Before I started my plans to visit Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, I had no idea the area was known as Door County. Now I know people who know the area will say they are on vacation in Door County but can go to a certain area or the whole peninsula. It’s like they say in the South to go get a coke – when you get there, you order everything but a coke. I am a Texan and this was my first time visiting Wisconsin. Now I have a whole peninsula to explore!
I am blown away by this flagship Midwestern destination and understand why people call it the Cape Cod of the Midwest. The temperature never rose above 78 degrees during our stay – it is by far a Texan’s dream vacation spot. If you enjoy the outdoors, beautiful sunsets, cool evenings, great food and quaint towns, you are going to love spending a summer vacation in Door County.
Door County is located in northeastern Wisconsin and covers the 60-mile peninsula that stretches all the way to Lake Michigan – that’s a lot to cover. However, don’t try to see it all in one trip – we found it impossible. Pick one or two cities to visit, then come back and visit the others. Be sure to stop by the Visitors Center at 36 S. 3rd Avenue, Sturgeon Bay to pick up brochures, maps, attraction information, and ask questions.
My trip included learning about “bubbler” (a water fountain), tasting Wisconsin cheese curds for the first time, and a real old school experience! My friend and I were accommodated on this trip and we enjoyed every moment of it. All opinions here are my own.
Hike the segment of the Ice Age Trail at Potawatomi State Park
The Ice Age Trail runs approximately 1,000 miles through Wisconsin and is divided into segments. Going through everything at once (and some do) is a huge undertaking. At Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, this is the trail end point or the eastern terminus. But you can most definitely start there too. In fact, you can start anywhere on the trail. Serious hikers keep track of the segments they have walked. I can say I hiked a segment of the Ice Age Trail… and it feels good to say! To learn more about the Ice Age Trail, visit 11 Things to Know Before Tackling the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail.
Jump off the cliffs at Cave Point
Ask anyone around, and they’ll tell you that Cave tip is a fun and exciting thing to do in Door County. It is a well-known place for jumping off cliffs into the water. Granted, I didn’t jump, and neither would I, but I watched lots of people doing it over and over again. I think if the water below wasn’t so cold I would have, or at least seriously thought about it. If you have kids or grandchildren, they’ll love this, and you might like to watch… or not. It’s a little scary, I thought.
Kayak tour in caves and dunes
Kayaking on Lake Michigan when we did it was like climbing a hill – a steep hill. Kayaking is one of my favorite outdoor sports when traveling (or even in my hometown), and I’ve always enjoyed it. However, this time the fun was there – but it was more of a workout than a pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was beautiful, our guides were great and kayaking inside a cave was the bomb, but I could have done without the waves – which made it harder to paddle. If you’re up for a kayaking adventure tour, check out Door County Adventure Center for amazing weather and awesome views. Maybe the weather will cooperate for you. Oh, they take you to Cave Point, where you can watch people jump off the cliffs into the water.
Sit back and gaze out over the bay
Sometimes you just need to sit down and take a break, especially when you are walking around all day. While we were at Fish Creek for the afternoon, we looked for a public restroom and came across a nice grassy area with benches overlooking the bay. It was down Spruce Street, and the restroom was also across the road. We sat down, looked out over the bay and caught our breath, then set off. Felt good. I am sure that no matter where you are on the peninsula you will find some beautiful places to sit and relax.
Sturgeon Bay Canal City Tour by Segway
Getting around town on a motorized Segway is not only fun, but it’s also a great way to see it all without having to walk all the way. We have covered some important areas including the historic steel bridge, the bay shipyard, and the historic town district. Guided Segway Tours at the Door took good care of us as we had never ridden a Segway before. If you are just starting out, your guide will give you a short lesson and make sure you are comfortable and confident in driving it. It seems a little intimidating at first, but I promise you will get used to it in no time.
Book a visit to Door 44 Winery
Door 44 Cave is owned by Steve and Maria, a husband and wife team who tried their luck growing grapes in a beer drinking state. A decade later, they proved that yes, you can indeed grow grapes in Wisconsin. Booking a tour is a great way to see their gorgeous new state-of-the-art facility set on a 6-acre vineyard, taste award-winning wines, get a lesson or two on winemaking, and finish with a glass of wine of your choice. Of course you can skip all of that and just relax on the terrace and enjoy the beautiful view with wine in hand. Either way, you are going to be in for a treat.
Shop the Quaint Towns of Door County
We had time to shop at Sturgeon Bay, Fish Creek, and Sister Bay, but the peninsula stretches 60 miles so it’s a lot of shopping. There are quite a few lovely shops in the two areas we were in, and in some areas the shops stay open late. We lucked out and came across an outdoor market in downtown Sturgeon Bay. I love supporting entrepreneurs and can’t pass up a flea market or anything like that.
Walk, bike, jog Sturgeon Bay
Do you need or want to play sports? It’s easy to do all three on the Sturgeon Bay walkways. Bike rental is available at Nor Door Sport of Sturgeon Bay and Bay Shore Outfitters if you don’t bring your own. During our walks we marveled at the jubilee cherry public art.
These colorful cherries were all over town and signified the celebration of 21 years of public art in Sturgeon Bay. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of these photos I took of them, but the one above was my favorite.
Take your favorite tour on the Door County Cart
Get up and take a ride on the big red wagon! Register for a visit on one of the 15 thematic tours offered on the Door County Cart. Choose from lighthouse tours, ghost tours, or family tours – it will definitely be a good time no matter which tour you choose!
Door County Maritime Museum
It might be inside, but you have to go inside to see the amazing view outside! Door County Maritime Museum added the new Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower Observation Deck to the museum in May 2021 and offers an impeccable view of Sturgeon Bay. Whether you’ve never been there or haven’t visited in recent times, the new tower will give you exterior views like you’ve never seen before! We could have stayed up there for hours.
Choose a restaurant with a terrace
Outdoor seating has become a fashionable way to enjoy food, friends, and fun, and Door County has caught on. Maybe not during the winter months, but for the summers it’s the right thing to do! We enjoyed a wood-fired pizza at Wild Tomato at Fish Creek on its outdoor patio with Wisconsin cheese curds – amazing! Italian cuisine and Sonny’s pizzeria in Sturgeon Bay has the best pizza around, and its location is right on the bay next to the bridge where you can watch walkers, joggers and cyclists. You can even see the bridge go up every now and then. Don’t limit your meal to a simple pizza, however. I had an amazing Chicken Parmesan dinner which was so filling I finished it the next day for lunch! If time permits, try a new beer at Bridge Up Brewery located on the ground floor of Sonny’s Kitchen.
Pro tip: The locals were very quick in giving us advice on where to dine, shop and play and recommended that we come back in the winter for something different. While Door County’s peak season is summer, some vacation in the winter as well. If this is something you want to explore, check out the best things to do in Door County in the winter.
Wisconsin is renowned for being a winter wonderland, but summers in this Midwestern state can prove to be an exciting place to vacation: