Beloit, Wisconsin

Expect the UnexpectedA Weekend Getaway in Beloit

Two couples find out why Beloit is the perfect weekend escape

By Holly Galena

Over drinks one evening with our friends and travel buddies, Jon and Lia, we were discussing where to spend our next long weekend together. My hubby, Chris, had pulled out an old-fashioned paper map, drawing a max two-hour-drive circle around our home base of Chicago.

Lia pointed to a dot on the map, “how about Beloit, Wisconsin?”

Apparently, a friend of Lia’s had visited Beloit not long ago and sung its praises. She’d described the city as having a surprising mix of history and urban energy.

“Let’s give it a go!” I said.

A couple of weekends later we entered the eclectic city of Beloit, sitting along the banks of the Rock River, just north of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. We stopped to check in at Hotel Goodwin. The chic, boutique hotel was renovated from its original 1923 structure, offering a distinctive blend of area history and modern luxury. Depositing our luggage in our spacious room, Chris and I were delighted to find edgy artwork on the walls and a Bluetooth-enabled turntable with a selection of records for us to choose from.

Friday fun

We had an unexpected surprise from the front desk staff as we left to begin exploring. They told us that we’d arrived at the perfect time to participate in Fridays in the Park, just a short walk from the hotel. On Fridays throughout the summer, Beloit makes lunch a two-hour affair complete with live music. A different local restaurant serves mouthwatering meals and drinks each week. We savored our delicious food and mingled with locals, serenaded by the jazzy sounds of a soprano saxophone. It was the perfect way to kick off our weekend adventure.

Afterward, we strolled along the river pathway and through Beloit’s beautifully preserved downtown. New boutiques and galleries intermingled with longtime businesses like an old-fashioned barbershop and a candy store that tempted us with displays showcased beneath its red-and-white striped awning.

We were thrilled to discover an actual record store among the shops. Inside Tin Dog Records we were filled with nostalgia as we browsed among new and used vinyl records, each of us exclaiming to the others as we happened upon old favorites from our high school and college days. Lia and I ended up dragging Chris and Jon away from an in-depth music chat with the owner so we could head back to the hotel for dinner.

The lively atmosphere of Hotel Goodwin’s Velvet Buffalo Café was bright and welcoming. The trendy wine bar offered more than 120 labels along with a variety of small plates and stone-fired pizzas. After making our selections, our waiter/sommelier helped us choose the perfect vintages to pair with them.

We started with corn fritters topped with a delectable chile-lime aioli and then shared several small plates. They were all tasty, but the flank steak was my favorite. Sweet potato purée created an artistic swirly base for tender steak, onion, mushrooms, piquillo peppers and a poached egg on top. Chris and I had a spoon duel over my dessert because, for someone who claims he’s not a huge chocolate fan, he sure kept sneaking bites of my chocolate pot de crème, a magical combination of chocolate, port and truffled whipped cream.

Unexpected flavors

On Saturday morning, we fueled up for the day’s adventures at Bagels & More. Within the warm, inviting ambiance, we were delighted to discover how much “more” there really was. In addition to bagels, they offered gluten-free options, a case filled with tempting pastries and loads of breakfast specials. Plus, the variety of house-made cream cheeses was a sight to behold. I chose a multigrain bagel topped with olive cream cheese. Jon made a face at me, but it was delicious. We sat and enjoyed our breakfasts, admiring the cool art for sale that decorated the walls.

After breakfast, we spent a few hours wandering through the Beloit Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday from May-October. The open-air market is the second largest in the state with live music, vibrant colors and the smell of good things cooking all combined in a heavenly jumble. We chatted with local farmers and roamed among nearly 100 vendors selling organic produce, artisan crafts, baked goods, jams and jellies, and fresh flowers.

“Check this out!” Chris said at one point, picking up a bottle of ketchup.

“What about it?” I said.

“Look closer,” he said.

I was surprised to see that the label actually read “Beet Ketchup: Our sweet, savory & sassy beetroot sauce.”

“I’ve gotta try it,” he said, making the purchase, and making us all laugh.

After an action-packed day, we stopped for tacos and drinks at truk’t. It was such a beautiful day that the restaurant’s large garage-style doors were lifted to create a convivial open-air space. We were starving, so we immediately requested their tortilla chips and homemade smoky Chile Morita salsa, along with an order of queso fundido, a melty blend of Manchego and Chihuahua cheeses with poblano peppers. Their street-style tacos are served on house-made corn tortillas and include intriguing flavors from across the globe, like fresh-roasted Peking duck, short ribs, and even a Brussels sprouts taco. We washed everything down with selections from their extensive menu of local beers and more than 100 global tequilas and whiskeys.

Expect the unexpected

On Sunday morning, we got our caffeine fix at Blue Collar Coffee Co. With its corrugated metal walls and wooden furnishings, the coffeehouse has a distinctive vibe, harkening back to the city’s blue-collar roots. Their espresso and handcrafted coffee drinks are made with beans roasted by Wisconsin-based Ruby Coffee Roasters. I was pleasantly surprised to find stevia and almond milk among the options for doctoring up our beverages. And we all laughed as we discovered the unexpected, uplifting messages written on each of our cups. I held up my mocha latte for the others to see. “Make today great!” was written on my cup.

And we did.

We spent the rest of the day soaking up some of the area’s wild, natural beauty, including a long kayak ride along the Rock River. Eagles floated on wind currents overhead and elegant ducks drifted past as we paddled alongside gorgeous wilderness landscapes.

On our last night, we toasted each other over glasses of Cabernet at Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint. The restaurant is located inside the luxurious Ironworks Hotel. Both the hotel and its restaurant sport a cool industrial look—all dark wood, exposed brick and iron embellishments, inspired by the 1850s Beloit Iron Works industrial foundry. We all agreed to stay there on a return visit.

After thanking Lia for suggesting Beloit, we discussed our surprise over Beloit’s diverse entertainment, historic charm and unexpectedly vibrant foodie scene. If we’d learned anything during this trip, it was to expect the unexpected!

“I know one thing we can expect, though,” Lia said, grinning. “We’ll be back!”