March 6, 2020

10 Best Things to Do in Appleton

Recently I came across an article from on online vacation magazine. The article noted what their writers consider to be the Best Things to Do in Appleton. Based on conversations with our Franklin Street Inn guests the past few years, their writers agree with our guests. Below we cover our guests 10 Best Things to Do. We also provide addresses, websites and contact information for these attractions. For your convenience, I have grouped them by indoor and outdoor activities.

Overview of Appleton

The city of Appleton, Wisconsin is in the heart of the Fox River Valley just north of Lake Winnebago. Appleton attracts many types of visitors, from folks who are looking for a relaxing getaway at a B&B, to enthusiasts who want to experience the outdoor nature and recreation provided here. People of all ages love visiting Appleton and its many attractions including the Paper Discovery Center, the Hearthstone Historic Museum, and the Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin. Here are the best things to do in Appleton as mentioned by our guests.

Indoor Activities

1.  History Museum at the Castle

330 E College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-735-9370

Housed in what was once a masonic temple, the local history museum was previously known Outagamie County Historic Museum. The building, constructed in 1923, is on the National Register of Historic Places and has some stunning architectural aspects both outside and indoors. Some locals call it the Houdini Museum since an ongoing Houdini exhibit honors the legendary magician who grew up in Appleton. The Houdini display contains many of the performer’s personal documents and paraphernalia such as locks and handcuffs. Visitors can also browse an extensive collection of artifacts from 1840 onward that focuses on Fox River Valley history. Other standing exhibitions in the museum have been dedicated to Senator Joe McCarthy, an Appleton resident, and John Bradley, one of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima.  The museum always has outstanding traveling or local exhibits as well, check out their website for current featured exhibitions.

2.  Paper Discovery Center

425 W Water Street, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-380-7491

White room with white cabinets and black lab-type counter-tops beneath brown paper sign with white lettering reading Purdy-Weissenborn Paper Lab
Paper Lab at Paper Discovery Center
© Paper Discovery Center

Paper is an important industry in Appleton and the surrounding area. The Fox River Valley and its communities was formerly nicknamed “Paper Valley.”  The Paper Discovery Center gives visitors the opportunity to understand papermaking and its role in the Fox Cities community. The museum and workshop center offer interpretive displays, hands-on workshops, tours of the exhibits, and a research center for visitors to explore. One of the most memorable parts of a visit to the Paper Discovery Center is the Purdy-Weissenborn Paper Lab. Here you can create your very own sheet of paper from beginning to end.




3.  Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

400 W. College Avenue, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-730-3760

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton is a regional gathering place for locals and visitors to better understand and enjoy the arts. The center offers educational opportunities for visitors to take part in as well as providing many and varied events to attend.  The center has also held many receptions, lectures, and banquets as well as musical and theatrical presentations since opening in 2002. Along with the Broadway on Tour series, featured events this year include the Russian Ballet, and the New York Tenors with the Fox Valley Symphony. Visit their website for current and future events.  The Franklin Street Inn is a proud partner of the PAC. Get a room discount at the Franklin Street Inn when reserving a night for a performance. Book direct here (use CODE FOXPAC) or call 920-209-9711.

4.  The Trout Museum of Art

Modern building with blue, red and green stripes of spotlight on it. Top of building sign reads Fox Cities Building for the Arts, while sign over small attached glass building reads The Trout Museum of Art.

111 W College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-733-4089

The Trout Museum of Art was started by the Appleton Artists Guild in the 1960s. The goal was to compile a permanent collection, build a viewing gallery, and provide educational opportunities for local artists. The Trout has accomplished its goals and offers much more to its visitors. One can explore the exhibitions, take part in a workshop, attend a lecture or special event, or have fun with their families at one of the many festivals held at the museum. The exhibitions vary, so check out their website for current and future offerings. Some of the past exhibitions include Celebrating Picasso: Photographs by David Douglas Duncan and Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams.  The Trout is currently hosting The 40th Annual SECURA Fine Arts Exhibition featuring work from 90 of Wisconsin’s most talented visual artists. The exhibit ends April 5th.

5.   Hearthstone Historic House Museum

625 W Prospect Ave, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-730-8204

Formerly known as the Henry J. Rogers House, this museum is an extraordinary home preserving the artifacts that have accumulated here over the years. The house is the first hydroelectric home in the United States and boasts a Thomas Edison design with original Thomas Edison light fixtures. The light fixtures were significant in Appleton’s history. This was one of the first recorded instances of electric light being used prior to the use of gas for residential lighting. The Hydro Adventure Center showcases an operating model of one of the first central hydroelectric stations. Tours of the museum allow visitors to see the artifacts up close for a personal experience.  Visit the website for admissions time and information.

