Wisconsin’s capital city, Madison—a.k.a. Mad City, Madtown, People’s Republic of Madison, Athens of the Midwest, Berkeley of the Midwest, Lake City, or the City of Four Lakes—is a very queer and lesbian-friendly destination.
It’s known for being a university town, and it’s true; young people flock to Madison, and the city has over 50% of people under 30. This makes the city very exciting and ever-changing (and did I mention GAY already?!).
Some more Mad fun facts:
- UW-Madison was the first college in the country to offer a dairy major.
- Only two US cities are built on an isthmus; Madison is one of them, nestled between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.
- Its famous farmers market on Capitol Square is the largest producer-only market in the U.S.
- The (plastic) pink flamingo has been the official bird of Madison since 2009.
- There’s always a park within a 10-minute walk, wherever you are in Madison.
- Madison is renowned for being progressive, inclusive, open-minded, and remarkably queer-friendly!
No matter if you are a Madison local, it’s your first time visiting Mad Town, or it’s your tenth time in this fantastic city: this queer and lesbian Madison guide is for you!
We’ll dive into all the things that make Madison an excellent destination for queers. From the gay area, queer events, places to visit, lesbian bars and clubs, and where to stay in Madison, we’ll cover it all.
Madison occupies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial.
Teejop— meaning “Four Lakes”—pays homage to the deep lakes that shape the landscape, which have sustained all living creatures, both plant and animal. We encourage you to learn more about Madison’s Native history.
We also acknowledge that many cultures of native nations have recognized, accepted, and celebrated LGBTQ+ identities for generations that predate Western LGBTQ terminology.
Queer & Lesbian Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a fascinating queer history that doesn’t get talked about much. While most people think of LGBTQ+ progress happening on the coasts, it also happened right here in Wisconsin.
Back in 1966, Wisconsin made a big move by being the first place to call (by a political body) for the end of the restrictions for LGBTQ+ people so they could have “freedom of action.”
Even before Harvey Milk became famous in San Francisco in 1977, there were LGBTQ+ people in the Midwest, including Madison, who were elected to important positions.
Then, in 1982, Wisconsin did something groundbreaking. They became the first state to make a law that said you can’t discriminate against someone because of their orientation. It covered jobs, housing, and places like restaurants.
And Wisconsin made history again by electing three openly LGBTQ+ people to Congress: Steve Gunderson, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Pocan. If you’d like to learn more about Wisconsin’s queer history, visit the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Not only does Wisconsin have an interesting history, but it also has an official LGBT Chamber of Commerce you can consult, which highlights queer-owned and queer-friendly businesses. You can specifically filter for businesses in Madison!
Our Lives Magazine
Did you know Wisconsin has a dedicated queer magazine that’s high quality and full-color?! Grab your free copy of Our Lives Magazine with all things queer in Wisconsin (and particularly Madison) at cafes around town, or take a look at the digital articles on the Our Lives website.
Gay Area Madison
Madison is a welcoming city overall, but some queer-friendly areas stand out. The campus area is a great hangout spot for the young/studious queers among us. And then there’s Dyke Heights & the larger East Side!
That’s right, there’s a Dyke Heights in Madison. It’s the neighborhood south of Atwood, on the isthmus. This neighborhood houses a large number of lesbian families!
Beyond Dyke Heights, most of the East Side of Madison is pretty queer. With a vibrant arts scene, hip (vegan) eateries, and (gay) bars, this is the place to go! We’ll share more queer places to visit below in this article.
Read our lesbian travel guide that that will help with planning your lesbian vacation. Including safety tips!
Queer and Lesbian Events in Madison
There are some great queer, lesbian, and mixed events happening in Madison year-round!
From queer and lesbian parties to Pride to outdoorsy events, I’ll tell you all about them below; mark them on your calendar!
UW Madison GSCC
Madison’s university offers lots of activities and events for queer students and their communities. It’s also a great place to meet fellow queers!
