Winter road trip to Beloit, Wisconsin
Beloit, WI offers visitors a beatific experience.
While road tripping around southern Wisconsin this winter, I discovered the beatific city of Beloit. Located just across the northern border of Illinois, this pleasantly unexpected town reinforced my passion for discovering those hidden gems of the road. Beloit is a small city of about 35,000, but offers visitors some amenities they might not expect, but will certainly appreciate.
My road trip to Beloit started off by flying into Milwaukee and renting a car. With three route options to choose from, I ended up picking the one in the middle. A short drive on I-94, then veering off to highway 67 south, took me into Janesville. I continued south on highway 51 right into Beloit. It’s not a very long drive, maybe 2 hours, but it took me about three with a few scenic stops along the way. As I drove south, I passed several farms, one with a silo and a large red barn that I really wanted to photograph, but found no place to pull over. The blanket of fresh white snow in the fields really made the red structure pop against the mostly blue sky.
When I arrived in Beloit I checked into the Ironworks Hotel, which I found to be uniquely amazing. I don’t know if this hotel was inspired and dedicated to the American industrial age, or if the hotel is actually on the site of an old steel mill/foundry. Either way, the industrial feel throughout the property really resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoy staying at boutique properties that have their own unique flair. It’s such a refreshing experience from that of the standardized look/feel of the larger corporate hotel chains.
My suite continued that industrial charm, but with an air of sophistication that featured many high-end amenities. The space was divided by a two-way gas fireplace, on each side was a large flat-screen T.V. The room had ample space with a sitting area that had rich leather and iron integrated furnishings. The two-way fireplace made the bedroom area quite cozy and the adjacent bathroom showcased a frosted glass wall where the shower is located…it was a nice design element.
My only criticism was the lack-luster pillows and the fact that they had no pillow menu. I prefer goose down pillows (or a high quality down alternative). For this quality level hotel, a pillow menu is a must! I brought this to the attention of the general manager, so hopefully implementation will be considered for future guests.
The Ironworks Hotel is situated on the banks of the Rock River, which from my room provided some lovely views. Also within the hotel is the Merril & Houston’s steak joint. The food was good enough, however I think there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to the presentation. Personally I didn’t think the quality and presentation matched that of the price, or the sophistication of the restaurant and hotel.
- I started off with the crab cakes which were quite good, perhaps a touch too salty. Not a large portion, but that was okay, the cakes were full of crabmeat…it was a perfect starter.
- The bread they served was warm, but it was just a generic bread. Unless it’s of the artisan variety, I typically don’t eat bread. The salad had some nice mixed greens, but was only accompanied by some tomatoes and cucumber, which were cut much too thick. Nothing remarkable about the side-salad.
- The center-cut Filet I ordered however was cooked to perfection and had great flavor.
The atmosphere of the restaurant sort of reminded me of a combination between an old Chicago steakhouse and the T.V. show Cheers. There were nice rustic hardwood floors and old black and white pictures paying tribute to Beloit hanging from the distressed brick walls.
Situated right in downtown Beloit, the Ironworks is walking distance to some great shops and restaurants, with a boardwalk running along the Rock River. While in town I ate at Lucy’s #7 for lunch one day, which is a gourmet burger bar with 50s retro decor. Lucy’s burgers are made with a twist, they are stuffed (rather than placed on top at the end) with many of the ingredients and then cooked on the grill. The result is an outstanding and flavorful burger. The fries and indulgent malts are pretty tasty too!
Just next door to Lucy’s is an amazing sushi place. You certainly would not think of a small town in Wisconsin having great sushi, but they do. I had an opportunity to speak with Brian Park, the owner and head chef at Zen Sushi & Grill. Brian was telling me that all his seafood is flown in fresh daily. As a matter of fact, Brian owns several restaurants in nearby cities, including Chicago and Milwaukee. He was actually lured to Beloit by Diane Hendricks, owner of the very successful ABC Supply Company. Apparently Ms. Hendricks is taking her wealth and investing it in Beloit and trying to put her hometown on the map. I would say she is doing a stellar job from what I experienced. As a matter of fact, I later learned that the Ironworks Hotel is her creation.
The atmosphere at Zen Sushi is modern and refined, with great lighting and artistically presented sushi cuisine. The attention to detail with both the space of the restaurant, as well as the food, is quite impressive. I did not expect this level of sophistication in a small town like Beloit. Each item I ordered was like a work of art, from the way the food was presented, to the amazing canvas of dishware used.
For breakfast one morning I drove out to the countryside and had a home-cooked meal at Double B’s. This is a real working farm, offering simple, but freshly made grub. This is a local-hangout and a neat experience, especially for those into the ever-growing agri-tourism niche.
Not far from Beloit, across the border into Illinois is a hidden gem of an attraction, the Historic Auto Attractions Museum. I’ve been to a number of auto museums, but this one is one really stands out, not just for the cars, but for the historical significance of the complementary artifacts. The museum is much more than the sum of its cars. It is curated with documents and other artifacts that help tell a broader story. It’s an impressive display, from presidential cars, vehicles from world leaders (both famous and infamous), T.V. and movie cars, to the original Big Foot Ford Truck.
Some of the highlight vehicles for me were the Batman Returns car, which is simply a work of art, the Colonel Sanders (of KFC) 1939 V-12 Lincoln Limousine and the Back to the Future Delorean. If only the Flux-Capacitor was operational.
One of the highlights for me on my road trip to Beloit WI was the Beckman Mill, which is located at the 50-acre Beckman Mill County Park. I am really into history and photography, so I enjoyed taking photos of this amazingly well restored 1868 grist mill. All the old equipment and artifacts at the museum beckon the photographer in me. In addition to the Mill itself, there is also a new dam, mill pond, fish ladder, foot bridge, saw mill display, 1840s cooperage, visitor center, gift shop, creamery, blacksmith shop, picnic shelter, vintage garden and a nature trail. It’s really a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.
Just after my trip from Beloit I was having dinner with some friends in Scottsdale who are from the Chicago area. I was telling them about my recent trip to southern Wisconsin and mentioned what a wonderful time I had in Beloit. After I described my experience, they enthusiastically indicated that they would likely take a family road trip there this summer. Interestingly, as close as Beloit is to Chicago, they had never heard of the city. Beloit is one of those proverbial hidden gems that I enjoy sharing with my readers, because even those nearby may not be familiar.
If you’ve ever been to Beloit, Wisconsin, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite things to do. Click here to see more of my photos from Beloit WI.