Top Things to Do in Door County | Midwest Living

Top Things to Do in Door County

Things to do in Wisconsin's Door County include Whitefish Dunes State Park, Peninsula Players Theatre, fish boils, cherry picking and lighthouse cruises.
  • Things to Do in Door County--Sturgeon Bay

    Highlights of Door County

    Roughly 75 miles long and 10 miles across, the Door Peninsula points off the northeast coast of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan and all its dreamy potential.

    The area offers more than 300 miles of shoreline to explore, along with a heady blend of culture (art galleries, painters and fine dining) and down-home experiences such as fish boils and orchard-fresh cherry pie. Visitors can hike to lighthouses (10 dot the peninsula) kayak among white-tipped waves, sip wine at jazz concerts or shop small galleries and stores.

    Click or tap ahead to find out 16 of our favorite experiences in Door County.

    More information: (800) 527-3529;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Lighthouses

    Land of lighthouses

    Lighthouses guided 19th-century sailors through the treacherous waters along Door County's shoreline. At least a dozen businesses now offer tours of these beacons by trolley, boat or kayak. An annual Lighthouse Walk encourages visitors to explore six Door County sites.

    Among the most popular to visit on your own: Cana Island Lighthouse (pictured) sits on its own tiny island; park at the end of a forested road and trek across a rocky Lake Michigan causeway to the lighthouse (weather permitting). Step inside the Keeper's House, peek in the Oil House (from the days before electricity fueled the light), and climb the stairs to a spectacular view from the top of the 89-foot tower.

    More information: (920) 743-5958;


  • Things to Do in Door County-Performing Arts
    Photo courtesy of Len Villano

    Door County's performing arts

    The arts scene in Door County has nurtured a variety of performing artists. Nestled in the woods at Peninsula State Park, the 750-seat, open-air Northern Sky Theater has an idyllic setting for its feel-good, humorous musicals about Midwest history and culture. (920) 854-6117;

    The Peninsula Players Theatre (pictured), the country's oldest professional resident summer theater, offers plays in another lovely setting overlooking the waters of Green Bay, with outdoor tables, a bar and a giant bonfire at intermission. (920) 868-3287;

    For music, look to Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a summer music school for advanced young musicians ages 13-19. By day they're taught by nationally recognized performance artists and educators; by night students and teachers perform at public concerts. Though Birch Creek musicians perform throughout Door County, try to attend a concert on the campus, an old dairy farm with a beautiful new rehearsal hall and renovated "concert barn." (920) 868-3763;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Whitefish Dunes State Park

    Whitefish Dunes State Park

    This Lake Michigan shore park attracts more annual visitors than any other day-use park in Wisconsin, but Whitefish Dunes State Park's beech forests and wetlands, plus 1.5 miles of sandy beaches and 1.5 miles of rocky shoreline, still feel quiet. 

    Windswept dunes rise up from the lake, some barren, some covered with swaying dune grasses. The tallest, "Old Baldy," climbs some 90 feet above lake level. A nice network of hiking trails and boardwalks lets you explore the area without damaging the fragile dunes. And the soft sand beach is a perfect spot for swimming, wading and sunning. (920) 823-2400;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Shoreline Charters
    Photo courtesy of Door County Visitor Bureau

    Shoreline scenic cruises

    Shoreline Charters trips, ranging in length from 45 minutes to more than 2 hours, give visitors a chance to view Door County's lovely coastline from the water. Sights include Peninsula State Park's limestone cliffs and caves; Chambers, Horseshoe and Little Strawberry islands; multimillion-dollar vacation homes; and historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse (pictured). The first mate gives a spirited, informative narrative and some interesting trivia. Most trips depart from Sister Bay. Be sure to bring a jacket, even if you don't think you'll need it; it's often cooler on the lake. (920) 854-4707;

  • Things to Do in Door County--The Ridges Sanctuary
    Photo courtesy of Door County Visitor Bureau

    The Ridges Sanctuary

    The Ridges Sanctuary preserves ancient dune ridges that are home to dozens of rare and threatened wildflowers, including more than 25 species of native orchids. In fact, this 1,600-acre plot is believed to be the most biologically diverse area in Wisconsin, with more than 475 plant species. The Ridges, on the north side of Baileys Harbor, was formed in 1937, making it Wisconsin's oldest member-based nature preserve.

    Wildflowers are the stars here, but even visitors with little knowledge of native flora will enjoy the five miles of trails and boardwalks, winding through hemlock woods and meadow down to the protected beach. Naturalist-led hikes help visitors appreciate all the treasures. (920) 839-2802;


  • Things to Do in Door County--Hands On Art Studio

    Hands On Art Studio

    It used to take a rainy day to inspire summer tourists to leave the beaches. Now they head to this vibrant Fish Creek barn and its outbuildings year-round, no matter what the weather, for hands-on art lessons.

    Would-be artists can choose from projects including fused glass, metal sculpture, mosaics and ceramic pieces. Special events include weekly Adult Nights, seasonal Rock and Roll Art Nights and Art Camp sessions for kids. Be sure to check out the silo colorfully decorated in tiles created by visitors (pictured). (888) 868-9311;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Peninsula State Park

    Peninsula State Park

    Hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, golf, a nature center and the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse are among the highlights of this Fish Creek park, one of the most popular destinations in Door County. Visit the nature center for information on hikes, crafts programs and outdoor skills workshops. (920) 868-3258;

    The Sunset Trail, a 9.6-mile gravel route, is a great introduction to Peninsula State Park. The relatively flat trail begins at the Fish Creek entrance and winds along the western and northern part of the park, through forest, over marsh and rarely far from the waters of Green Bay. The trail is open to bikes, wheelchairs and foot traffic. 

