Things to Do in Janesville, WI

to explore like a local

Have you ever gone somewhere without fully knowing what you will encounter? I came to Janesville, WI, on a hosted trip and was introduced to a beautiful place. It wasn’t just one thing that drew me in and captured my heart. I think it was like a puzzle; when all the pieces of the community fit together, it’s perfect. Words that came to mind as I explored this area and still reverberate are revitalized, strong, relaxing, inviting, and adventure.

Let me introduce you to Janesville.

Thank you to Janesville Area Visitor and Convention Bureau for hosting me

Explore Rotary Botanical Gardens

The first thing on my itinerary was Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, where their passion is to share natural beauty, educate, and give you the arts with a stunning backdrop. I had driven seven hours to arrive here, and when I pushed open the doors, I immediately felt my shoulders lower, blood pressure drop, and I breathed in deeply to let the smell fill my lungs. It was cathartic. As I meandered slowly through the 20 acres filled with 26 different gardens, I felt like I was in my own world even though people surrounded me. 

As I learned more about the gardens, I found that it is transformed into a magical place where visitors can stroll the grounds enjoying the crisp winter air during the holidays. Millions of LED lights are strung around the property; each area will be a stunning display of Christmas whimsy. Don’t be surprised if you see Santa.

Official website to Rotary Botanical Gardens

Take a Historical Tour of Janesville, Wisconsin

When you first see a city, all you see are the buildings and street names because you are trying to find your way around. I don’t think about why the structure is there, what commerce did it create, and what its story is. However, I am a sucker for history and the stories that swirl around about it all. So it is no surprise that I quickly changed out of my flip-flops and tied up my walking shoes for a walking tour with Roam Around Tours. I think this walk cemented the love I was already feeling about this town. We started our tour on the new walking bridge that connects the heart of the community; just the story behind the revitalization of this part of downtown brought a feeling of pride deep inside of me. I won’t share all the deets on the story of Janesville and what I learned about; why you ask because you need to walk it yourself….you have to feel the history.

Official website for Roam Around Tours

Hop on an E-bike to See the Sights

Being outdoors is always high on my list of things to do when visiting a new place, and Janesville’s tagline is Wisconsin’s great outdoors, so I wanted to do as much as possible while I was here. Jason and Julia Jorgenson are Velocity Multi-Sport and Cycling co-owners, and they had e-bikes available to rent. I am sure, by now, you can tell I was falling in love with this part of Wisconsin, and these two made me love it even more. Their passion was contagious! If you have never ridden an e-bike, put it on your bucket list!

We took off to explore the Janesville portion of the Ice Age Trail. Was I taken in by the unbelievable trail system here? You better believe it. Being on an e-bike made it easy to see everything we wanted to in a reasonable amount of time, and I still got some exercise.

Official website for Velocity Multi-Sport and Cycling

Immerse yourself in History at the Milton House

I found myself at the Milton House located in, of all places, a town called Milton! This hexagon-shaped building was constructed by Joseph Goodrich in 1844 and has stood the test of time. Built as a residence, hotel, and place of commerce, its success was evident, but deep inside her rested a secret. 

The Milton House played a prominent role in the underground railroad. This trail without rails crisscrossed the growing United States, making way for freedom seekers to move north. Notably, the Milton House and its owners were such critical players in making this route 

through Wisconsin, a safe stop. 

Sometimes I can feel History when I am in a place. If you close your eyes and listen, you can hear the sounds of steam trains coming, people bustling around, and the tick-tock of the old clock. When I walked through the tunnel constructed for the Underground Railroad, I imagined the heavy breathing and perspiration dripping from the brows of the freedom seekers as they crawled their way from the cabin in the back to the hidden space in the central part of the building. I even got goosebumps on my arms as I typed out these sentences. Trust me when I say, The Milton House had all the feels. If you are interested in the Underground Railroad and its History, The Milton House should make your list of places to stop.

Official website for The Milton House, please make a note of the open times and dates.

Drift Away on a Kayak Rental

Wisconsin is known for some beautiful outdoor spaces, and I was pleasantly surprised with the opportunity to kayak while I was here. Drift Away Paddle Co. offers trips down the Yahara River or on two lakes, Gibson and Koshkonong. 

