Food tours are the perfect way to sample a city's culinary offerings. And Madison, with its laudable and burgeoning food and craft beverage scene, is the ideal place to enjoy a tour. It's no surprise that culinary tours are gaining popularity in Madison, and given the number of extraordinary restaurants, breweries, bakeries and cafés, Madison's food tour offerings are sure to flourish.
My own passion for our food community is fueled by the many hardworking and dedicated food producers in our area, in addition to the quality of the food. That is one reason I founded Madison Eats, one of our local culinary tour companies. The most common question I am asked is, "What is a food tour?" Food tours are much more than just a chance to sample food and drink. Experienced guides lead you through neighborhoods, into restaurants, sampling myriad foods and drinks, meeting local chefs and producers and unearthing the history and beauty of the Madison area. Participants develop a stronger connection to our community, all while having fun, engaging with other guests, and of course, eating and drinking their way around the city. Food tours are a five senses experience.
Discovering your favorite tour might take some experimenting. Choose from the tours listed below, or visit the companies' websites for additional offerings, schedule and current pricing.
Madison Food Explorers
This tour reflects its founder's wealth of knowledge about the area's history, as well as her appreciation for great local food. Andrea Hughes started Madison Food Explorers in 2010 with the main purpose of providing an entertaining and comfortable environment in which to explore our local food scene and to highlight the architecture and cultural history of Madison's scenic and vibrant downtown.
Straight Up: The Downtown Lake to Lake Food Tour runs 12:30–3:30 p.m. every Saturday and showcases Madison's main attractions, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace, the Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street and the UW–Madison Memorial Union. Indulge in classic Wisconsin favorites such as brats, brew pubs, Ian's pizza and local ice cream.
With a Twist: Book a private tour of the Monroe Street neighborhood, exploring a near-west-side neighborhood with great eats such as Brasserie V and Orange Tree Imports while taking in interesting cultural sights including Native American burial mounds.
Hop Head Beer Tours
Justin Schmitz and Filipe Moreira's Hop Head Beer Tours showcase Madison's growing craft beer scene. What started out as a brewery bus tour in 2010 has expanded into a diversity of ways to explore our city's craft beverage scene, from brewery bike tours to vintner and brewer tours to beer pairing dinners. Will you get drunk on a Hop Head tour? "Generally not." says Schmitz. "But you'll probably get a buzz."
Straight Up: The Suds and Spirit Bus tour includes two local breweries—such as Karben4 or Ale Asylum—and Old Sugar Distillery. At each brewery, you can sample a flight of beer or just drink a pint of your favorite, and you will enjoy a craft cocktail and samples at the distillery! This tour includes facility tours given by the brewers and distillers, in addition to the drinks themselves. Food is available for purchase.
With a Twist: Brews, Booze and Bees is Hop Head's newest tour highlighting three local treasures: a brewery, Old Sugar Distillery and Bos Meadery. At each location, you will enjoy a sample flight, or a pint (in the case of beer, only!) as well as a chance to meet the people behind the product.
Madison Eats offers regular and private food tours downtown and in Madison's historic Schenk-Atwood neighborhood with a focus on local producers and community partnerships. Sample great food and drink from artisan producers, brew pubs, food carts, farm-to-table restaurants and local bakeries. This tour, founded in 2012 by yours truly, offers walking, cycling and, new this summer, boating food tours.
Straight Up: Enjoy a stroll through one of Madison's favorite east-side neighborhoods, exploring historic homes and churches on the Atwood Lunch Tour. You'll sample food at five stops including snacks, artisan chocolate, tacos and pastries made by students at the Goodman Community Center.
With a Twist: The B-cycle Brunch Tour combines two of Madison's most notable assets—food and biking. Madison Eats partners with Madison B-cycle to offer a bike to brunch tour. This is a great way to see our city and try the B-cycle system! Delicious brunch and cocktail samples will fuel you as you cruise through Madison's beautiful and historic neighborhoods and experience our community's progressive bike share program.
Betty Lou Cruises
Betty Lou Cruises is named in honor of the late Betty von Rutenberg, a lifelong Madisonian who loved the city, its lakes and its residents. The cruises, now owned and operated by her three sons, showcase one of those assets—our lakes. The Betty Lou fleet includes motor yachts that are roomy, yet intimate and offer something for everyone. Regularly scheduled public cruises include a champagne brunch and a couples candlelight cruise, while special event cruises include casino night and an Oktoberfest cruise. Custom private charter cruises allow guests to create the cruise of their dreams, right here in Madison.
Straight Up: On Thursday evenings through October, you can take the whole family out on the Pizza & Beer tour to enjoy Ian's pizza, local craft beer and kid-friendly drinks while enjoying spectacular views of Monona Terrace, the shores of Lake Monona and the city skyline.
With a Twist: On the Locavore Cruise, relax and enjoy scenic tour of Lake Monona while sipping and savoring local beer, wine and food. Samples and a meet-and-greet with a local beer brewer and cheesemaker whet your appetite for the appetizers and a chef demo feature locally sourced ingredients. A glass of Wisconsin wine while enjoying the Madison skyline caps off the evening beautifully.