Let the Summer of long road trips continue! Eric + I visited Door County once a few years back but we don’t count it because it was roughly 1 night and it was storming the whole time..so this was our first time experiencing everything!
When chatting with others, a lot of local people either choose the North Shore or Door County for their long weekend getaways, so we were about to compare the two to see which we liked better but boy we were in the wrong! They are completely different and both amazing in their own respect.
Door County reminds me of the east coast – everything from the quaint shops, Cape Cod houses, wineries, and the marinas in each town. Located about 5 hours east of the Twin Cities, Door County is known for it’s long shoreline, beautiful parks, and charming towns. We arrived late afternoon on Thursday and stayed through Sunday and we already can’t wait to come back! There are a ton of things to do and we felt we barely scratched the surface! We were surprised at how busy it was even during COVID summer, but a lot of places had great protocols in place and we felt safe with what we did. Read on below for the things we did and some tips for planning your next trip!
Our Top Highlights
These were our top highlights from the weekend – I’ll explain more with each location below!
- Date night at the Pearl Wine Cottage
- Taking the Ferry to Washington Island
- Lavender fields at Fragrant Isle
- Fish Boil at the Old Post Office
- Cherry Pit Spit + Cider Tasting at Lautenbach’s
Drink & Dine
While we visited during COVID summer, every restaurant still seemed busier than ever. I would suggest pre-making reservations if possible just to avoid long wait times or even to be turned away. We had a late day one night and struck out several times – even for take out! Each restaurant was pretty good about mandating masks and social distancing. Even so, we chose to eat outside or order take out and take it back to our lodge and eat on our balcony!
Pearl Wine Cottage
As stated above, our date night at Pearl Wine Cottage the first night was one of our favorite things we did the entire weekend. Located in Ephraim, this wine cottage is quaintly situated a couple blocks from the water so it’s easy to walk and catch the sunset, but still secluded enough to feel like your own little escape. It’s open Wednesday – Saturday 4pm-9pm weather permitting, as they only have outdoor seating available. It’s first come first serve, and masks are required inside to order. They have a great variety of wines to choose from and small plates! I ended up doing a rose flight and we shared the combo board – all were fantastic and the staff was amazing! They gave us local recommendations for the rest of our trip and were so friendly and hospitable during our visit.
Head right through the little alleyway lane past the Pearl and you’ll find a doubly adorable spot called Trixie’s. Serving food + wine, they are open for inside and outside dining that’s also first come first serve. We ended up enjoying our time so much at the Pearl we ordered take out from Trixies our first night and then came there for drinks our last night in Door County. The ambience is cozy and romantic, with dim lighting and candlelight inside with touches of flowers & soft pinks and gold accents. They also have a large selection of wine here but come for the food! The menu is centered around small plates + shareable which personally is my favorite way. We tried the Cacio e Pepe, skirt steak, tempura whitefish, and the roasted pear ravioli. All were absolutely phenomenal. We ended up getting the Cacio e Pepe again our last night! (We also ate it so fast there was not photo taking involved, hehe)
Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream
A classic Door County landmark, Wilson’s has been in the heart of Ephraim since 1906. Mostly known for their ice cream, they also have a killer home brewed root beer and flame broiled burgers. We ended up coming here a few time for sandwiches, root beer floats, and burgers! They are only doing parties of two in at a time to order ice cream and they have a great numbering system in place to help with social distancing!
Bearded Heart Coffee
Located on the other side in Bailey’s Harbor, Bearded Heart Coffee has one of the best latte’s I’ve had! It’s called the Beautiful Burnt Goat and it has house made dark + salty caramel topped with espresso and goat milk. Definitely worth a try if you visit! They have breakfast there I got the avocado toast and breakfast sandwich for Eric and both were delicious! You can also order online ahead and pick up at their pick up window to save time.
One of the top breakfast recommendations I received was for Good Eggs breakfast and now I know why! Good Eggs gave me a west coast in the woods vibe with their little breakfast cabana located between the pines. I’ve heard the experience is amazing, watching them make your omelet wraps, but due to COVID the whole inside is closed to the public and you are only allowed online orders. So hot tip: ORDER AHEAD! Order online through their website – it couldn’t be easier. During the morning it will usually take about 40-45 minutes so just plan ahead, order online and maybe hang out by the water or visit a shop while you wait! It was definitely worth the wait. The ingredients were fresh and it filled us up until dinner!
Jackson Harbor Soup
Located on Washington Island, this is a local’s favorite. Its actually situated on the far northeast corner of the island, Jackson Harbor Soup is right on the water where you can sit and enjoy views of Rock Island (which is currently closed to the public for now). Grab a table on the patio and order inside (masks required) they have great panini’s + soups with a nice selection of local beer and wine too. We both had the chicken pesto panini and it was delicious!
Another Washington Island favorite, most people come here to join the Bitters Club! A historic landmark that was establish in 1899, Nelsen’s Hall is the oldest continuously run tavern in the State due to the sale of Angustora Bitters. The owner secured his pharmaceutical license to sell bitters as he said it was a stomach tonic and that is how Nelsen’s was able to stay open during prohibition. Scroll below to “things to do” to learn how to join the club!
