Door County, Wisconsin: The Power of a Special Place
Breathtaking scenery, arts and maritime magic, great places to stay and eat
By Donna Marie Pocius
Special to DoorCountyNavigator.com
If you haven’t traveled to Door County, you haven’t experienced the power a place can have over so many people. And for generations. So, spend some time on DoorCountyNavigator.com and plan your trip to Door county Wisconsin - our peninsula, with 300 miles of coastline, is like nothing else around the Midwest. Read on!
Is the power due to the grand scenery on this northeast Wisconsin peninsula that reaches into Lake Michigan? No matter where you wander, you’ll take in breathtaking views of water, forests, sunrises and sunsets.
But there is so much to do! The Door County peninsula is home to five pristine state parks affording trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. Peninsula State Park, the largest, even has its own golf course, beach and campground. And it’s a site for live theatre performances by Northern Sky Theater (formerly known as American Folklore Theatre).
Door County, with hundreds of shoreline miles (about 300), is home to a year-round population of about 28,000. But that balloons to 250,000 when the summer population settles in. Millions travel here each year, especially in peak summer months and at autumn color-changing time.
Door County has entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll find artists’ galleries as well as small businesses, family-owned farms and markets, enticing boutiques and shops.
Here, maritime heritage lives on. Eleven lighthouses dot the peninsula coastline. Shipbuilding is still one of the largest industries in the county seat, Sturgeon Bay. Visitors get on the water—in sailboats, kayaks, jet skis or just in their bathing suits at one of the many pretty beaches.
Door County produces cherries and celebrates Scandinavian culture. Where else can you pick cherries by day and partake in a fish boil-style dinner at night?.
The best thing to do is to travel to Door County and discover these qualities for yourself. You won’t see it all or experience the destination’s breadth in one visit, or even five or 10. But it will feel good to get started.
You won’t be alone. Families come here. Couples love the place for honeymoons and getaways. Girlfriends and golfers abound. Read on to find out more about the attractions.
Why the name Door County?
When you’re here, you’ll hear a lot about names. How each community got its name makes for a good story, after all (for example, one story shares that Egg Harbor’s name is due to a legendary battle with eggs that took place in the harbor).
As to the name of the county itself, that comes from the strait between Door Peninsula and Washington Island. Early explorers named it “Porte des Mors (or Death’s Door) for its treacherous nature as the waters of Green Bay met Lake Michigan. Travel to Washington Island is safer now due to construction improvements made over the years. And the Island is a destination affording lots to do, as well.
Great Places to Stay and Eat
From charming bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) to large-scale resorts on the water and walk-to-town hotels, Door County has you covered. Campgrounds are available, too. And some of t
he B&Bs are housed in unique refurbished buildings. Check out, for example, Chanticleer Guest House and Bed and Breakfast, Sturgeon Bay. Its accommodations are in a converted barn and renovated 19th-century farmhouse.
Each Door County community offers up a variety of lodging accommodations. Some are only open April through October. Pick a place to stay, and plan to drive around to see sites. The entire Peninsula is about 70 miles long. So, it doesn’t take long to get from one town to another.
And when you return from Door County, people will probably ask you if you saw the goats on the roof. They stand atop Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik in Sister Bay. Go ahead and gawk at them before heading in for some Swedish fare (pancakes, meatballs, lingonbeerres, you get the idea) created at this family-owned restaurant. Take note of the decorating and architecture, too—authentic Norwegian rosemaling and construction.
Bring your appetite. Restaurants here have received national recognition. White Gull Inn’s restaurant, Fish Creek, was recognized by ABC’s Good Morning America for its cherry-stuffed French toast.
Oh, and the aforementioned Scandinavian fish boil is all about enjoying a platter of locally harvested white fish and potatoes followed by cherry pie. Some restaurants specialize in the actual boiling of the fish; a flaming event to itself. The Viking Restaurant, Ellison Bay, says it is “the home of the original Door County Fish Boil. And the owner/master boiler will serve it himself.”
Cherry Orchards, Apple Orchards, Farmers Markets, Oh My
Foodies, take heart. You can visit locally owned markets and orchards and purchase Door County-grown cherries and apples as well as vegetables.
Door County, with 2,500 acres of cherry orchards, is a primary producer of Wisconsin red tart cherries, according to the Wisconsin Cherry Growers, Inc. Pick-your-own cherries at locations in Door County when the time is ripe (usually late summer). Or just marvel at the blossoms in late spring.
Fall is apple harvest time, and Door County is the place to partake in locally grown apples of various varieties grown on 500 county acres.
Arts Galleries Galore
Artists will tell you they live here for the nature. They are inspired by it. They love the light –the way it plays off the water on all sides of the land. The artists celebrate nature in their work, which you will see on display in their stunning galleries all over the peninsula.
Paintings as well as pottery and jewelry depict trees, water, meadows and so much more.
Door County’s maritime history is best appreciated during visits to area icons that celebrate it and help it to come alive. Bring the entire family to the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay (another location is in Gills Rock). The museum promotes the area’s hardworking fishermen, captains and lighthouse keepers.
Tours are also available to the Peninsula’s lighthouses. Cana Island Lighthouse, open May to October in Baileys Harbor, is situated on an 8.7-acre island. You can actually walk to this small island. And once on it, continue walking up 97 steps of the lighthouse for a sweeping view of the Door County peninsula and Lake Michigan.
Shopping: More than the Deal
By now, you’ll truly want to bring home memories of your time in Door County. The shops (as well as art galleries) here are to die for. Many are housed in repurposed buildings such as log cabins, barns and farmhouses. So, it’s a pleasure to wander around and experience the architecture as well as the inventory.
One popular place, housed in a transformed century-old barn, is City Farmer home and garden store in Ephraim. Its 10,000 square feet are artfully filled with home accessories, furniture, jewelry, handbags, garden art and much more.
At other places you can enjoy demonstrations: visit Door County Candle Co. and Door County Coffee and Tea, both located in Carlsville. See how candles are made and how coffee is roasted in Door County.
Performing Arts Come Out at Night
This is not a place with a thriving club scene, to be sure. Still, you can hear music everywhere. And so much of it will be free of charge, especially in the county parks during the summer.
Don’t miss a performance of jazz at nationally renowned Birch Creek Music Performance Center, Egg Harbor, where the volunteers of this nonprofit are among the area’s most kind and gracious people. In addition to Northern Sky Theater, Peninsula Players performs wonderful plays in Fish Creek. And Door Community Auditorium has something happening year-round.
Hear classical music by Door Concerts, Inc., and Midsummer’s Music in vast venues.
Indeed, there’s a lot to see, hear and do. But, most important, Door County offers unforgettable experiences in a somewhat intimate space. That becomes its power: its ability to connect and draw you in. Have fun.