Choose Your Own Adventure In Door County
Escape to Eastern Wisconsin, whether it’s two days or seven
Article originally published in Lavender Magazine, September 2018
Located about one hour northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Door County is the authority in hospitality and a haven for those looking to get away. You can watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan, and after just a couple miles in the car, watch it set over Green Bay. There’s plenty of food, and if you love cherries, this place needs to be your next vacation.
Sturgeon Bay serves as the front door to Door County. It’s the gateway to all the action. To get from Sturgeon Bay to the county’s northern tip, it’s nearly an hour of driving. A car is a must for this trip. Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft aren’t available and you won’t see people hailing taxis. Also, cell phone reception is lackluster at best.
Where to stay
Walking into the guest house at Chanticleer Guest House, I immediately noticed a large New York Times article feature on the wall raving about the bed and breakfast. They deserve all that praise and more.
Owners (and partners) Darrin Day and Bryon Groeschl pour their heart into the property, cooking breakfast for guests and delivering it to rooms in the morning, striking up conversation around evening bonfires and offering suggestions about what to do in Door County.
They purchased the rundown property outside of Sturgeon Bay in 1993 and spent years updating the main house, built in 1916, along with a barn, which now both host suites.
I stayed in a loft equipped with French doors to a massive bathroom, along with a jacuzzi and an easy exit through a balcony patio.
Door County officials tell me you should book B&Bs for the summer season six to eight months in advance. Those who vacation there end up booking their stay for the following year before they even leave.
What To Do
With the amount of driving you will do around the county, I recommend you plan a three-plus-day trip. I crammed four days worth of activities into two. It was a lot.
I’m breaking my Door County picks into two itineraries—what you must do during a long weekend trip and what you can do with a bit more time.
Long Weekend: The Must-Do List
If you only have a weekend to experience Door County, start here.
• Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, Sister Bay
There aren’t many businesses with goats grazing on the roof. That’s because Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant actually owns a trademark to the fascinating oddity. The whole story began when Al received a goat as a birthday gift. It was more of a prank than anything. Today, four to seven goats are bussed over to the restaurant daily and spend their days looking down at visitors. They come down when it’s warmer than 85 degrees or if it’s raining.
When you’re dining inside, Lars Johnson, one of Al’s kids running the restaurant today, says to order the pickled herring plate; it’s one of his favorites. The most popular menu item is the Swedish pancakes. Make sure to get lingonberries on top. The restaurant is the largest importer of the fruit in the United States.
• Anderson Dock
Anderson Dock, located in the town of Ephraim, is a Door County must-see. Historically, visiting boaters would sign the walls of the warehouse with their boat’s name and the years it docked there. It now boasts messages of love and friendship of those who visit. If you want to sign it, bring your own paint. It makes for a great Instagram photo.
• Brunch at the White Gull Inn
My must-dos while in Door County have a lot to do with food.
White Gull Inn’s cherry stuffed French toast has a cream cheese filling and plenty of Door County cherries. It’s rich and is tough for one human to take down a full order. Thanks to this item, The White Gull won Good Morning America’s Best Breakfast Challenge in 2010.
Three-Plus Days: The Should-Do List
If you have more time, add these stops.
The working farm is home to multiple studios giving you the opportunity to make and take your own project. There’s a metal studio where you weld your own wine rack, a spin-art wheel for canvas or t-shirts, and a ceramics studio where you can paint countless objects.
I went for the fused glass studio and made a glass on metal piece that I’m proudly showcasing on a wall in my house. I picked through a rainbow’s worth of colored glass to create my design. Trained staff are situated in every studio to guide you through the process.
Hands On is the busiest when it rains. Plan on being there for two to three hours whenever you stop by. For some projects, you will have to pick it up the following day; they can also ship them home for a fee. There’s a $5 admission charge to walk through the studios, but the projects are reasonably priced. My glass piece was around $30.
• Wickman House
The farm-to-table concept in Door County is embraced at Wickman House in Ellison Bay. The restaurant, open ‘almost year-round,’ is the spot for handcrafted cocktails and a delightful menu. The pasta I tried was stuffed with a smoked carrot puree. And the pork chop was enough food for a party of six. Wickman House boasts a gazebo bar and plenty of Adirondack chairs outside underneath whimsical lighting. Ask to sit outside on the screened porch.
• Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream
Wilson’s Restaurant is a throwback to the 1950s, with table jukeboxes and plenty of charm. The must-get is their ice cream. The cherry ice cream at the counter is popular. I sat at a booth and got generous helpings of their Dusty Road, a mix of French vanilla and Mackinac Island fudge ice cream topped with hot fudge and dusted with malt and of course, a cherry. The Cherry Berry Delight has vanilla ice cream layered between cherries from Door County, along with blueberry and strawberry toppings. The restaurant actually dates back to 1906.