Destination Madison hosted Alisha in the summer of 2019 to get an East Coast perspective on our great city. After the lost year of travel in 2020, we’re excited to share her thoughts as we head into the return to Madison travel.

After more than a year of stay-at-home orders and recent vaccinations following the COVID-19 pandemic, the excitement to once again travel has kicked into high gear.

This summer, smaller city vibes remain top of mind for me, and my first-time visit to Madison especially stands out for a return trip. Madison is a one-of-a-kind but familiar city with tree-lined streets, outdoorsy activities, quirky artful shops, and down-home locals. Luckily, direct flights from Madison to Philly started up again on American Airlines, and Madison is ready to show up and show out!

Here’s how to make the most of a safe weekend in Madison -- or bring Madison to you.

Traditional Wisco Fare and Old Fashioneds

A bartender makes a row of Old Fashioneds at Tornado Room
Photo by Focal Flame Photography

Midwesterners love their adult beverages, but The Badger State capital stands out as a place where you can get a good pour for a few bucks. Start your night with Wisconsin’s take on the Old Fashioned: swap whiskey for brandy, and seltzer with lemon-lime soda (like Seven-Up or Sprite) for a sweeter cocktail that calls most supper clubs home. Order your Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned at the Tornado Club downtown, and pair it with a steakhouse dinner a la Ron Swanson for a complete treat yo’ self experience.

Plenty of Happy Hour Patios

Charcuterie board and wine on a table at Bar Corallini
Photo by Alisha Miranda

Happy hours are still going strong at Bar Corallini in Atwood. Aperitivo hour here means $6 Negroni’s on draft and Venetian spritzes 4-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Naples-born Chef Giovanni Novella and his crew are stepping up their typical resto lounging vibes, now with enhanced safety precautions in place. Snag an outdoor reservation to share their epic antipasto board with your vaxxed faves. This is not your mom’s meat and cheese deli tray but instead grilled zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes with pesto, plus homemade stracciatella, whipped ricotta, and hot out the oven crispy, charred pizza bread.

Lake Views and the Capitol, Too

A view of downtown Madison from a Betty Lou Cruise on Lake Monona
Photo by Focal Flame Photography

Idyllic views are aplenty at almost every turn in Madison. Mask up on a Betty Lou Cruise to admire the natural waters of Lake Mendota in all its glory. Brush up on your history through a self-guided or virtual VR tour inside the grand State Capitol or plan an afternoon picnic on the lawn near the North Hamilton walkway for Lunch Time LIVE concert series.

Fresh Cheese and Produce

Different varieties of cheese stacked on the counter at Fromagination
Photo by Alisha Miranda

No visit to America’s Dairyland is complete without cheese, but if you thought Madison was just a city of curds, think again. Get your fix with Fromagination virtual cheese classes or tasting kits to become an expert on beer, wine and chocolate pairings or brush up on home entertaining skills. Opt for a lunchbox to-go and picnic by one of Madison’s five lakes when the weather is on your side. Get in on locals’ Saturday Dane County Farmers' Market routines with the return of the Capitol Square location. Bountiful produce, flower bouquets, and cheese curds share the spotlight here with hand-made empanadas and the original Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread from mother-daughter bakers at Stella's Bakery and Violet Rose & Bread Barn. Staying in town for a while? Sign up for a CSA share with South Madison Farmers' Market to prep ingredients for at-home cooking!

Walkable, Bikeable, Kayakable City

Two women kayaking on Lake Wingra Madison, WI
Photo by Focal Flame Photography

Madisonians know how to make the most of their city whether on foot, bike, or board. Trek-sponsored B-Cycle electric bike shares make for easy riding around Madison’s vast network (240 miles to be exact) of protected paths around five lakes and beaches. Ride with a purpose this summer with one of their art bikes, showing off custom and original designs in support of social justice by local artists. Hit the water for kayaking and stand up paddleboarding or try snowshoeing and ice fishing if you dare. You can smell and touch nature's beauty at Olbrich Botanical Gardens as you stroll through nearly 3,000 plant species and serene spaces.

Women-Owned Brews and Bunch

Erika and Jessica

Throw Midwestern stereotypes out the door. Madisonians are fiercely proud of their city, and small businesses like Short Stack Eatery, an all-day breakfast joint, and Giant Jones Brewing Company, a woman-run microbrewery, are examples of where community spirit and sustainability thrive. Sanctuary welcome signs and black and brown-inclusive LGBTQIA flags share space with non-profit partners at Short Stack. Craft beers get the organic farm-sourced treatment thanks to Erika Jones at Madison’s east side brewery. Jones brings her agricultural expertise to create bold beers with positive environmental impact, a value that extends to neighbors who are known to bike the Willy Street trails in between brews. Stop in for a bite and brew to go.

Live Music Aplenty

A band on stage at a Madison Night Market
Photo by Alisha Miranda

While music venues make their return, you can bring Willy Street jazz legends at Café CODA home with live-stream performances. You can even make it a family affair IRL every Saturday morning for free musical workshops available where “any instruments, abilities and ages are welcome.” It’s OG places like these that ensure Madison sticks around for good.

Follow more of Alisha’s travels at