Magic Pride Festival
Madison’s official annual Pride event! Madison held its first pride march in 1989, but it wasn’t until thirty years later that it got shaped into the event it is today.
Queer community organization OutReach has been organizing the festival since, and besides a march, Madison’s Pride weekend also has a volleyball tournament, a block party, and more!
Join Madison’s monthly(ish) pop-up event Dyke Dive when you can! Each event takes place at a “dive” or “neighborhood” bar, and while the catchy title says “Dyke,” the event is open to all genders!
I got a chance to visit a Taylor Swift-themed event and had such a great time; I went there solo, but a fun group of Swifties (who gave me a friendship bracelet!) quickly embraced me, and we danced all night!
As a creative (and neurodivergent) queer myself, I’m always looking to pick up new creative hobbies. Darn Queers can totally become my new hobby to hyperfocus on; it’s a group dedicated to teaching queer folks about the textile arts.
From sewing, mending, darning, knitting, making patches, and funky embroidery, these are all ways to express oneself. They host meetups, keep an eye out on their social media when their next event takes place!
Radical Adventure Riders (RAR)
Don’t we love dykes on bikes? For the active queers among us, join an event by the Madison chapter of RAR, a movement towards gender inclusivity and racial equity in cycling and the outdoors, with a focus on supporting and uplifting BIPOC and FTWN-B cyclists.
If there aren’t any bike events, you can always pick up a BCycle and ride the city DYI-style! Madison is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the USA, and while it’s very pedestrian-friendly, a bike makes it so much easier to move around.
Queer Climbing Social
Rock climbing and lesbians go hand in hand naturally, and Boulders Climbing Gym isn’t quiet about their queerness; every first Sunday of the month, there’s a queer climbing social at Boulders!
Since there are two locations, double-check which location hosts the event.
Find more queer events, check out the Queer Events in Madison Facebook group.
Queer & Lesbian Places in Madison
Let’s continue with places I recommend you to visit in queer and lesbian Madison! I’ve included some of the best things to do in Madison, including LGBTQ+-owned businesses.
From bookstores, hairdressers, a theatre company, climbing halls, cheese, vegan food, and outdoors, you can all experience it in Madison.
If you want to meet lesbians and queer folks in Madison, I recommend using queer Facebook groups or apps like HER or Feeld to connect with the local queers. See also our free lesbian dating app recommendations to meet your lover or make new friends.
First, let’s talk about Madison’s official LGBTQ+ community center. Whenever visiting a new place, it’s a great place to start your queer journey. They also host events, so check out their calendar to see what’s happening while you’re in town!
We all know slapping a rainbow on the streets doesn’t make a place queer-friendly. But if a place isn’t just talking the talk, but they’re walking the walk, what better way to walk than on a rainbow crosswalk?
Madison’s intersectional pride crosswalk is bold; it’s the highest-trafficked crosswalk in the state, and it’s right in front of the Capitol—a government building! Pay a visit to the Capitol, take a free tour, and see the view from the dome.
Live Colorfully Mural at Hilldale Shopping Center
Show your pride and take a selfie at the Live Colorfully mural at Hilldale Shopping Center!
It’s a large piece of street art; even I could easily pose with it for a picture with my tall (Dutch) height!
The rainbow crosswalk lies on State Street, and I highly recommend strolling down the street.
It is a pedestrian street that offers all the goodies, from the free Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to yummy vegan food at JustVeggiez and Sookie’s Veggie Burgers, mouthwatering ice cream at Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. (also with vegan options!), and cute vintage shopping at Singlestitch, Ragstock, and ReThreads.
Rainbow Chairs at Memorial Union
The Terrace chair has become quite the campus icon, and the stylish sunburst chairs add a fun splash of color to the Memorial Union terrace—almost like a rainbow.
