Fence on a beach in Door County, Wisconsin. Lake Michigan

Best Things to do in Door County

BY Katy Spratte Joyce | July 24, 2020

Long known as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest,” picturesque Door County is one of Wisconsin’s gifts to the rest of the country. Located in the eastern part of the state on the peninsula separating southern Green Bay from Lake Michigan, the county is home to scores of charming towns, a forward-thinking local beverage scene, excellent dining options and endless natural beauty. 

Since Door County juts into Lake Michigan for 80 miles, there are many parts to explore. Part of the region’s charm is that something unexpected is around every bend. Travelers should take the time to drive around the peninsula, no matter where they are based, to check out the small towns along the way. Locals refer to the east portion of the peninsula, or the lake side, as the quiet side. It’s less bustling and offers peace even during the peaks of summertime tourism. Baileys Harbor, Jacksonport and Meridian Park State Natural Area are just some of the gems on the lake side. The busier but no less enchanting bay side contains the commercial center of Fish Creek and upscale village of Ephraim along with pretty towns like Egg Harbor, Ellison Bay and Sister Bay.

Wherever you choose to spend time, it’s all ripe for exploration now as it’s newly reopened and ready to welcome travelers. Here are the best things to do in Door County.

 

Experience a Classic Door County Fish Boil

You may have heard of a Friday night fish fry, but have you ever been to a fish boil? In a nod to the area’s Scandinavian roots, one of the most unique culinary experiences in Door County is a fish boil. There are multiple options throughout the peninsula, not all on Friday, but the only year-round pick is at Fish Creek’s White Gull Inn.

White Gull Inn
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White Gull Inn

White Gull Inn

4225 Main St, Fish Creek, WI 54212

Prepare to gather round the outside fire pit as Lake Michigan whitefish, red potatoes, salt and water are boiled in a huge pot over the open flame. To signal that the fish is done, the Master Boiler will light the top on fire with a huge flourish, shooting flames into the starry night sky. Once inside, the boiled fish is served with savory side dishes and Door County’s famous cherry pie as the sweet finish.

Pro tip: Be sure to book your seat ahead of time, as these are known to sell out quickly.

Door County Wine & Spirits Trail

Door County is famed for its cherries and at one point was the leading producer of cherries in the United States. That agricultural history can be seen in the area’s unique and well-known fruit wines. Channel your inner Moira Rose and hit up Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market, Simon Creek VineyardDoor Peninsula Winery, Harbor Ridge Winery, Door 44 and Island Orchard.

Door County also has two distilleries: Door County Distillery in Carlsville, which is associated with the Door Peninsula Winery, and Egg Harbor’s Hatch Distilling Company.

 

Lautenbach
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Lautenbach

Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery & Market

9197 WI-42, Fish Creek, WI 54212, USA

A family-run business operated since 1955, this orchard produces cherries, grapes, raspberries and pears, as well as juices and wines. The onsite winery opened in 1985 and specializes in everything from dry to sweet.

#3

Door 44 Winery

5464 Co Rd P, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

Wine lovers should be sure to visit Door 44 Winery, named for the famed 44 degree north latitude that circles the globe and is home to numerous world-class wine regions like France’s Bordeaux and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Door 44 embraces cool-climate grapes and produces hard-to-find natural ice wine. The lawyers turned winemakers were also instrumental in getting Wisconsin’s second designated wine region, the Wisconsin Ledge AVA, approved.

Door County Distillery
#4
Door County Distillery

Door County Distillery

5806 WI-42, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

Adventurous drinkers should sample the Door County moonshine here which are made with cherries from the area.

Island Orchard Cider
#5
Island Orchard Cider

Island Orchard Cider

12040 Garrett Bay Rd, Ellison Bay, WI 54210, USA

Make time for the celebrated cider at Ellison Bay’s Island Orchard Cider; the ingredients are mostly grown on nearby Washington Island, which can be accessed by ferry.

Stellar Beer Scene

Let’s not forget about Wisconsin’s stellar beer scene, of which Door County is no exception. Check out the Egg Harbor taproom of One Barrel Brewing Company, the Baileys Harbor Door County Brewing Company and Shipwrecked Restaurant and Microbrewery, also in Egg Harbor.

