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12 Fun & Best Things to Do in Appleton, Wisconsin

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Located north of Lake Winnebago and along the Fox River, Appleton, Wisconsin, is a small town with big-city culture, entertainment, and fun. Appleton is a part of three Wisconsin counties, including Winnebago, Outagamie, and Calumet, and is part of the Fox Cities metropolitan area.

This small town is home to one of the first co-ed colleges, Lawrence University, and the Hearthstone Historic House, which has original lightbulbs from Thomas Edison. While there are plenty of historic places to see in this small town, there are also plenty of opportunities for fun!

12 Fun & Best Things to Do in Appleton, Wisconsin

Kids and adults will enjoy Appleton’s hands-on museums, such as the old Paper Discovery Center, the History Museum at the Castle, and the 19th century Hearthstone Historic House. You can also find plenty of cultural experiences, from the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center to the Trout Museum of Art.

Of course, there are also plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities with its location on the Fox River and proximity to Lake Winnebago and Little Lake Butte Des Morts. You can also hit the trails at Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve for a lovely afternoon hike!

So whether you’re visiting as a couple, with children in tow, or flying solo, you’ll find something fun to do in Appleton, Wisconsin!

Hilton Appleton Paper Valley
1. Hilton Appleton Paper Valley Top Recommendation

The hotel is situated on the shores of Lake Winneconne, just a 10-minute drive from Appleton International Airport. It offers free Wi-Fi and guest rooms with 37-inch flat-screen TVs. A 24-hour airport transfer service is provided to all guests. Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse serves prime steaks, chops and seafood for dinner each evening, while 2 cafes and 2 bars provide a variety of dining options throughout the day.

Country Inn Suites by Radisson Appleton WI
2. Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Appleton, WI

This hotel has a 24-hour front desk and offers free airport transportation. The central location of the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Appleton places guests close to many businesses including Lawrence University, Outagamie Museum, the Fox River Mall, and Fox Valley Technical College. Local attractions such as Miller Park are also within 2 miles (3 km).

DoubleTree by Hilton Appleton WI
3. DoubleTree by Hilton Appleton, WI

DoubleTree by Hilton Appleton, Wisconsin offers easy access to the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. It has an indoor pool and free WiFi throughout the property. The rooms offer a flat-screen TV, air conditioning and a safety deposit box. A buffet or à la carte breakfast is served each morning at the hotel.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Hearthstone Historic House Museum
  • Best park – Appleton Memorial Park
  • Best free activity – Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve
  • Best activity for kids – Building for Kids Children’s Museum
  • Best activity for adults – Appleton Beer Factory
  • Best food – Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse
  • Best nightlife – Speakeasy Ultra Lounge
  • Best all-around accommodation – Hilton Appleton Paper Valley

Things to Do in Appleton, Wisconsin

1. Downtown Appleton

Downtown Appleton Night Lights

Address: 100 W College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

If you’ve never been to Appleton before, you’ll find that almost all of the local attractions are in Downtown Appleton. With over 60 restaurants and bars, 50 boutiques and eclectic shops, 10 museums, and 15 spas, the entire family can have fun here!

The Fox Trot Trail is one of the best ways to explore Downtown Appleton. This self-guided tour is a two-mile loop that showcases Appleton’s paper industry, history, and the scenic Fox River.

The trail has 16 points of interest, each marked by a blue fox head logo. Pick up a Fox Trot Trail map at one of the many downtown businesses!

If you visit during the summer months, you can hop on the downtown trolley, which is FREE and runs every thirty minutes! Summertime is also a perfect time of year to visit the Downtown Appleton Farm Market, which runs every Saturday morning. However, if you visit in the fall or winter, you can still get fresh produce and artisan goods at the Downtown Appleton Indoor Market.

Whether your goal is to eat, drink, learn, shop, or relax, you can do it all here! Stop at the famous Blue Moon Emporium to see work by local artists. Then have a craft beer at the Appleton Beer Factory (maybe a Juicy McJuiceface IPA or a Pumpkin Pie Porter), or see one of the many interesting exhibits at the local museums.

Almost all Appleton, Wisconsin, tourist attractions are downtown, so it’s easily one of the best areas to visit! After a full day of sightseeing, head back to the Hilton Appleton Paper Valley, where you can dine at Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse, swim at the indoor pool and enjoy a good night’s rest.

See Related: Things to Do in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

2. Appleton Memorial Park

Appleton Memorial Park Scenery
Thor Rudebeck, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 1620 E Witzke Blvd, Appleton, WI 54911

If you’re traveling to Appleton with kids, a trip to Appleton Memorial Park is a must-do item! Located on the north side of town, the park’s 139 acres offer recreational opportunities for almost everyone.

In the summer, your little ones can burn off extra energy on the playscape, kick around a soccer ball, play tennis, or even throw a line in the fishing pond. It’s also a perfect place to have lunch, with picnic tables and grills available. However, the fun doesn’t end in the winter, as that’s when locals flock to the park for the open ice skating rink and sledding hill.

