Five Favorites of The State Capitol of Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol 2
As they say in 'Sconnie: "Forward!" Photo by Randy Stern

"Madison – attitude check!"

Those are the words of a drag queen at Club Five during karaoke when she wanted to see how the crowd is doing. Our response would not be worth publishing on this site, but you only imagine what we would say every time.

This town is perhaps the most interesting place I have ever visited…and lived. My professional writing career began in Madison with a publication out of Chicago. It was there where my treks to the Chicago Auto Show yielded what you are seeing a decade or more later. Its beacon is the state capitol, located squat in the middle an isthmus between two large lakes – Mendota and Monona. The city's design lends itself to an image that is either celebrated or derided by the rest of the state of Wisconsin.

Madison's charms are alluring. Sometimes, they can be off-putting. Yet, the town is a refuge for anyone not conforming to society, despite its magnet as the hub of the state.

To honor the place where the craft began to take flight, it is time for another Five Favorites. As with my Five Faves survey of the Twin Cities, I looked at five categories: Dining, Arts and Culture, Recreation, People Watching/Meeting, and Driving Experiences. I am certain there are plenty of options for visitor to Mad-Town to figure out what to do. It is probably best to talk a local…make sure you pay for their next meal.

SA-BAI THONG: I have a thing for Thai food. One could argue one way or another, but this is the best Thai restaurant in South Central Wisconsin. Every time I went there, great food and conversation happened. The restaurant has grown from a location on University Avenue in a small strip mall to another on Odana Road towards West Towne Mall. Why this place and not any of he marquee restaurants dotted from East Towne to Middletown? Memories and great taste!

OVERTURE CENTER: What used to be an old theater and some run down apartments and stores is now an integrated center for all forms of art. Whether it is visual art, music, dance or theatre, the Overture Center is a complex with four stages, a gallery and several lobbies. To see how this controversial project turned into a key asset for Madison even in competition with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On second thought, this place is for everyone, as intended by the finished product in the heart of State Street and downtown Madison.

LAKE MONONA: Of the four lakes that Madison touts as their own, this one is selected because it actually offers a more accessible and diverse source of recreation than the other three. How many people do you see running, walking, fishing, bicycling, doing tai chi and other forms of self-improvement along Monona? In my time in Madison, it is regular sight in the daytime – all year round. The huge advantage is that Monona hosts the annual kite festival every February. Right on the icy lake, kite enthusiasts set sail into the air right in front of Monona Terrace to show that winter is nothing but a bunch of cold air. The lakeshore stretches well into Atwood neighborhood, where Olbrich Park offers plenty of acreage for more activity – including its botanical gardens.

STATE STREET: There is a transit-only thoroughfare that links the state capitol with the university campus that is fodder for people watching. If you do not mind if a majority of the subjects happen to be students of the university. Yet, they provide such visual entertainment at any given hour of day and night. Let us not forget that there are more than students that live in Madison or wind up on State Street. The world simply shows up on State Street because of the same reasons you go there – to be seen, to see other people and perhaps meet up with friends and locals.

WISCONSIN HIGHWAY 78: When I moved to Madison, I was unaware that the Midwest offered something a California boy would never experience again – topography. West of Madison is some rolling landscapes and river bluffs that remind one of canyons and foothills. That is, of course, you use your imagination. From about Sauk City south of the Wisconsin River to Black Earth is a stretch of road that reminded me of home – Highway 78. It is a quiet piece of road with curves – a novel idea in itself. This is where you take a car and challenge it. As long as you do not see a Dane County Sheriff around, you can do wonderful things on this road – like attack curves. It is an oasis for a car guy away from the insanity of Madison.

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