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Buff Strickland Madison's giant farmers' market

Photo: Buff Strickland

Madison, Wisconsin

It's been ranked as one of the brainiest cities in America—and one of the greenest, most literate, and most athletic. It also serves the best bratwursts this side of Bavaria. Rising out of the cornfields and cow pastures, Madison—a.k.a. Madtown—leavens the highbrow with the down-home. What else would you expect from the capital of a state whose residents call themselves Cheeseheads?
LEAVING HOME Dane County Regional Airport, five miles from downtown, is served by the major carriers. Chicago is a 2½-hour drive down Interstate 90.
CAMPUS TOUR The University of Wisconsin overlooks Lake Mendota, with miles and miles of biking, hiking, and cross-country ski trails, plus sailing and, in deep winter, ice skating. Bascom Hill is the place to practice hacky sack or read the Badger Herald under the elms. Locals and students alike hang out at the Memorial Union (800 Langdon St.; 608/265-3000; www.union.wisc.edu), a 1920's Italianate palace with a terrace that has prime lake views and, often, live music playing.
CRASH COURSE Bone up on your Wisconsin humor at a Saturday morning taping of Michael Feldman's public radio program Whad'ya Know? (locations vary; 608/262-2201; www.notmuch.com).
FAMOUS ALUMS Eudora Welty and chef Charlie Trotter. Dropouts include Frank Lloyd Wright (nine of his buildings are here in town!), John Muir, Charles Lindbergh, and Dick Cheney—who liberal Madisonians say left a Ph.D. program in British literature just after he passed the draft age for the Vietnam War.
GO TEAM Follow the marching band as it plays "On, Wisconsin" into Camp Randall Stadium (1440 Monroe St.; 608/ 262-1866) for a Saturday football game against Big Ten rivals like the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Warning: Badgers fans order tickets months in advance (800/ 462-2343; tickets@athletics.wisc.edu).
STUDY BREAK On Saturdays, stroll pedestrian-only State Street on your way to the Dane County Farmers' Market (Capitol Square; 608/455-1999; www.madfarmmkt.org; open late April–early November), the largest farmers' market in the nation. Essential eating: cheese curds (fresh cheddar lumps), of Little Miss Muffet fame. Down the street is the spectacular new Cesar Pelli–designed Overture Center (201 State St.; 608/ 258-4177; www.overturecenter.com), with performance spaces showcasing Russian ballet, Chinese circus performers, and Tony Award–winning musicals.
MEAL PLAN Marigold Kitchen (118 S. Pinckney St.; 608/661-5559; closed Sundays; breakfast for four $18) makes duck-confit hash and pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. State Street Brats (603 State St.; 608/ 255-5544; lunch for four $25) specializes in the famed local wurst. For a stunning variety of foreign restaurants, browse State Street—the Nepalese Chautara (334 State St.; 608/251-3626; dinner for four $40) makes its curry from Wisconsin farm-raised goat.
CUP OR CONE?Babcock Hall Dairy Store (1605 Linden Dr.; 608/ 262-3045) dishes up funky flavors concocted by the university's Department of Food Science. Blue Moon is turquoise and tastes like Froot Loops.
BLOW YOUR ALLOWANCE At Ragstock (329 State St.; 608/251-3419), act like a local and browse the Japanese baseball jerseys and micro kilts before settling on yet another flannel shirt. Stop for cherry balls and root-beer barrels at Twee & Luliloo (218 State St.; 608/251-4075).
FUN FOR FREE Scout for tree frogs and woodchucks in native prairie grasses at the 1,260-acre University of Wisconsin Arboretum (1207 Seminole Hwy.; 608/263-7888; www.uwarboretum.org).
OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING The Hilton Madison Monona Terrace (9 E. Wilson St.; 800/445-8667; www.hiltonmadison.com; doubles from $139) has a pool and views of Lake Monona—not to be confused with Lake Mendota, just across the isthmus. Mansion Hill Inn (424 N. Pinckney; 800/798-9070; www.mansionhillinn.com; suite for four $295), the nicest place to stay, has steep interior steps—hence its children-over-13 policy.
REQUIRED READING The Isthmus (www.thedailypage.com), Madison's free alternative weekly, runs the most complete event listings. Get your children to plan your trip at www.visitmadison.com's Kid's Corner.
—ELIZABETH LARSEN

REPORT CARD
A+ Cultural offerings, outdoor attractions, spectator sports, and the intelligently goofy vibe.
C Kiddie diversions. There's not much tailored to the under-five set, though the Children's Museum on State Street is a rainy-day standby.
A Food. Madison's pickings are diverse and farm fresh.

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