BY ROBERT GLAZE
Called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Door County is a 70-mile-long peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan with a beautiful coastline dotted by lighthouses and charming villages. I recently went back after many years and was very impressed with the wonderful restaurants, cultural offerings, galleries, boutiques, and wineries—not to mention the farm stands. There are also many outdoor activities to choose from including biking, hiking, sailing, boat tours, and kayaking.
I particularly love exploring old lighthouses. The peninsula has 11 that you can visit that were built from 1836 to 1899.
Fish boils have been a Door County tradition and a major tourist attraction for more than 70 years. Here locally caught whitefish are boiled on an open fire in an outdoor kitchen. In addition, onion and potatoes are cooked along with the fish. Everything is served with melted butter, lemon wedges, bread, and coleslaw or salad—and a piece of Door County cherry pie. A few restaurants also feature a lobster boil or crab boil.
On my recent trip, I chose to stay in Ephraim, a small village of around 300 people on the west side of the peninsula. I wanted to explore the small towns that were north, south, and east of Ephraim, so I found it was a great central location to base myself from. It has some great lodging and hotel options, as well as restaurants, shops, and galleries. You can stay in town and walk to shops, galleries, and restaurants. They have a number of festivals and events throughout the year including Monday Night Concerts in Harborside Park during the summer months.
The Water Street Inn (9944 Water Street), open May through October, is a lovely place to stay along the water in Ephraim. Originally built in 1896, it has recently been remodeled. It has a pool and fire pit for evening socializing after sunset along the water. They also have complimentary kayaks and bikes for your use. The rooms are nicely appointed and very comfortable.
I also like the Hillside Inn of Door County at 9980 Water Street. This is a charming B&B with five upscale rooms and two remodeled cottages. Another good option is the Eagle Harbor Inn at 9914 Water Street. This is a charming B&B that features nine rooms including breakfast and three suites that feature their own kitchens.
Near the Eagle Harbor Inn is Leroy’s Water Street Coffee at 9922 Water Street. This is a really fun, casual spot for coffee, tea, pie, and more. Next door, and also at 9922 Water Street, is Ephraim Clayworks. This is a working studio and gallery located in an 1890s log cabin featuring attractive functional stoneware and decorative porcelain works by local potter Ryan Pederson.
Trixies is located at 9996 Pioneer Lane in downtown Ephraim. Owned by the same group as the well-known Wickman House restaurant in Ellison Bay, this is a small, upscale farm-to-table restaurant with amazing food. Make sure to book early as it is small and has few seats. The chefs are farmers-turned-chefs. The menu features items that are a fusion of Midwestern flavors alongside Asian, Israeli, and Greek dishes. I had a wonderful meal and will definitely go back when I am back in the area again.
Old Post Office (10040 Water Street), open May through October, is a popular waterfront restaurant, known for their breakfasts and their evening fish boils with fresh whitefish caught daily. It is housed in Ephraim’s old post office from the early 1900s.
Chef’s Hat (3063 Church Street) is a fun spot for breakfast. It serves traditional American entrees in a quaint cottage featuring an outdoor patio with lake views. I loved the Belgian waffle with fresh berries.
Make sure to stop in at Ephraim Coffee Lab (3055 Church Street) where they roast their beans onsite in this small spot.
A trip to Door County would not be complete without a visit to Wilson’s Ice Cream Parlor (999 Water Street South). This is a vintage soda fountain serving ice cream, house-brewed root beer, and burgers since 1906. The lines can be long, so be patient.
Water St. Gallery, located at 9930 Water Street, features paintings and prints by local Door County artists.
Lardiere Gallery has wonderful quality, colorful abstract paintings by the gallery owner, Geoffrey Lardiere. They also feature jewelry, travel cases, and scarves.
Make sure to stop in at The Hardy Gallery, a center for the arts that features local and regional artists and educational programs, plus special events and exhibits. It is located on the Anderson Dock in the harbor.
Located north of Ephraim, Sister Bay is a charming town of just under 1,000 people, with a beautiful shoreline and marina plus a large number of options for dining, shopping, and hotels.
Sister Bay Bowl is one of my favorite spots in Door County. This is a historic bowling alley from 1958 and a supper club from 1964. I loved having lunch in the bar area and then watching locals bowl. It has a great atmosphere.
