While there is certainly plenty to see and do in Milwaukee to keep you busy for a week or more, with a few days in Milwaukee, you should spend your third day exploring more of Wisconsin culture with a day trip to the state’s capital city, Madison. Set on an isthmus between lakes Monona and Mendota, Madison is a scenic destination featuring iconic architecture, foodie-friendly restaurants, and a thriving university and young professional scene. Before the hour-and-a-half drive to Madison, start your day early with a small bite to eat — you’ll want to save your appetite for when you arrive. We also suggest wearing comfortable shoes, because Madison is perfect for exploring on foot.
Start your Madison excursion with breakfast at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner in the Atwood neighborhood. Locals love Monty’s for its authentic old-school diner atmosphere, great brunch menu, and drool-worthy pie counter. There’s also Green Owl Cafe just down the street, which offers excellent gluten-free and vegan-friendly options.
Walk the Atwood and Willy Street areas
Save some time after breakfast to stop at some of the unique shops and breweries along Atwood Avenue. Sample chocolates at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier or try a flight of local handmade beer at One Barrel Brewing. As you head west, you’ll eventually come to Williamson Street, or simply Willy Street, as locals call it. Visit Quality CBD for a glass of local NessAlla kombucha infused with CBD, or browse quirky one-of-a-kind antiques at Rick’s Olde Gold.
Explore the Capitol Square
You’ll know you’ve arrived at Capitol Square when you reach the large white granite structure that looks unmistakably like a capitol building. Go inside the Wisconsin State Capitol, as the entrance is free, and explore the ornate interior. When you reach the center of the building, look up and admire the geometric design on the inside of the dome. A quick trip to the top is worthwhile. Follow signs to the elevators, and when you arrive at the viewing deck, you’ll be able to see all of State Street, both Monona and Mendota lakes, as well as the Willy Street area from which you just came.
Lunch in Capitol Square
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to excellent Wisconsin dining in Madison’s Capitol Square. Locals tend to agree that The Old Fashioned has the best cheese curds in town, while Tipsy Cow and Coopers Tavern both serve excellent hearty pub fare like burgers and fish fry. If you’re looking for something quick but still iconic to Madison, grab a slice of macaroni and cheese pizza at Ian’s Pizza.
Explore State Street
After lunch, head down State Street, the artery that connects the University of Wisconsin to Capitol Square. This street is the pulse of Madison and is full of shops, restaurants, and bars. Be sure to stop in front of the Overture Center to admire its Art Deco facade, and don’t miss the eye-catching Orpheum Theater marquee. Many of the boutiques are worth a quick visit, like Little Luxuries and Anthology. If you want to experience a truly Wisconsin supper club atmosphere, pop into Nick’s Restaurant for an old fashioned.
Enjoy an afternoon beer on Lake Mendota
Once you’re at the end of State Street, make your way to the University of Madison Memorial Union Terrace, or simply called, The Terrace. Order a pitcher of Spotted Cow lager and take a seat at one of the brightly colored metal tables overlooking Lake Mendota. The sunburst design on all of the Terrace’s chairs dates back to the 1930s and has become a symbol of the city. Linger a while to enjoy the sunset over the lake and maybe grab a bite to eat at one of the Terrace’s food vendors before making your way back to Milwaukee for the night.