MEDIAN AGE: 31
MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY: $49,595
MEDIAN HOME VALUE: $220,200
VOTES: 750 (3.4%)
It may seem like Madison is the token Midwest selection on every best-of list simply for not being another glorified grain elevator. But Madtown is as outdoorsy as any Rocky Mountain Oasis. Paddling and road cycling are particular passions, the latter thanks to Pacific Cycle, Planet Bike, and the Trek Bicycle Store, all headquartered in this area. Sustainability is the city's other passion: eco-saints John Muir and Aldo Leopold developed their ideas here, and Madison is a leader in localism, with more than 50 community-supported farms and the country's largest weekly farmer's market. Plus, almost every weekend you can find a free block party, concert, marathon, or beer festival—like the Great Taste of the Midwest, which serves more than 500 types of brew every August.
Staying Power: The city's highly educated, fiery citizens (see the political protests earlier this year) keep politicians focused on the long view, something the city has done since 1911, when it commissioned a parks-heavy urban-planning road map based on the idea that recreation "contributes to a physical and moral health." A century later, Madison still has ambition, including a detailed plan to become the bike-commuting capitol of the U.S. by adding bike boulevards, bike stoplights, even a two-wheels-only café.
Playgrounds: The city is flanked to the west by the Driftless Area, a forested region of rolling hills, bluffs, and streams where trout fishermen and roadies spend hours getting happily lost. Hikers hit up the Capital City, Military Ridge, and Glacial Drumlin trails. Come winter, the city grooms 25 miles of paths in local parks to create a cross-country wonderland.
The Voters Speak: "One of the few places you can bike, paddle, or ski to work." "Plays host to the Ironman, Madison Marathon, Paddle and Portage, and Canoecopia." "Four-season awesomeness."