Door County, Wisconsin gives new meaning to a Midwestern getaway (but you can still expect to eat your fill of cheese curds). With 300 miles of shoreline around Green Bay and Lake Michigan, the peninsula comprises small, tourist-friendly towns teeming with crisp lake air, cherry treats, and local arts. It’s a reprieve for city dwellers, but also for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and those looking to unplug for a weekend (and really commit to that—service is spotty at best.) Here are the top 10 activities to add to your Door County itinerary, most of which come with a view of the water.
Visit Schoolhouse Beach
This Washington Island beach is a bit different since you won’t find any sand. Instead, Schoolhouse Beach is covered in limestones smoothed over through the centuries. It’s said to be one of only five beaches in the world like it. Swim in the clear waters or bask in the serene views from shore. Stack a few stones for a photo opp, but be sure to leave them on the beach. Since many were taken as souvenirs throughout the years, the beach is shrinking. If caught trying to sneak one, the only thing you’ll be going home with is a $250 fine.
Tour a Lighthouse
Get up close to one of Door County’s 11 lighthouses. In Baileys Harbor, you can climb to the outside gallery deck of the Cana Island Lighthouse, built in 1869, for views of Moonlight Bay. Reach Rock Island by ferry or personal boat and hike two miles to Pottawatomie Lighthouse, the oldest in the area. Learn about life as a 19th-century lighthouse keeper from volunteer docents, and climb up to the old beacon for sweeping views. Just be wary if you’re claustrophobic. Every year, the Door County Lighthouse Festival offers land, boat and adventure tours for an intimate look one weekend in June and October.
Try the Cherry Pie
In Door County, treating yourself means a dessert that often involves juicy, locally grown cherries. There are about 50 cherry orchards in the area, such as Seaquist Orchards, the largest single producer in the country. Seaquist produces a variety of cherry treats, made mainly with the tart Montmorency variety. Near Fish Creek, stop by Sweetie Pies. Opened in 1995, the joint serves pies made with cherries from Hyline Orchard, and they hand-roll all the crust.
Visit a Lavender Farm
Ride the Washington Island Ferry across Death’s Door passage to the state’s largest island. There you’ll find Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop, the largest single-site lavender grower in the Midwest. Wander around the fields of 20,000 lavender plants in near rows and circles, or grab lunch at the shop’s cafe to sit in the shade. Peak bloom falls around July and August, and yoga and massage events also take place during the season. The farm is open from May to October, so you can still walk the fields and see demonstrations about the process. Stop by the shop, which sells more than 100 lavender products from essential oils to macaroons.
Get Out on The Water
Green Bay and Lake Michigan offer a number of water sports, swimming, kayaking, and boating options to enjoy. For a thrilling afternoon, opt for a high-speed boat tour in a hard-bottom inflatable across the peninsula with Door County Adventure Rafting. The studied tour guide points out historic lighthouses, shipwrecks, and stories only a local can explain. The 1.5-hour Bayside Tour heads towards the Strawberry Islands, where you’ll watch countless pelicans fly overhead, and brings you to a vantage point of Peninsula State Park’s limestone cave. One tip: Hold onto your hat.
Be an Artist for a Day
Great for rainy days, breaks from the sun, or to flex your inner artist, Fish Creek’s Hands On Art Studio offers multiple mediums that all ages can try out. The space spans multiple studios focusing on different art projects like ceramics, fused glass, mosaics, metalworking, and painting. While they do teach classes, you can stop by on your own time to start a project, no reservations needed. You’ll have free reign over your process, but staff is on hand in case you need extra help. Pick up your pieces the following day, or ship them home.
Grab a Drink
Take a break from the water to visit one of Door County’s many breweries and wineries. At Door County Brewing Co., sip a cold beer in the backyard beer garden with live music while snacking on locally sourced food. The family-owned brewery in Baileys Harbor makes a number of Belgian-, French-, and American-style beers to choose from. If you’re more of a cider person, head to Island Orchard Cider, and order a Normany-style cider made from locally grown fruits like cherries. Take a Door County Trolly wine-themed tour for tastings at places like Door Peninsula Winery. Tip: Try the sweet cherry wine.
Enjoy the Performing Arts
Catch a musical in the great outdoors at the open-air Northern Sky Theater, or enjoy live music in the summer at an old dairy bar as part of the Fishstock Concert Series. The country’s oldest professional resident summer theater also calls Door County home. The Peninsula Players Theatre has put on performances for the last 84 years, and it’s an evening go-to. The playhouse has walls that open up to bring nature in, and during intermission, playgoers head outside to a large bonfire by the water and mingle with actors.
Attend a Traditional Fish Boil
In a nod to the area’s Scandinavian roots, an authentic fish boil is a much-needed experience. Whitefish freshly caught in Lake Michigan is cooked over an open fire in a kettle of potatoes and onions until it boils over in front of you. Many restaurants on the peninsula host fish boils, but a sure bet is the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. Fish boils take place four days a week in the summer and fall, and Friday nights during the rest of the year. It’s a history lesson and meal all in one, as you listen to the master boiler talk about the process while finishing off with a slice of cherry pie.
Take a Hike
There are five state parks across Door County to get your sweat on. Take to Peninsula State Park hiking trails for biking, running, and cross-country skiing in the winter, and peek at the scenic views and limestone cliffs that are part of the Niagara Escarpment. Rent canoes, kayaks, and bikes to see the park from different perspectives. Another popular spot is Whitefish Dunes State Park, comprising forests, dunes, a mile-long beach, and rocky shore. Don’t be surprised if you stumble across a lighthouse along the way.