Explore the quaint villages of Door County, Wisconsin

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Sister Bay features Door County’s largest waterfront park, a recently expanded marina, and village streets lined with charming shops, taverns and restaurants. (DAN EGGERT / DESTINATION DOOR COUNTY)

The beauty of a trip to Door County, Wisconsin, the peninsula nestled between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, is that you won’t come across golden arches. No McDonald’s, no Dunkin ‘Donuts, no Taco Bell. Instead, a drive on country roads alongside pastoral scenes of red barns, glistening silos and verdant pastures dotted with black and white dairy cows will have a relaxing utopian effect on anyone wanting to escape the urban life.

The villages along both coasts exude a storybook enchantment created by Scandinavian farmers who settled here in the late 19th century and, more recently, people seeking artistic and entrepreneurial opportunities. Although the peak summer season draws crowds, the shoulder months of April and May, with the cherry orchards in full bloom, and late September to October, when the fall foliage turns colorful, are also ideal for visit. And during the icy winter months, ice fishing is a popular pastime.

Once you get to Green Bay (from Titletown in the US to Green Bay Packer fans), hop in a rental car and head north.

From Sister Bay, one of the most popular villages, pontoon boat captains with Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tour depart for sunset cruises on Green Bay. Cruise past towering jagged limestone cliffs known as the Niagara Escarpment, a massive, layered bluff that stretches all the way to Niagara Falls. Northern white cedars spring from its crevices. The boat passes the Peninsula State Park, home to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, with its distinctive red roof sticking out of the forest. Further out into the bay’s waters, the captain pauses at Little Strawberry Island, where white pelicans spend the summer before migrating to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

A lively performance by the Northern Sky Theater troupe in the park’s outdoor amphitheater. (LEN VILLANO / THEATER DU CIEL NORD)

Sister Bay is also home to Door County’s most famous restaurant: Swedish Restaurant Al Johnson and Butik. Crowds gather in the beer garden to gaze at the shaggy goats perched on the restaurant’s grass-covered roof. As the story goes, in the 1970s Al Johnson had the building constructed from Norwegian yellow pine in Norway and shipped it in pieces to Sister Bay. True to Scandinavian tradition, he covered the roof with grass. A friend who was playing a prank put goats on his roof; To this day, the wide-eyed and bearded creatures remain, providing visitors with an Instagram moment. Eating here is just as fun. Dirndl-clad waitresses serve Swedish meatballs, lingonberry pancakes and the most delicious perch, picked from Lake Michigan and fried to perfection.

A must stop in Sister Bay is Seaquist Orchards Farm Market & Bakery. Octogenarian Dale Seaquist and his family have been growing tart Montmorency cherries since his grandfather bought 700 trees for 6 cents each in 1896. Today, Seaquist Farm’s annual production is around 6 million pounds. cherries, and the canning kitchen produces 300,000 jars of jams, jellies, sauces and syrups. However, it is the fresh cherry pie, with its tangy and sweet topping set in a flaky crust that will send your taste buds to heaven.

Kayak along the limestone cliffs of the Peninsula National Park. (JON JAROSH / DESTINATION DOOR COUNTY)

Just south of Sister Bay is Fish Creek and Peninsula State Park. Nestled among the trees in the park is a 650-seat pine-fringed amphitheater, home to the Northern Sky Theater. The evening productions are written for a local audience, giving out-of-state visitors a window into Wisconsin culture. An old-fashioned popcorn wagon helps give this dog-friendly place its relaxed vibe.

Another performing arts group that takes advantage of the nature of Door County is the Peninsula Players Theater in a Garden. Located on the waterfront, its open-air lobby with views of Green Bay, a Door County Brewing Co. beer truck, and intermission bonfires add to the summer theater experience. The professional company attracts quality actors from as far away as Los Angeles and New York. Broadway-
inspired shows are presented in an open-air theater surrounded by a cedar forest.

Although over 20 art galleries are scattered throughout Door County, the Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek are notable for their sculpture garden. An eight-shaped path winds its way through white paper birch trees. Life-size metal sculptures of foxes, bears, and birds, along with contemporary geometric pieces, are strategically placed for viewing.

Fresh Cherry Pies at Seaquist Orchards Bakery. (JON JAROSH / DESTINATION DOOR COUNTY)

Wisconsin scores big for cheese and beer, and you’ll find both in Egg Harbor. At the Wisconsin Cheese Masters, a display case is stocked with artisan cheeses produced throughout the state, and a large sign lists some 66 cheeses by category, from Wisconsin originals to blue cheese and Gouda cheddars. Be sure to sample Colby and Brick, two classics created by Wisconsin cheese makers.

One Barrel Brewing was Madison’s first nanobrewery. Following the success in University Town, the company opened a bar in Door County. Topping their list is Door County Trolley Red, a light German-style lager brewed with cherries. Other favorites include malt-based Sturgeon Bay Scotch Ale and hoppy Penguin Pale Ale.

Traditional French artisanal cider. (JEAN NIENHUIS)

Head to the village of Ellison Bay for apple ciders. The area’s orchards inspired Bob Purman, owner of Island Orchard Cider and a 40-acre farm on neighboring Washington Island. In 2011 he launched his commercial production and soon after his Door County Cider House where you can taste the Brut Apple Cider, a champagne-style cider made from 14 apples and other varieties.

Fishing for whitefish in nearby waters is what Charlie Henriksen has been doing for the past 40 years. Today he and his son carry on the tradition at the Henriksen Fishing and Fishing House. In fact, diners can expect Henriksen’s morning catch to be on their plate that evening at local restaurants. You can buy fillets, fish cakes and spreads at its retail store. portecounty.com


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Local wines and spirits

In 1974, Door Peninsula Winery opened in a former schoolhouse built in 1868. Over the years, the Carlsville-based company has added a distillery and increased production to include 64 wines and ciders and 18 liqueurs. store.dcwine.com/winery

Gourmet hotspot

Head to the Lake Michigan side of Door County for dinner at Clover & Zot, a euro chic spot in Baileys Harbor. Beer drinkers love the extensive menu of European beers, including 16 Belgian beers. Share plates of arancini and duck poutine near the water’s edge. cloverandzot.com

Or sleep

Located on the lakefront, Jacksonport’s Square Rigger Lodge offers simple cottages just steps from Lake Michigan. The new Dörr hotel in Sister Bay puts you in the center of the village with access to restaurants, galleries, the beach and the marina. squareriggerlodge.com, thedorrhotel.com

Getting There

Fly from MCO Orlando to Chicago, followed by a connecting flight to Green Bay. Rent a car and drive north on Hwy 42/57, which eventually splits with 42 west along Green Bay and 57 east along Lake Michigan.

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