State Street & Downtown Madison

State Street & Downtown Madison

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This seven-block bustling thoroughfare, which runs between Capitol Square and the University of Wisconsin, buzzes with activity day and night. Offering lake access, amazing views, several museums and theaters, more than 140 restaurants including a diverse array of coffeehouses, ethnic restaurants, and award winning chefs, as well as more than 80 unique shops including bookstores, art galleries and specialty shops.
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Detailed Reviews: Reviews order informed by descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as cleanliness, atmosphere, general tips and location information.
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4.5
882 reviews
Excellent
454
Very good
292
Average
96
Poor
27
Terrible
13

Mark H
Fond du Lac, WI2,709 contributions
Aug 2021
I've been to Madison a zillion times for work and pleasure and I've never gotten around the visiting this well-known and popular place on State Street just a few blocks from the Capitol.

We grabbed a table outside and while were we there the city's annual naked bike ride passed by.

I ordered the $15 "tourist special" which includes a pint of Spotted Cow beer, a brat on a bun accompanied by a side of batter-fried cheese curds. For those under 21 or non-drinkers you can substitute a soft drink for $2 less.

The brat was excellent. Most brats are pork and this was a beef and pork blend that had a moderately spicy flavor. I find most traditional brats a bit tasteless.

A great place to take in some local culture.
Written August 29, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Suzanne H
Woodstock, IL105 contributions
Jan 2020
We often walk State Street from the Capitol to the UW Union. In between, there are lots of in shops where you can browse, cafes where you can grab a hot tea for sustenance, and plenty of interesting restaurants if you get hungry. After you get to the Union, go out onto the terrace and have a beer in the summer. In the winter, you can see the folks ice fishing, but you’ll have to get your beer inside!
Written January 26, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Richard H
Brookfield, WI5 contributions
May 2021
Hard to visit these days, given that so many businesses have folded or reduced their hours. The boarded-up store fronts are an unfortunate reminder of troubled times. But this time was better than the last, and we hope for better days ahead.
Written May 22, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

James E
1 contribution
May 2021
Super disappointed to see what State street has become. Went there when i was younger and took my family back this weekend. Super sketchy boarded up buildings, homeless people everywhere. Very sad that this place has turned into a dump.
Written May 17, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

crutt13
Pottstown, PA564 contributions
Jan 2020 • Family
I'm torn on my rating of 3 vs 4, but this was comparable to most other big cities I've been to. It was clean, had a lot of national stores (many I can find anywhere) and some local and was pretty well maintained. The traffic wasn't too bad.

Most people did their thing and I only heard a few groups of people arguing, one of which almost resulted in a fight.

It's worth walking around the city for the experience. If you're a college kid and or into the bar seen this would be a good place to go.

Written January 1, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

JeffBreedlove
Atlanta, GA4,236 contributions
Jun 2019
We were here just a short time but we enjoyed our walk in the area around the Capitol. We noticed and visited some of the nice stores and restaurants. Parking was easy. We even enjoyed playing a bit of corn hole on a set which was set up out side some stores.

We are not experts - but the area around the Capitol - in daylight - was very nice.
Written January 1, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Donna K
Waukesha, WI456 contributions
Mar 2020 • Friends
It’s so fun to return to Madison and walk here as we did yesterday. As I expected, there were some new, cute shops to browse and buy a couple things. No cars are allowed on State coupled with the university students, it’s just a great place.
Written March 6, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

wendilew
Middle of midwest13 contributions
The shops are overpriced and monotonous. Several of them even sell the exact same items (with just different names to the stores). The street also holds many overpriced and overhyped coffeehouses and restaurants. If you're a tourist or a college student, head down to State Street. If not, save yourself the parking headaches (and charges) and head out to the suburbs. Seek out the shops that lie outside this little trap. State Street, like so many other things today, relies on its reputation as being a "must-see" location of Madison. This is why retail space on the street is ridiculously overpriced.

On a totally different note, if you happen to be one of those "freaks" who still thinks it should be up to a business as to whether or not to be a smoking establishment, you won't fare well anywhere in Madison due to the city-wide smoking ban that helped to murder countless local establishments. I'm a non-smoker, and even I can see how ridiculous this is. So now, should you head down to State Street you can pay for: 1)High rent for retailers 2)Jacked up prices to make up for the loss of smoking customers 3)A lot of useless stuff that you can find cheaper elsewhere in the city (or, better yet, online). If you want to take a nice walk, go to the Arboretum or one of the bike paths. Get up early on Saturday in the summer and visit the farmer's market on the square. State Street is an overrated waste of time.

