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The Best Things to Do in Janesville, WI

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The best things in Janesville range from a nationally-known water ski team to historic trails, amazing art, and a hot food scene.

My visit to Wisconsin was such a blast. To say Janesville blew me away would be an understatement. From a nationally-recognized water ski show team to gorgeous, artsy murals, there are great things to see and do there. Here are the best things to do in Janesville, WI, that I experienced on my hosted visit.

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Murals and Downtown

Public art is astonishing in Janesville, and from what I hear, they are just getting started. Vibrant, colorful works of art are found around town, and even some (namely the Janesville one) in an alleyway. A few of my favorite artworks were the Waves of Giving, Black Hawk, Origami Birds, and of course the Diversity & Women’s History mural, which can be seen blocks away.

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Downtown Janesville is a pleasure to explore. You’ll see many interesting restaurants, bars, and photogenic buildings, plus a dozen or more locally-owned shops to find gifts, treasures, accessories, and clothing. I found the benches around town to be a friendly offering for those who need a quick rest, and the curb appeal of the storefronts were a welcoming factor, too. Janesville has a noticeable sense of pride and community, a real treat to experience.

I was in awe of the gorgeous riverfront in downtown Janesville. It reminded me of strolling around Germany from the looks of the scenery, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the beaches along the waterfront. Be sure to catch the bridge all lit up at dusk.

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Glorious Gardens

I am still on Cloud 9 from walking through the Rotary Botanical Gardens, a 20-acre property with lake-front themed gardens and an overload of beauty. There are 26 different gardens, ranging from Japanese to children’s, English cottage garden to French formal, many with scenic views of Lions Beach. The Rotary Botanical Garden is also an in-demand place for weddings and special events.

One of the things I might mention is the gardens have engraved benches with thoughtful quotes for sitting or enjoying the weather and scenery. I don’t find that in many of the gardens I visit, so I was especially appreciative of the options for soaking up the scenery.

One of the coolest things I found at the Rotary Botanical Garden was a popcorn plant that smelled just like buttered popcorn when you rubbed its leaves.

Fun Fact: Pay attention to the cart inside the entrance, which displays current blooms and tells you what plants you are seeing.

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Janesville’s Tasty Food

I had a fantastic breakfast from Citrus Cafe. The cheery and friendly restaurant offers a packed menu with all the breakfast favorites you can think of. I had a darned tasty Greek omelet with rotisserie gyro meat, spinach, feta, and tomatoes. Accompanying my hearty omelet were hash browns and a side of tzatziki.

This is the only restaurant I’ve ever seen biscuit and gravy as a side option. You can also pick toast or an English muffin. And then Citrus Cafe added another feature “do you want your omelet folded or fluffy?” which blew me away. Kudos for both of those firsts.

Citrus Cafe also serves fresh-squeezed orange juice.

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Indulge in healthy fare at So Chopped, a refreshing lunch choice for custom-made hand-tossed salads, quiche, sandwiches, and soup. You can eat your meal alongside the Rock River on the patio for primo views and fresh air. So Chopped is part of the Bodacious Shops of Block 42 that encompasses an olive oil store and coffee shop. It’s a trio of businesses in one building with three different concepts; something I was unfamiliar with, but a fan of.

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Drafthouse is another popular Janesville eatery, with a sleek and lovely interior, plus a tasty menu to go with it. We had melt-in-your-mouth white cheddar cheese curds with vodka marinara sauce. I opted for Roasted Brussels Sprouts for my main course with a citrus dill aioli dipping sauce. I really liked the vibe at drafthouse and appreciated the attention to detail in the restaurant and the dishes.

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For an exceptional dinner, drinks, and patio setting, Genisa Wine Bar is one of Janesville’s newest downtown eateries. The charcuterie boards and craft cocktails are perfection, and the dinner options are tantalizing and exciting. Our meat and cheese board had fresh micro greens, almonds, cashews, and sliced baguette to accompany them. It was sensational!

I had a classic Caprese salad, and my friend, Sara, enjoyed the Spicy Salami Brick Oven Pizza. For dessert, we split the Brick Oven Blueberry Buckle with vanilla ice cream. This restaurant is a great date night option, too.

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A Unique Janesville Stop

My social media followers went crazy over the pictures from my S’mores charcuterie platter at The Sugar Exchange. This perfect little sweet shop has an Instagram-worthy entrance, retro and European candies, “penny candy”, and a whole ice cream bar.

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Our S’mores charcuterie featured Oreos, Reeses Cups, Kit Kats, Hershey Bars (and Cookes & Cream), graham crackers, marshmallows, and strawberries, and there are probably a few items for dipping that I left out. There were also small dishes of jelly, Nutella, and peanut butter.

The tray is served outdoors only, and with an open flame for toasting your skewered treats. Caution: Be mindful of the wind as the flame can get a bit carried away.