    For more information on Peninsula State Park Golf Course: (920) 854-5791;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Washington Island

    Washington Island

    Accessible by a 40-minute ferry ride from Northport Pier and Gills Rock, the 35-square-mile Washington Island offers beaches, museums and farms. The trip covers the once-treacherous waters that mariners dubbed "Death's Door" (but you’re likely to make a safe crossing).

    Among the attractions on the island: Stavkirke (pictured), a timber-frame Lutheran chapel modeled after the medieval churches in Norway built in the 15th century; and the Farm Museum, which showcases life on an 1880s Washington Island farm. (920) 847-2179;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Rock Island

    Rock Island

    The entire 900-acre Rock Island is a forested state park, where visitors discover great spots for hiking, fishing, picnicking and camping. No cars or bikes are allowed; access is by private boat or a passengers-only ferry from Washington Island. (920) 847-2235;

    Rock Island has 40 reservable campsites, picnic tables and fire rings, plus 10 miles of trails, naturalist programs and 5,000 feet of beach. The Pottawatomie Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island dates from 1836 and was the first lighthouse along Wisconsin's Great Lakes shorelines.

  • Things to Do in Door County--Fish Boils

    Door County fish boils

    This Door County cooking method, started by Scandinavian settlers more than a century ago, remains popular with visitors today. A huge black pot of fresh whitefish, potatoes and onions bubbles and hisses over an open fire. When the fish is done, a Master Boiler tosses a small amount of fuel oil or kerosene under the pot. A burst of flames causes the water and floating fish oils to boil over, and the steaming meal is ready to serve. (800) 527-3529;

    Many local restaurants offer fish boils; among the best-known is the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, which hosts fish boils four nights a week during the summer (and on Fridays the rest of the year). (888) 364-9542;

  • Photo courtesy of Door County Visitor Bureau

    Peninsula School of Art

    With a beautiful wooded setting and a main building inspired by Door County's octagonal barns, the Peninsula School of Art campus serves as a hub for the area's art colony. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the school on Fridays, view exhibits or register for workshops that range from oil painting to metalwork, pastels to pottery. (920) 868-3455;

    Artists from across the country come for the school's biggest event, the Plein Air Festival, in late July. It's an ideal time to catch artists in action, painting at easels set up in Door County harbors, along the wooded shore or above favorite vistas. Paintings are auctioned to the public in Fish Creek. (920) 868-3455;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Wineries

    Door County wineries

    The rolling land in the middle of the Door Peninsula is home to several wineries. Visit them at your own pace, or ride along on the Door County Trolley's wine tour. (866) 604-5573;

    Tours at Simon Creek Vineyard and Winery (pictured), the largest vineyard in Wisconsin, are free. (920) 746-9307;

    Door County's famed Montmorency cherries are picked, packaged and made into wine at Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery and Market, which offers free wine tastings (up to six per person). (866) 946-3263;,

    More information: (800) 527-3529;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Iconic restaurants

    Iconic restaurants

    The Door County dining scene includes landmarks such as Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butik (pictured) and Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Al Johnson's, in Sister Bay, serves Swedish staples in a log building known for live goats on the grass roof. (920) 854-2626;

    Wilson's, with its old-fashioned jukeboxes, has been an Ephraim institution since 1906. For a cheap lunch, order a flame-broiled burger and a thick malt or fresh-brewed root beer. (920) 854-2041;

  • Things to Do in Door County--Cave Point County Park

    Cave Point County Park

    Limestone ledges rise 20 to 30 above Lake Michigan, etched with caves and overhangs from eons of scouring ice and crashing waves in this park. On many days, Lake Michigan's waves crash into the rock with a resonant boom and explosion of spray. Bring a picnic to this small (19-acre) park to enjoy the show. A trail in Cave Point County Park connects with more extensive trails in the adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park. (920) 746-9959;


  • Things to Do in Door County--Shopping

    Door County shopping

    The county's tourism industry supports a fabulous variety of shops, galleries and markets. Among our favorites:

    For clothing: Maple Grove Gallery, in the middle of the peninsula, features colorful handwoven scarves, jackets, shawls and more, most made by designer and weaver Gloria Hardiman. (920) 839-2693;

    For art: Edgewood Orchard Galleries, a beautifully restored fruit barn-turned-gallery near Fish Creek, showcases work by more than 150 artists from Wisconsin and around the country. (920) 868-3579;

    For home and garden: Blue Dolphin House in Ephraim, housed in a renovated farmhouse, has contemporary furniture, home and garden accessories and gifts. (800) 765-0141;

    For Christmas: Pipka's of Door County (pictured), in Sister Bay, sells Santas, snow globes and other collectibles inspired by the sketches of folk artist Pipka Ulviden.

  • Things to Do in Door County--Cherries

    A taste of cherries

    Door County, Wisconsin's leader in cherry production, is home to almost 50 orchards. You can pick them (harvest season typically runs from late July into August), eat them in still-warm pies, or take them home in one of the county's many packaged cherry products.

    During peak summertime season, Seaquist Orchards Farm Market (north of Sister Bay) sells more than 700 cherry pies a week -- plus cherry pie filling, cherry salsa, cherry vinaigrette dressing and dozens of other cherry creations. (800) 732-8850; 

    Sweetie Pies, south of Fish Creek, sells tempting cherry, apple-cherry and cherry-rhubarb pies, among other goodies. (877) 868-2744;

    For pick-your-own orchards, check the Wisconsin Cherry Growers website.

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