We recently took a trip to visit Appleton, Wisconsin for a few days!
*Disclosure: We were provided accommodations to visit Appleton, Wisconsin. Our opinions are our own.
Appleton, Wisconsin is located in the eastern part of Wisconsin on Lake Winnebago about 30 minutes from Green Bay, Wisconsin. It is a 2.5 hour drive from Rockford, Illinois.
Our first impressions of Appleton were very positive. The city reminded us of Madison, Wisconsin with a dash of downtown Minneapolis. Appleton is easy to navigate with restaurants, shops, museums, and a performing arts center all located downtown. Most storefronts are occupied, the streets are clean, there is public art everywhere, and we felt safe the entire time we were there.
Currently, there are Bird electric scooters available to rent and ride downtown. You can find them parked at Houdini Square. You can also find Bird scooters in downtown Rockford.
We found a lot of things to enjoy about Appleton, but there were four stand-out reasons why we had a great trip.
- Walkability of the city
- Family-friendly attractions
- Great eats
- Houdini pride
Walkability of the city
While visiting Appleton, Wisconsin, we stayed in the Red Lion Paper Valley Hotel (333 W. College Ave.). Our room was clean and spacious with two queen beds, a desk, and a chair. The hotel has four restaurants on the property including a fancier dinner option, Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse. They also have a pool, hot tub, and workout facility. We parked in a public parking garage that’s attached to the hotel, but didn’t need to use our car while we were there. Parking costs about $5 per day. Rooms go for around $119 per night.
Staying at the Red Lion Paper Valley Hotel was extremely convenient for getting around the city. We were able to walk to all of the destinations in downtown Appleton that we wanted to visit. Most locations were less than half a mile from our hotel including all of the places we ate.
Our kids, who are 3 and 6, enjoyed the novelty of walking around to get everywhere. It gave the trip a big city feeling without being overwhelming. The sidewalks are wide and clean and there were working traffic signals and walk signs at each intersection. There were also many adorable pieces of knit-art on the street lights downtown, murals, and quotes carved into the sidewalks throughout the downtown area.
Another fun way that walking is encouraged in downtown Appleton is the Fox Trot Trail. This trail starts at Houdini Square and continues on a 2.2 mile loop through Appleton. The trail takes you through downtown and past Lawrence College and has several stops where you can read about the history of Appleton. Exploring the trail is a great way to get a closer look at the city.
The city of Appleton has a variety of family-friendly attractions. There are four museums, a performing arts center, and many shops for families to explore.
If you plan on touring the museums while in Appleton, check out the Museums of Appleton pass. You can visit four museums for $20 for adults and $16 for kids (17 and younger) or visit five for $25 for adults and $20 for kids. Get more information about the Museum Pass here.
Please note, most of the museums, with the exception of Building for Kids, are only open on Friday through Sunday. We were unable to visit several of them because we came during the week.
The Building for Kids Children’s Museum
100 W. College Ave.
We spent most of one day of our trip at the Building for Kids museum. There’s so much to see and do in this museum designed for kids 8 and under. This place is a must-do if you plan a vacation to Appleton. Check out our article on Building for Kids for a lot more information on the museum and our experience there!
Appleton Historical Society
128 N. Durkee St.
At the Appleton Historical Society, you can see displays of Appleton’s past.
Hearthstone Historic House Museum
625 W. Prospect Ave.
Hearthstone Historic House Museum is the first private residence to be electrified using the country’s first hydroelectric power station employing the Edison system.
Paper Discovery Center
425 W. Water St.
Paper Discovery Center is a STEAM-based museum focused on the history of papermaking in Appleton. They host children’s events throughout the month.
The Trout Museum of Art
111 W. College Ave.
The Trout Museum of Art is a visual arts museum that hosts over 150 museum-quality works of art.
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
400 W. College Ave.
The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is a 2,100 seat theater that hosts musicals, comedians, concerts, plays, and more.
The Pawfee Shop Cat Cafe
1745 N. Casaloma Dr.
Grab a drink or snack and play with adoptable kittens. Visiting the kittens is free with a purchase from the cafe or a donation to the rescue.
The Fire – Pottery, Mosaic & Glass Fusing Studio
230 E. College Ave.
One of our favorite stops on this trip was The Fire! The Fire is a studio where people can express their creativity through painting pottery, creating mosaics, and fusing glass.
There were so many options to choose from no matter which medium you wanted to work with. For pottery, there were small and large pieces with lots of different designs such as figurines including animals, cars, plates, and more. If you wanted to make a mosaic, there were shapes you could work with like flowers and hearts or you could freestyle on a rectangle. For glass fusing, you could make small items like pendants or earrings, or work on a larger object like a bowl.
My kids and husband choose to paint pottery and have it fired in the kiln. They chose a dolphin, car, and coffee mug to paint. There were more than 50 colors of glaze to choose from, in both containers so you could paint on the glaze and in small squirt bottles so you could add detail or write something on your piece. There were also helpful examples displayed on the wall that showed techniques you could use such as adding bubbles to make the glaze look different.
The environment of The Fire was cozy and very relaxed with people happily painting and chatting. We spent almost two hours working on our art, but it seemed like we were only there for minutes. We all had a wonderful time! We would highly recommend checking it out if you visit Appleton. No appointments are needed, you can walk in anytime during their hours of operation and get creative! You can find their current hours and more information on their Facebook page.