Another "draw" of State Street has been the halloween "Freakfest". Well, if you'd like to pay in the neighborhood of $20 to be able to gain access to a snow-fenced public street, then this is the place for you! You can thank the few morons who decided a few years ago that rioting and destroying businesses would add to the festivities.

I have lived and worked in Madison for almost 15 years, so I feel pretty confident in my posted opinion.
Written January 14, 2008
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Fearless37139
10 contributions
This street should serve as a model for cities trying to reinvigorate a downtown area. The only vehicle traffic allowed on the street is mass transit and delivery vehicles, thus it is a thoroughly pedestrian area.
The shops and restaurants are almost all one of a kind and provide a great backdrop to people watch. At night, this is the place to be.
Written January 21, 2004
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

sandy_flipflops
St. Croix92 contributions
Nov 2011 • Solo
For those of you who are not familiar with State Street, it is the Denver 16th Street Mall or San Francisco Pier 39 of Wisconsin, but with a little less flavor. It is several blocks long (maybe 10 or 12?) that runs from the capitol to campus. Straight shot. The part of campus that it runs into is right next to Lake Mendota and the University's Memorial Union and the terrace (great place to grab a beer and sit and watch the sailboats on the lake) Cars are not allowed to drive down State Street, but it does have frequent bus service and bicycles. It is made up mainly of shops, restaurants and bars with residences above them. I would compare it to the 16th Street Mall in Denver, but on a smaller, less modern scale.

One of the best things about State Street is that it enables you to access a large percentage of cool things about Madison in a very condensed fashion. The capitol on one end, the university and Lake Mendota on the other, and lots of things in-between. I would say that a majority of the commercial establishments and restaurants are concentrated half-way between the capitol and the university, or more toward the university. The closer you get to the capitol, the less retail.

How much you enjoy State Street will largely depend on why you are there and what you compare it to.

Bar-hopping - It's a great place to go bar-hopping. Diverse choices all in one spot. If you want a change, just pay your tab and walk next door.

Shopping - It has a nice variety of stores, none of which are chain stores (except for Walgreens and Gap, I think). Small vintage clothing stores, shoe stores, interesting gift shops, galleries, university team spirit items. Definitely not cheap or cheesy, like some tourist places. (I mean cheap as in lame, not cheap as in inexpensive) Also not pretentious and high-brow. Just a nice mix for anyone.

Restaurants - It's a great place to grab a bite, no matter what your tastes are or how little time you have. Many ethnic choices, delis, bar and grill places, fast food (there are few fast food chains when you get closer to campus. Einsteins, Taco Bell, etc.). Lots of coffee houses. I would say the restaurants are mainly casual. Again, it's nice because all of the choices are within a few blocks of each other, so it's easy to window shop for a place you are interested in. Another great dining suggestion (during nice weather) is to stop at one of the food carts at the campus end of the street where it dead-end's at Library Mall. Some of the food carts are mini versions of local restaurants. Some are unique and don't have a sister restaurant. Most are ethnic, of some sort. All are wonderful. Grab an order and plunk down next to the fountain or on the lawn and enjoy the vibe.

Architecture - I wouldn't say that State Street has a real "feel" to it, like some places. The architecture doesn't stand out like it does in some cities. If you compare it to Denver, I would say Denver's 16th Street Mall has more of a "feel" to it. It's got a modern vibe and people can more easily mill around from one side of the street to the other because of the way it is set up (doesn't have the feel of a "normal" street).

People-watching - Great place to see the wonderful mix of people that is Madison. Old, young, big, small, green hair, dreads, affluent, homeless, students, retired folk, local-born, foreign-born. This is where the vibe comes from. The people. I would say that State Street is the epicenter of cultures in Madison. Pretty much anything goes. It's a very liberal, accepting environment, but conservative people would enjoy it just as much.

Shows - Madison offers lots of different types of shows. Local music to really high-level Broadway productions at the Overture Center, and lots in-between. Get a copy of the Isthmus (the weekly FREE local paper) to see the best listings of what is going on for the week. An absolute must for anyone wanting to research activities. The Isthmus is usually found in local establishments like restaurant entrances, some grocery stores. Haven't had any luck finding one in the gas stations.

Sorry if I am forgetting anything.
Written July 19, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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