If you've never heard of Wisconsin’s Door County, you're not alone. But this lesser-known coastal spot makes for the perfect summer destination. It's an ideal natural adventure land for families to explore — with freshwater beaches, towering lighthouses, forests, sailboats, campfires and a tasty homegrown food scene. The relative isolation of the 70-mile-long Door County peninsula — surrounded on three sides by Lake Michigan — gives the whole place a rural, island atmosphere. It’s a Great Lakes getaway with small-town friendliness and a bushel of charm. Here's why this hidden gem should be on your radar.
With about 300 miles of coastline, Door County has more beaches than you can count on all of your sandy fingers and toes — 53 in all — from the splashy playground of Peninsula State Park to the pristine Whitefish Dunes State Park. If you’re feeling like an expedition, jump on a ferry to check out the smooth limestone pebbles of Washington Island’s Schoolhouse Beach, or take two ferries to reach the beautifully isolated beaches of Rock Island State Park.
Door County is a perfect place for fishing, sailing and kayaking. Boat rentals are everywhere — from party pontoons to paddle boards — and guided trips are available through a variety of outfitters. If your family enjoys nautical lore, the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay tells the stories of ships and shipwrecks, including that of the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald.
The local heritage is strongly Scandinavian, and those flavors come through in all sorts of tasty (and fun) ways. Don’t miss the famous goats grazing on the grassy roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant (for a sneak peek check out their live goat cam: http://www.aljohnsons.com/goat-cam/). And flaming cauldrons light the evening sky during Door County’s traditional lakeside fish boils, where fresh-caught Lake Michigan whitefish is cooked and served outdoors.
You might glimpse one of Door County’s eleven picture-perfect lighthouses while you meander around the peninsula’s coastline. Three of these historic navigation beacons are open to the public: Climb the 97 spiral steps of the Cana Island tower, explore the Baileys Harbor Range Lights or tour the restored 1868 Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.
Pitch a tent, rent a yurt or retreat to a log cabin by the lakeshore: Door County feels like one big summer camp. With a range of rustic parks, plus all sorts of campgrounds and resorts, families have a galaxy of options for sleeping under the stars.
Thanks to a near-perfect growing climate, Door County boasts 2,500 acres of cherries. July and August are prime time, with plenty of pick-your-own orchards and farm markets showcasing the local goods. Restaurants vie for the most crave-worthy cherry recipes, from pies and pancakes to smoothies, salads, ice cream and cheese. In September and October, the apple harvest starts another wave of picking, pie-baking and cider-making. And then it’s time for October’s Pumpkin Patch Festival.
Catch an alfresco performance at Peninsula Players (the oldest professional resident summer theater in America!) or motor up for a movie at the vintage Skyway Drive-In Theatre. Visit one of Door County’s resident artists at an open studio, peruse one of the many art galleries or check out Fish Creek’s Peninsula School of Art, with workshops for families, teens and kids as young as three-and-a-half.
By Laura Beausire