Best Places to Live

Madison, WI

Population: 259,680
Photo Courtesy of Christopher Klinge

Madison is a town that defies definition. It’s a sports-crazy college town, but also the staid seat of state government. It’s a great place for millennials and recent grads, with a high employment rate, but also rated among the best places in the country to retire. It’s an active urban city with a spectacular food scene that runs the gamut from stellar cheap eats to award-winning fine dining, and it’s an outdoor paradise surrounded by lakes and public land. Full of contradictions, Madison is many things to many people and that’s what makes it a great place to live.

Top Industries and Employers: Madison’s economy is based in healthcare, from direct patient contact at UW Hospitals and Meriter and Dean Healthcare to healthcare technology at Epic. American Family Insurance, government, and the University of Wisconsin are also large employers. 

Best Coffee Shop: Finca Coffee flies their beans in directly from the source twice a month. They use a Thai cold brew system and have local chocolate for their mochas.

Best Local Beer/Brewery: Delta Beer Lab is new and small, but has quickly carved out a niche in the busy Madison brewery scene. 

Must-Have Meal: Deviled eggs, tempura bacon-wrapped cheese curds and heritage pork schnitzel at Heritage Tavern, where owner and chef Daniel Fox raises his own heritage pigs and has been James Beard nominated three times. 

Best Co-Working Space: 100 State

Best Meetup Spot (When Meeting Up Is a Thing Again): Part supper club, part neighborhood bar, The Avenue Club has half-priced appetizers, Wisconsin taps, tiki drinks and Old Fashioneds for Happy Hour Sunday through Thursday.

Creative Hub: You’ll always find fun and funky folks along Willy Street, but the Cap East area is full of makers, artists and musicians as the formerly industrial part of town has been rejuvenated and become a creative space.

Favorite Weekend Activity: Cheering on the Badgers. A standard Saturday starts with Stella’s Hot and Spicy Cheese Bread at the Dane County Farmers Market and moves on to cheering for not just football or basketball, but also women’s volleyball and hockey, as well as the world class track and cross country and swimming teams. 

Free Way to Have Fun: Henry Vilas Zoo or the UW Arboretum

Local Dream Job: Cheesemonger at Fromagination, an iconic shop that has one of the biggest selections of Wisconsin cheeses anywhere.

Read More: 
We Asked 10 Creative People Who Left LA What Their Lives (And Rents) Are Like Now
9 Cheese Experiences You Need to Have in Wisconsin
Why College Towns Usually Rebound Quickly (And 5 Great Ones to Check Out)

- Nicole Haase

"We’re a community with everything you need to enhance your life experience. With bustling urban and picturesque rural communities in close proximity and an average commute time of about twenty minutes, we’ve got something for everyone. While it certainly helps that we are home to a world-class, public research university with 40,000 students, people move here from all over the world for our quality of life."

Jessica Reilly
Madison Region Economic Partnership

Madison, WI Ranking Data