At 10904 Hwy. 42 is Base Camp Coffee Bar, a fun coffee shop that also serves breakfast and lunch items.
In the same building upstairs is Summer Camp Antiques & Gifts, which is a beautiful new store with some wonderful pieces.
Originally Al Mickelson’s General Store from 1912, the building is now the home of Door County Ice Cream Factory and Sandwich Shoppe (11051 Hwy. 42), a fun spot to grab a sandwich, salad, or a homemade ice cream treat.
Don’t miss breakfast or lunch at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay at 10698 North Bayshore Drive. This is an authentic Swedish restaurant from 1949. Not only do the servers wear traditional Swedish dress, but you can find goats grazing on the sod roof of the restaurant, which has been a tourist attraction for many years. A little less touristy is their Al Johnson’s Outside Bar at 702 North Bayshore Drive, where you can enjoy a drink outside and the great weather.
South of Fish Creek is the small village of Egg Harbor. Here you will find galleries, shops, restaurants, wineries, and cultural offerings. I enjoyed my lunch in town and exploring afterwards.
Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse at 7855 Hwy. 42 is open daily year round. This fun, casual spot features southern-style smoked BBQ meats. Here you can get ribs, chicken, brisket, pork shoulder, and Italian sausage. They offer salads, appetizers, soups, sandwiches, BBQ combos, steaks, fish, seafood entrees, and a large number of sides. I thought the pulled pork sandwich was an excellent choice for lunch.
At 7791 Hwy 42, Shipwrecked Brew Pub is a fun spot with a water view patio that serves pub-style fare and their in-house brewed ales.
Wisconsin Cheese Masters, located at 4692 Rainbow Ridge Court, south of Egg Harbor, carries a large selection of cheeses from blues, cheddars, and European styles to goudas and Wisconsin originals.
Next to Wisconsin Cheese Masters is Door County Soaps. This is a store that carries a line of all natural soaps, lotions, and home products. I am enjoying the lavender soap and lotion I bought there.
Fish Creek is my favorite town in Door County and has been since my first weekend trip with a group of Chicago friends in the mid-1980s. Its main street is home to a number of charming restaurants, shops, and galleries, as well as some great lodging options. In addition to a number of festivals throughout the year, it has a good number of cultural offerings and outdoor activities to enjoy. Don’t miss one of the famous fish boils when you are in town!
Just south of town at 9106 Highway 42 in the Settlement Shops, Sweetie Pies is a charming vintage shop that is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and shorter hours in the offseason. They feature a large number of homemade fruit, cream, and custard pies.
White Gull Inn is a charming inn at 4225 Main Street that features a number of restored rooms, suites, cottages, and homes in five nearby locations. I highly recommend it on your trip to the area. Their restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I enjoyed a lovely meal with live music on my recent trip. The special whitefish entree served with shrimp and pesto, along with roasted potatoes and fresh beans, was a perfect choice. They are also known for their fish boil served Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings in the summer and on Fridays in the winter months.
Another great option is The Whistling Swan Inn & Restaurant. Located in the heart of Fish Creek at 4129 Main, it is a lovely property. The elegant dining room features a number of starters and entrees from trout and duck to pork chops and steaks.
I was glad I chose The Cookery Bakery for breakfast as I headed south to Milwaukee. At 4135 Hwy 42, they feature breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a wine bar. I enjoyed my omelet with homemade pumpkin bread and chunky applesauce. It has been a local favorite since 1977 and features regional farmers and producers.
Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil is a local institution that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including their nightly Door County Fish Boil on the outdoor grill along with other popular entrees. It is open from roughly May through October at 4199 Main Street.
I love traditional Wisconsin Supper Clubs and was so excited to have found this authentic spot at 9087 Country Rd. A, east of Fish Creek. Greenwood Supper Club has been a popular landmark since 1929. Though they feature a number of steaks, I highly recommend that you try the broiled local whitefish. It is open on a seasonal basis from May through the end of October.
Ellison Bay is located near the top of the peninsula north of Sister Bay. This is a small town of just under 200 people that is a joy to visit.
Viking Grill and Lounge (12029 Hwy 42) is a casual spot that is good for breakfast, plus burgers, steaks, and a fish boil.
Brew Coffeehouse is a fun coffee shop, restaurant, and bakery at 12002 State Highway 42.
