Sustainable City Guide to Madison, Wisconsin

Sustainable City Guides are quick handbooks to help you have a perfect afternoon or day in cities around the world! A group of talented influencers have all chipped in with their favorite haunts.

You betcha!

My husband and I like to joke that Midwesterners are the original hipsters - visit Madison and you will see plenty of flannel, beards, craft beers, bike shops, and vegan food - it’s our special blend of comfortable outdoorsiness and the hippie population that settled the Willy St. area in the 60’s and 70’s.


Quick aside - if you are visiting Madison on a Saturday, I’m assuming you already have the good sense to check out the Farmer’s Market. Get there AS EARLY AS YOU CAN. This is not a drill. In the summer, I try to get in and out before 8am to avoid the oppressive crowds. My favorites: local dahlias, spicy cheese bread, and whatever veggies are in season. Bring cash, you’ll be surprised how few vendors have Venmo.

My perfect day in Madison starts at either Batch Bakehouse, if I want something sweet, or Madison Sourdough, if I am leaning savory. If you want a sit down brunch, Lazy Jane’s is the way to go!

If you are a crafter, start at Gayfeather fabrics for the best fabric selection that you will find in Madison - or anywhere in Wisconsin, from what I’ve found. Gorgeous bridal silks and lace are side by side cotton blends with fun patterns.

I love starting a shopping day at St. Vinny’s, my favorite thrift store. You’ll find basics, books, housewares, and occasionally a dress that was definitely someone’s old sewing project! I love it and have bought everything imaginable there, from fine crystal to blue books to stiletto heels and furniture.

Across the street is Change boutique, the first fair trade boutique I had ever heard of when it opened in 2012. Next door is Hatch Art House/Hazel General Store, a conjoined shop filled with hilarious illustrated cards, handmade pottery, locally made jewelry, and fun science kits for kiddos.

If you are feeling snacky, the Weary Traveler has delicious options for vegans and omnivores, and many of their ingredients are sourced locally!

You can hop a B cycle, ride a friend’s borrowed bike or the back of their tandem, or take a quick uber ride over to the Tenney Lapham area to check out Good Style shop. GSS is impeccably curated, and the prices are very reasonable - rarely do I walk out empty handed! Their insta is also super shoppable.

If you happen to have the joy of visiting Madison in the winter, take this opportunity to walk over to Tenney Park and rent ice skates! Tenney Pond freezes over much earlier than the two lakes that sandwich Madison, so you can skate from probably December through March. Skates are $6 to rent for adults, and all skaters are welcome! There are plenty of walkers out on the ice to hang on to until you get comfortable. When you get chilly, head back to the shelter to warm up by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa!

If you are visiting during the summer, grab a pack of cards, some friends, and hang out at the Terrace!

If you have time left, check out the Madison Public Library downtown! It’s brand new and we’re all pretty excited about it.

For dinner, Fuego’s is fantastic. It’s a steak and vegan place, and anyone you bring will be delighted by the soy-free Cuban infused cuisine. I love the Filete de Coliflor - and pretty much everything else. Of course, you should try a Spotted Cow, everyone’s go-to local beer.

It may not be specifically sustainable, but for a quintessential Madison experience, finish your night at the Essen Haus for polka, popcorn, and at least one more beer. It’s pretty hard not to have a great time when you are hopping along to accordion music!

Have a wonderful time in Madison!