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What Are The 7 Best Neighborhoods In Madison, Wisconsin?
There’s more to Madison, Wisconsin than cheese, beer, and the University of Wisconsin (of course, there are definitely those things there as well). People love Madison for its friendly, midwestern feel with some great dining and cultural amenities.
Madison offers many neighborhoods great for walking and biking. Monroe Street tops the list for families thanks to its strip of local businesses that support community events. Young people can experience a live-where-you-work lifestyle in Downtown Madison, and there are many other great options to choose from.
Read on to learn about some of the best neighborhoods in Madison that call to a variety of needs and personalities!
Table of Contents
Why Move to Madison
Madison is a mid-size city of only 250,000, but thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the city packs some punch in terms of cultural and sporting opportunities. It’s a great city for those who appreciate the amenities of the city or need to be in a population center for work but who also want lots with some space and easy access to the outdoors.
The whole city is very bike-friendly thanks to dedicated lanes and flat paths, as you’ll see by the individual neighborhood bike scores in the highlighted neighborhoods below. The average commuter in Madison spends 15 minutes in the car each way, but many Madisonians commute via bike or even by walking.
There is a real emphasis on green space thanks to over 5,000 acres of space over 260 parks. Madison itself is on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. The various lakes in the city are home to several swim beaches and boating areas. Within an hour of Madison city limits, there are several state parks that open up miles of trails and water for canoeing, kayaking, and boating.
All of this comes in a city that is 6 percent below the national average cost of living. UW, UW Health, and SSM Healthcare of Wisconsin employ a large number of people in the area. Of course, Madison is also the state capital, bringing many government and legal jobs to the area.
7 Best Neighborhoods in Madison, Wisconsin
1. Monroe Street
Madison is definitely a college town, and to take advantage of some of the best parts of living in a city with a major university, check out the Monroe Street neighborhood. Monroe Street is one of Madison’s best neighborhoods for families.
Many of the university professors live in this neighborhood, giving it the special feel of academia. Monroe Street itself features a 1 ½ -mile strip of local businesses. Businesses and the local neighborhood association organize many community events throughout the year, including an annual chocolate walk, sidewalk sale, and festival. Celebrate Halloween with trick-or-treating at local businesses and appreciate the winter lights during Holiday Glow.
Monroe Street can address the vast majority of your needs in one convenient area. Medical professionals, beauty services, and professional services are all located in the neighborhood’s mini-downtown area.
The university itself is not in this neighborhood, although it is nearby, so families can avoid the dense housing and loud weekends that usually come with colleges. Kids and families can take advantage of the Henry Vilas Park Zoo, which offers free admission. Vilas Park has multiple outdoor ice skating areas for hockey and figure skating, so kids with winter interests can have convenient access to rinks.
Monroe Street Arts Center gives kids and families the opportunity to make connections in the community through art programs and music classes specially geared toward little ones.
The UW- Madison Arboretum provides 1,200 acres of outdoor space featuring a variety of habitats and trails. Overall, Monroe Street gives families the amenities of city living but with a lot of outdoor space. The median home price is $546,000.
- Walk Score: 74
- Transit Score: 31
- Bike Score: 100
Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara (SASY) is a major up-and-coming neighborhood known for its artistic atmosphere. This neighborhood is the best neighborhood in Madison for people seeking a trendy feel.
This area was formerly a run-down blue-collar neighborhood, but it has seen major revitalization in the recent past. Now, you’ll find many ethnic restaurants, cool shops, and seasonal food shops.
This neighborhood is on the northern end of the isthmus and is now an area with income diversity and many neighborhood activities and festivals. The symbol of the neighborhood is the Barrymore Theater, which only 20 years ago was a pornography house. It represents the transformation of the area into a cultural haven.
The median home price in this neighborhood is $375,000.
- Walk Score: 89
- Transit Score: 46
- Bike Score: 99
The Williamson-Marquette Neighborhood, also known as Willy Street or Wil-Mar, is another great neighborhood for those who love having lots of food options within walking distance. This neighborhood is actually most known for its live music venues.