Savory Spoon is a seasonal cooking school that is open mid-June through the end of October. Located in a former school house from 1879, they feature guest chefs to teach the classes. They also offer international food tours when the school is closed for the season.
Stop in to admire his wonderful contemporary and colorful landscapes at Rob Williams Studio/Gallery (752 Isle View Road).
For fine dining, Wickman House is one of the top spots in Door County. The restaurant’s focus is on sustainable agriculture, featuring a menu inspired by fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms and gardens, including their own. It is located at 11976 Mink River Road, just east of downtown.
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin, is a charming, small town of around 1,000 people that is located on the eastern shore of the Door County peninsula. I highly recommend that you visit it while you are in the area.
I enjoyed a great lunch overlooking the water at Harbor Fish Market & Grille (8080 Hwy. 57). The lobster roll was a perfect choice. They feature a Live Maine Lobster Boil on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. They have a lovely garden for outdoor seating, as well.
Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Custard’s Last Stand (8078 State Highway 57) is must when you are in town. The vanilla frozen custard with Door County cherries was really great. I highly recommend it.
Florian 11 Supper Club (8048 Highway 57) is a classic Wisconsin supper club from 1956 that features chicken, pork, steak, fish, and seafood dishes. It has great views overlooking the water in downtown Baileys Harbor. Remodeled in 1972, it now features food, music, and dancing.
Chives Restaurant, a local farm-to-table spot, is also a great option for lunch, dinner, and brunch. It is located at 8041 Highway 57. It has a great menu with many excellent choices.
Bearded Heart Coffee at 8101 Highway 57 is a fun coffee shop with great coffee from four Midwestern coffee roasters. They feature a number of coffee drinks and use goat’s milk as a substitute to cow’s milk. The menu also has a number of home baked pastries, toasts, and sandwiches.
Make a point to walk through Nathan Nichols & Company (8068 Highway 57), a really lovely home furnishing and design store.
Open May through October, a highlight that should not be missed is the Cana Island Light Station, which is a historic lighthouse from 1869 with an 89-foot tower. It is located north of downtown. After driving down a narrow road in a residential area, you can get to the island by walking across the causeway or taking the wagon pulled by a tractor when the water levels are high. Once on the island, you can visit the home of the lighthouse keeper and climb the tower to the top for great views.
The Ridges Sanctuary, located near the Upper Range Light and the Lower Range Light just outside of Baileys Harbor at 8166 Highway 57, is a 1,600-acre nature preserve and land trust. It is listed as a National Natural Landmark, Important Bird Area, and Wisconsin State Natural Area. There are a number of trails that allows you to explore the beauty of the area.
Orchards, Farm Stands, and Markets
Door County, Wisconsin, is the 4th largest cherry producing region in the country. Cherries have been grown in the area since the late 1800s. Apples are an important crop, as well. There are a large number of orchards and farm markets on the peninsula where you can buy fruit, jams, jellies, and other local produce. I did a lot of my Christmas shopping while there!
At 8112 Hwy. 42 in Egg Harbor, is Wood Orchard Market. This market has a cherry focus with cherry jams and jellies, dried cherries, cherry salsa, and cherry strudel. They also carry fresh fruit, fudge, bread, pies, and local crafts.
White Cottage Red Door, located in Fish Creek at 8813 Highway 42, is one of the county’s oldest farm markets that features specialty foods like jams, jellies, salsas, snacks, teas, fresh homemade pies, and fudge. They also have a wine tasting bar where you can taste complimentary wine samples.
Seaquist Orchards Farm Market, established in 1986, is located two miles north of Sister Bay at 11482 Hwy 42. It is located at Seaquist Orchards, which began over 100 years ago. They specialize in fruit and fruit products. You can find fresh fruit, made from scratch bakery items, salsas, pie fillings, dried fruit, gourmet fudge, gifts, and more. I am enjoying their no sugar added jam (of which they have eight varieties, from tart cherry to apricot and blueberry) at home.
Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market (9197 Hwy. 42) is a Fish Creek family-owned winery and market offering fresh fruit, specialty foods, cherry gifts, and bakery items.
Silly Goose General Store (11996 Hwy. 42), located in Ellison Bay, carries a large number of jams and jellies along with gift items.