On your way in or out of Washington Island, you’ll see a building covered in bright yellow. That’s The Albatross! It’s a popular spot to grab burgers, chicago style hot dogs, or ice cream. They also have an Alby’s Nest for adults with Door County beer and wine. I had to stop because of their signature soft serve cone – they put eyes on your ice cream! It was whimsical and fun and the soft serve was actually really good!
You know I’m also down for a great latte to start the day, so I had to go to Discourse to kick off our Saturday! Another popular recommendation from you – this hip shop is located in a little shopping center in Sister Bay. One group is allowed in at the time and masks are required. You are able to order online for pick up as well! They are known for their hand crafted drinks – each one evoking emotions and telling a story. Their concoctions and offerings are super unique so I highly recommend you popping in to order and chatting with the staff there. They are super upbeat and passionate about what they do, and they can held direct you to a drink of your liking. I of course chose my trusty maple but there was hint of salt with it too. I chose the pear vanilla latte for Eric and both were delicious!
Old Post Office
Located in Ephraim – this spot is known for breakfast with a view! The Old Post Office is also known for their traditional Door County Fish Boils which is what we did our last night there! Read about our fish boil below under “things to do”!
Door County Creamery
A staple for all things creamy, we stopped at the Door County Creamery on our way back from Washington Island! Their kitchen was closed for the evening but they do have a handful of small little tables on their front patio if you choose to dine there! We popped in and definitely got our hands full with their cheese! They are known for their cheeses, gelatos, and goat milk soaps. We snagged the Chevre which is french for goat cheese! They had several different flavors but we went with the truffle and it was divine.
Ephraim Coffee Lab
Another local and community favorite is Isely Coffee which you can find at the Ephraim Coffee Lab. Located along my favorite little street in Ephraim, the coffee shop is currently only doing online orders for their coffee shop. However, pop by around 4ish on the weekends and they have a little beer garden in their backyard! Serving local and surround areas brews – it’s a chill atmosphere!
Lautchenback Orchard and Winery
While I was researching before our trip, Lautenbach’s Orchard kept coming up as a must-stop so I decided we had to go! We ended up stopping here on out way home on the niecest day. They have a large shopping store filled with gifts and goodies to remember Door County but also they have a great selection of Cherry everything! By the end of your trip, if you didn’t know Door County is all about cherries you must be doing something wrong, ha! There were SEVERAL cherry orchards on our way up and around but we decided on this one and loved it! We ended up getting freshly picked cherries, along with cherry pies, cherry brats, cherry apple juice, and cherry lagers. On the other side of the store you are able to do a wine or cider tasting too! They have full glasses, flights, or tastings available so options for everyone! Eric did a summer wine flight and I did the Cider flight. We sat out on their patio and sipped and nibbled our cherries and saved our pits because right next to us they have a funny Cherry Pit Spit! We had a good laugh doing this and I ended up beating Eric by about 4 feet farther!
There are SEVERAL adorable shops in Door County that I was pleasantly surprised. I thought they may be kitchsy or touristy but they have a craft for locally made goods and unique items too!
Jackalope Milk @ Jackalope Trading Co
A top contender on my list I knew had to visit here after the gal at the Pearl wine cottage told me to stop here too! Jackalope Milk is located in Baileys Harbor and has a great selection handmade accessories and home goods made by the owner, Sage. A range of bags, backpacks and home goods, these pieces are made from handmade textiles and Wisconsin tanned leather. The trading co part comes in with other curated products made by local artists and other small, female driven companies. Each piece is unique and beautiful.
Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records
Discovered on my drive to grab breakfast – Rusty Dusty is the coolest shop! A ton of vintage and vinyls, Eric had a ball in here. The owners were super nice and you can tell they have knack for finding one of kind and off the beaten path pieces that just all seem to work. Highly recommend popping in here for some treasures.
Right next door to Rusty Dusty is this adorable cottage shop called Lightbox. I was able to meet Lucy, the owner who does all screen printing in house! She does prints, fabrics, and tee’s alongside a curated selection of other goods – including plants so you know we had to snag one! You can watch her work as her studio is right there in the open and see her creativity flow. Another cool shop in Door County to pop into!
Chelseas + Blue Willow Shop
Located right off the highway when you’re heading into Baileys Harbor you’ll see a pretty white sign that reads Chelsea’s Antiques and make sure to stop! It was the most charming little garden with 3 little shops in one area. We started with the Blue Willow shop and definitely spent way more time in there than we should have, ha! It’s a fun gift shop and home decor place but really the shop is so beautifully curated everything caught my eye. We ended up buying a few books and games to enjoy. Walk across to the blue barn for antiques or they also have a small shed in the back with additional antiques.
Another beautiful home decor shop in Fish Creek – Sister Golden is a mother-daughter duo shop actually started online in San Franciso and then built its roots in Fish Creek! It offers a thoughtful collection of one of kind pieces from creative artisans all around the world. I definitely peeked at a ring from Israel and a quilt from India!
