I recently visited Madison Wisconsin and was very surprised by how much I enjoyed the Capitol city. This was not my first time in Madison, but it was the first time I had the opportunity to stay for an extended period of time and explore the city.

Transportation

Madison is home to Dane County Region airport which is serviced by American, Delta, Frontier, and United. Flights into Madison tend to be quite expensive so it may be more cost effective to fly into Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport and drive. The drive is approximately 2 hours via interstate 94, but offers some beautiful scenery along the way, especially in fall.

Once in Madison, if you choose to stay near the University of Wisconsin, there are a ton of dining and entertainment options within walking distance of one another. If the weather is not too cold, the best option is the pay $6.00/day to use Madison’s bike sharing program B-Cycle. To use a B-Cycle, you first pay with a credit card either online or at a B-Cycle station and you are given a code. The code unlocks a bike to be used in 30 minute trips. Each 30 minutes you must check the bike back into a B-Cycle station, but by entering your cell phone number into the terminal, B-Cycle will send you another code to use the bike again.

Madison is a very bike friendly city with several dedicated bike lanes throughout. Using B-Cycle was a pleasure, especially while riding around the Capital City Trail. B-Cycle stations were easy to locate and I had no problem meeting the required 30 minute checkin times.

Dining

Having never been to Madison I was lost as to where to eat. Using AAdvantage Dining from American Airlines, I found Brickhouse BBQ. By linking my credit card to AAdvantage Dining I earn 8x points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. The food was underwhelming. The menu featured several styles of Mac & Cheese, so I decided to order the flagship Brickhouse Mac & Cheese. Flavors could have been enhanced with some BBQ sauces on the various meats included, but the dish was quite bland and overall disappointing. The beer selection was impressive, but not nearly as good as other restaurants in the area. I was happy to receive the American Airlines miles for dining at Brickhouse BBQ, but would not recommend it.

I also had the pleasure of dining at Hopcat Madison. I was unaware at the time Hopcat was a midwestern chain, but I was pleased with my experience. The 3 tacos were delicious, but I was not prepared for how incredible the “Crack Fries” were going to be. Had I known, I would have placed a larger order. Hopcat’s Crack Fries are Beer battered fries sprinkled with [their] signature cracked black pepper seasoning, served with a side of warm cheese sauce for dipping. I know fries are a deeply personal experience, but if you ever have the chance, I highly recommend giving them a try.

Lodging

I chose to stay just outside of the heart of the city at the Sheraton Madison Hotel due to the proximity to the highway for my commute. I was excited to stay at an SPG property and my experience with Sheraton properties was pleasant. The hotel was quite dated and the room featured some unusual signs of wear and tear. The room also lacked bedside power outlets which I found annoying. Parking for the hotel was incredibly inconvenient as well. There was a B-Cycle station in the hotel parking lot which made commuting into the city extremely easy and cost effective.

For the price, I would recommend staying at either the Hyatt Place Madison or the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Madison. Overall, I spent very little time in the hotel and would not say I disliked the property, but I do think there are better options.

Sightseeing

While in Madison I was able to visit the Wisconsin State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin. The Capitol is cicled by W Mifflin St., N Carroll St., E Main St., and S Pinckney St. each of which offer a wide variety of restaurants and coffee shops. Parking was quite easy and not too expensive making my visit to the Capitol very enjoyable.

The University of Wisconsin is located on the west side of town and is a straight shot down State Street from the Capitol. State Street is closed to all traffic except for public busses and bicycles and features several stores, restaurants, and bars. State Street is also home to one of the most ridiculous Halloween parties in the country. The University campus is sprawling, but offers spectacular views of Lake Mendota. Also, you can take a bike down the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path and visit the breathtaking Picnic Point.

Bottom Line

Madison is a small midwestern town often overlooked among bigger cities, but it is definitely worth visiting. The city is host to the Ironman Madison, Wisconsin Badgers, and Madison Freakfest (Halloween) all of which make the small city feel like one huge party. Madison is also a craft beer cultural center with offerings from all over the United States.

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