Koepsel’s Farm Market, located at 9669 Highway 57 in Baileys Harbor, is a market where you can buy homemade jams and jellies, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and Wisconsin cheese, plus homemade pickled and canned goods. They also have great chocolate covered cherries, apple butter, and pumpkin butter, which I am thoroughly enjoying back in Chicago.
There are a number of local farmers markets on different days of the week throughout the summer and fall in most of the towns on the peninsula. The most popular include Baileys Harbor on Sundays, Fish Creek on Wednesdays and Sister Bay on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
Wine, Beer, and Sprits
Door County has a growing number of wineries, microbreweries, and distilleries to visit when you are on the peninsula.
Stone’s Throw Winery is a lovely tasting room located at 3382 County Rd. E at the intersection of Country Rd. A, east of Egg Harbor. They make a number of reds, whites, and rosés. In addition to their tasting room, they have Vino! Vino!, a wine bar that also serves tapas. They have a lovely outdoor patio, as well. This was my favorite on my recent trip to the area.
From their orchards on Washington Island, Island Orchard Cider makes a number of French-style ciders, including a brut or dry apple cider, oak aged apple cider, pear cider, and apple cherry like a rosé. Tours are available, and they have a tasting room and cider pub where you can sample and buy their ciders. They are open daily from May to October and then have seasonal hours throughout the other months. They are located north of downtown Ellison Bay at 12040 Garrett Bay Road.
Door County Brewing Co. at 8099 Highway 57 is a new location for this family-owned craft brewery that was established in 2012. There is a taproom and music hall where you can taste one of their porters, stouts, IPAs, and whitbier (wheat beer), and catch a live music concert year-round. There is a backyard beer garden where you can sample locally-sourced food and cheese from their own Magnolia Cheese Co.
Door County Distillery/Peninsula Winery is located in Carlsville, south of Egg Harbor, at 5806 Hwy 42. They produce a number of spirits, including vodka, brandy, bourbon, and gin. Their wines include whites, reds, and a number of fruit and dessert wines. Open daily, tastings and tours are available.
The Arts in Door County
In preparation for my recent trip to Door County, I was totally amazed by the number of cultural offerings, particularly during the high season. I was so impressed with the quality of the performances that I attended nightly, including theater, classical music, and jazz. Make sure you attend a performance while there.
The Birch Creek Music Performance Center is a summer music academy and concert venue, since 1976, that features faculty/student performances in percussion and steel band, classical, and big band jazz from June through August. It is located 3 miles east of Egg Harbor on Hwy. E. I was wowed by the overall setting and the wonderful quality of the performance I took in, a concert, Swinging Through the Ages, which featured a student orchestra, along with the faculty orchestra. Both were outstanding! They also offer special concerts throughout the year, including a Fall Series of concerts.
Peninsula Players at The Theatre in a Garden has been a Door County institution for over 82 years with summer performances six nights a week. When I was there, they were performing a musical of The Bridges of Madison County as one of their four summer productions. It was a great performance, and evening, in a perfect setting along the water. The season lasts from mid-June to mid-October.
Northern Sky Theater features original musical comedies under the stars in Peninsula Park in Fish Creek. The summer season is from mid-June to the end of August. They also perform one musical in the fall and one at Christmastime during the holidays. I was planning on seeing the popular Lumberjacks in Love, but due to rain, I had to change my plans and cancel.
For over 65 years, the Peninsula Music Festival has been a popular August cultural event in Door County. I enjoyed a classical concert with works by Brahms, Berlioz, and Beethoven. The orchestra was very professional. The venue is the Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek, which offers a number of concerts from blues to jazz, dance performances, theater, and other events.
Midsummer’s Music Festival is a summer chamber music festival that offers concerts in unique settings. These include galleries, restaurants, churches, museums, and private homes. Here you can be near the musicians, enjoy a glass of wine during the receptions, and mingle with the artists and other audience members.
Door Shakespeare is a performing arts center in Baileys Harbor. They focus on the plays of Shakespeare with performances from the end of June to the end of August.
Skyway Drive-In Theater is a popular spot to take in a movie, located north of Fish Creek.
Since things are just beginning to open up after the winter, May is a great time to start finalizing your plans to visit Door County this summer or fall.
For more travel destinations and recommendations, visit globalphile.com.