Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Group Tour magazine will continue to provide group travel inspiration. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Think of the Fox Cities as a string of beautiful pearls. The 19 communities artfully complement the Fox River and Lake Winnebago in east central Wisconsin. Groups touring this area, also known as Greater Appleton, have the opportunity to experience the area and Fox Cities Originals: unique activities, attractions, eateries and shops.

America’s Dairyland

At Simon’s Specialty Cheese in Appleton they say there’s no cheese like Wisconsin cheese … and there’s no Wisconsin cheese like Simon’s.

The store carries the full range of the company’s award-winning cheddar, feta, mozzarella and provolone — plus its signature fresh squeaky cheese curds. Cheese is supplied from the company’s Wisconsin plants in Appleton, Luxemburg and Weyauwega. Also for sale are 100 varieties of cheese from other Wisconsin producers along with food and Wisconsin-themed gift items.

Fox Cities cheese
Terry Lensmire, Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker, Simon’s Specialty Cheese, Appleton, Wis.
Credit: GTM/David Hoekman

David Sohrweide, store manager, can set up a cheese tasting with a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker, such as Terry Lensmire, who has earned certification for four cheeses.

The master cheesemaker program is a very serious thing in Wisconsin. The three-year process includes taking a variety of classes, submitting samples and taking tests. Only certified cheesemakers with at least 10 years of experience are eligible to apply.

“It’s done to foster cheesemakers and to help us get better at our craft,” Lensmire said.

Art all around

Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass is located in a Tudor mansion in Neenah that overlooks Lake Winnebago. The museum’s collection began with 652 paperweights — mostly antique — bequeathed by Evangeline Bergstrom in 1958. Now the collection is at 5,000 pieces and most are displayed.

Paperweights, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass, Neenah, Wis.
Credit: GTM/David Hoekman

“They’re beautiful, fantastic things,” said Diane Jones, a docent. “The question I’m asked the most is, ‘How did they do that?’”

Germanic, contemporary and art glass are also on view.

It’s possible for a group to arrange a hands-on glass art project in the museum’s glass studio.

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton is known as the place “Where the Arts Come Alive.” A variety of theatrical and musical performances are presented throughout the year.

In the summer, arrange a group outing at a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers baseball game at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. The team is the Class A minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Be on the lookout for flying brats right after the fourth inning. This only-in-Wisconsin moment occurs when the BratZooka launches brats into the crowd.

Historic Fox Cities

The Paper Discovery Center, in a former paper mill on the edge of the Fox River, presents the history of the core industry in the Fox Cities, formerly known as the Paper Valley.

“It takes an awful lot of water to make a sheet of paper,” explained Mike Breza, lead educator.

Group members can participate in a 40-minute guided papermaking activity, resulting in a sheet of handmade paper.

paper making
Papermaking, Paper Discovery Center, Appleton, Wis.
Credit: Fox Cities CVB

“We make the art and science of papermaking fun,” said Maria Costello, executive director at the Appleton center.

The “AKA Houdini” exhibit at History Museum at the Castle in Appleton allows visitors to experience some of the magician’s famous tricks through hands-on activities. Houdini lived in Appleton for four years as a child.

Museum step-on guides will point out historic sites and explain how local and national histories intersect on Appleton streets.

Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton was the first private residence in the world to be illuminated using hydroelectricity from a central Edison system. That was in 1882, and the Queen Anne-style house still contains — and uses — the original Edison electroliers and original light switches.

When requested in advance, Hearthstone will tailor the tour for any specific topic related to the group’s interest such as Edison, electricity, history or architecture.

To contact the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau call 920-734-3358 or go to foxcities.org.