The first metal sunburst chair appeared on the terrace in the early 1930s! In 1988, the Wisconsin Union patented the Sunburst chair design; you can buy a chair for about $450.
A Room of One’s Own
I love quirky, independent bookstores, especially when they’re queer-and-trans-owned (and operated)!
A Room of One’s Own is one of those bookstores, with books highlighting gender issues, feminism, and social justice. And you can find some signed copies of my book, The Pride Atlas, on their shelves.
A Woman’s Touch
There’s little hotter than a women-owned boutique selling adult toys operated by certified educators. Whether you walk in with questions about the health of your intimacy or just looking to increase your pleasure, this is the place to go.
Amethyst & Sage Salon
Are you looking to get a fresh lesbian haircut, or are you thinking of going all out, color-wise? Amethyst & Sage Salon is the place to be!
Queer hairstylist Kelsey is an absolute master colorist. We all know how great an affirmative haircut feels, right?! Treat yourself and let Kelsey work their magic!
Mint Cuts + Color
Like Kelsey, queer non-binary hairstylist Leah (El) has created a warm and welcoming salon space where all folks can authentically be themselves.
As one of their clients mentions, El’s space is also particularly neurodivergent-friendly. Leah loves intuitive haircutting and vivid colors; it’s a perfect place for a radical new look!
We all love theatre queers; what do we like even more? A theatre company dedicated to LGBTQ+ plays!
StageQ creates shows by and about queer folks, about LGBTQ+ experiences, performed by a queer cast and supported by queer crews. StageQ has been Wisconsin’s queer theatre since 2001, and it’s thriving!
This one’s for the artsy queers. The Bodgery is a non-profit, queer-friendly makerspace and social group in Madison that hosts public events (workshops, meetings) and gallery nights. Check their calendar to see what’s up!
Located just outside Madison, in McFarland, this queer-owned art gallery is worth the trip. Farwell Gallery has mostly local artworks and gifts for sale in all price ranges.
They also host creative workshops and classes, which you can find on their online calendar.
This one’s not for our vegan queers. This place is cheese-heaven. And it’s queer-owned! Cheesemonger Ken’s passion is evident when you set foot in the shop. It’s not just a place to buy cheese; it’s an experience.
In case you didn’t know, Wisconsin is known for being America’s dairy state, and Wisconsinians are also called “cheeseheads.” Top tip in Madison: try fried cheese curds! And remember this: it’s best when it’s squeaky!
Square Wine Company
It’s always wine-o-clock somewhere! And where better to shop for wine than in a queer-owned wine shop?!
They offer wine in all price ranges, and Andrea and her team are very knowledgeable; their passion for wine is contagious.
Find more LGBTQ+-owned businesses in the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Another great queer-owned shop: Fiddlesticks Knits! Erica’s place is more than a yarn shop; she has been knitting the community together.
Check the calendar to see what classes and workshops are coming up during your stay, or pop by the shop!
Java Cat Coffee
A cat-themed cafe run by a lesbian?! Do I even need to say more? Probably not, but if you’re not convinced, rainbow decor on the ceiling and top-notch homemade gelato will convince you.
The new location is a bit of a trip to the east, but you won’t regret it.
Short Stack Eatery
Women-owned breakfast place Short Stack Eatery does things differently. Right from the start, the restaurant built in sustainability and community impact. With their root partner program #feedtherevolution, they support grassroots organizations led by Black people.
Short Stack Eatery is also part of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Try their signature Bloody Mary, also available in a N/A version!
It’s no secret queers love vegan food, and chef Juan David Umaña takes vegan cuisine to a whole new level.
The 100% plant-based rotating menu takes its inspiration from all over the world, and you’ll do your tastebuds a favor by dining here!
Madison’s Lush Nature
Madison has fantastic nature; visit Allen Centennial Gardens, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Picnic Point, or the large UW Arboretum!