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Drinks

I was super impressed by the coffee shops in Janesville. You will never be far from a good cold brew or fancy schmancy gourmet coffee treat. Mocha Moment was one of the delicious options, while Bodacious Brew was another. I loved Bodacious Brew’s cold brew and Avocado Wrap breakfast sandwich with eggs and cheddar cheese. You can also get quiche, bagels, and breakfast bowls here.

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A Free Show for All Ages

The residents of Janesville are so lucky to have the Rock Aqua Jays water ski show team in their city. JoIn them for free ski shows at Traxler Park on Rock River Sundays and Wednesdays around 7 PM. Again, this is a two-hour free show that is chock full of talented skiers, dancers, acrobats, boaters, and fun. It was my first time ever seeing a professional water ski show and I couldn’t have loved it more.

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I was shocked to see the sheer number of people that make up the team; that is dedication. Rock Aqua Jays has hosted the national and many other water ski championships over the years, and won many, as well. There are concession stands and food trucks to grab a bite while you watch the incredible show they’ve put together for you.

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No pressure now, but this is one of the coolest attractions I have been to in the whole country.

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Watch for these downtown Janesville events throughout the year: Rock River Wine Walk, Music at the Marv (every Tuesday through summer), Nights on Festival, Meander Downtown, and Jolly Jingle.

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Historical Attractions

My guided tour of the Lincoln-Tallman House was easily one of the best things to do in Janesville, Wisconsin. I am a Presidential fan and try to add any attraction related to US Presidents to my itinerary, and in this case, I killed two birds with one stone.

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The Lincoln-Tallman House, circa 1857, is a lovely preserved house museum of a family who contributed much to Rock County’s history. They also hosted presidential wanna be Mr. Abe Lincoln for two nights before his run for office. It would awesome to know the business that was discussed on his visit, but regardless, the home has exceptional furnishings and stories that are plenty to take in. Pay close attention to the darling little fairies on light fixtures and lamps—a charming touch.

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Alongside the house museum are the two homes that belonged to Mr. Tallman’s sons. One is a gift shop and Rock County Historical Society museum that holds various treasures that change from time to time. The Pauline Pottery and Pickard China collection, donated by a local, is incredible…and worth a great deal of money.

I also appreciated that the museum has events to bring in locals to be a part of the preservation and involved in the community. Be sure to check out Janesville artist Gretchen Frick McBlair paintings and line art.

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Something Unique

Skelly’s Farm Market is such fun place to visit. The indoor market has a bakery and well-appointed gift shop, while the outdoor was filled with picture-perfect produce and a fun playground. I can almost bet you can’t leave without taking home one of the delicious-looking pastries in the market. Even the smell was dangerous.

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On my visit, Skelly’s sunflower fields were in bloom so I had the opportunity to wander around the red and green loops. Each loop featured several photo-ops designed with Instagram-worthy props. It was so beautiful. There were also a few places to climb on something for epic views of nothing but sunflowers.

I found the specialty flower portion of the property to be my favorite. I can see where these seasonal events (sunflowers, pumpkin patch, corn mazes, berry picking), would be a big draw for people all around the area. I need to come back when it is apple cider donut season. Skelly’s does a fantastic job making this an easy to follow attraction and everything was very well marked.

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Hikes

You can get outdoors and explore a rare offering in Janesville—the Ice Age Trail. My friend Sara of Travel With Sara spent several days on new trails, capturing great photos and enjoying the often rugged terrain.

If you prefer to just limit your outdoors to parks, there is no shortage of them in Janesville. a few to keep in mind are Riverside Park (splash pad, disc golf, bike trails, boat launch), Bond Park (skate park, 12 acres), Palmer Park (pet exercise area, sand court volleyball, wading pool, nature and bike trails), and Rockport Park (6 miles of trails including cross country ski trails, Olympic swimming pool, and peace park playground).

You’ll find even more great hiking opportunities in nearby Milton, only a few minutes away.

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Where to Stay in Janesville

The Cobblestone Hotel & Suites was my home-away-from-home on my visit. It was perfect, and in a great location for walking around the city and not having to move my car. Cobblestone has an elegant lobby with a fireplace focal point, and is also home to Wissota Chophouse, an upscale restaurant. You will see an entrance to it through the eye-catching green doors in the lobby. I was not familiar with this chain, and was a big fan.

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My room was well-appointed and incredibly spacious. The King Bed was so comfortable and I also had a sitting area between the entrance and bedroom with a couch and TV. I ate my to-go-food from Wissota (truffle Mac and cheese) there and appreciated the additional living quarters. Cobblestone also had an invigorating shower and nice, relaxing bathtub.

If you wish to enjoy swimming during your hotel stay, Cobblestone has an indoor pool and also a fitness room. There is a small sundries shop off the lobby if you forget something. Also near the lobby is the room for receiving your complimentary hot breakfast during the early hours. Wifi and parking are also complimentary.

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Need more Midwestern fun on your road trip travels? How about these great cities:

Ann Arbor, MI

South Bend, IN

Must-See Cities in Illinois

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