The Cape Cod of the Midwest
Door County, Wisconsin, is often referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest and for good reason. Known for its picturesque coastal towns, boutiques, fish boils, cherry and apple orchards and Lake Michigan’s tropical blue color it’s a truly incredible place. Whether you enjoy biking, golfing, fishing, wine tasting, art galleries, exploring small towns or kayaking, Door County is an ideal getaway spot. Read on for 14 awesome things to do in Door County, Wisconsin!
1. Cana Island Lighthouse
In 2019, the Cana Island Lighthouse celebrated 150 years of watching over Lake Michigan’s shore. The lighthouse is open May through October with access to the oil storage house, lighthouse keeper’s home, and the very top balcony of this 89-foot tall structure. Adults are $12, plan to spend about 90 minutes enjoying the lighthouse and grounds.
2. Fish Boils
Fish boils are an important part of the Door County culture. Originating from early Scandinavian settlers who brought the tradition to the States, you’ll find this meal to be simple, yet delicious and filling. We enjoyed a fish boil at Pelletier’s where they cook white fish caught in Lake Michigan that same day, along with potatoes, corn, onions, and coleslaw. And the cherry pie we had for dessert was one of the best I’ve ever had. Another great spot for a fish boil is Old Post Office in Ephraim.
3. Arts and Theaters
There are dozens of art galleries scattered around Door County and you never really have to go out of your way to find one. From jewelry, pottery, and sculptures, to photography and paintings, you’ll be able to find something beautiful and unique. Out of all the galleries we visited, the Woodwalk Gallery was our favorite. The Woodwalk Gallery sits inside a barn built in 1908. Once a dairy barn, today it’s a wedding venue and art gallery showing off arts and crafts from nearly 100 makers.
Door County has four breweries, each with its own unique flavors and environment. We loved visiting Peach Barn Brewery, which has only been around for a few years. We loved their relaxed indoor seating area, as well as the wide open outdoor patio and lawn, which you can reserve for private parties and weddings. I had a flight of beer and while I genuinely loved them all, the Horsetooth Hazy (mango), Ashmen Amber, and Lion Tamer Stout (chocolate and coffee) were my favorites. If you’re looking for a spot to grab dinner and drinks, check out One Barrel Brewing. Not only do they have a great beer selection, a large indoor space, and an outdoor patio with fire pits and giant connect four games, Pizza Bros. is located inside. I recommend the Margherita made with fresh mozzarella, pesto, basil, garlic oil and balsamic drizzle.
Island Orchard Cider produces handcrafted, gluten-free, hard cider. They grow their apples on Washington Island and use a ferry to transport them to their taproom in Ellison Bay. It’s a great spot for flight tastings, snacks, and bottles of cider to bring home. We loved the apple lavender, brut apple and pear ciders most. Another great spot is Lautenbach’s Orchard, which is a 100 acre family estate that grows cherries, apples, grapes, raspberries and pears which they use to create delicious wines and ciders. Be sure to check out the Cherry Pit Spit to see how far you can spit your cherry pit.
Door County has a handful of great wineries. Door Peninsula Winery is connected to the Door County Distillery and run by the same owners. Start your visit with a guided tour of both the winery and distillery and then enjoy the tasting experiences. Our favorite wine was the Itasca, a dry white wine with notes of pear, peach and melon. Itasca is a new grape varietal developed at the University of Minnesota, and it comes with a refreshing, bright acidity. Another great winery is Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery. Mentioned above, they grow a wide varieties of fruits on this 100 acre estate. Another great winery is Stone’s Throw Winery. They ship in premium California grapes to create exceptional wines!
7. Door County’s Quirkiness
Door County has a few unique and unusual attractions for those looking to mix it up. Try the cherry pit spit at Lautenbach’s to see how far you can spit a cherry pit. Watch the goats sunbathing on Al Johnson’s grass roof, join a polar bear swim in the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan in January, deep dive to see Lake Michigan’s shipwrecks or take a haunted pub crawl trolley tour ride.
Door County has a unique relationship with goats. Across from the Door County Creamery is Al Johnson’s, a restaurant with goats grazing on the grassy rooftop. At the Door County Creamery you’ll find artisanal cheeses and sandwiches, ice cream made with goat’s milk. Goat farm tours are also available with tastings.
9. Parks and Trails
Door County is a stunning place for camping, hiking, birding, paddling and boating. It’s a true oasis for those who love being outside. Some of the most popular spots are Peninsula State Park, Rock Island, Ellison Bluff Overlook, Sunset Beach, Newport State Park and Horseshoe Bay Run.
10. Go for a Scenic Drive
If you’re less into hiking, and more into scenic drives, explore the Door County Coastal Byway. The byway connects you to three state parks, ten county parks, beaches, hiking and biking trails, scenic vistas and all of your favorite Door County shops and restaurants.
11. Coffee Shops
Door County has nearly 20 coffee shops, so you can find one just about anywhere. We really enjoyed Blue Horse Beach Cafe in Fish Creek. It has an indoor seating area with large windows overlooking Lake Superior, as well as a shaded and quiet back patio. The coffee, latte and chocolate pastry we shared was delicious.
Door County has a handful of beautiful and upscale boutiques with jewelry, clothing, purses and more. Some of the best are Jackalope Trading Co., Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records, and Sister Golden.
13. Trolley Tour
One very unique way to experience Door County is a guided trolley tour. Enjoy a scenic lighthouse tour, a private trolley ride for your wedding or special event, a wine, spirits and brew tour, a cherry blossom tour, a wine, chocolate and artisan cheese tour, a haunted pub crawl and more!
14. Where We Stayed
During our visit to Door County we stayed at Julie’s Park Cafe & Motel. There you’ll find clean motel rooms, as well as spacious cabins just down the road. We stayed in a cabin and enjoyed having a full kitchen, roomy living room and two queen beds. Julie’s also has a great reputation for their breakfast, and you don’t need to be a motel or cabin guest to dine here.
Plan Your Trip
Door County is a true midwestern gem with cherry blossoms, the light blue waters of Lake Michigan, wineries and art galleries. And summer is the best time to visit! Looking for more Wisconsin travel ideas? Check out my blog post on 8 bucket list travel destinations in Wisconsin, which covers Milwaukee, Madison, Wisconsin Dells, Vilas County, La Crosse and more! Or, read my article on 20 dog-friendly things to do in Madison, Wisconsin!