Getting out onto the water was really easy at Lake Gibson in Edgerton, where I did my paddle. Launching off the self-launch was pretty easy; I am sure it looked entertaining! I had seen these launches before but never used one. Lake Gibson is a shallow lake with crystal clear water. As I dipped my paddle in, I enjoyed each stroke as I propelled across the water. Since the water was clear, I saw fish darting about and turtles as they poked up their heads. Blue Herons dotted the shoreline, and two got into a spat over space and chased each other off. I just closed my eyes a couple of times, soaked in the sun’s rays, and sat back to float.

After the float, we had a picnic in the park with a to-go lunch box from Campbell Boys, which was a great way to recharge!

One of my traveling companions decided to make a trip down the Yahara River after the lake trip; you can read about his experience here: Yahara River Kayaking Adventure

Official website of Drift Away Paddle Co.

Eat Local in Janesville and Surrounding Areas

I am a self-proclaimed foodie. Food is a friend, a comfort, and brings people together. While in Janesville and the surrounding area, I was treated to many delightful plates. 

Lark

Let me start with Lark; I had to know how it got its name. The website said, “Larks are songbirds and symbols of happiness. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Happy as a lark”? Going on a lark means having a fun adventure. A group of larks is called an exultation because of their joyful song.” So, they wanted to bring together people with great food and a menu that is seasonally driven and ingredients that have been locally sourced. You can’t go wrong with whatever you choose to order here. Official Lark website

Bodacious Shops

Bodacious Shops, I told myself, welcome to heaven as I  walked in the door and immediately fell in love. If you take all the food you enjoy and wrap it up into one location; Bodacious would be the outcome. Tantalizing food comes out of the cafe with a touch of uniqueness on each plate. Coffee runs through my veins; the coffee shop was my go-to! They don’t just have coffee; you can get frappes, teas, and sodas if that is more your thing. Lastly is the oil and vinegar. Taste until your hearts desire, and then choose some to take home. I did! 

Fredericks Supper Club

Do you know what a supper club is? I did not. In retrospect, I have been missing out. Supper clubs are meant to be a dining experience that should last the evening. You won’t find the wait staff rushing you out the door. They want you to enjoy the meal from start to finish. Fredericks Supper Club has stood the test of time and continues the tradition of surf and turf paired with libations. If I lived in WI, I would frequent here often.

The Fulton Store

The Fulton Store: You roll up on this little joint at the crossroads of rural America, and you might think, Oh, a cute little store that sells cinnamon rolls. Fulton Store is soooo much more. As I pushed open the door and glanced to the left, the locals were solving all the world’s problems at the counter, and the smell of cinnamon rolls beaconed me in. The menu is surprisingly extensive, and I had trouble deciding. Noting my confusion in choosing a breakfast choice Cheryl, the peppy cashier, said, “ Try the sausage and gravy; it’s a favorite.”

As I sipped my coffee and wolfed down my hearty breakfast and guilty pleasure cinnamon roll, I enjoyed watching the community come in. Right before I left, a gentleman walked in the door, and Cheryl yelled, “Where have you been? I almost called the cops on you!” At that moment, I wished I lived here, in a place where everyone knew my name and food that would keep me satisfied. I’d drive six hours again just to come here; it is one of those true hidden gems.

And if food isn’t enough, this little part of Wisconsin has some sweet places to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

The Sugar Exchange

You will want to walk in the door at The Sugar Exchange just because of how inviting the front door is. I could have bought the whole place out, but fortunately, I was traveling with some other writers who were more than happy to share their orders. Two things that stood out were the ice cream nachos and the s’mores charcuterie board. 

Northleaf Winery

At Northleaf Winery, try the wine and chocolate pairing for an afternoon of sipping and tasting housemade chocolates. I did my tasting in the late afternoon, and the place was packed. They have a whole cupboard full of wine glasses for the locals; they each have their own wine glasses. While I enjoyed the wine, I also enjoyed the old historic building that houses the winery in Milton. Ask them how they took it from an old empty place to the delightful winery it is today.

Want a detailed list of 11 of the best places to eat in Janesville? Here are Honest and Truly’s top picks.

This little taste of Janesville left me hungry for more.  The explorer in me wants to cover more of this beautiful part of Wisconsin and take in the local beauty. I can see another visit to Janesville in my future, where I will dig a bit deeper into the treasures that are hidden here. 

Pro-tip: Book a room at the Janesville Hampton Inn; complimentary breakfast every morning and a great indoor pool to relax in at night.

Happy Road Trips!

Brandy

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