Scenic rural highways, charming villages, and trails snaking between white birch and sugar maple trees. Family-owned wineries and cheese shops tucked between sprawling orchards. Centenarian lighthouses standing guard on the dramatic coastlines of Lake Michigan. These are just some of the reasons Door County, Wisconsin has earned the nickname “The Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Door County comprises a long, thin peninsula (along with some surrounding islands) that extends into Lake Michigan and forms the eastern side of Green Bay. In total, it’s about 80 miles long and just 25 miles across at its widest point. Although it’s not a large area, it packs a punch: There are lots of things to do within and around the various communities that make up this region. Here’s your crash course on why Door County has long been a favorite spot for Midwesterners—and why travelers from across the country should take note, too.
Where to Stay
Dörr Hotel: One of Door County’s newest lodging offerings, the Dörr Hotel just opened in summer 2021. The vibe is modern Nordic luxury—minimalist without scrimping on any comforts or amenities. Hang out at the onsite bar, check out gear (like snowshoes and picnic baskets) from the hotel’s library of outdoor toys, and explore the beach, which is just a short walk away.
The Foxglove Inn: Located in a house dating back to 1877, this inn is elegant and historical without being stuffy. Many rooms have deep soaking tubs and fireplaces, making it a nice place to wind down after a long day of exploring.
Ashbrooke Hotel: Any adults-only hotel is alright in our book—sometimes you need a spot to get away from the kids. Here you can unwind beside one of the hotel’s outdoor fireplaces, or if you want to get your heart rate up, swim laps in the indoor pool.
Things to Do
Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market: This is where champions are made. This large, family-owned fruit farm offers visitors a chance to not only sample and pick fresh fruits, but compete in the Cherry Pit Spit. To participate, you take the stone of a cherry and try to spit it as far as possible on a “pit spit” course. It’s a competition that attracts everyone from tourists to Miss Wisconsin. If that’s not your thing, you can always pick your own basket of fruit or explore the gift shop (the chocolate-covered cranberries are delicious).
The Ridges Sanctuary: A 1,600-acre preserve, the Ridges Sanctuary was founded in 1937 and has since been designated a protected State Natural Area, an Audubon Important Bird Area, and a National Natural Landmark. The preserve features plenty of trails to explore its unique ridge-and-swale topography (a result of fluctuating lake levels over the centuries) and varying ecosystems, including beaches and pine forests. Keep an eye out for rare flora and fauna, like native orchids and the endangered Hines Emerald dragonfly.
Peninsula State Park: From the top of the Eagle Tower, a newly opened observation tower accessible via stairs or an 850-foot ramp, you can get an incredible view of this 3,776-acre park and adjoining Green Bay (the body of water, not the city the Packers call home). There are also a series of easy hiking trails in the park, as well as a lighthouse that has been helping sailors find their way in Lake Michigan for more than 150 years.
Where to Eat
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik: Come for the goats grazing on the sod roof; stay for the Swedish pancakes topped with lingonberries (they’re basically a cross between a currant and a cranberry).
Sonny’s Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria: At Sonny’s, you can feast on excellent Chicago-style pies and sample brews (many of which come from Bridge-Up Brewing, which is found downstairs). Its second-floor dining room overlooks Sturgeon Bay, and it’s a great perch to watch boats come and go.
Door Artisan Cheese: If you’re going to get cheese, you may as well go straight to the source—and Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, after all. Not only can you sample fine goudas and manchegos at this establishment, but you can also see how they’re made.
Renards Artisan Cheese: But you can’t come to Wisconsin and only stop at one cheese shop. Renards is another favorite: This family-run business makes stellar aged cheddars and cheese curds.
Where to Drink
One Barrel Brewing Company: Here you’ll find the marriage of two of life’s great joys: craft beer and pizza (in this case, wood-fired, Roman-style pies made by Wild Pizza Works, which has an ordering window right inside the brewpub). If that weren’t enough, there’s also a massive beer garden and plenty of TVs; it’s a great spot to relax over some brews and watch a game.
Shipwrecked Brew Pub: Before it was home to a brewery, the land on which Shipwrecked stands was the site of a saloon that opened its doors in 1882. The area was reportedly a favorite retreat for Chicago gangster Al Capone (there’s also a pair of alleged ghosts, two IRS agents who were after Capone, that haunt the property). Even if you’re not into ghosts, you’ll love the beer: It’s a go-to spot for a solid hefeweizen or red ale.
Kitty O’Reillys Irish Pub: Did you even go to Wisconsin if you didn’t have a Spotted Cow? For those unaware, it’s a beer made by New Glarus, a brewery that only sells its products in its home state. Despite that geographic restriction, it outsells many breweries that distribute nationwide (In 2020, USA Today ranked New Glarus as the 15th most successful craft brewery in the country). While you can get the boozy beverage just about anywhere in Wisconsin, Kitty O’Reillys is a fun local stop in Door County.
Door County Coffee & Tea Company: Start your day with a kick of caffeine and some calories. Beyond gourmet house-roasted coffee, you can get muffins, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, and more.
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