Photo Courtesy of Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Fox River is more than just a river. For thousands of years, it has been a faithful servant to Northeastern Wisconsin, providing fresh water to Native American tribes and early European settlers, then later to a bevy of paper mills. Today, it plays host to a number of communities and small towns, collectively known as the Fox Cities. Although Appleton, Oskhosh, Neenah, Menasha and the surrounding hamlets are steeped in history, the area has flourished in recent years, giving rise to impeccable shops, world-class entertainment and exceptional cuisine — in other words, the makings of a perfect girls’ getaway. Gather up your best girlfriends and head to the Fox Cities for a weekend of live shows, beautiful boutiques and delicious meals you won’t soon forget.

Appleton, the largest of the Fox Cities, has grown into a veritable destination for topnotch shopping and cultural experiences. Downtown Appleton boasts over 60 shops and 50 restaurants, promising a day of nonstop fun. College Avenue, a hop, skip and a jump from Lawrence University, is at the heart of the downtown area, and holds some of the best shopping around.

The Vintage Garden is an antique-lover’s paradise, filled with refurbished vintage furniture, reclaimed knick-knacks and chippy, beautifully-worn home décor. Bring something home for the fur kids from Two Paws Up Bakery, which creates all-natural treats for your best furry friends. Blue Moon Emporium carries handmade goods crafted by local designers and artists — find screen-printed tees that proclaim a love for all-things-Wisconsin, along with mugs, tea towels and jewelry. The Eco Candle Company purveys soy candles poured locally, featuring unique scents like Field Greens and Fresh Bread. Head to hey daisy! for too-adorable-for-words tees, dresses, scarves and accessories.

If you haven’t dropped from all of that shopping, go to The Traveling Palette, where you and your besties can take a class together, anything from knitting to painting to paper maché. Another artistic option is The Fire, a pottery, mosaic and glass-fusing studio where you can try your hand at pottery painting and jewelry-making.

For dining downtown, IL Angolo is not to be missed. Specializing in upscale Mediterranean cuisine, be sure to order the Deep-Fried Goat Cheese served with honey, the Pistachio-Crusted Scallops or the Greek Fries with feta, Persian lemon and oregano. Oh, and did we mention that they have a formidable wine menu, perfect for toasting with your girlfriends?

Rye is a recent addition to Appleton’s downtown area, hip and flawlessly styled. Think Wisconsin fare with a hint of elegance — Whisky Bacon Shrimp, Local Mushroom Ravioli and Rye’s Fish Fry. Or order a pint of something local, like a Hinterland Packerland Pilsner or a Lakefront Brewery Fuel Café.

In the mood for something spicy? Look no further than Antojitos Mexicanos, a restaurant that features real-deal, south-of-the-border delicacies like Ceviche Guacamole, Mole Poblano and Carne Asada.

Finish the evening with a stop at Brewed Awakenings. More than a clever name, this coffeehouse serves up java you’re sure to love, such as the Black Squirrel — espresso and steamed milk with a hazelnut shot. Or wind down with a cup of Mint Verbena tea.

Downtown Appleton offers several lodging options, like CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel and Spa, styled as a European-inspired inn and offering sophisticated suites and Spa BenMarNico’s, where you and your pals will be pampered with salt scrubs, mineral wraps, aromatherapy facials and hot stone massages. Beyond Appleton, there are many notable places to stay, like the Brayton Bed & Breakfast of Oshkosh, a historic inn that features wine and cheese socials and fluffy robes in every room, or Green Lake’s famous Heidel House, where you’ll find plenty of amenities, from the gorgeous Evensong Spa to the Escapade Yacht that tours the lake.

No girlfriends’ getaway to the Fox Cities is complete without seeing a show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, a state-of-the-art venue that holds over 2,100 people. This fall and winter, the PAC offers a diverse lineup, including The Book of Mormon, The Moody Blues and A Christmas Carol.

Venture outside of downtown and visit the Fox River Mall, which features over 180 stores, like favorites Macy’s, J.Jill, Sephora and Williams-Sonoma. On the outskirts of Appleton, you’ll also find treasures like Urban Evolutions, where reclaimed wood and vintage materials are transformed into impressive furniture pieces — they’ve even created installations and store displays for Anthropologie and L.L. Bean. For classic antique finds, go to Harp Gallery, considered to be one of the best antique stores in the state.

Appleton isn’t the only area shopping destination — downtown Neenah holds several shops just waiting to be discovered, like The Fine Fox, a collection of clothing, décor and art created by local artisans, Studio Pink, a boutique featuring the jewelry designs of Jessica Theresa or The Olive Cellar, a wonderland of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and gourmet pasta.

The Fox Cities have plenty to offer indoors, but what about the outdoors? There’s no short supply of nature preserves and parks in the area, ideal for hiking and viewing wildlife. To log some miles with your best buds, head to High Cliff State Park in Sherwood. Located on Lake Winnebago, this state park features beautiful lake views, limestone cliffs and over 16 miles of trails. If you’d love to see some native Wisconsin creatures, go to Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, a 76-acre preserve located in Menasha that’s home to many species of amphibians, waterfowl and mammals. Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton also has its fair share of wildlife, featuring guided hikes and educational programs.

When it comes to planning a getaway with your pals, the Fox Cities truly can’t be beat. Not only is it a stunning area that offers an abundance of natural beauty, but it also has all of the components that make up the must-have’s of a girls’ weekend — pampering, shopping and plenty of chances for bonding. It’s a Wisconsin destination that is simply more fun in the company of friends.

This article originally appeared in the 2016 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Shelby Deering is a lifestyle writer from Madison, Wisconsin, contributing to national and regional outlets like Midwest Living, Rodale’s Organic Life, and BRAVA. You can learn more about her at