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America's Coolest College Towns

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin

Jim Brozek

Madison, WI (University of Wisconsin)

Like oases in deserts, college towns in the Midwest can be refreshing splashes of hustle and bustle amid the plains. The Wisconsin capital squeezes cafés, art galleries, and the César Pelli–designed Madison Museum of Contemporary Art onto an invigorating pedestrian-only thoroughfare. In warm weather, the museum’s roof is the setting for concerts and films. Elsewhere are found lively neighborhood block parties, like the Atwood Summerfest, which annually offers rock bands on multiple stages. And there’s no shortage of aquatic fun: the city is located on an isthmus between a pair of glittering lakes.

Local Taste: L’Etoile Restaurant is the region’s slow-food mecca.

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