By Kate Bast | Photos courtesy of Hendricks Commercial Properties

If you haven’t been to Janesville or Beloit in a while, it’s time to get off the Interstate and explore. A spirit of renewal flows through both communities, which embrace the Rock River, their downtowns, green spaces, parks, paths and scenic views hugging its shores.

Start from the south in Beloit, where the Hendricks Holding Company, affiliated with ABC Supply and its owner and philanthropist Diane Hendricks (on Forbes’ 2016 list of the richest self-made women), has launched projects to redevelop the riverfront and enhance downtown.

The company’s Ironworks Hotel—think industrial boutique chic— overlooks the river (stay in one of the suites featuring an extra-large room with double-sided fireplaces, spa showers and riverside balcony). The hotel and its upscale restaurant, Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, feature outdoor patios with fire pits and live Friday night music. Across the river you’ll see the bold murals on the company’s commercial redevelopment project, which also houses Irongolf, an indoor virtual golf facility, the only of its kind in the state. You can golf Pebble Beach and play other virtual sports, try a long or short course, and have high-tech analyses and adjustments of your putt, swing and clubs. Stay at the Ironworks Hotel and you’ll be a guest member of the upscale, private Beloit Club, where you can play a round or dine in the traditionally styled dark-paneled clubhouse.

Downtown, locally owned boutiques, restaurants and sweet shops await. Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar serves up hearty pub fare. Or, hit the unexpected and outstanding Zen Sushi & Grill (musttries include the ahi tuna tower, Korean beef taco, shrimp soba noodles and the Chicago specialty roll, decadant with tuna, crab, salmon, avocado and spicy aioli). Bushel & Peck’s is the go-to organic café, market and used bookstore (stop in for a wine tasting). The hipster Tin Dog Records satisfies the vinyl collector, while Northwoods Premium Confections sates the sweet tooth, whether via refined dark chocolate sea salt caramels or kitschy chocolate-dipped Twinkies. Porch offers upscale causal clothing and gifts, and Pizzazz Gift Boutique counters with fun and funky jewelry, accessories and clothing.

Before leaving town, don’t miss a brief stroll through Beloit College, an idyllic liberal arts campus with stately stone buildings, trees framing the campus green, and so much thought percolating out of it all. Peek into the campus’ two museums, The Wright Museum of Art and The Logan Museum of Anthropology, both small of stature but extensive of holdings.

The college is also home to the Neese Performing Arts Center, where dance and theater take stage. The city’s arts scene includes The Hendricks Performing Arts Center, which hosts music and more, and the Beloit Fine Arts Incubator gallery is a gathering space for art lovers that features up-and-coming artists. The professional and venerable Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra performs classical and pop concerts throughout the year (Independence Day concerts are coming up in both cities).

Then, follow the river north to Janesville. Stop at the newly completed Bodacious Shops of Block 42 for sustenance and shopping. Bodacious Brew café features upper and lower decks overlooking the river, So Chopped serves up healthy salads and more, the Bodacious Olive decants gourmet oils and vinegars for sampling. Sweet Velvet Cake Company caps it, with inventive cupcake flavors to grab and go.

After that, ogle Janesville’s downtown and historic district, a spectacle for architecture lovers. Historic storefronts line the river—today filled with various shops, services, pubs and more. The Rock County Historical Society offers guided walking tours of the city’s “historic campuses,” including the prestigious Court House Hill, on the National Register of Historic Places, which spans 30 blocks and features more than 200 stunning homes of various architectural styles. The Lincoln-Tallman House features thematic tours exploring different aspects of the William Morrison Tallman family’s home, where Abraham Lincoln famously was a guest.

Take in a show at The Armory, built in the 1930s as a soldier training facility and today on the National Register of Historic places, which hosts the area’s only professional theater (“The Last Five Years” takes the stage July 28-30).

Need more? Try the Beloit Snappers, a Class A minor league team that’s been affiliated with the Brewers, As and Twins, or the city’s bountiful Saturday farmers’ market. Perhaps pedal the 330-mile on- and off-road Rock River Trail (its grand opening is this month), or paddle the river, a National Water Trail that runs through it all.


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