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North Hills Monthly

Cheese Curds and Charm: The Perfect Girls’ Getaway Weekend in Janesville, WI

Feb 28, 2019 05:31PM ● By Vanessa Orr

You know when your host meets you at breakfast carrying two bags of Bucky Badger cheese curds that it’s going to be a great trip. But you really wouldn’t expect anything different when you’re visiting Wisconsin, which is not only the nation’s largest producer of cheese, but home to some of the most hospitable people around.

On my first trip to Janesville, located in southern Wisconsin, I was introduced to this fabulous delicacy that had somehow escaped my notice until this time. Cheese curds are a staple in the area, and you can enjoy them cold—such as the yellow cheddar and garlic and dill offerings at breakfast—or in all their deep-fried, hot, wonderful, cheesy glory at local area restaurants such as The Whiskey Ranch on Janesville’s Main Street.

And food is only part of the attraction in this part of the Midwest, which bills itself as Wisconsin’s Great Outside. While I expected lots of fresh-from-the-farm offerings—and I certainly wasn’t disappointed—Janesville also has a more cosmopolitan side that includes a specialty olive oil and vinegar shop as well as wineries where the proprietors make their own chocolates to pair with handmade libations.

The city itself is charming; its Main Street bustles with activity, especially in the Bodacious Shops of Block 42, where you can experience an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting at Bodacious Olive, or have breakfast in the café, Bodacious Brew, or lunch in So Chopped, both of which are next door.

I was absolutely fascinated talking to owner Bekki Kennedy about the Bodacious Olive concept, which she pioneered in Pensacola, FL, before opening a second location in Janesville. Because there was a family history of breast cancer, she began researching healthier food options, and that curiosity grew into an entire set of businesses that provide patrons with fresh, unique meals. A visit to Bodacious Olive is sort of like a mini-science trip; not only do you get to taste a number of oils and infused vinegars, but you learn about the makeup of each and the health benefits that these oils entail.

What you don’t realize entering the shops is that right on the other side, beside an outdoor patio, is the Rock River, which runs smack through the center of town. What a relaxing way to start a day: eating fresh, healthy food against such a stunning backdrop.

Speaking of shopping, there’s something for everyone in the downtown area, ranging from impressive art in the Raven’s Wish Gallery to unique clothing (in all sizes!) in Velvet & Tulle. I was in heaven when I found that Main Street also hosts two great ‘thrift-type’ shops—Angie’s on Main and Carousel Consignments, where I quite literally could have gotten lost for hours and not even realized I’d misplaced a day.

I had to laugh when Carousel’s owner, Joni Bozart, asked me what I was looking for, and I told her that I collected Alaskan art. Two minutes later after disappearing down one of the shop’s completely overfilled aisles, she returned with the perfect ‘packable’ piece for me to take home.

Janesville is the perfect place for a girls’ getaway, in fact. In addition to shopping, I spent my weekend getting a soothing massage at Bellasazi Salon & Spa, followed by a visit to Northleaf Winery, where you can not only enjoy exquisite wines and chocolates, but make a wine charm while you’re relaxing. Northleaf also has live entertainment on Friday evenings, which would make for the perfect end to a fun day.

If you’re still feeling creative, you 

can visit the Glass Garden for a class, where an instructor teaches you about 

glass-making, and you can create 

your own project to take home.

One other great stop, whether for dinner or dessert, is Lark. This upscale restaurant features seasonally inspired dinner and drinks, including unique small plates such as crab claw beignets, ham and purple pea soup, and lamb lollipops, just to name a few. 

If you’d prefer to spend time outdoors, the Janesville area has wonderful options, from Skelly’s Farm Market, where you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables at this 100-year-old, family-run farm from June to October, to Rotary Botanical Gardens, which is open year-round.

If you happen to be traveling with kids, Skelly’s is a must-do; not only can you pick your own strawberries or wander through corn mazes (depending on the time of year), but there’s also a huge playground full of wooden ships, tunnels and turrets to keep your kids busy.

Rotary Botanical Gardens is another must-stop: set on the site of an old sand and gravel pit, the 20-acre site is awash in flowers displayed in a wide range of settings, including French, Italian, Japanese, North American, Scottish and English Cottage gardens. The 26 garden themes surround a trout pond and feature more than 4,000 different types of plants.

Even though I visited on a rainy day, the gardens were still stunning, and visitors come time and again to see what’s new as 40 percent of the gardens change every year. The site’s biggest attraction is its holiday light show that attracts approximately 46,000 people—pretty impressive when you realize that the population of Janesville is roughly 60,000.

While I only had a quick two days in Janesville, I could easily have spent more time wandering through the charming downtown area and enjoying the town’s welcoming vibe. And if that mean chowing down on more cheese curds—I’ll just have to make that sacrifice.

Want to learn more about all there is to do in Janesville? Visit