The second multi-day stop in our travels took us to the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”, Door County, Wisconsin. Since we had so much ground to cover between home and the East Coast, we decided to break up the travel with a 5-day stay in Ellison Bay, on the northern end of the peninsula. Located on the small peninsula that sits between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County is just a few hours from some of the biggest cities in the Midwest, but feels like it is a world away with white clapboard churches, apple orchards as far as the eye can see, miles upon miles of rugged coast, and cherry everything. During our stay, we explored some of the beautiful public parks, tried as many things cherry as we could (pie, donuts, sour candy, milkshakes, and more), and hung out with some goats.
Where to Go: Washington Island
Located six miles off the tip of Door County and accessible only by a ferry which takes you across a stretch of water originally named Porte des Mortes by early French explorers due to the number of shipwrecks, and now referred to as Death’s Door, is Washington Island (it is also how Door County and the Door Peninsula got their names). The ferry ride, which is auto and dog-friendly is approximately 30 minutes long and crosses the small and potentially rough (our ride back was a significantly more bumpy than our ride out) stretch of Lake Michigan that separates the land masses.
The perfect way to spend a fall afternoon, we grabbed a tasty lunch at the Danish Mill (note: being one of the first cars off the ferry means that you can avoid the crowds here) that included the best basic turkey sandwiches we’ve ever had (check out our review), and headed to Schoolhouse Beach. With a beach solely consisting of smooth limestone rocks, it is one of only five sand-less beaches in the world and definitely a worthwhile photo opportunity. Dogs are not allowed on the beach, but we were able to enjoy our lunch with Finley at the picnic shelter just before the beach boundary.
After Schoolhouse Beach, we hit the road to drive the loop around the island. On our drive, we came across the Mountain Park Lookout Tower. A climb up 186 wooden steps to the top of a fire tower and highest point on the island provides stunning views of the northern and eastern sides of the island and St. Martin and Rock Islands. A great way to stretch your legs, burn off a little woofer energy, and enjoy one of the best views in Door County.
Even if you have just a few days in Door County, a trip to Washington Island should be near the top of your list. Between the ferry ride (us landlocked folks love any excuse to ride a ferry!), the fact that every view was beautiful, and that we were fortunate enough to be there in the fall, which gave us the feeling of having most of the island to ourselves, we give Washington Island 4 out of 5 rivets. The only drawback and the reason that we didn’t give it a full five rivets is the amount of time necessary to travel to and from the island, as it will consume the better part of a day.
Washington Island: 4 / 5 Rivets
What to Eat: Mozzarella Sandwich at the Door County Creamery
Cheese, locally produced cheese. Need we say more? Located on the main street in Sister Bay, the Door County Creamery has the local and tasty thing dialed in. We enjoyed a sunny, late lunch that was hands down the best meal we had during our stay. And to make the experience even more fun, we sat out on the patio with Finley and enjoyed our lunch right next to the famous creamery goats! We shared (because we each couldn’t decide on one) a Chèvre Torte sandwich and a Mozzarella sandwich. The Chèvre Torte was delightful with a perfect balance of olive tapenade, pesto, tomato confit, and fresh chèvre produced in the very building from which we ordered lunch. The winner though was the Mozzarella sandwich with it’s yummy basil, pesto, pancetta, tomatoes, and sourdough bread; and as those that always seek out locally made products, we were pleased to see a selection of local beers of which we enjoyed a Hop Jockey and Pumpkin from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. And because they were sitting on the ordering counter and looked much too good to pass up, we tried a chocolate chip cookie and blueberry lemon cookie- and we are so undecided as to which was better that we went back the next day to try them one more time. In case you’re wondering, the blueberry lemon was the winner. Barely.
For being the best meal we had in Door County and the level of deliciousness, Door County Creamery earns 5 out of 5 rivets.
Door County Creamery: 5 / 5 Rivets
What to Do: Watch a Movie at the Skyway Drive-In Theatre
Part of our mission while driving around the country is to find remnants of Americana- whether it be a roadside stop, diner, or a true tourist trap. For a relatively rural area rife with orchards and beaches, we didn’t plan to find much Americana while in Door County, but found ourselves smack in the middle of it at the Skyway Drive-In Theatre in Fish Creek. From the neon marquee to the old school speakers that we used to listen to the movie (forget this modern radio nonsense), it was an experience! With the movie scheduled to begin at sunset, we came early to pick a prime spot and were treated to 30 minutes of oldies, including Elvis and the Beach Boys. After a gorgeous sunset, the movie started complete with vintage ads and reminders to visit the refreshment stand and the weather allowed us to enjoy the entire movie in the fresh fall air with the windows down.
For being a true piece of Americana (the theatre has been running continuously since 1950) and how much fun we had with the vintage speakers, 50s tunes, and just the experience of watching a drive-in movie, Skyway Drive-In Theatre earns 5 out of 5 rivets.
Skyway Drive-In Theatre: 5 / 5 Rivets
During our stay, we also had the opportunity to check out Ellison Bay County Park in Ellison Bay and Peninsula State Park, both of which provided for some beautiful views and great trails for walking Finley. Speaking of views, one of the highlights of a trip to Door County is a visit to Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay where goats hang out on the grass roof. We’re not “kid”ding, goats live on the roof and have for many, many years (Jen saw them back when she visited as a kid), and they are so popular that if you can’t get to Door County, you can still watch them on the Goat Cam.
Need ideas for food or lodging? Check out our reviews of the retro style diner with amazing milkshakes- Wilson’s Restaurant in Ephraim; the gorgeous views and dog friendly at Harbor Fish Market and Grille in Bailey’s Harbor; and the Hy-Land Court RV Park where we stayed.