Hiking and biking along the idyllic shorelines of not one, not two, but five lakes are just part of the active lifestyle that has put Madison high on a few or our lists in recent years, including a spot on our 100 Best Places to Live. Combine that with one of Wisconsin's strongest job markets and a reputation as one of America's greenest cities and you have a few of the eight reasons why people move to this Midwest state capital.
1. Water, water everywhere
Much of Madison’s downtown, including the iconic domed State Capitol building, is situated on the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona. But, Madison also includes three other lakes – Waubesa, Kegonsa and Wingra. Boating, kayaking and canoeing opportunities abound, with miles of lakeside hiking and biking trails. The UW Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota has been one of the city’s most iconic and revered gathering spots since its opening in 1928.
Fueled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the flagship institution of the UW System, as well as the state government, Madison and surrounding Dane County have the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Madison also is the home of American Family Insurance and UW Health, while Epic Systems Corp. and American Girl Brands are in nearby suburbs.
3. Outdoor recreation
Simply put, Madison is an active city with more bikes than cars, with more than 75 miles of bike paths. The 1,200-acre UW-Madison Arboretum has more than 20 miles of footpaths, boardwalks and fire lanes through its gardens and restored prairies. The Lakeshore Nature Preserve suggests a variety of walking and biking tours, including some along the shore of Lake Mendota. Whether it is the heat of summer or the cold of a Wisconsin winter, there is never a shortage of options for outdoor enthusiasts.
4. Dane County Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings, the Capitol Square comes alive as hundreds of visitors descend on what is reported to be the largest producer-only farmers market in the country. The sidewalks of the Square feature agriculture-related, producer-only products from Wisconsin, while arts & crafts vendors and concession stands are across the streets. Street musicians usually add to the festivities. The Wednesday market is one block south of the Square on Martin Luther King Blvd. In November, the market moves indoors.
5. Football Saturday
A half-dozen or so Saturdays in the fall are dedicated solely to Bucky Mania, when thousands of football fans descend on the city to cheer on the University of Wisconsin Badgers at on-campus Camp Randall Stadium, with a capacity of 80,321. Streets leading to the stadium are jammed with revelers at dozens of outdoor beer gardens beginning early in the morning on game day. If you can score a ticket, avoid heading to the concession stand between the third and fourth quarter and savor the wild “Jump Around” tradition.
6. Location, location, location
Although Madison is the state capital, it still combines a small town feel with a vibrant, big city feel with cultural offerings for almost every type of interest. But, if that’s not enough, Madison is just 77 miles west of Milwaukee and 125 miles northwest of Chicago. In addition, a wide range of tourist attractions and day trips are within a short drive – or bike ride. Tourist mecca Wisconsin Dells is about an hour away; access to the scenic Wisconsin River is a half-hour drive; the eclectic House on the Rock is 45 miles away; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Taliesin – as well as the American Players Theatre both are in Spring Green, an hour or so away.
Madison routinely ranks high in various rankings of the “greenest” cities in the U.S. with high marks in parks-per capita and percentage of people who eschew single-driver commuting and walk, bike, carpool or take public transit to work. More than 15,000 acres of lakes and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails add to the environmentally conscious approach.
8. Music and Nightlife
Located between Chicago and Minneapolis, Madison is a frequent stop for a wide range of touring national acts. The Overture Center for the Arts, within easy walking distance of the Capitol, hosts Broadway plays and big-name musicians of all genres. Theaters such as the Barrymore (built in 1929), Majestic (built in 1906 and restored for a grand re-opening in 2007) and Orpheum also host a wide range of musical and other events. But, on any given night, the heart of Madison’s music scene pulses through clubs such as the High Noon Saloon, Crystal Corner, The Frequency and the Up North Bar.