There’s a reason why Madison tops all the lists of places to live, visit, work or raise a family. It all goes to quality-of-life issues, including restaurants and things to see and do. And best of all, many are free or priced for a student’s budget. So take some time to get out of the hotel and discover for yourself why Madison is so special.
Chazen Museum of Art
800 University Ave., 608-263-2246
The Chazen is one of the country’s leading university art museums, with a permanent collection of 16,000 works dating from 2300 B. C. to present day. Admission is free and the museum is open daily except Monday.
Prairie grass at the UW Arboretum's Curtis Prairie stands tall and backlit against the summer sun. Photo © Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.
1207 Seminole Highway (between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway), 608-263-7888
Featuring restored prairies, forest and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin, the 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Stop in to see the McKay Visitor Center, featuring an orientation theater, bookstore, library, art gallery and more, before beginning your exploration. The historic arboretum is the site of SEJ’s Sunday morning program, including an author’s breakfast, tours of the prairie and wetlands with leading researchers, and a panel session on Leopold’s Legacy.
Allen Centennial Gardens
Corner of Observatory Drive and Babcock Drive, 608-262-8406
This 2.5-acre site of a historic Victorian home once served as a residence for university deans and has been called UW-Madison’s largest outdoor classroom. The 22 magnificent gardens represent gardening styles from around the world. Primarily used as a teaching tool in horticulture, botany, entomology and plant pathology, the gardens are also popular among visitors who stroll the grounds and gardeners who come to ooh and aah.
Howard M. Temin Lakeshore Path
The path is a favorite route to and from campus for walkers and bicyclists. Picnic Point, rated “one of the best places to kiss” by a Florida newspaper, is not just a romantic spot, but a haven for people looking for a quiet getaway. A narrow, heavily wooded finger of land that juts out about a mile into Lake Mendota, Picnic Point is easily accessible via a wide dirt path, and offers views of the campus and the state Capitol. The path runs 1.6 miles along Lake Mendota, from the Memorial Union west to the entrance of Picnic Point.
1215 West Dayton St., 608-262-2399
With its reconstructed dinosaurs, huge mastodon skeleton, colorful mineral samples, a six-foot-diameter rotating globe and a walk-through model of a Wisconsin limestone cave, the GeologyMuseum has long been a favorite of both kids and adults. Open daily weekdays and Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Located on Lake Mendota, this classic Italian Renaissance building has been considered the heart and soul of campus since it opened in 1928. Students, faculty, visitors, and guests converge here to eat, meet or just relax. A highlight is the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota.
Dane County Farmers' Market on the Square
This market on the capitol square is a Saturday and Wednesday tradition. The country’s largest producer-only market, some 150 vendors attend on Saturdays. Literally right out the hotel doors, the famed market will be part of SEJ’s Saturday morning combination panel and tour on Farmer’s Markets and CSAs.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State St., 608-257-0158
Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the museum features modern and contemporary art and a rooftop sculpture garden.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Sixteen acres of outdoor gardens and a year-round tropical conservatory demonstrate the result of sustainable gardening practices. Homeowners can see what they can do in their own backyard to reduce chemicals and save water. Midwest-hardy, sustainable Rose Garden and the only Thai Pavilion in the continental U.S. Travel Green Wisconsin certified. Sustainable gardening exhibit in the lobby, carnivorous plant exhibit in the Conservatory.
Wisconsin Historical Museum
30 N. Carroll St., 608-264-6555
Located on the capitol square, the museum is a treasure trove of information about the state's rich history.
Wisconsin State Capitol Building
Capitol Square, 608-266-0382
A tour is the best way to appreciate this gem, but if time is short, a walkthrough is a must. The grounds have been the site of political demonstrations, picnics and concerts.
Wisconsin Veterans Museum
30 W. Mifflin St., 608-267-1799
The Veterans Museum’s exhibits highlight events from the Civil War to the present. Check out the replica of a Sopwith Camel, a Huey helicopter and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Lucky you – the capitol square and State Street are home to affordable ethnic eateries (count ‘em, two Nepalese restaurants) and posh, upscale restaurants with talented chefs at the helm. The following list is by no means inclusive. Most recommended here will give you a true Madison experience and set you back $15-$25 for dinner. Pricier places are noted. Visit thedailypage.com
for an exhaustive rundown of the city’s restaurants. Many of the choices below will be offered as part of SEJ’s Beat Dinners on Friday, October 9. Check the website beginning in September for options, and sign-up on-site for the dinner of your choice.
543 State St., 608-255-3646
Stews and curries from East Africa, with many vegetarian items.
108 King St., 608-251-4880
Italian, Greek and French food in a sparkling bistro.
334 State St., 608-251-3626
Elegantly spiced dishes from the top of the world – Nepal and the Himalayas.
514 E. Wilson St., 608-255-4674
Better known for the beer (some 280 imported varieties) than the German food, but with oompah music, who cares?
21 N. Pinckney St., 608-255-6075
Inventive, upscale food made with mostly local and seasonal organic ingredients. More expensive than others listed.
1 Langdon St., 608-256-5556
Seasonal menu, carefully prepared and presented. Take the gleaming brass self-service elevator to the basement to find the restaurant, or follow your nose. More expensive than others listed.
25 N. Pinckney St., 608-251-0500
The use of local and seasonal ingredients have earned L’Etoile national snaps. More expensive than others listed.
Myles Teddywedger’s Cornish Pasty
101 State St., 608-257-2383
Hand-held pies filled with hearty meats and veggies. This is a ‘to-go’ restaurant, so take your feast to the capitol lawn.
The Old Fashioned
23 N. Pinckney St., 608-310-4545
Celebrate Wisconsin tavern food and drinks in a bustling, funky space.
Samba Brazilian Grill
240 W. Gilman St., 257-1111
All-you-can-eat grilled meats carved tableside by gauchos, includes a bountiful salad bar. More expensive than others listed.
State Street Brats
603 State St., 255-5544
No, a brat is not an ill-behaving child, but a tasty German bratwurst. Sports bar atmosphere in a campus classic.
151 W. Gorham St., 608-255-2848
Fresh Thai and Lao dishes in a down-home atmosphere – the building used to be a Laundromat.
Love the nightlife? Love to boogie? Two Madison nightspots grabbed top-100 honors in Food & Wine magazine's "Cocktails 2009" guide – the only Wisconsin clubs to make the guide: Maduro, 117 E. Main St., and Natt Spil, 211 King St. According to F&W, Maduro’s Ipanema cocktail and Natt Spil’s Creole Napoleon are standouts.
You’d better return home with some tasty Wisconsin cheese.
12 S. Carroll St., 608-255-2430
Local artisan cheeses, imports and go-withs from around the world. They’ll ship for you, too.
107 State St., 608-255-5204
Cheeses and local delicacies to carry home, or have them ship it for you. In business since the 1930s.