do it well. The menu rotates seasonally, but one can always expect a variety of sandwiches, salads and burgers.

Tutto Pasta
305 State Street
Classic Italian fare housed in a charming corner building in the heart of downtown. I usually opt for the 'Tutto pasta', a popular dish named accordingly after the restaurant. But really, everything is good here. Easily my favorite Italian place in Madison, it's really a neighborhood gem.

43 North
108 King Street
An upscale, modern American bistro located just off the Capitol square. 43 North offers fresh, unique dishes in small plates (as well as regular sizes), perfect for group dining experiences. The salmon entree is so good.


319 W. Gorham Street
Oh, Chasers, we've had the best of times. If you're trying to experience the best of what campus bars have to offer, this is it. Located on a bustling street corner, Chasers is just steps from many other nightlife destinations. Their large heated outdoor patio is what makes this bar stand out from others - perfect for enjoying that $4 jumbo margarita in the summertime or a pint of Spotted Cow on a cool fall evening.

117 Martin Luther King Boulevard
Tucked back just off the Capitol square, this hip restaurant is a great happy hour (or nightcap) destination for those trying to avoid the mayhem of "college" bars. Featuring an array of unique craft cocktails, there's something for everyone to enjoy. A Bloody Mary bar and bottomless mimosas are offered during Sunday brunch service, perfect for those who consider the midmorning meal a "sport". Oh, and boozy milkshakes are a staple menu item.

Memorial Union Terrace
800 Langdon Street
Located on the backside of UW-Madison's Memorial Union, the Terrace is the city's pride and joy for many downtown residents in the summer. Between the live music, outdoor movie showings and open mic nights, the Terrace is a safe bet for daytime or evening entertainment. Serving (almost) exclusively beer as the libation of choice, the atmosphere of this family friendly venue on Lake Mendota is difficult to describe. You can't be in Madison without experiencing the Terrace. It's like a rule, or something.

Nitty Gritty
223 N. Frances Street
Power. Hour. Every night! This sports bar is the hotspot where college crowd and young professionals flock to start their night out on the town. Nitty's star attribute is power hour: every night from 10-11pm, dollar beers and $1.25 rail mixers are offered. No matter the night, Nitty is always packed during power hour. Be sure to arrive in the earlier half of the hour and save yourself future hassle by purchasing all of your drinks for the hour during one stop at the bar. Later in the night, getting to the bar, much less a bartender, will be a struggle. Don't worry, no one will blink an eye if you're carrying four vodka sodas to your table...for yourself.

Paul's Club
204 State Street
Seated in the heart of State street, Paul's Club is a laid-back lounge catering largely to the "hipster" crowd. Featuring an impressive selection of upscale liquors, a cozy atmosphere and plenty of couches, it's a great place to have a low-key night out. The character of this bar is one of a kind.

Steepery Tea Bar
430 State Street
A small tea bar downtown, Steepery boasts an extensive selection of teas in hot, iced or latte form. Additionally, bubble tea and looseleaf in bulk is available for purchase. Tip: if you're as big of a fan as I am of matcha lattes, this is your go-to.

The Icon
206 State Street
A favorite wine and tapas bar, Icon's hip and upscale ambiance make this a great stop for classy night out. Showcasing one of the more impressive wine selections in Madison, it's a cozy spot to stop by with a date or an intimate group of friends.


Camp Randall Stadium
1440 Monroe Street
Perhaps Madison's (second) pride and joy, Camp Randall is home to the University of Wisconsin's football team, the Badgers. Legend has it that the atmosphere in this stadium on game day is unrivaled by any other college football team in the nation (surprise: it's not a myth). The stadium has a rich history, predating the Civil War. The current facility was originally built in 1913, but of course, has since been modified and outfitted with modern amenities. The Camp Randall experience is truly unlike any other and is worth stopping by.

Dane County Farmer's Market
Located on the Capitol Square
The Dane County Farmer's Market is the largest producers-only farmer's market in the nation. It's held weekly on Saturday mornings from April to November on the grounds surrounding the State Capitol building, aka "the Square." With over 300 vendors, you can find everything from Wisconsin's famous squeaky cheese curds to fresh-baked spicy cheese bread and cheese spreads. Basically, you can find a lot of cheese. The Market also offers a host of produce, meats, fresh pastas and sweet treats.

Devil's Lake State Park
City of Baraboo
Located just a short drive from Madison, Devil's Lake is an outdoor gem in southern Wisconsin. The beautifully maintained state park offers trail hiking, swimming, kayaking and camping against a beautiful backdrop (I'm not kidding - check out this Instagram shot!). The lake itself is well known for being one of the cleaner lakes in the state, thanks to the prohibition on motor powered vessel use on the water. Devil's Lake is easily one of my favorite places to escape to on a Sunday morning in the summertime.

Greenway Station Shopping Center 
City of Middleton 
Seated just outside of the Madison city limits is this quaint outdoor shopping center. Home to a handful of retail stores and smaller shops, it's a great place to retreat for an afternoon of shopping without feeling overwhelmed by a mall. New restaurants are always popping up in the area (my favorite is Johnny's Italian Steakhouse), making it a great destination for happy hour or an evening meal.

Hilldale Shopping Center 
726 N. Midvale Boulevard 
Located just outside of the heart of Madison, Hilldale is my favorite shopping center in the city. A mix of indoor and outdoor retail, it's home to stores like Anthropologie, kate spade new york, L'Occitane en Provence, Lululemon Athletica, Lush, Madewell, Twigs and White House | Black Market. Though absent of my beloved J.Crew, it's the place to be if you've got the urge to splurge.

Hoofers Sailing at Memorial Union Terrace
800 Langdon Street
Located on Memorial Union's Terrace, Hoofers Sailing offers kayak, canoe, paddle board, pedal boat and sailing rentals. You can't go wrong spending a day at the Terrace on the water.

Madison Ski Show
355 John Nolen Drive (Law Park)
The Mad-City Ski Team is composed of a group of volunteer skiers that perform free water ski shows nearly every Sunday evening in the summertime. Growing up, my mother and I used to bring a picnic dinner, set up camp and watch the show every week. It's a great interactive performance that's perfect for all ages.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens
3330 Atwood Avenue 
Olbrich Gardens is an escape from the the city. Olbrich features 16 acres of outdoor gardens as well as an indoor tropical conservatory. Peaceful, serene and picturesque are all adjectives that come to mind when thinking about these beautifully manicured grounds. Admission to the outdoor gardens is free and the conservatory costs a hefty $2... so really, you've got no excuse not to visit.

Washburn Observatory
1401 Observatory Drive 
Truly a hidden gem on the University of Wisconsin's campus, the Washburn Observatory is open to the public on Wednesday evenings. The observatory, built in 1881, still remains largely untouched as it did 134 years ago. It's a popular place for first dates and curious minds alike.
Note: the observatory is intermittently closed due to structural repairs.

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