We only had a few days in Appleton, but we were able to visit several restaurants and cafes while we were there.
Bagelicious – $$ (~$35 for lunch for a family of four)
101 E. College Ave.
Our first day, we visited Bagelicious for lunch. They offer a variety of sandwiches made on your choice of bagels or bread. My husband got a lox, cream cheese, and capers everything bagel. My daughter got an egg, cheese, and sausage plain bagel. My son and I went with a BLT and a turkey sandwich. They had chips, drinks, and some desserts for sale including cronuts! We tried a cream cheese cronut that was really good. The atmosphere was very casual and several of the tables looked out on the street so you could people-watch while you ate.
Antojitos Mexicanos – $$$ (~60 for dinner for a family of four)
204 E. College Ave.
We visited Antojitos Mexicanos for dinner on recommendation from a local. It was a more upscale Mexican restaurant with twists on traditional Mexican food. For example, they put raisins in their guacamole! We tried enchiladas, tacos, and their salsas. They also offer a kids’ menu with some American options like chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers. The restaurant was fairly busy on a weekday night and has outdoor seating on the sidewalk out front.
Doughlicious– $ (~$20 for treats for a family of four)
322 W. College Ave.
After dinner, we were looking for a sweet treat and found a place right across the street from our hotel. Doughlicious offers both ice cream (Sassy Cow brand) and edible cookie dough in a variety of flavors. We tried the cookie dough sampler which had a mini scoop of peanut butter, chocolate chip, sugar cookie, Oreo, and Monster cookie. The kids also had ice cream cones. Everything was tasty!
Copper Rock Coffee Company – $ (~$30 for lunch for a family of four)
210 W. College Ave.
We stopped at Copper Rock Coffee Company for lunch on our second day in town. They are a locally owned cafe with locally roasted coffee, smoothies, sandwiches, and more. My husband and I got a signature sandwich (turkey avocado and veggie hummus) and my kids chose deli sandwiches from the kids’ menu. All of our food was fresh and delicious and my husband really enjoyed his cup of the brew of the day.
Copper Rock Coffee Company has a bookshelf of board games that you can play while you wait for your food. They also have an attached gallery and performance space. The atmosphere was casual and laid back, and the space has a really cool tin ceiling that my son said looked like a Hersey’s chocolate bar.
Home Burger Bar – $$ (~$40 for dinner for a family of four)
205 W. College Ave.
We ate our last dinner in town at Home Burger Bar. As the name states, it’s a bar and only has bar stool height tables and chairs. Our three year old was able to sit in the chairs, but had to be watched so he didn’t fall off. Home Burger Bar has a bunch of custom ⅓ lb. burgers with different types of toppings and cheese as well as several different varieties of fries and classic Wisconsin cheese curds. We tried every type of fry – regular, truffle, and sweet potato, as well as the cheese curds. For burgers, our kids went with classic cheeseburgers while we tried the Cowboy burger and the Luther which is served on a glazed doughnut instead of a bun. The service was fantastic, the food was our favorite of the trip, and the bar has a fun vibe. We sat next to a chalkboard wall that our kids were able to draw on while we waited.
Crazy Sweet – $ (~$15 for treats for a family of four)
514 W. College Ave.
Our last stop in Appleton was a treats shop cleverly called Crazy Sweet. They have a bunch of candy to choose from including bulk candy, gum, suckers, rock candy, and jelly beans. They also offer ice cream, truffles, fudge, chocolate covered Oreos, mini state fair donuts, fro-doughs (glazed doughnuts stuffed with ice cream and a topping), and cotton candy. We got some ice cream (Sassy Cow brand) and each picked out a candy treat.
Special mention: If we had more time, we would have tried Bowl91 too. Their ramen looked delicious.
It’s always fun to visit a place to see what they are famous for and what they consider a source of pride for their city. Appleton is all about Houdini! We didn’t know that Houdini had any connection to Appleton before arriving there. If you also didn’t know, Harry Houdini, born Ehrich (Erik) Weiss, lived in Appleton from the ages of 4-8. He spoke fondly of Appleton and considered it his hometown.
There are many ways to celebrate the life of Harry Houdini in Appleton. The first is by visiting Houdini Square on College Avenue that sits on the place where Houdini’s childhood home used to be.
You can also check out the History Museum at the Castle (330 E. College Ave.) to see a Houdini exhibit about his life, early career, rise to fame, and legacy. You can learn how to perform some of his illusions and escape from “jail.” This museum is also open only on Friday through Sunday.
While you’re in Appleton, you can eat at the Houdini’s Escape Gastropub (1216 S. Oneida). They offer a variety of craft beer and elevated cuisine. Large plates run about $30 each.
If you happen to be in town in November, you can participate in or watch the Houdini 10K run which starts at Houdini Plaza and runs through the city. During the race, there is also street entertainment provided by strolling magicians.
Don’t forget to stop and see the Houdini in a straightjacket bust on W. College Avenue between S. Appleton and S. Oneida before you leave town!
We had a fantastic time visiting Appleton, Wisconsin. It’s the perfect size city to explore on a weekend trip with your family. Consider visiting Appleton when you’re planning your next family vacation!
If you’d like to see our trip in real-time, check out our Instagram Stories highlight!