Thanks to Janesville for hosting me. All opinions are my own.
Nothing says Christmas like twinkling lights strung all around, and Janesville, Wisconsin has millions of them! Recently I took a quick trip from the suburbs of Chicago up to Janesville, which is right over the border in Wisconsin. I visited during the annual Janesville’s Jolly Jingle Festival that’s held on the first weekend of December.
Jolly Jingle is a fun family-friendly event celebrating the holiday season. During this time the downtown Janesville area businesses and organizations come together to provide a festive environment and a weekend full of activities. Looking at the calendar of events there were over 30 different activities for families to choose from during the three day festival including visiting with Santa, watching a parade, going on an interactive story walk, and ice skating. On the opening night of the festival, I enjoyed drinking hot cocoa, roasting s’mores over a fire pit, and listening to carolers while I waited for the fireworks to start.
While this three day weekend at the beginning of December is Janesville’s official holiday kickoff weekend with lots of special events, there are dozens of other fun things to do in Janesville during the holiday season and throughout the year!
While in downtown Janesville I went shopping and stopped by The Sugar Exchange, the ‘local sugar destination’ that serves homemade sweets, classic candies, handcrafted classic soda, ice cream and shakes. I had already tasted some of their truffles in my ‘Welcome to Janesville’ box at the hotel that the folks at The Sugar Exchange had put together and the Janesville CVB had so kindly gifted me so I knew they had amazing chocolates.
Their chocolate turtle candies were the best I’d ever had and I got a box full of fudge to take home to my family. I also saw Santa while there and learned that he visits often throughout the season (see his schedule on The Sugar Exchange Facebook page.) I love this Santa experience because the line was short and it’s at a candy shop which makes it the perfect way to get those too-cool older kids to agree to a Santa visit and a photo opp! And speaking of photo opps- make sure to check out the murals sprinkled around Downtown Janesville because your Instagram obsessed tweens and teens will love them!
Another festive place I visited while in Janesville was the Rock County Historical Society’s Lincoln-Tallman House. They have a Holiday Tree Show that is seriously Christmas decorating goals with over 100 themed Christmas trees throughout the residence’s splendid walls. I loved seeing the beautiful decorations mixed with the old architecture and vintage furniture.
It was interesting to learn the history of the home -and the history of the family that once occupied it- while taking in the beautiful decorations. We even got to see the bed that President Lincoln slept in when he visited the home before he was President of the United States. Make sure to go back and visit at night because they have 30 outdoor Christmas trees as well that light up the land around the Lincoln-Tallman House.
Speaking of lights, a trip to Janesville at Christmastime is not complete without a visit to the Rotary Botanical Gardens‘ Holiday Light Show. The light show features about 1.2 million lights and is really an experience that photos and videos just can’t capture the dazzling beauty of.
I enjoyed walking through the illuminated path in the gardens, admiring the lights adorning all of the branches, while Christmas music played. I especially loved the way that the lights reflected off the water.
Check out the Rotary Botanical Garden’s website for hours and to purchase tickets because they must be purchased in advance.
Where to Eat
No trip would be complete without food and Janesville has over 125 restaurants to choose from. I liked that there was such a great variety, from the local eateries you’d expect to find in a small town to more trendy options like The Sandwich Bar with it’s graffiti walls, urban look, and adventurous sandwiches like our group’s two favorites the Jolene (Country fried chicken, pimento cheese, Alabama white sauce, lettuce) and the Red-Blooded American (Red roast beef, cream cheese, hash brown, caramelized onion sauce.)
My first meal in Janesville was at Genisa Wine Bar and it did not disappoint! They had a variety of unique options on their menu and I was with a group so we decided to split everything so that we could try as many things as possible. I’m so happy we did that because the adventurous ones in the group made me get out of my food comfort zone and try things I typically wouldn’t have ordered if I were by myself or out to eat with my family. We ordered a number of appetizers including Florentine Artichoke Dip which is always one of my top choices.
My favorite menu item that I tried though was their Modena pizza that had Dry Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Arugula, Balsamic, and Prosciutto. It’s one of those things that I would never have ordered but thankfully someone else did, because it ended up being one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. (And that’s something I thought I’d never say being that I’m from Chicago -home of the best deep dish pizza- and the fact that this pizza was basically topped with a salad!) Don’t fill up too much though because when you see the dessert menu you’ll want everything on it.
If you are in Janesville for breakfast you’ll want to stop at the Citrus Cafe and you’ll probably want to get their early as it’s a popular breakfast spot. Their menu is filled with everyone’s breakfast favorites and their prices are fantastic for the amount of food that they fill your plate with. I chose to order French toast with a side of bacon and the French Toast was so buttery that it almost makes me want to wake up early and drive all the way up to Wisconsin just for breakfast. If you prefer eggs they offer omelets two ways- ‘flat’ and ‘fluffy’. I have to admit that this made me laugh when I first heard the waitress ask which my tablemates preferred, because I’d never considered those options before, but now I will forever be thinking about this when I order an omelet in the future!
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Janesville. It is conveniently located near the highway so it made getting everywhere I needed to go easy. Their rooms were nice and spacious with desk space which is something I appreciate as someone who tends to bring my work with on vacation. I also like that they had a mini fridge and microwave so you can heat up your leftovers late at night when you get hungry. Most importantly, the beds were comfortable, so I slept well after a long day of travel and a nice, long uninterrupted shower (the perks of traveling without kids!)
If you live close enough to Janesville it’s the perfect day trip but I’d recommend spending a weekend there if you have the time. You can request a visitor’s guide or create your own itinerary over on the Janesville CVB website so make sure to look at all the resources they offer when planning your trip to Janesville- Wisconsin’s Great Outside!
My visit to Janesville, Wisconsin to see the holiday lights was a nice break from the busyness of the Christmas season. If you are looking to experience something different during the holidays, a visit to festive Janesville is the perfect place to create special family memories.
Want more ideas of fun things to do in Janesville, Wisconsin during the holidays? Some of the best travel writers in the Midwest share their thoughts on this wonderful winter destination:
Santa and Holiday Fun Can be Found in Janesville by Sara of Travel With Sara
Joyful Janesville Wisconsin: A Festive Holiday Weekend by Theresa of The Local Tourist
The Best Things to do in Janesville WI in Winter by Dannelle of Traveling Cheesehead
Janesville Holiday Lights and Delightful Small Business Shopping Make for a Very Merry Roadtrip by Melissa of A Little Time and a Keyboard