Best Places to Live

Madison, WI

Population: 243,122
LIV
SCORE
691
iStock Photo/DenisTangneyJr

Madison has a reputation as one of the best college towns in the country (and one of the best places for recent college grads), but Wisconsin’s capital city has so much more to offer. The university means there’s a vibrant, funky and youthful vibe to most everything that happens here, but you’ll find young families strolling Capital Square alongside local politicians.

Madison is ranked so high on this year’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list because it excels in nearly every category across the board. The food scene is stellar, from cheap eats to fine dining, with a wide range of styles and flavors. There is plenty of green space within the city and tons of lakefront since it sits on an isthmus, but it’s also within 50 miles of 21 State Parks, forests and recreation areas. Though the city could benefit from more diversity, Madison is a friendly, easy-to-navigate city that’s chock full of things to do and see — many of which are free through the state’s flagship university.

Local Obsession: Badger, Badger, Badger! In October this year, nine different Wisconsin teams were nationally ranked at one time. From football and basketball to women’s hockey and cross country, the University of Wisconsin has world-class athletics, and the folks here bleed Cardinal red.

Climate Described in 6 Words Or Less: Cold winter. Hot summer. Humid always.

Top Industries and Employers: The medical industry is a large employer in the area thanks to Epic, UW Hospitals and Meriter and Dean Healthcare. Madison is also the home to American Family Insurance and of course the University of Wisconsin is a major local employer.

Local Dream Job: It’s a tie between Brewmaster at any of the local breweries and Quality Assurance Supervisor at Babcock Hall Dairy.

Quintessential Meal: The Wurst Platter, Fried Cheese Curds and a New Glarus Moon Man at The Old Fashioned.

Favorite Weekend Activity: A Madison weekend starts with stocking up at the largest producer-only farmers market in the country around Capital Square and ends kicking back with a local beer on Union Terrace. The iconic spot on the shores of Lake Mendota has live music, the best people-watching in town and truly jaw-dropping sunsets.

After-Work Meetup Spot: The Robin Room

Best Brewery/Local Beer: Karben 4 is our favorite, but with two dozen options in the metro area, why limit yourself to just one?

Beloved Bookstore: A Room Of One’s Own

Free Way to Have Fun: Checking out all the gorgeousness at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. There are 16 acres of manicured gardens, a pavillion gifted by the Thai government and a new beer garden, making it a perfect spot to spend the day.

Truly Hidden Gem: Cinematheque at UW-Madison, which shows multiple films a week while school is in session as well as for about a month during the summer. They are “dedicated to showcasing the best in international cinema history and fine films which would otherwise never reach Madison screens” as well as regularly showing archival and other rare prints from around the world — all for free and open to the public.

- Nicole Haase

Read More:

Why Millennials Are Moving to Madison, Wisconsin  

7 Reasons to Stay in Madison After You Graduate

The Cost of Living Diaries: We Moved From the Bay Area to Madison, WI

10 Reasons to Move to Wisconsin Right Now

“I love all seasons, and most things that come along with it, except for the snow emergencies. I could most definitely do without those again. There's an authenticity and grit to the people of Madison that I really enjoy. The cheese curds don't hurt either.”

Neil Hlavaty
Assistant Coach, Forward Madison FC

Madison, WI Ranking Data

Civic
69
Demographics
52
Economy
72
Education
57
Health
74
Housing
64
Infrastructure
83