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Things to do in Janesville Wisconsin? Isn’t it funny how we often overlook the places that are closest to us? As a travel writer, I get the opportunity to travel pretty much anywhere in the world and get so excited to check out the next locale.
If you are like me at all, then the one small perk of the COVID lockdowns is the simple fact that we were all looking at our own backyards for excitement and activities.
Janesville WI is one of those such places in my own backyard.
Nestled in the heart of Rock County Wisconsin, Janesville is a charming community that has a lot of fun things for visitors to do. It’s easy to get lost in this beautiful community as you take in everything from history to amazing food.
Now, those who have been around awhile, know how hard Janesville was hit by the loss of the GM plant in 2009 – and then all the businesses that supported it. Eventually, they had to make a decision: to be known as the town what was or the town that is. Things started coming around when Mercy Hospital complex chose to create a base there and things slowly improved … snowballing in an amazing restaurant, retail, and welcoming community environment.
The City of Janesville has plenty to offer for people who want to stay within the area or can make it out there for just a short trip. We have compiled a list of the best things to do when you are in Janesville Wisconsin!
Granted, not everyone can have the Janesville Area Convention Visitors Bureau as their tour guide, but I am confident that you and your family members will find a ton of amazing activities from the scenic views to the special events. It is well worth any road trip and a perfect place for a Wisconsin Winter Weekend Escape.
Let me start by saying that in Wisconsin? It is just a matter of fact that we can have snow up to eight months of the year. It has hit as early as October and as late as May so in December? Don’t plan on enjoying their amazing splash pad or catching a show of their successful water ski show team: the Rock Aqua Jays.
There are still plenty of kids’ activities and outdoor activities for a unique experience and it is all just a short drive from Madison!
“We recently visited Janesville for an episode of “The Traveling Cheesehead Visits…”
Immerse yourself in history
Let me start with the Rock County Historical Society. You can literally step into history when you cross the threshold of the Lincoln Tallman House. While the Lincoln-Tallman House tours are incredible, the historic house is transformed into a festive joy with over 130 Christmas trees that are all lovingly decorated by different groups. And yes, the house has its name because the Tallman family had Mr. Abraham Lincoln as a distinguished guest…before he became president!
You simply HAVE to see the mini bed that our 6’4″ 16th president of the United States spent the night in! Or see the gorgeous gasoliers that were added to the house during its construction and sat over a dozen years before they were able to be used.
I loved listening to our tour guide share facts about everything from the library’s pocket shutters to colored stained glass window as I examined tree after tree that had been decorated by different members or groups in the community.
Check out the holiday lights
If you are looking for things to do in Janesville WI the Rotary Botanical Gardens is another not-to-miss winter activity – especially with their Holiday Light Show. I am just a sucker for all things Christmas and ever since I was a kid, seeing the lights topped my holiday “must do” list. Can I just say over a million lights all around these themed gardens?
I am used to all the drive-through events that Wisconsin has for holiday lights and have to say, walking through the display of 1.2 million lights is an incredible experience. You can smell the oak leaves, hear the kids cry in delight as they whip off and on their holographic glasses as they look around, and see adorable senior citizen couples smooching while sitting on a bench for a photo.
—>Get your tickets NOW so you can see all the magic that this really is – and it is even better knowing that it is for helping to raise money to keep these beautiful gardens going.
Downtown Janesville is another huge transformation. New restaurants are popping up and dozens of unique shops! Maybe you want to test out unique flavored olive oils and incredible different varieties of Balsamic vinegar at Bodacious. You might find a unique treasure at one of the antique or thrift stores.
Check out Adorn if you want beautiful knit mittens with felted linings or that perfect handcrafted ornament. I even found cute books on how to pamper yourself, depending on your star sign. Before I knew it, I had several gift bags to take to the car.
Eat Janesville’s Food
My list of things to do in Janesville WI would be incomplete if I kept you looking for a good coffee shop! I would be all over the Citrus Cafe if I were you. WIth pancakes that are lighter than a cloud and a choice of having your omelet either pan fluffy or griddle flat, you simply can’t go wrong.
The service was fantastic and the food was amazing. I did ask for a half omelet but ended up with a 2-egg omelet. It was still beyond generous and came with perfectly cooked hashbrowns. We never had an empty glass and I think we all had to-go boxes for the surplus bounty.
Speaking of local foods – has Janesville got you covered! You can grab an incredible culinary creation like the Red Blooded American that I tried at the Sandwich Bar. It had red roast beef, cream cheese, hash brown, with a caramelized onion sauce that was just a perfect match for their French Fries that had a Parmesan Aoli.
Make sure you try the Deviled Eggs- you get a plate of 6 for just $4!
They also have a S’mores Charcuterie at the Sugar Exchange. I loved being able to create a box of fudge with 6 different flavors almost as much as trying their mini truffles… know I need to bring the husband back so he can get a custom soda creation. It is totally planned out as one of our future dates!
And if you are in the mood for a great Wisconsin supper club experience? Try Fredrick’s Supper Club that is just a short drive over to Milton. They even feature Janesville’s legendary 808 Cheesecake! If only their delivery area included Sun Prairie. (sigh)
We also loved the Genisa Wine Bar and had to add it to our list of things to do in Janesville WI. Their small plates concept brought you together over the table as you shared and sampled different treasures while you wait for your brick oven pizza to be brought to your table.
I can’t recommend the house sangria enough and think you should try the Modena pizza. I was tickled at the combination of the dry ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, and balsamic dressed arugula. .
If I haven’t convinced you yet – you need to zip over to Janesville yourself and check out their visitor center to look for yourself. Maybe you want a Girls Getaway Weekend where you try the wine tastings at a place like the Northleaf Winery or comb the downtown area for the perfect gift shop while checking out all the amazing public art.
How about sneaking away for that romantic escape? Try a visit to the legendary Gray Brewing Company and maybe check out a historical landmark that also used to be a stop for the Underground Railroad.
Just make sure you check their calendar of events for the family-friendly events for the summer if you want to bring the kiddos! With miles of trails and incredible parks for people of any and every skill level, you can get the whole group out on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail or even attempt the Devil’s Staircase.
National Scenic trails, historic districts, kids activities, great shopping, and amazing food — I know I have to come back and check things out when the weather is warmer and even try kayaking on the Rock River.
The bottom line?
If you think you know what Janesville was – you need to get your fanny there to check out and see what Janesville actually is today. I seriously see great things for the future if Janesville keeps up the trend it has started. It certainly is the kind of place I will return to with the family. I know they would love it and I barely scratched the surface on my visit.