Where To Go: Wisconsin’s Door County

Wisconsin’s Door County—Open for Fun

by Kathie Farnell

Up at the top of Wisconsin, Door County juts into Lake Michigan as a waterfront wonderland of cherry trees, small towns and contented cows. Oddly, its name comes from a French phrase meaning “Door of Death,” bestowed by a mariner who took a dim view of the stretch of water separating the peninsula from Washington Island. Today, the lighthouses that still guard its coasts stand as reminders of the county’s perilous past.

Door County’s attractions are sprinkled along a string of scenic small towns. Sturgeon Bay—known as “Wisconsin’s Friendliest Small Town”– gives visitors a head start on the Door County experience with breakfast at Door County Coffee and Tea. Here, freshly roasted coffee—also for sale by the bag– complements local dishes like Cherry Bread Pudding. If you’re still hungry, downtown’s Door County Candy Company offers old-fashioned sweets along with treats you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere, including chocolate-dipped bacon.

There’s more to do in Sturgeon Bay than eating. Check out the shops and galleries including Popelka Trenchard Gallery & Glass Studio, where visitors can watch glassblower Jeremy Popelka at work.

Beyond Sturgeon Bay, get your countywide bearings with a narrated tour of “the Cape Cod of the Midwest” aboard the Door County Trolley, headquartered at Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek. Tour the winery and cider mill, and be sure to try some of their award-winning wines.

Lunchtime anywhere in Door County is liable to feature cheese curds. At the cheerfully retro Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, the tasty chunks of cheese are served atop French fries. Try them with the home-brewed draft root beer.

Door County has its own Wine Trail, and it’s possible to sample the best of the area’s cheese along with its wine at Egg Harbor’s Harbor Ridge Winery and next-door Wisconsin Cheese Masters. At the winery, the labels are half the fun; try Knockin’ Heads Red. As for cheese, you can’t go wrong with Super Gouda.

Door County is famous for its working lighthouses. Visit Cana Island Lighthouse, one of the most picturesque, at Baileys Harbor and climb the 97 steps to the top for a spectacular view.

For a ship’s-eye-view of lighthouses, go to Fish Creek Scenic Boat Cruises and catch a ride aboard the Quo Vadis, owned by the Archdiocese of Green Bay. The bay cruise takes in the Strawberry Islands, Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, and the water’s abundant bird life, including the enormous white pelicans which flock here in summer. When you get off the boat, head down the road to Edgewood Orchard Galleries, where an award-winning sculpture garden winds through woods.

A Door County summer standby is a meal at an outdoor restaurant like Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar and Grill in Sister Bay. Cherry margaritas and whitefish cooked on the grill are the draw here, along with the live music.

For another “only in Door County” moment, check out the Fish Boil at Rowley’s Bay Resort in Ellison Bay. Started by Scandinavian settlers, this outdoor meal has evolved into a spectator sport. Freshly caught whitefish is put into a big pot of boiling water with potatoes and onions. As everything finishes cooking, kerosene is thrown on the fire. Immediately the pot boils over, carrying away unwanted fish oil and putting out the fire in one spectacular swoop. At Rowley’s the savory end result is served buffet style along with—of course– Door County Cherry Pie.

Where to stay? Centrally located Egg Harbor makes a convenient headquarters. The Landing Resort has a secluded, tree-lined feel, yet is located right down the street from Galileo’s Italian Steakhouse & Bar and unique local shops like Schoolhouse Artisan Cheeses—a perfect start to a picnic.

For more information on visiting Door County, check out the website at

Photos courtesy of the author.

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