Door County’s sea-scented air, soft wildflower meadows and hushed pine forests seem to muffle the clamor of a 21st-century world that’s been too much with us lately. The locals think nothing of smiling at strangers – try finding that in the Big Apple or Orange. And the setting is stellar, nestled amid Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The bountiful waters are leaping with fish, the lakes are fringed with spanking white beaches and the hill-and-dale landscape is paved with cobblestoned Currier & Ives villages – no wonder they call Door County “The Cape Code of the Midwest.”
In a world that seems increasingly hell-bent on belittling all-things-American, Door County locals seem to know they have it good. Gratitude seems to bubble out of the streams and everywhere you look, locals are mending fences, repainting historic lighthouses and weeding nature preserves so the spring beauties can shine. Even the goats get in on the act, climbing up on turf-and-flower rooftops to trim the lawn.
The best thing about Wisconsin is its location in dead-center America. Hop a flight from anywhere in the continental U.S. and you’ll be here in no time. Here’s our pick of the best stuff to see, do and eat.
11 am: Places in the middle of nowhere are typically reached by Tinker toy planes that can be hard on fearful flyers. The good news about Green Bay Airport is that buck-you-up fortifications are waiting for you at the wee airport bar. God created green, fertile, well-watered Wisconsin for hops and there are so many microbreweries that it’s just a matter of time before you meet the suds of your dreams.
Noon: En route to Door County from the airport, drop into the cozy Brussels Countryside Diner in Sturgeon Bay for an intro to Door County’s hopelessly fattening fare. (Abandon Hope All Ye Low-Carbers Who Enter Here.)
Order the diner’s original hash-brown sandwich – basically a heap of eggs smothered in butter, cheese and veggies on toast. The waitress will ask you if you want the sandwich with a side of rye or wheat toast because that’s how they roll here. As long as you’re learning how to eat like a local, order a side of sauerkraut and toss it on top --it’s a food group here.
En route to Fish Creek: Cherry-picking season in Door County doesn't arrive until late July, but spring is the time to break out your camera and soak in the awe-inspiring panorama of blossoms sprouting on 2,500 acres of cherry orchards and 500 acres of apple orchards.
1:30 Fish Creek: Check into the historic (1896) White Gull Inn, set on a gurgling creek in what Forbes called one of the 15 prettiest towns in America. The luxury suites come with puffy white quilts, working fireplaces, whirlpools, evening wine-and-cheese receptions, plus an award-winning Door County breakfast. The inn also hosts a 5-course progressive dinner, transporting you from one fetching inn after another in a horse-drawn carriage. www.whitegullinn.com
2:30-4:30 pm: Stop and smell the flowers on a naturalist guided wildflower walk at Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve is home to native wildflowers along its five miles of rustic trails and bridges. Some early blooming flowers to watch for include Trailing Arbutus, Marsh Marigold, Arctic Primrose, Dwarf Lake Iris and Indian Paintbrush. www.ridgesanctuary.org
5:30: Cycle or drive to Leroy’s Water Street Café in the gingerbread town of Ephraim for an afternoon java jolt. The tiny 1800s log cabin is loaded with atmosphere and serves steamy salted caramel lattes and homemade coffee cake. www.leroyswaterstreetcoffee.com
7-9 pm: Since you’ve already eaten your weight in taters today, how about a laid-back dinner with the locals at Sister Bowl, a family-owned 50s-style retro supper club famous for their BBQ, steaks and homemade chili? Special perk: after dinner, you can hit the lanes and bowl off some calories! www.sisterbaybowl.com
8 am: You can’t visit Door County and not do breakfast at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where waitresses in dirndls serve steaming stacks of lingonberry pancakes in an eatery that looks like it’s dropped out of The Sound of Music, complete with flowerboxes spilling a profusion of blooms. Hear that crunching-munching? It’s the goats – they’re already hard at work up on the roof. www.aljohnsons.coma
9:30 am: Head to the Washington Island Ferry for the scenic 5-mile cruise across Door County’s infamous Death’s Door Passage. The island is a chip off the old block with a wee historic village and a maze of hiking and cycling trails that ring around the 35-square-mile- isle past waist-high wildflower meadows and enchanted forests. (Keep an eye peeled for mushrooms!) Have lunch at Nelson Hall’s Bitter Pub, a wild and wooly bar where you can hunker down to a 5-inch-thick pub sandwich and earn your Bitter’s Club Card by downing a shot of 90 proof bitters in one fell swoop. www.wisferry.com; www.washingtonisland.com, email@example.com
Prone to seasickness? Skip the bitters and, have lunch on the mainland at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim—a Door County landmark since 1906 with an old-fashioned soda fountain and jukebox. Everything’s homemade so go ahead and splurge on a cheeseburger, fries, a milkshake or malted and a gooey banana split. www.wilsonsicecream.com
2 pm: Celebrate spring with cherry blossoms galore at Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek—With Mother Nature’s cooperation, this is arguably one of the places in Door County to see the spectacular sight of rows upon rows of blossoming cherry trees. Breathe in the fragrance, walk upon a cloud of blooms and photograph this wonder of nature before tasting it in homemade pies, cakes, preserves, cherry juice – you name it. www.orchardcountry.com
3-5 pm Door County is a haven for artists, so spend a few hours roaming the shops and galleries. In Fish Creek, don’t miss Door County Confectionary, a storybook cottage where you can load up on hand-dipped bear paws. Or visit Popelka Trenchard Glass Fine Art Gallery in Sturgeon Bay for a free glass-blowing demo and the chance to buy one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass vases, plates, bowls and jewelry. Then savor a cheese pairing at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor—featuring the largest selection of handmade Wisconsin artisan cheeses and more than 30 artisan cheesemakers. www.doorcountyconfectionary.com, www.handsonartstudio.com, www.popelkaglass.com, www.schoolhouseartisancheese.com
6 pm: Drop by Starboard Brewing Company in Sturgeon Bay, featuring a rotating menu of eight small-batch craft beers.
