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Aerial view of Cana Island Lighthouse by water in Door County, Wisconsin, United States
Dan Eggert

Door County, Wisconsin: Not Just a Summer Destination

Door County Wisconsin is no longer just a summer destination. Dubbed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” Door County offers gorgeous lake beaches and summer fun, however, you shouldn’t rule it out for a winter stay. I had the opportunity to visit Door County in February, and while it wasn’t as snowy (or as cold) as I anticipated, we did get some snow, it wasn’t exactly balmy out, and the days were filled with plenty of outdoor and indoor activities. Here are six reasons why you should visit Door County during the colder months of the year.

1. Delicious Food

A large crowd of people gathered at the base of a hill, with a goat approaching the camera on top of the hill
A curious goat approaches the camera at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant | Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & ButikAl Johnson's Swedish Restaurant & Butik

Every meal I had in Door County was delicious and/or unique. Unsurprisingly, cheese is a main offering at many restaurants and cafes in Door County. Some top spots to grab a bite to eat are: 

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant – Sister Bay

A staple in Sister Bay, Al Johnson’s is a must-stop for breakfast or brunch at some point during your stay. Delicious Swedish pancakes, Swedish meatballs, and lingonberry lemonade are just a few of the traditional Swedish items you’ll find on the menu. In the summer months, visitors are delighted to see goats grazing on the roof—a tradition that started fifty years ago. After your meal, browse Al’s Butik, where you can pick up a pair of traditional Swedish clogs, Scandinavian clothing and gifts, and specialty food items. 

Door County Coffee and Tea Company – Sturgeon Bay

Door County Coffee and Tea is a must-stop for coffee lovers, and quite frankly, anyone who likes good food. A family-run business, they get their beans from around the world and do the roasting on-site. Their bags of seasonal flavors sell out fast, and customer favorites are dark roast Death’s Door, the caramel and Irish creme-flavored Highlander Grogg, and cinnamon hazelnut. Breakfasts are delicious and feature their hashbrown potato bake or breakfast burrito, and the lunch menu includes a housemade chicken salad croissant and Door County Cherry Salad. 

Renards Artisan Cheese – Sturgeon Bay

The Melt Bistro at Renard’s has cheese in every form: grilled cheese, cheese melts, mac and cheese, cheese spreads, and of course, cheese curds. The honey truffle melt may just be the best grilled cheese I have ever tasted, and I have had a lot of grilled cheese in my life. Wash everything down with a blueberry lavender lemonade or a hot chai topped with whipped cream. Renard’s shop has several varieties of cheese you can purchase to take home. 

Shiny Moon Cafe – Fish Creek

Located above Fish Creek Market, the Shiny Moon Cafe is the perfect spot for a quick breakfast or lunch while out and about in Fish Creek. Serving breakfast all day, you can get homemade pastries, egg biscuits, an acai or granola bowl, or a delicious soup or a sandwich for lunch making for a quick yet satisfying stop. 

Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club

Supper Clubs are a staple in Wisconsin, so visiting one during your stay to Door County is almost required. Traditionally supper clubs were only open for supper, and were a gathering spot for locals. Many are now open for other meals and are regular restaurants. The Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club not only offers lunch and supper, but you can also bowl a few lanes while you’re there too!

2. The Wineries, Cideries, and Breweries 

Flight of beer from One Barrel Brewing Company in Door County, Wisconsin
A flight of flavorful brews from One Barrel Brewing Company | Megan JohnsonMegan Johnson

While Wisconsin may be known for its beer, wineries, and cideries are also popping up throughout the state, with Door County as no exception. 

Island Orchard Cider – Ellison Bay

As the name suggests, Island Orchard Cider’s orchard is located on Washington Island in Door County. The Cidery is located in Ellison Bay, much easier to access than the ferry ride to Washington Island. They offer a wide variety of hard ciders, from the basic (but delicious) Brut Apple Cider, to flavors like Apple Lavendar and Apple Cherry. And don’t worry, if you don’t drink alcohol, they offer plain apple cider, hot or cold. You can also try their cider and pomme vinegars during your visit.

Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market – Fish Creek

Cherry pit spitting contest, anyone? At Lautenbach’s, not only can you taste delicious cider and wine, but you can also try your hand at cherry pit spitting. See if you can break the festival records of the best cherry pit spitters –  forty-eight feet-one inches for men, forty-four feet-five inches for women, and thirty-two inches for those under eighteen. A mix of fruit and grape wines and hard ciders will go down easy before you stroll around the large market. 

One Barrel Brewing Company – Egg Harbor 

One Barrel Brewing Company isn’t only for beer drinkers – they also produce a variety of their own hard ciders and seltzers. From their juicy IPA, Ninja Dust, to their Banjo Cat Black Porter, there is something for every type of beer drinker at One Barrel. Kids(and dogs) are more than welcome to come along to One Barrel, there are even old-school Nintendo game consoles available to play! If you’re hungry, Pizza Bros operates inside the brewery. As a non-beer drinker, I was pleasantly surprised I was able to get a cider flight during our visit! 