You will find venues hosting live blues, jazz, folk, and rock artists. In the summer, performers take to the outdoors. Food and dining are a major draw to Wil-Mar. Southeast Asian, Caribbean, and Cajun food can be found alongside pub fare. And of course, there’s the Willy Street Co-op that has been selling groceries and serving food since 1974.
Besides being known for its live music, locals call this neighborhood the crunchiest in Madison, no doubt at least partially due to the co-op’s position as a bastion of the neighborhood.
Many of the houses in this part of Madison are beautiful and older. Residents can choose between historic walk-ups, new condos, and bungalows for housing, and Wil-Mar provides great commuting options via the bike path and bus routes. It’s actually within walking distance for those who work downtown. The median home price is $400,000.
- Walk Score: 85
- Transit Score: 54
- Bike Score: 100
Downtown Madison encompasses the central business district as well as the state capitol. This neighborhood is the best Madison neighborhood for young professionals. While many downtowns offer a rather austere lifestyle, downtown Madison features some of the best aspects of city living.
You will find museums, restaurants, shopping, and live music all within a major area of employment, allowing residents to live a true live-where-you-work-lifestyle. Downtown also features a weekly farmer’s market.
Located on the isthmus between the lakes, Downtown offers maximum ease for accessing both sides of town and taking advantage of the whole city. The median home price is $473,000.
- Walk Score: 92
- Transit Score: 62
- Bike Score: 89
5. Johnson Street
Johnson Street is an Eastside neighborhood that has recently established itself as another up-and-coming neighborhood. Formerly vacant retail spaces have been snatched up and transformed into a craft cocktail bar, coffee shop, boutique, salon, and more. Some Monroe Street businesses are making their way to Johnson Street and the less-expensive overhead costs and spreading the spirit of the community along with them.
The Johnson area refers to just a few blocks along Johnson Street making the major improvement over the past ten years and distinguishes this distinct area from the greater Tenney-Lapham neighborhood discussed below. The median home price in Johnson Street is $379,000.
- Walk Score: 73
- Transit Score: 47
- Bike Score: 96
Tenney-Lapham is on the east side of the capitol and is an increasingly expensive neighborhood that is seeing the construction boom of high-rise condos and other buildings. It draws a lot of young people, but because it is a 30-minute walk from campus (and is expensive), there is not a strong student presence in Tenney-Lapham. This makes it one of the best neighborhoods for young people who want a break from the UW culture.
You’ll find a strong live music presence in this neighborhood as well. The High Noon Saloon brings in touring and local indie acts. The Breese Stadium hosts some bigger name acts like the Queens of the Stone Age. Madison’s newest big music venue is also in this neighborhood: the Sylvee.
Some consider Johnson Street to be part of the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, which really does make that part of town the epicenter of all things music in Madison.
- Walk Score: 81
- Transit Score: 53
- Bike Score: 93
For all the talk of the University of Wisconsin, we need to identify the best place for students to live, and that would be the Campus neighborhood. UW is on the west side of town, ranging from the capitol on State Street and ranging over to University.
In addition to the campus itself, students and like-minded people will find a good collection of bars and casual dining. Rumor has it that the student union sells some of the best ice cream in town. The average rent for a 1-bedroom is $1,320, but of course, there is a large range for monthly rentals depending on size, roommates, and quality.
- Walk Score: 73
- Transit Score: 58
- Bike Score: 91
Takeaways When Choosing a Neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin
Madison is a rare city where there are many awesome neighborhoods where homes can be had at affordable prices. The university in combination with the outdoor opportunities makes Madison a really lovely place to live. When choosing a neighborhood, just keep a focus on whether you want a busier feel closer to the university or downtown or whether you want a quieter neighborhood like Monroe Street.
Most of Madison benefits from being a bike-friendly area. Dedicated lanes throughout Madison give bikers a little more security and safety from automobile traffic. Fortunately, its location on an isthmus also keeps the elevation low and fairly flat, making for a much more pleasant ride than a city on a hill.
Winters in Madison can be a little tough, unless you love outdoor hockey and winter sports, but the many community events in the city bring joy throughout the year.
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