For some Midwestern kitsch, visit the best bar in Door County, The Blue Ox, in Baileys Harbor.

For those who prefer a nonalcoholic treat, be sure to check out Door County Coffee & Tea Company in Sturgeon Bay; they also offer an excellent breakfast menu. Another lovely local, Skip Stone Coffee Roasters, can be found in Sister Bay.

One Barrel Brewing
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One Barrel Brewing

One Barrel Brewing Company

4633 Market St, Egg Harbor, WI 54209, USA

A local fav that offers seasonal and year-round crafts and hard ciders.

Door County Brewing
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Door County Brewing

Door County Brewing Company

8099 WI-57, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202, USA

Lake side craft beer at it’s finest. They focus here is on Belgian beer and they brew everything on site. There’s also a cool live music space where bands play on the weekends.

Sturgeon Bay

Long considered the industrial gateway to Door County, the “city” of the peninsula actually has tons to offer visitors. There’s the Maritime Museum, which honors the history of shipbuilding in the region; while there, be sure to check out the interactive option, where guests can steer a ship as part of the “Shipwrecks of Door County” exhibit. A delightful decor and gift shop that shines at Christmas and beyond is Bliss. Other noteworthy downtown spots include the independent bookstore, Novel Bay Booksellers, and the classic Door County Candy sweets shop. Numerous rustic and lovely lodging options like Chanticleer Guest HouseFoxglove Inn and the Diplomat Bed & Breakfast can also be found in Sturgeon Bay. And, for an additional interesting note, Sturgeon Bay is the location for the man-made canal, the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, that technically designates the north part of Door County as an island, not a peninsula.

More Scandinavian Roots

Beyond the traditional fish boil, Door County truly embraces its Scandinavian heritage. From Al Johnson’s to Fika to the village of Ephraim, there’s a dose of Norway all around.

 

Al Johnson's
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Al Johnson's

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik 

10698 N Bay Shore Dr, Sister Bay, WI 54234, USA

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik in Sister Bay boasts a Swedish chef along with its famous grass roof that goats graze upon. Al’s is one of the only places in the U.S. that offers an authentic Swedish Christmas feast, known as julbord. Guests should prepare to try all the herring, Swedish meatballs and special holiday ham, and to end the meal with a Swedish drinking song and chilled shot of aquavit, the traditional Nordic spirit. Pro tip: Check out the eatery’s goat cam for a dose of Door County from home.

Fika
#9
Fika

Fika

3903 WI-42, Fish Creek, WI 54212, USA

Experience fika, the Swedish afternoon coffee and treats break, at the aptly named Fika in Fish Creek. Designed to make time for friends and family, this Swedish tradition reminds us to slow down and nurture our relationships.

 

#10

Ephraim

Ephraim, Wisconsin, USA

For a dose of Norway, check out the village of Ephraim, which was settled by Moravians. It’s located just across Eagle Harbor from Peninsula State Park. As of the 2010 census there were 288 people living here, so be ready for small town America.

Natural Wonders of Door County

It makes sense that a scenic peninsula surrounded by a Great Lake would offer great ways to experience nature in all its splendor. The Ridges Sanctuary, which was the state’s first land trust, is another preservation-focused area with gorgeous natural wonders spread through its 1,600 acres; don’t miss the Hidden Boardwalk hike with a naturalist all year long. For those more interested in nighttime exploration, visit Newport State Park on the tip of the peninsula, which is an internationally designated Dark Sky Preserve.

Peninsula State Park
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Peninsula State Park

Peninsula State Park 

9462 Shore Rd, Fish Creek, WI 54212

Peninsula State Park, the third largest in all of Wisconsin, is a can’t-miss stop. Hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking and more can be done in the park, with rentals available at Nicolet Beach.

Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin
#12
Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin. Photo: Shutterstock

The Ridges Sanctuary

8166 WI-57, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202, USA

The Ridges Sanctuary, which was the state’s first land trust, is another preservation-focused area with gorgeous natural wonders spread through its 1,600 acres; don’t miss the Hidden Boardwalk hike with a naturalist all year long.