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Local Secrets: Where to Go in South Central Wisconsin

By Jeniece Smith
Managing Editor

Looking to add some “extra” to the “ordinary” in your getaway? Venture beyond the expected to find these brag-worthy local secrets in south central Wisconsin, from a restaurant in an 1800s blacksmith shop to a picnic-perfect blufftop to the inside scoop on Wisconsin’s cheesemaking legacy!


Franklin Grove Etc. Albany

A restored 1800s blacksmith shop on a rural crossroads provides a pastoral setting for dining on locally sourced food from burgers to vegetarian options, Green County cheeses to Wisconsin beers. Some ingredients come from as close by as the on-site garden! Stick around after your meal to shop for antiques and work by area artists.

Café CarpeFort Atkinson

Described as “a secular trinity of family-friendly café, bar and listening room,” this Fort Atkinson institution offers a screened-in porch overlooking the Rock River, regular live music and a quirky menu of rotating specials that often includes individual deep-dish pizzas. Be sure to wander along the riverwalk in the heart of historic downtown “Fort,” as the locals simply call it, to check out the shops.


Pub food gets a fresh and modern twist at this restaurant offering dinner, Sunday brunch, craft beer and cocktails. All artwork displayed on the walls is for sale and by a single resident artist. Bring a record on Tuesdays to have played during Vinyl Night, or check out the nearby restored Stoughton Opera House to take in a musical show or play.

Places to Stay

Victorian Garden Bed & BreakfastMonroe

Built around 1890 by the area’s first cheesemaker, Victorian Garden is the quintessential B&B with its wrap-around porches, antique furniture and charming restored rooms. Breakfast is flexible, served to your door, in the dining room on real bone china or to-go!

Big Valley RanchAvoca

Eight hundred acres and 45 miles of trails means plenty of room for you and your equine friends to spread out. Bring the horses and choose from four lodges that sleep anywhere from four to 14 people.  

Cothren HouseMineral Point

This adorable little log cabin with a bed made from reclaimed barn wood is decidedly shabby chic. It’s one of many out-of-the-ordinary lodging options available in artful and history-loving Mineral Point. Browse the galleries, or take in a performance at Shake Rag Alley or the century-old Mineral Point Opera House.

Things to do

Rotary Botanical Gardens Janesville

See 20 acres and more than two dozen displays inspired by gardens around the world at this gorgeous Janesville attraction. You can take a guided tour or just wander, and don’t miss the gift shop! If you’re in town for the holidays, don’t miss the spectacular Holiday Light Show offered on select dates in December!

National Historic Cheesemaking Center – Monroe

Learn the delicious inside story on Wisconsin’s cheese history, including Monroe’s own claim to fame as the manufacturer of everyone’s favorite smelly cheese, limburger. The center includes the one-kettle Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory, used by a farmer with a 40-cow herd more than a hundred years ago.

Ferry Bluff State Natural Area Sauk City

One of the most gorgeous views in the region, Ferry Bluff offers a 300-foot overlook of the confluence of Honey Creek and the Wisconsin River. Perfect for a picnic, the hike up to the bluff is short and worth the steep walk. As a bald eagle nesting site, it's closed in the winter.

If you like to canoe, you can launch right at the site. The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway offers the perfect weekend trip and free camping on sandbars.


Looking for more local secrets? Check out Wisconsin's top hidden gems, and subscribe for the latest news on restaurants and lodging across the state.

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