The capital of America’s Dairyland has plenty of cheddar and IPAs to go around at its annual Beer and Cheese Festival, but that’s hardly the only reason Madison made our list. The idyllic college town nestled between two freshwater lakes is home to a thriving arts scene and a burgeoning local economy.
The University of Wisconsin sits at the heart of the vibrant, progressive community of Madison, where “Midwest Nice'' meets cultural diversity. Between the community gardens, lakeside recreation, plentiful parks and museums galore, Madison residents have near-endless entertainment options. (Hot tip for parents: the Henry Vilas Zoo is totally free). Downtown, there’s no shortage of places to shop — with the city’s strong LGTBQ+ presence visible in its many pride flag-bearing storefronts. The beloved Dane County Farmers’ Market, the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country, is open on Saturdays (from April to November) in Capital Square.
Madison’s average home sale price is below the national average, making this scenic city an ideal locale for first-time homebuyers coming from more expensive metros.
There are plenty of new economic developments, too. There’s a booming tech industry: FetchRewards and Microsoft’s Gray Systems Lab are both headquartered in Madison, and Epic Systems, located in nearby Verona, is one of the area’s largest employers. As the city continues to attract newcomers, community organizers have launched more than 50 redevelopment projects for cultural, recreational, commercial and government uses, including the remodel of an old Army Reserve center, which will soon be home to 150 units of affordable housing. — Mary Ellen Cagnassola
[money-bpl-stats population="260,146" income="$74,218" home-price="$311,620" unemployment="2.5%" location="Madison, Wisconsin"]