Spring and summer bring visitors to the Scheig Center Gardens at Appleton Memorial Park, with the Serenity Butterfly Garden, Native Rose Garden, and Veteran’s Memorial Garden. While the gardens are open year-round, the best time to see the plants and flowers is from April to September.

Rest your head on the luxurious bedding at the nearby Cambria Hotel Appleton, and wake up to the gourmet coffee bar in the lobby. For a snack, enjoy some of their Cheesecake Factory delights!

3. Hearthstone Historic House Museum

Hearthstone Historic House Museum
self, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 625 W Prospect Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

The Hearthstone Historic House Museum is one of the city’s great landmarks. This historic building was originally a 19th-century home powered by a hydroelectric station. It was the first home in the world powered using this system designed by Thomas Edison.

The homeowner was the visionary Henry J. Rogers, who built the home and brought his paper mills and electrification technology to Wisconsin. The home, now a museum, still has the original light switches, Edison wiring, and electroliers. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its historic and technological significance.

Visitors will love the home’s Victorian-style architecture and stunning interiors. But the home tells the history of the paper industry, the Gilded Age, and Wisconsin.

Guided tours tell the story of the historical home and its place in Wisconsin history, including the history of the families who built the home and lived there for over a century. Stop at the gift shop before you leave to purchase history books, t-shirts, and other souvenirs.

You can purchase a ticket to the Hearthstone Historic House Museum ahead of time to make planning your Appleton itinerary easy-peasy!

See Related: Things to Do in Baraboo, Wisconsin

4. Atlas Science Center (formerly the Paper Discovery Center)

Paper Discovery Center Entrance
image by Mark H/TripAdvisor

Address: 425 W Water St, Appleton, WI 54911

Formerly the Paper Discovery Center, the Atlas Science Center is a museum centered on the history of papermaking in Appleton. Because of the area’s rich history in the papermaking industry, the Atlas Science Center teaches children and adults the science of making paper using interactive learning. It’s located in the old Atlas Paper Mill Building in Downtown Appleton, so it’s a convenient way to spend a couple of hours!

While this museum is perfect for kids, it’s probably best for school-age children, as they will have the most fun with the hands-on papermaking and other STEM-focused exhibits. Permanent exhibits include the History of Paper, Tree to Tissue, History of the Atlas Mill, Fox River Locks, and Health and Hygiene.

One of the most popular things to do is experiment with making handmade paper in their Paper Labs, where you use the pour method. There are also self-guided activities like Origami Paper Folding and Makedo Crafts.

But the real fun is the stage presentation, usually The Paper Caper. This 30-minute show is a hoot for kids, and they learn all about paper in a fun way.

5. High Cliff State Park

High Cliff State Park Trail

Address: N7630 State Park Rd, Sherwood, WI 54169

High Cliff State Park is a short twenty-minute drive from Appleton and is the only state park on Lake Winnebago. This state park encompasses over 1,000 acres and provides access to camping, boating, hiking, biking, swimming, and more.

A statue of the Winnebago Indian Chief Red Bird stands 12 feet tall on a large granite rock that overlooks the lake, as this park was once sacred to Native Americans. Visitors to the park will also enjoy the history and geology, including the lime kiln, quarry, and effigy mounds.

These effigy mounds were built between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago by nomadic tribes. Visitors to High Cliff State Park can see a linear mound, two buffalo-shaped, conical, and four panther-shaped mounds.

Want to visit the park but don’t want to camp there? Stay down the road at Courtyard Appleton Riverfront, where you can sit by a comfortable fire near the Fox River and then rest your weary eyes in one of the hotel’s comfortable rooms or suites.

See Related: Things to Do in Green Bay, Wisconsin

6. Fox River Mall

Fox River Mall Food Court
self, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 4301 W Wisconsin Ave, Appleton, WI 54913

If you’re looking for a way to spend a few hours while it’s raining or cold, the Fox River Mall is perfect! Just a short drive from Downtown Appleton, the Fox River Mall has almost every store (and restaurant!) you could want.

Grab a coffee or boba tea from the food court area, and then you can shop until you drop! Find leggings at Athleta, get your ears pierced at Claire’s, buy the newest Nintendo Switch game at GameStop, or find some sweet kicks at Vans. And when you need a break from shopping, grab a pint and some snacks at Fox River Brewing Company.

There are year-round events at the mall, from daily mall walking to Pet Nights with Santa, so check the mall’s event calendar for the latest and greatest events! If you’re looking for a fun way to end your day, finish it with drinks and live music at the Speakeasy Ultra Lounge!

See Related: Best Things to Do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

7. Building for Kids Children’s Museum

Building for Kids, Wisconsin Building
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 100 W College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

Located in the city center plaza, Building for Kids is a children’s museum designed for kids 12 and under. This play-based museum has interactive exhibits to inspire only the youngest minds!

The two-story museum comprises over 30,000 square feet and there’s a fun gift shop, too. The first floor includes a jet, big rig, banking center, STEM lab, convenience store, and doll hospital. Kids will be so enamored with the hands-on play on this floor that it will be hard to encourage them to head to the second floor!