The city has over 260 parks, 6,000 acres of parkland, and over 200 miles of off-road and multi-use paths and trails. Pick up a BCycle and find yourself in the city’s lush greenery, just a short ride away.
Queer & Lesbian Bars + Clubs in Madison
It’s no surprise to hear that lesbian bars and clubs are disappearing faster than ever. And not only in the United States but everywhere in the world.
We are so sad about this, as we think lesbian bars and clubs are so important! Important as a safe space, as a place to meet other queer women, and to possibly meet your significant other.
Sadly, there are no lesbian bars or clubs in Madison. But luckily, Madison is a very welcoming place, and some spaces cater specifically to the LGBTQ+ community.
We will tell you all about them below. And make sure to keep on supporting those places. Otherwise, they might all disappear in the future. Have fun!
Giant Jones Brewing
This queer-women-owned-and-run brewery makes certified organic craft beers with a high abv (7% and up)! Wives Jessica and Erika Jones bonded over their love for food and beer, and their passion for brewing led to Giant Jones Brewing.
At the same time as starting a business, Jessica went into transition and came out as a transgender woman. The couple has incorporated disrupting societal norms in their business by brewing organic beers and giving back to local, national, and international communities.
Delta Beer Lab
This gay-owned local brewery focuses on the science of brewing and building community through its quality craft beer. It’s a staple for the local queer community, and they even hosted a Pride event in 2023!
If you didn’t guess it already, Madison is obsessed with beer! Trans owner Nia’s beer at Herbiery is different because they make it with herbs and spices.
Yup, that’s right: beer without hops! They also serve a selection of N/A beer, kombucha, and mocktails for the sober queers.
The H00kah Lounge
This might surprise you, but this Lebanese and queer-owned bar is a pretty popular spot to meet up with other queers! Perfect if you’re looking for a chill vibe with cozy lighting, belly dancing is happening on Saturday nights, and karaoke on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
A couple of self-labeled ‘friendly weirdos’ founded Crucible as a “playground for the peculiar.”
This mid-size club offers less mainstream events, including costume masquerades, rock shows, and play parties! Check their calendar and see what fun you can get into during your stay.
FIVE Nightclub has proudly served the community since 1998. This gay club is known for its big dance floor (one of Madison’s largest!), fun theme nights, and spectacular drag shows!
Where to Stay in Lesbian Madison?
Are you visiting Madison and are looking for the best places to stay? Or are you going for a staycation in your city? Madison has fantastic places to stay at. And in this super lesbian-friendly destination in the US, there’s no shortage of welcoming hotels.
We all don’t want to get those awkward questions about wanting a double bed, right? Or getting asked if it is a fun sister’s trip to the city.
Located right in the heart of the city, at Capitol Square, you’ll be close to all the best things to do in Madison!
It’s especially perfect to catch the famous Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays; it’ll be at your doorstep. I got lucky when I stayed at this hotel and got a breathtaking view of the Capitol building!
This sophisticated hotel also has an indoor swimming pool and an on-site restaurant if you don’t feel like leaving your hotel.
You’ll find the AC Hotel by Marriott just one block from Capitol Square. According to their description, they have “Spanish roots, European soul & a global mindset.”
It’s a gorgeous modern property with stunning views of the Capitol building and the two lakes. If your room doesn’t have a great view, go up to the rooftop tapas restaurant Eno Vino. Even if the weather isn’t great, you’ll enjoy the view with their floor-to-ceiling windows!
This stylish boutique hotel is conveniently close to the lesbian-owned Giant Jones Brewery, restaurant Jardin, and adult shop A Women’s Touch.
The hotel aptly honors its building’s history of being a paint factory; the rooms have a typical industrial feel and playful pops of color throughout the hotel, and each floor has large murals. Plus, there’s a fitness center available for the sporty queers amongst us.
Lesbian Madison Map
Enjoy queer Madison! Do you have any questions or want to add something to this guide? Drop it below or send me a message.
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