When a place is nicknamed Cherry Land USA, I am so there. Stretching across the peninsula north of Green Bay, Door County, Wisconsin is home to more than 2,000 acres of cherry orchards that annually produce up to 14 million pounds of the good stuff— sounds like heaven to me. Another big draw is the 300 miles of shoreline (including 30 miles along Lake Michigan) and five state parks—more than any other county in America. You will also find outdoor activities abound.
So go ahead, rent a car in Green Bay, or line up a shuttle and head northeast. In less than hour you will find winding, open county roads snaking past limestone cliffs as the sweet fragrance of ripe cherries floats along the breeze. Start your trip in Sturgeon Bay before continuing along the peninsula to explore other charming towns. See, it isn’t all cheesewheels in the great state of Wisconsin.
1. Impressive State Parks
Lighthouse lovers shouldn’t miss the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park. Standing tall at 76 feet above Green Bay on a bluff, the lighthouse guided weary travelers to safety from 1868 – 1926. The state park is also home to an 18-hole golf course, activities for all seasons, a summer theater and eight miles of cobblestone shore. Rent a bike from Nor Door to explore the nearly 10-mile gravel Sunset Trail.
Bordered by steep slopes and limestone cliffs, Potawatomi State Park offers guests both winter and summer activities, from fishing and biking to snow shoeing and cross country skiing. Hike the tower trail (3.6 miles) to the 75-foot observation tower for a panoramic view of Sawyer Harbor.
2. Fish Boil at Waterfront Mary’s Bar & Grill
Experience a century-old tradition at Waterfront Mary’s where fresh fish caught by local fishermen, red potatoes and onions are tossed in a stainless steel kettle over an open fire. Kerosene is later poured on the fire, forcing it to boil over and shoot flames into the air. There’s the cue that dinner is about ready to be served. Post feast, a fresh slice of cherry pie concludes this Great Lakes culinary tradition.
3. Distillery and Winery Tastings
These days, five dollars won’t get you very far—maybe a full glass of wine at happy hour. But at Door County Distillery, a five dollar bill is all you need to sample their gin, vodka and fruit infused vodka—like the Lighthouse Cherry Vodka and Door County Apple Brandy. The spirits are distilled from the Door Peninsula’s limestone infused waters.
Wine enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a tasting at Door 44. The winery specializes in producing wine from grapes grown in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. Sample their award-winning Riesling or M—a smooth medium bodied red made from Wisconsin’s Marquette grape.
4. Ride the Chicago Fireboat
Take to the sea aboard the Chicago Fireboat. The tour navigates guests through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal or to Sherwood Point Lighthouse. Even the four-legged family member can enjoy the scenery aboard this pet-friendly boat.
Built in 1937 in Michigan, the fire-fighting vessel named “Fred A. Busse” aided the Chicago Fire Department for years before being retired to Sturgeon Bay. Tip: If you’re in the Bay for July 4th, book the fireworks cruise aboard the Fireboat for waterfront seats.
5. Explore the Outdoors
Get in touch with your adrenaline at DC Adventure with a zip line tour that’ll have you careening above spruce and pine forest and farm landscape at high speeds—but never out of control—at one of two locations that cater to beginners and experienced zip liners.
Or opt for a slightly more peaceful outdoor experience by reserving a spot on one of several kayak tours offered by Bay Shore Outfitters. The Morning Light guided tour traces rugged shorelines and past ancient bluffs along Eagle Harbor and Peninsula State Park.
6. Hands On Art Studio
Create a glass mosaic at Hands On Art Studio, just outside of Sturgeon Bay. Choose from a selection of glass pieces, rods and metal shapes in just about any color imaginable to make your masterpiece. Outside of glass art you will find a welding shop, a potters wheel and studio to paint canvasses and ceramics. Friday nigh is adult night, which means art accompanied with live music, food and beverages for those 21 plus.
For delicious pizza: enter Wild Tomato in Egg Harbor. The family owned restaurant serves up hand tossed, wood-fired pizzas (gluten free available), sandwiches and fresh salads. For a pizza that will pull you back for seconds: try the Smoked Pork BBQ with pineapple, green peppers and cilantro.
For sweets, swing by Scaturo’s Baking Co. & Café for a cake doughnut, a custard-filled chocolate frosted long jons, or an elephant ear, among many other goods. For local fare, head to the restaurant at the Inn at Cedar Crossing, which features local wines, produce, fish (perch, whitefish and walleye), and beef (Wadesa).
8. Door County Coffee & Tea Co.
Sip local at Door County Coffee & Tea Co. Roasting in a fluidized-air bed roaster, the company uses Specialty Class 1 Arabia coffee beans grown worldwide to craft unique flavors like Cherry Crème and Raspberry Butter Crunch, in addition to classic roasts.
The company also offers Door County Loose Leaf Tea and all necessary accessories to create the perfect cup. Flavors include blueberry infusion, Door County Cinnamon, Door County Gold (wonderful over ice), and of course Door County Cherry (have you picked up yet on the county-wide cherry trend?)
9. Main Street Shopping
There is certainly no shortage of antique shops in Door County. Right off the main drag you will find Door County Traders Antiques and Consignment Mall where you can linger over antique jewelry, furniture, stained glass and vintage signage. You might even happen upon garden items at this treasure trove of a store.
10. Door County Historical Museum
Named the “Best Small Museum in the Midwest” by Chicago Tribune Travel, the Door County Historical Museum is a local gem tucked within the county lines. The museum is located on 4th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay and allows guests to glimpse into the county’s rich history.
Videos and DVDs spotlight special events and unique characteristics of Door County, such as the fish boil and the rich cherry crops. One of the biggest draws of the museum are the original fire trucks on display.