7 pm: Enjoy an authentic Fish Boil dinner at The Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, featuring freshly-caught Lake Michigan whitefish cooked outside over an open fire, just as it was 100 years ago. The fish boil tradition began as an economical way to feed large, hungry groups of lumberjacks and fishermen. Churches picked up the tradition to raise money, and now people from all over would come to sample it. The cooking starts outside in a huge pot, and when you see the fiery spectacle known as the "boil over," you know the meal is just about ready. www.oldpostoffice-doorcounty.com
9 am: Have breakfast at The White Gull Inn; its Door County Cherry Stuffed French Toast was honored as the winner of the Best Breakfast in America Challenge on Good Morning America. www.whitegullinn.com
10 am: Take a shipwreck and wildlife kayak tour with Gravity Trails—you’ll travel in a clear bottom kayak to spy on shipwrecks on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula in North Bay where many ships were no match for the powerful storms and gales that the area produces. www.gravitytrails.com
Noon: Say so long to Door County and drive an hour south to Appleton, home of the Mile of Music festival. Now in its fifth year, The Mile was created to give locals access to free music and has managed to retain its wholesome, non-corporate vibe. This event showcases Indie musicians from around the country, many of whom go on to become famous. You can watch them perform as you eat, drink, schmooze and dance – Appleton turns its myriad venues (restaurants, cafes, wineries, beer halls, ballrooms, chapels) into impromptu stages and once the music starts, it doesn’t quit for 72 hours.
The ticket price? There’s no cover price, but you can buy a Music-Makers badge for $139 and enjoy special perks and performances.
1 pm: Check into the CopperLeaf Hotel, a luxury European-style boutique hotel with a restaurant and bar located in the middle of town. www.copperleafhotel.com
1:30 pm: Have lunch at the swank Appleton Beer Factory, showcasing Wisconsin’s beer culture and cornucopia of organic everything. The city is ringed by countless farms, orchards, U-picks, greenhouse operations and flower fields, and that pulled pork sandwich you’re eating is so fresh it was still oinking an hour ago. www.appletonbeerfactory.com
2 pm: Roam the Downtown Appleton Farm Market, the area’s largest farmer’s market with more than 150 vendors selling all things fresh, dewy and delicious. Don’t pass on the deep-fried corn on the cob. You choose your cob from the back of the pick-up truck and they do the rest. www.appletondowntown.org
5 pm: The family-friendly music fest is a wonderful place to enjoy original music, amazing food from all over the globe and here’s the perfect place to dance on top of the tables with your grandkids! This may be the last family-friendly concert on earth and you won’t see gangs of toughs with full-body piercings, Beverly Hillbillies with $4,000 designer jeans or vegans demanding their mac ‘n cheese be made without lactose or gluten.
1 am: Technically, the Mile ends at 12 am, but when soaking in my Jacuzzi in my sky top aerie at the Copperfield, faint strains of rock, jazz, country, New Age, hip hop, classical and New Age wafted in my window -- proof The Mile didn’t turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.
The 2017 festival, dubbed Mile 5, runs August 3-6, 2017 and will feature 230-plus artists with more than 900 sets of live music between Thursday and Sunday. For up to date festival info, download the Mile of Music smart phone app at www.mileofmusic.com.
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