Needing a break from the everyday, a few weeks ago we escaped to Door County, a peninsula off the east side of Wisconsin, for a Fall getaway. Surrounded by Lake Michigan and Green Bay on the other side, we didn’t have to go far to recharge and find natural beauty. Our visit during the off-season not only afforded quietness but the opportunity to social distance comfortably (we hardly saw anybody!) Here are ideas for you and the family for your own Fall getaway in Door County.
Disclosure: A huge thank you to the Destination Door County and Travel Wisconsin for hosting our family. I was not required to express a particular point of view, and all opinions are my own.
(Places listed from South to North)
Did you know that Door County has more than 275 shipwrecks? Door County is no doubt a maritime community, and a visit to Door County Maritime Museum allows visitors a glimpse into a part of that rich history. The first floor focused on the history of shipbuilding as well as small scale models. (Don’t miss looking out the real submarine periscope. On our particular visit, we could see snow falling!) While the first floor was informative, the kids really enjoyed the second floor because of the cool factor (hello, shipwrecks!) and because it was more interactive. Kids could take the helm as they pretended to navigate Elba during a storm. Other fun interactive displays include learning more about each shipwreck and trying to find treasures using an underwater drone.
It may have been cold and way too windy (with snow!) but we still had an itch to get out and explore although something short and easy! After bundling up, we headed to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve. It was an easy walk after we parked then boom – we were on the beach! Let me tell you, the views were amazing, and we basically had the whole beach to ourselves! As someone who is fond of lighthouses, I was pretty stoked to see two historic lighthouses from the beach – North Pierhead Light and Canal Station Light Tower. For closeup views of the red lighthouse, you could even walk the pier. Had we kept exploring, there are trails with views of the ship canal.
Related: Looking for more lighthouses in Wisconsin? How about a trip to Kenosha?
Wow! If you love hiking by the water, Cave Point County Park is a must! With front row views of Lake Michigan crashing against the cliffs and the opportunity for kids to climb over trees and roots and balance on fallen trunks, this is quite an adventure for the family. Every so often we could go on the ledges to admire the views. On our visit in early November, the waves were so fierce crashing against the cliffs and cave. In fact, we could even feel the rumbling of the caves. This half mile hike was one of our favorites. EVER. Even if you didn’t want to “hike” it the short walk from the parking lot to the edge of the cliff is well worth a stop!
Tip: If you have more time check out Whitefish Dunes State Park, located next to the park.
Fun fact: There are dozens of underwater caverns that can be seen by kayak or scuba diving.
If you love coffee or tea (me, me, me!), a stop at Door County Coffee & Tea is a must. It’s the perfect way to bring a little bit of Door County home with you. With so many choices, it was hard to pick but ended with a toffee almond and cherry crème. I only wish I bought more! I couldn’t resist opening up a bag up to make coffee in the morning. It was the perfect way to wake up!
If you’re looking to find a little bit of the Big Easy then this is the place to go. When we didn’t feel like cooking, breakfast at Big Easy Bagel and Beignets was a no-brainer. They serve a variety of breakfast foods from classics like steak and eggs to unique items like a breakfast pizza. And you cannot leave without trying their beignets. Pair it with a chickory coffee to complete your Big Easy breakfast.
Tip: Order a few extra bagels for breakfast the next day.
Since many of the restaurants were closed or had off hours, Main Street Market was a lifesaver. With pre-made sandwiches and salads, this grocery store with deli had great options for a grab and go meal. Plus, you gotta love a market that carries locally produced items like wine and cheese. They have fresh veggies and plenty of items to bring to your hotel room/condo if you choose to cook yourself.
Tip: If you love trolleys, you’ll pass by Door County Trolley and find many of them.
One of the most traditional things you can experience in Door County is a fish boil, and one of the best places to experience it is at White Gull Inn. The whole ordeal starts outdoors with a pot over a fire. While we were waiting, the Master Boiler gave us a little history of the fish boil and that his father had done this too. We also learned that the white fish we were going to eat was caught by his cousin. After the quick history lesson, we were all patiently waiting for the grand finale – the huge fire which signals that the fish is ready.
A basket of baked goods was waiting for us and it took all the restraint not to finish goodies (the blueberry pound cake and banana bread was oh so good!) Not knowing what to expect, we found the white fish surprisingly tasty served with homemade coleslaw, potatoes, and butter. Everything was homemade and quite exceptional. Having their homemade cherry pie with a side of ice cream was most definitely the best way to end the evening.
Wild Tomato Pizza
Everyone who goes to Door County raves about Wild Tomato. And after trying it, I believe in the hype. Our margherita pizza was tasty with tons of flavor. I loved my cherry walnut salad topped with cherries, walnuts, goat cheese, and a yummy vinaigrette, and my husband raved about his chicken Caesar salad.
This was the perfect stop to grab wine (gotta love the cherry wines!) and New Glarus beer. Since most restaurants were closed due (Covid and off season) I also grabbed soup, crackers, and cheese for a makeshift charcuterie board at our resort. With a playground on the grounds, the kids didn’t mind making the stop here.
Tip: When you’re driving through towns, make sure to take time to enjoy the scenery. Beautiful views everywhere!
I was pleasantly surprised by our easy hike at The Ridges, a 1600 acre land trust and nature sanctuary. The beginning of the hike starts on the boardwalk. While following the path, we were able to see two lighthouses, The Ridges Range Lights. When we stopped to look at one of the lighthouses, we couldn’t help but notice the the sounds of the water. Curiosity peaked, we crossed the street and walked the short trail to find ourselves face to face with Lake Michigan. Just beautiful! We backtracked and made our way to the other lighthouse and decided to follow one of the many trail paths. We followed Mountain Trail which was had a mix of dirt and boardwalk then proceeded to Sandy Trail which was a fun (you guessed it) sandy trail.
View this post on Instagram
Make your mark at Anderson Dock. Also known as The Hardy Gallery, the old dockside warehouse has been signed by visitors and residents through the years. The tradition began when boaters “signed” their boat names and the year they docked on the walls. It’s definitely a fun Instagrammable spot!
Tip: Bring paint or sharpie to leave your mark.
As you know, I stop for murals! I was surprised to find a couple on the way to Washington Island and made sure we stopped by. These two happen to be located right across each other.
As you approach Northpoint Pier, roads become hilly and winding which makes for a great photo op. Unfortunately, my photos didn’t do it justice!
We hopped on the Washington Ferry with our car then took it to Washington Island. Although it was during the off-season we still found plenty to do in a short amount of time including lavender fields, the Stavkirke, and Schoolhouse Beach, and a beach full of limestone rock. Stay tuned for more information.
Where to stay in Door County
The Landmark Resort was the perfect home away from home. The all-suite hotel was absolutely perfect! Not only was our two level suite spacious, but the kids had their own bedroom and bathroom. Having a full kitchen with fridge, stove, and dishwasher came in handy for making our own meals. The amenities we love such as the fitness center and game room were closed, but thankfully the heated indoor pool was open. Hanging out at the pool was perfect way to relax after a fun day of exploring. One of our favorite things we did every morning was go for a hike. At first the path is steep but then levels out and winds through the forest. So fun! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this resort.