Outdoor Activities

6.  Fox Trot Trail, Appleton, Wisconsin

Just a few blocks from the Franklin Street Inn bed and Breakfast one can pick up the Fox Trot Trail.  The self-guided trail is a scenic two-mile loop through Appleton’s downtown and riverfront area. One can begin the adventure by following the fox symbol starting from Houdini Plaza, or pick up the fox symbol anywhere throughout the trail. The Fox Trot Trail takes offers stunning views of the Fox River and takes you by some of the town’s historic sites. You can pick-up a brochure or download it {HERE} before starting to read up on the destinations you’ll come across.  Some of these include: the History Museum at the Castle, Lawrence University Main Hall, the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the site where Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber interviewed Harry Houdini, and the Zuelke Building.

7.  Downtown Appleton Farm Market

Street Fair Scene with a crowded street of people visiting tent top booths
Appleton Farm Market
Photo Courtesy of Appleton Downtown Inc.

Serving the community for over twenty-five years, The Downtown Appleton Farm Market runs every Saturday from June to October. Locals and visitors flock to College Avenue where they find four blocks of farm fresh produce, handcrafted goods, delicious foods, and family-friendly live entertainment. Visitors who are looking to take back a little piece of Appleton with them can easily find something at the numerous vendors. Popular items include locally grown organic fruits and vegetables, bread and baked goods, specialty foods, and cured meats. Of course no area Farm Market would be complete without the delicious cheeses for which Wisconsin is known. Numerous vendors selling handcrafted goods include items like ornaments, jewelry, and artistic bird houses.

8.  Appleton Memorial Park

1620 E Witzke Blvd, Appleton, WI 54911, Phone: 920-832-5905

Trails, green spaces, gardens, ponds, and many facilities make up the 35 acres of Appleton Memorial Park.  Visitors can spend an entire day or more partaking in the many activities available. The park has a baseball & softball pitch, basketball court, volleyball court, tennis courts, soccer fields, horseshoes, playgrounds, and even a disc golf course. There are also trails for walking and biking, and a wading pool area for younger visitors to enjoy. During winter months, dependent on weather of course, hockey, ice skating, and sledding are available. During the summer, visitors can use the boat ramp and take part in archery. Other amenities include a picnic pavilion with restrooms, tables, grill, a refrigerator and a stove. Free parking is available.

9.  Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin

N2550 WI-47, Appleton, WI 54913, Phone: 920-733-2929

Beautiful wing-spread Monarch butterfly perched on yellow flower amidst other yellow flowers and greenery
© Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin

The Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin, including the state’s largest butterfly house, opens to visitors every summer. Visitors admire many native butterfly species and see how they develop through the different growth phases from egg to adult butterfly. Outside of the Butterfly House, visitors can experience the Butterfly Bridge and Maze. The bridge offers a stunning view of the surroundings.  The two-acre maze lets guests get up close and personal with birds, turkeys, deer, mink, and many native plants. The location also added a honeybee hive attraction.  This not only shows how honeybees produce their honey but provides an opportunity for visitors to buy fresh honey as well.



10.  Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

4815 N Lynndale Dr, Appleton, WI 54913, Phone: 920-731-6041

Gravel path running vertically from bottom of picture through tall brown grasses up to colorful fall trees in background
Hiking path at Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve
© Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

The Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve is one of numerous sites preserved through the work of the past Wisconsin legislator whose name it bears. For over forty-five years The Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve has been teaching people about appreciation of nature, conservation, environmental ethics, and overall wellness. The non-profit organization has made environmental preservation a fun topic through an array of educational programs and recreational activities. Capturing over 775 acres, visitors will be able to walk, hike, or jog through an 8-mile trail system of the preserve. Here they will witness a variety of flowers, plants and wildlife. Some of the more popular activities available include Cross Country Skiing, GPS and Geocaching, and Birds and Beaks, an elementary school student program.  The students use binoculars to explore the preserve and discover an array of birds in their natural habitat.

Come Relax with Us

Many other activities support a variety of interests for visitors and locals in Appleton. Watch for further blog posts about the many attractions that make Appleton and the Fox Cities a great place to visit.  After a day of seeing the sites, come relax with us at the Franklin Street Inn Bed and Breakfast. Our downtown Appleton location is within walking distance of several attractions, and a great accommodation central to most places in the Fox Cities.