Bring your man here! I was walking to another shop when I spotted Bison Bison, and immeitally called Eric to get out of the car and come in. This shop has a cool curation of wine, spirits, beer & cigars as well as eclectic, but curated retail options. I ended up buying a funky cheese board here and Eric purchased a new wallet, Polaroid film, and more. Definitely a different kind of shop compared to the rest in Door County, but we dug it!
Things to Do
As I just listed out all the places we visited above, I also wanted to highlight some of the things we did too that really stood out to us!
Visit Washington Island
Definitely give yourself a whole day and bring your car! You must take the ferry and purchase tickets! It is $55 for a round trip for a vehicle + 2 persons. Some people bring bikes but I found that a lot of places we visited on the island were pretty spread out so I was happy to have a car.
Explore the Lavender Fields at Fragrant Isle
Located on the Island, Fragrant Isle was actually my main reason for visiting! It is the perfect time to go right now as the blooming season for lavender is early July to mid August. It is $5 a person to enter the fields, but if you shop in their retail shop, a $20 purchase gets 2 people in with your receipt! If you are going to shop regardless, shop first! There is also a bistro on site for lavender flavor drinks or cocktails and a U-pick station where you can pick your own lavender too.
Join the Bitters Club
One of Eric’s main reasons to visit the Island was of course to join the Bitters Club! To join the Bitters club, you (simply) have to take a full shot of their Angustora Bitters. Order one for $5 then you get your official club membership card and get to sign the book! Eric partook in the action but I decided to sit this one out, ha! Some say your club card never expires, but some say it expires after a year! So you’ll just have to revisit for your yearly shot of bitters!
Go to a Fish Boil
Another thing everyone recommended to me was catching a fish boil and I’m so glad we did! The Scandinavians are credited with brining it to the county over 100+ years ago and the The Old Post Office specializes in carrying on the tradition! We did make reservations for the first seating on Saturday as it was potentially going to rain – so definitely plan ahead and reserve if you can! We checked in about 30 minutes early where they showed us our table, and then we headed out back to watch the action. The boil master, Jeremy, has been doing this for years and has lived in Door County his whole life. We had freshly caught Lake Michigan Whitefish for the evening and it was delicious! The boil itself takes about 30 minutes, where they start with the potatoes then add onions and then for the last 7 minutes they add the fish. When the oils from the fish rise to the top, kerosene is added to the flames creating the “boil over”, signaling that the catch is ready to serve! Everyone then returns to their seat, where the staff now brings you your plate with fresh whitefish, red potatoes, little white onions, assorted homemade breads, and you finish with fresh baked Door County Cherry Pie. It was roughly $20 a person (not including alcohol) an it was well worth it!
Visit the Hardy Gallery
An art gallery located right on the water, the Hardy Gallery is a popular photo op spot! We came here to check out the unique warehouse that houses the gallery inside. It wasn’t open when we went but check their website for more hours and information about installation they currently have! There were several sandbags around because the was is so high this year. So definitely be cautious when you are exploring around there as the water was overflowing in some parts!
Other things to do
Door County has to much to offer I really do think we barely scratched the surface! There are several activities and restaurants we missed because we were just having such a great time with everything else! My biggest piece of advice is enjoy Door County but don’t rush around to do EVERYTHING. Enjoy the moment and activities you do experience because this really is a magical and beautiful place!
- Mini golf – Red Putter mini gold is an iconic spt in Door county where they even have a Mini Golf Tournament!
- Hike – This is one thing we actually didn’t do but I will be back to do it! The Peninsula has countless parks and state parks to hike and explore! The weather wasn’t quite ideal the days we had open!
- Bike – There are a few places in the County where you can rent bikes or Mopeds to explore the area!
- Rent a watercraft – Another popular activity is to kayak around the bay! We saw several outfitters along the way to help you with this. We also looked into booking a boat tour or even sailboat cruise but simple ran out of time or had inclement weather! Definitely a top choice for my next visit!
Where to Stay
We happened to stay out the Village Green Lodge as they had a last minute opening (we actually booked only 3 days before leaving!). It is located in Ephraim about a block up off the main road. It was located in quiet, secluded setting and we ended up loving it. It was nothing fancy but our room had a cozy fireplace and a little balcony right out the door to view the little forest behind! It was also just steps from everything in Ephraim. I would definitely stay there again and the owners were incredibly kind!
If you are looking to book and not sure WHICH town to stay in I would suggest staying in Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay or even Baileys Harbor which is on east side of the Peninsula. These towns are all minutes from either other and kind of contain the most “action”. Sturgeon Bay is another choice but I felt it was a bit far out from everything we wanted to do.
If we were to book again I would probably book in Egg Harbor, Ephraim again, or Sister Bay! I also would not advise to STAY on Washington island. You could definitely do the Island in a day and the ferry on a busy weekend has quite a bit of a wait. I would dedicated a day for the island, but I dont think you need much more than that. Also, this is only my opinion on what I would prefer to do!
Wow, if you made it this far THANK YOU! This post was a labor of love to share everything we did and enjoyed! If you visit you really can’t go wrong with anything there – it was all beautiful and everyone we met was so incredibly nice. If you have any other questions or wondering about something I did cover, please let me know! I’m already planning my return trip to adventure and experience more things!