Can you imagine a summer without days at the beach? Sand and sunburns might not be a part of your summer plans right now, but don’t rule it out just yet; ads have been trying to convince us to head to the waterfront for decades. Have you ever seen an ad for Corona that doesn’t take place on a beach?
If you’re about to cut the beach out of your plans because you’re worried about going alone, don’t worry. 90% of all beach parties only happen because they’re being filmed for a commercial about young people spending money and having fun on the beach. Realistic beaches are similar to a pro golf tournament than a nightclub: some people are really enjoying themselves, but the vast majority of people are just there to relax and enjoy the scenery. Although this post is going to be laid out as if you’re headed to a normal sea- or lakeshore, it’ll work just as well if you’re headed for a day on the river or more wooded bodies of water like Redgranite Quarry. I’ll start with a general routine you can use for heading to the beach, followed by more Fox Cities-specific locations you can consider for a visit.
This step is easy to take for granted, but it’s vitally important for the beachgoing experience. If you don’t start getting excited and confident before leaving your house, you stand no chance of staying comfortable once you’re on the beach, surrounded by large groups who seem impossibly attractive. Summer just started! How do they already look like they’ve been hitting the beach for months? (The answer is usually tanning beds.) Are they going to judge how I look when I’m sitting on the beach or when I’m eating? If you’re confident, you’ll know that these questions aren’t important, but even the slightest self-doubt will have you running back to the car before you can lay out your towel. Get yourself pumped up by picturing the beach with people (so you won’t be shocked when it’s busy) and find your favorite summer jams for the drive.
When you initially arrive at the beach, there’s going to be an inevitable period of awkwardness. This is most evident at the beginning of the summer, when your beach expertise is rusty after nine months of sweaters and indoor living. You’ll need to commit to a longer period of time at the beach, one long enough to make you feel as comfortable as if you’ve been living on the beach for years (ideally in a beachfront-property way, not a beachfront-vagrant way). Before you leave for the beach, make sure you have everything you could possibly need once you’re there: food, drinks, sunscreen, and any other essentials for a day in the sun. The fewer reasons you have for running back to your car, the more likely you are to get past the initial awkward phase. This will allow you to focus on getting past the general sensation of awkwardness that stems from being surrounded by other beach-going strangers!
You’re at the Beach. Now What?
You made it! One of the most important parts of a great day at the beach is choosing the spot where you’ll set up shop. This is mostly dependent on your personal tastes and the location, but a good rule of thumb is to judge the spacing of other beachgoers and use that distance as a guide. Your gut might tell you to pick the most isolated spot on the beach, but by the end of the day you’ll get so territorial you’ll find yourself snarling like a dog at anyone within a forty-foot radius. Being a little closer to other beachgoers won’t require you to make small talk and you won’t feel as guilty at the end of the day when you’re watching Netflix and eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
The Moment of Truth: The Beach Bod
Depending on your level of self-confidence, revealing your beach bod (or lack thereof) can be one the most terrifying moment of a day at the beach. Once again, blame the Corona ads: there is no conceivable reality in which there are Corona drinkers without any semblance of a beer gut. The beach physique is a common stereotype everywhere you look, but it’s important to remember that nearly everyone with the “ideal beach bod” is an actor or model who is compensated for being in the best shape possible. Here’s the beauty of beaches in the real world: nobody cares what you look like. It’s the locker room principle on a larger scale, where every person is mildly self-conscious and uninterested in staring at others. (Of course, there are exceptions to this, but I’m disregarding beach creeps because that’s a different issue entirely.) Ultimately, just wear what’s comfortable for you. If you burn easily, don’t forget about sunscreen!
Hitting the Waves
You don’t have to spend all day in the water, but it’s a safe assumption that you’ll take a dip if you’re headed to the beach for a full day. If you’re on either coast and planning on surfing, go surfing. It’s not a partner activity anyway. Boom, problem solved. Other bodies of water offer their own challenges, so let’s break it down by the different possibilities. Before we get to lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water, let’s cover a few conventional beaches near the Fox Cities.
Nearby Fox Cities Favorites:
These spots might not be located right in the Fox Cities, but they’re close enough for a summer day trip.
Whitefish Dunes, Door County (1 h 32 min NE of downtown Appleton): This is one of your classic Wisconsin beaches. The beach seems like it might stretch on forever and allows swimmers to get in touch with one of the more scenic vistas of Lake Michigan.
High Cliff State Park, Sherwood (24 min SE): One of the closest beaches to the Fox Cities, High Cliff’s beach houses showers and flush toilets for beach-goers who aren’t quite willing to leave the comforts of home. As with any tourist-friendly beach, High Cliff can get pretty busy: weekdays and weekend mornings are your best bets for avoiding heavy traffic.
