It wasn’t long after dating a Minnesota native that I learned of the Viking fandom tradition, passed along over generations. Purple and yellow were swiftly added to my dresser. Indeed being a fan of the Vikings is wrapped in great hope and regular disappointment. Think: How I Met Your Mother episode where Marshall enters the Walleye Saloon and recounts with all the other Minnesota-New York transplants, the fateful 1999 NFC loss due to a lousy field goal.
Fast forward four years since my own initiation and my car dons a Vikings license plate frame, plus I experienced a firsthand repeat of 1999 in 2016. It’s all good fun, although snarls of Green Bay echo from our elders. I suppose like most rivalries — theirs is built on shared Upper Midwest snow fronts and Nordic roots.
And so, on our most recent car trip from New York to Andrew’s homeland we stopped through Madison, WI in what we had understood to be a wasteland of Packers fans in cheese hats. Nay, I hadn’t really heard it was a wasteland. Madison is an incredibly cool college town that is beautifully set between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. And that delicious squeaky cheese is quite easy to come by.
The Wisconsin State Capitol building stands at the heart of downtown Madison. Strolling the area is to play Hide and Seek with the Capitol and the lakes that border either side of the downtown stretch.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market
The Dane County Farmers’ Market is America’s largest producers-only farmers’ market and located right at the foot of the Capitol.
We found the squeakiest squeaky cheese here. Check the schedule here.
Boutiques, coffeehouses and cocktail bars are abundant on downtown Madison’s main thoroughfare.
Madison Modern Market. 310 State Street.
Little Luxuries. 230 State Street.
Day to Night
Merchant. 121 South Pinckney Street.
For dinner, head to Merchant for a delectable cheese and charcuterie platter and a Smokin’ Barrels whiskey cocktail. At 10:37pm, a DJ takes over the cheese counter with fresh spins. I wasn’t able to uncover the significance of 10:37 — if you know the scoop, please share.
Willy Street in Marquette
At the opposite end of Madison’s downtown along the city’s stretch betwixt the lakes, Willy Street maintains an artsy vibrancy with vintage shops, artisanal butcher shops, a co-op and plethora of bars.
Weary Traveler Freehouse. 1201 Williamson Street.
This place is everything you could want from your local pub: cheap and tasty fare with some art to inspire.
Pieces Unimagined. 1228 Williamson Street.
We called this area home for the weekend in Madison — it’s a gorgeous residential neighborhood with tree-lined streets abutting University of Wisconsin’s impressive Arboretum. A paved greenbelt surrounds the lake and park, perfect for joggers and cyclists.
Colectivo Coffee Roasters. 2530 Monroe Street.
Colectivo actually has locations all around the city but the location on Monroe was one of my favorite with two entire wall of windows that opened up onto Wisconsin’s cool summer breezes.
Gates & Brovi. 3502 Monroe Street.
This place is a self-described “east coast fish house meets midwest supper club” and that pretty much hits the nail on the head. The seafood is phenomenal, as is their pizza. The decor is spot on. We found this place our last night in Madison and we certainly remember it as a favorite.
One more thing…
When you’re leaving town, be sure to stop at the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI. No ketchup allowed.
If you enjoy this guide to Madison, you can take it with you. Using the GPSmyCity app guides can be downloaded to your phone for offline use.
Download it here.