However, the second floor includes some cool exhibits, like a 10-foot human heart, construction blocks, an art studio, a play fire station, a water gallery, and a science lab! Your kids will undoubtedly love the Building for Kids Children’s Museum, formerly known as the Fox Cities Children’s Museum.

See Related: Things to Do in Hayward, Wisconsin

8. Trout Museum of Art

Trout Museum of Art Building
WikiSammy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 111 W College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

The Trout Museum of Art is home to events, educational programs, and exhibits designed to encourage and inspire art lovers in the community. Located in Downtown Appleton, the Trout Museum hosts Art in the Park, the SPARK! Program, the Meet Your Neighbor Exhibit Walk, and more. Visiting the museum is a fantastic way to learn about art, and new exhibits open each season.

The museum started in the 1960s with a vision from the Appleton Artists Guild to provide educational opportunities to local artists. Their first gallery was established in 1972 as the Appleton Gallery of Art. When local residents Dr. Monroe and Sandra Trout gifted their art collection, the Appleton Art Center was renamed the Trout Museum of Art. The Trouts also gave a one million dollar endowment to protect and preserve their collection.

The generous donation from the Trout family includes over 150 works of art, from paintings to artifacts and sculptures, spanning over four centuries.

9. Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve Scenery
image by crewof6/TripAdvisor

Address: 4815 N Lynndale Dr, Appleton, WI 54913

If you’re looking to explore nature while you’re in Appleton, this nature preserve is amazing! With almost 10 miles of trails, it is a year-round attraction for walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing!

The natural playscape is a hit for kids, with a traditional swing set mixed with natural materials designed to stir the imagination. With plenty of picnic tables nearby, families can enjoy a bite to eat while letting their young ones run wild. You may see frogs, turtles, and butterflies here, but pack bug spray for mosquitoes, as they can be pesky in the summer.

There is no entrance fee which makes this park even better, although you can donate money at one of the donation boxes around the park. Whatever time of year you visit this park, you can enjoy exploring nature!

See Related: Things to Do in Tomah, Wisconsin

10. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Fox Cities Stadium

Address: 2400 N Casaloma Dr, Appleton, WI 54913

If you want to cheer on a local sports team, head to Fox Cities Stadium for a Minor League Baseball game! The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are a Minor League Baseball team and the High-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are named for the timber rattlesnake common in parts of Wisconsin, and their mascot is Fang, a (you guessed it!) timber rattler. Fang is coupled with a second mascot named Whiffer, who has a green face and hands with bluish fur.

You can always purchase single-game tickets to the Timber Rattlers, but there are also events at the stadium. For example, you might be able to catch a live show, circus, or symphony orchestra or participate in a fun run!

11. The History Museum at the Castle

History Museum at the Castle
Aaron of L.A. Photography / Shutterstock.com

Address: 330 E College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

If you want to learn about Appleton’s history, you must put the History Museum at the Castle on your to-do list! This local history museum has everything from exhibits on Harry Houdini to local Appleton history. In 2018, the History Museum at the Castle received the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, which is the highest honor a museum or library can receive in the United States.

Those interested can also participate in one of the museum’s many different tour programs, including their Get Up & Go History Tours, Step-On Bus Tours, and historical walking tours where you learn about the area with a knowledgeable guide. Conveniently located in Downtown Appleton, the History Museum at the Castle is a great place to spend an hour or two.

See Related: Things to Do in Minocqua, Wisconsin

12. Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center Building
Keith Homan / Shutterstock.com

Address: 400 W College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911

If you want culture and entertainment in your Appleton experience, add the Performing Arts Center to your itinerary! Located in Downtown Appleton, this venue is home to the Fox Valley Symphony and classic Broadway shows.

This intimate venue promises good seating no matter which seat you reserve, as the furthest seat from the stage is only 100 feet away. This makes for a fantastic and intimate experience no matter what show you plan to see!

If you plan on driving, you can park at the Green Ramp, the closest parking area. You can also valet park at the Performing Arts Center, while accessible parking is available on the streets nearby. Keep an eye on their upcoming shows and events to see if anything piques your interest.

FAQ

What is the best thing to do with kids in Appleton, Wisconsin?

If you’re traveling with kids, they will love Appleton Memorial Park, whether it’s in the heat of the summer or the coldest winter day. For more outdoor fun, kids will love the trails at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, where they can splash in the creeks and explore nature. Younger kids (7 and under) will love the interactive exhibits at Building for Kids and the Atlas Science Center (Paper Discovery Center).

What are some things to do in Appleton, Wisconsin, when it’s raining?

There are plenty of fun things to do in Appleton, Wisconsin if it’s raining! Visit the Performing Arts Center and catch one of their classic Broadway musicals, try one of the many delicious beers at Appleton Beer Factory, or learn about the Fox River Valley’s history at the History Museum at the Castle.

What are the best tourist attractions in Appleton, Wisconsin?

Most of the city’s tourist attractions are in Downtown Appleton along College Avenue. The self-guided tour of the Fox Trot Trail will give you an insight into Appleton’s history, strolling through the campus of Lawrence University will make you appreciate higher learning, and watching the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers play ball will give you a sense of local pride.

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