Shawano Lake County Park, Shawano (1 h N): Shawano Lake has one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. There’s something to do for people of all interests, but this also means it’s very busy through most of the summer. Get there early in the day to make sure you get the spot you want.
This is your most likely destination, and it’s one of the trickiest for introverts. If there are a lot of people at the beach, don’t try skipping rocks unless you really loathe the people swimming in the lake. Even if the beach is empty, skipping rocks has developed a reputation for being a thing that sad people do when they’re thinking about sad things. Let’s skip the rock skipping on this trip. Your best bet is to go in to the water until it’s deep enough for swimming and just let yourself relax in the waves. Hedging your bets and stopping when the water reaches your knees will just amplify any awkward feelings. (Okay, just about every beach you visit in Wisconsin will be on a lake. The ‘lake’ designation here is meant to differentiate between your classic beach ideals and more secluded bodies of water- the lakes without large, sandy beaches or no ‘beach’ at all.)
Fox Cities Favorites:
Marl Lake, Waupaca (50 min W): Careful! There’s a different Marl Lake in Wautoma! This lake is in Hartman Creek State Park. Marl Lake has some of the bluest water you’ll find in the state. There’s no beach on Marl Lake- there’s a single dock that allows you to run off into the water. (Because there’s no beach, you’ll want to bring some kind of flotation device if you’re looking to avoid treading water for hours.)
Plamann Park, Appleton (17 min N): Appleton’s own Plamann Park offers a man-made beach for those who don’t have time for a longer drive. There are more creature comforts at the park, including but not limited to concessions and grills outside of the small ‘lake.’
Redgranite Quarry, Redgranite (55 min SW): The Redgranite Quarry offers beautiful views of Wisconsin’s iconic rock and a great place to swim. Redgranite is fun, but swimmers need to be careful: it looks much smaller than it actually is. Don’t swim out to the center of the quarry unless you’re a strong swimmer.
Rivers are a great place to be in the summer, when the regular currents cool the air above the surface more than the stillness of Wisconsin lakes. Rivers usually offer more tourist-friendly activities when the current is too strong for swimming. Canoeing is a no-go unless you love going in circles, but kayaking is a great option for outdoor adventurers. If tubing is a possibility, go for it; just throw on some shades and let the warmth of the summer sun soak into your bones.
Fox Cities Favorites:
Wolf River, New London (30 min NW): This section of the Wolf River is known to anyone who’s spent time tubing in the summer. The river offers multiple lengths of tubing routes (dependent on water levels) and allows for rental of a ‘cooler tube’ if you’re looking to bring a few beverages along for the ride.
East Branch Milwaukee River, New Fane (1 h 15 min SE): This river’s hard to find; it more closely resembles a stream and the main entrance is on the far end of Mauthe Lake in the southern section of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Canoe rentals are available in the forest for a fun day of canoeing along the river.
That Mysterious Orange Pond in the Woods
That pond has been calling to you for a few weeks now and it’s starting to sound convincing. It might sound fun, but try to stay away from any bodies of water that are capable of whispering. Bodies of water, as a general rule, shouldn’t be any colors other than blue or green. Leave the pond for another day.
Fox Cities Favorites:
That Mysterious Orange Pond in the Woods, Appleton: This mysterious orange pond has been the talk of amateur pond observers for years and is finally getting the attention it craves. Why is it orange? How is it able to speak? Why does it change locations without warning? Science has yet to find an answer for this mysterious phenomenon. If you have any great selfies with the Mysterious Orange Pond, make sure you send it in for our annual Photo Contest in August!
Laying It All Out
We’ve covered nearly everything by now, with the notable exception of laying out on the beach with nothing to do. This is going to take up most of your time on the beach so it’s important to have an idea of what you’re going to do. This is easier than it seems: nobody is going to judge you for listening to music or reading. Bring a book, make some playlists, or find some new podcasts to listen to while your skin slowly roasts in the unforgiving sun’s glare. Once you power through the aforementioned awkward period after arriving, you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy the rest of your day at the beach.
There you have it! Despite all of the popular depictions of beach-going hordes in advertising and movies, a trip to the beach isn’t too terrible for most introverts. There’s no expectation of conversation with strangers and there’s as much (relatively) quiet time as you could ask for. Wisconsin has a wide variety of beaches, lakes, and rivers: my favorites are Whitefish Dunes (Door County), Long Lake (Kettle Moraine State Park), and the Wolf River. If you try out one spot and it’s not to your liking, don’t get discouraged! Summer is one of the best times of the year to be outside and you don’t want to wish you had spent more time outdoors when November rolls around.