Door Peninsula Winery/Door County Distillery – Sturgeon Bay 

Located in an old school house, Door Peninsula Winery produces loads of delicious wines and ciders, and housed in the same building, Door County Distillery makes fantastic spirits including gin, vodka, and brandy. Take a tour of both establishments at the same time for only $3. 

3. Art Galleries 

Mary Ellen Sisulak, artist and owner of the Turtle Ridge Gallery, sitting with a furry friend | Door County

Fill your day gallery hopping throughout Door County. Over a dozen galleries are found on the peninsula, including: 

Blue Dolphin House and Studio – Ephraim

Consisting of two buildings, the Blue Dolphin House and Studio has paintings, glass items, hand-made jewelry, and more. Perfect to pick out a unique gift from your stay in Door County. 

Original paintings, ceramics, glass, jewelry, fiber art, and even some wood furnishings make Fine Line Designs a unique and inspiring stop while you are gallery hopping. 

This husband and wife-owned Plum Bottom Gallery features 200 nationally collected artists with a variety of items, ranging from wall hangings, jewelry, glass, and pottery. 

Located in the Mink River Nature conservancy, the location itself is a work of art. Turtle Ridge is made up of a gallery featuring the artwork of Mary Ellen Sisulak, plus a boutique shop where you can purchase a leather bag made on-site, clothes, jewelry, and more. 

4. The Winter Fish Boil at White Gull Inn – Fish Creek

The front entrance of the White Gull Inn in Door County, Wisconsin, United States
White Gull Inn

Traditionally an easy way to feed large numbers of people after a day of fishing, fish boils have been a staple in Door County since the Scandinavians settled in the area. While most places only have fish boils in the summer months, the White Gull Inn offers them on Friday nights in the winter. Guests crowd around while the fire is burning, and get a quick lesson from the Master Boiler as he cooks the potatoes and fish, using salt and water. Once the fish is cooked, the Master Boiler tosses kerosene on the flames under the pot, causing a giant burst of flames, which makes the fish oils boil over the side of the pot, and a sight to behold! Guests then move inside where the fish, potatoes, coleslaw, and cherry pie are served.

5. Outdoor Activities

Two people cross country skiing at dusk in Door County, Wisconsin, United States
Door County

The summer in Door County is filled with things to do outside, and (as long as you don’t mind the cold), so is the winter!  Some outdoor highlights for the winter include: 

Ice Fishing 

Once a necessity for survival in Door County during the winter, ice fishing is now a favorite pastime of residents and visitors alike. JJ’s Ice Fishing offers fishing tours, which include bait, gear, shanties, demonstrations, and guidance on this popular winter activity. Unfortunately, during my visit, the ice was not thick enough to see the ice fishing demonstration, be sure to book a guide to ensure you aren’t going out on thin ice.

Cross Country Skiing 

While Door County isn’t exactly the mountains, there are plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing. Rent cross-country skis from Nor Door Sport & Cyclery to explore Peninsula State Park and its sixteen miles of ski trails. 

Open Door Bird Sanctuary

Throughout the winter, Open Door Bird Sanctuary hosts Winter Open Days for visitors to come and meander through the 32 acres, as well as to meet the resident raptors. Private tours are also available if you are visiting during a time a Winter Open Day is not offered. Residents include owls, hawks, eagles, and more. 

The Ridges Sanctuary – Bailey’s Harbor

The Ridges Sanctuary is designated a Wisconsin State Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, a National Audubon Important Bird Area, and a Wisconsin Wetland Gem. There are five miles of rustic trails and bridges perfect for hiking or snowshoeing. Its name derives from the natural ridges and swales formed throughout the years as the Lake Michigan shoreline changes. 

6. Newport State Park, An International Dark Sky Park – Ellison Bay

At Newport State Park you can take a short walk through the woods to come out to a clearing on the shore of Lake Michigan with stunning views of the night sky. Parks that wish to become an International Dark Sky Park must fit several criteria including that the Milky Way is readily visible to the unaided eye, there are no nearby artificial light sources, and more. Check the events calendar for special events, including a candlelight ski/snowshoe/hike. Be prepared to be awed by the night sky as you have never seen it before. I was lucky enough to be in town during one of the candlelight hike nights, walking through the freshly fallen snow guided by candles, to come out onto the shore of lake Michigan to the view of a breathtaking night sky. 

Where to Stay in Door County

Westwood Shores Waterfront Resort

Made up entirely of 1-2 bedroom suites with kitchens, and a living room, Westwood Shores is a great place for families to stay. Located on Sturgeon Bay, many are waterfront suites, providing beautiful views of the bay. Amenities include an indoor pool, outdoor pool, coffee, and fitness center. 

The Author of this story was hosted by Destination Door County

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