Door County with Kids
Following a great two days in Milwaukee, my 8-year-old daughter and I drove to Door County for two days. I was planning on including Door County in an overall Wisconsin with Kids post, but I realized that Door County was so different from Milwaukee that, while it makes sense to combine them in one agenda, it doesn’t work to combine them in a blog post. In Milwaukee we were moving constantly since there was so much to do. In Door County time moves slower.
From what we could see, Door County is about exploring (on foot and by car), shopping, eating, and the outdoors. When I went onto Facebook and Instagram and asked for suggestions of things to do, everything fell into one of those categories. In two days we did a lot, but we also took it easy. My daughter loves to explore, so I let her – whether we were in a small town or back at our lodge.
What We Did
It takes less than an hour to drive from Sturgeon Bay in the south to the northern tip of the Door County Peninsula, and there are really only two ways to travel – either Highway 42 or Highway 57. Highway 57 is a little faster, since there aren’t as many areas where it slows down. But since Door County is all about its small towns, you may as well take Highway 42 and drive leisurely.
We loved exploring Fish Creek, Egg Harbor, Ephraim and Sister Bay. The towns are all on Green Bay, with shops, restaurants, parks and beaches (either sand or rocks). The towns are idyllic. There aren’t any chain restaurants or stores that we saw – just a lot of charming, unique small businesses. Parking was always easy and free.
Peninsula State Park
We had heard great things about Peninsula State Park – specifically about the hiking and cycling paths. Unfortunately it was raining all morning when we intended to go, so we drove through the park, stopped at overlooks, visited the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, and got an overall feel for the park, but it was too soggy to hike or bike. Next time!
We drove from Peninsula State Park across the peninsula to Cana Island, and luckily the rain stopped right when we arrived. There are two options for actually getting out to Cana Island – walking through the relatively shallow waters of Lake Michigan, or being pulled by a tractor. Both are adventures, but since the tractor was waiting when we parked, we opted for that. It was a great choice – my daughter’s favorite activity of our entire trip! We headed across the lake (really only a few minutes), got a briefing on the island and the lighthouse, and then walked to the lighthouse and climbed to the observation level. I loved the view, but it was a letdown for my daughter after the tractor ride! And of course we took the tractor back across to the parking area.
We passed at least three mini golf (putt putt) courses along Highway 42, so of course we had to stop! We went old-school, opting for Red Putter near Ephraim based on a Facebook recommendation. My daughter had a great time, and her form improved greatly between Hole 1 and Hole 18!
As you’re driving around Door County, there are opportunities to stop everywhere – farm stands, maple syrup tasting, art galleries, pie shops and lots more. There was no fruit picking going on that we could find, but we still stopped by several farms to buy fruit (mainly apples and cherries), and we bought a slice of rhubarb-strawberry pie at Sweetie Pies. Our favorite stop though was at Edgewood Orchard Galleries. Even if you don’t plan on purchasing art, you should visit! We loved walking on the forest trail, passing artwork after artwork. And yes, my daughter found one piece that she couldn’t live without. It’s now in her room at home.
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
OK, this isn’t in Door County, but we were flying out of Green Bay so we stopped first at Lambeau Field and the Packers Hall of Fame – less than an hour from Sturgeon Bay. We loved the Hall of Fame – fun to see a lot of the players there who I have been fortunate to meet over the years. And the Packers now have a new 8-year-old fan!
What We Didn’t Do
In only two days we didn’t get to everything on our to-do list. The rain didn’t help. We wanted to kayak, but the storm brought fairly rough waters. A lot of people had mentioned Cave Point County Park, but we never had a chance to head over there. And despite driving by four times, we never saw any goats on the roof of Al Johnson’s. It’s a good excuse to return.
Where We Ate
Our first morning we drove to Egg Harbor (seemed like a perfect place for breakfast). We ate breakfast at the Bistro at Liberty Square, and then later as we were driving back towards our lodge we had lunch at the Roadhouse of Carlsville. Neither meal was particularly memorable, so I jumped into research mode and we made better choices for our remaining meals. Dinner was sushi at Crate in Sturgeon Bay and was very good.
The next morning we drove from Sturgeon Bay to Sister Bay and attempted to go to Al Johnson’s for Swedish pancakes, but the wait was over 30 minutes, and my daughter was hungry. So we drove a little farther to Base Camp Coffee Bar, which had been highly recommended, and it was excellent. Get the pesto breakfast sandwich! Then lunch was also in Sister Bay at Wild Tomato Pizza and was similarly excellent. It was a lot of pizza, though, so the leftovers became our dinner.
Our final morning we dined at Morning Glory between Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay. This is not a touristy spot – everyone else in there appeared to be a regular. Very good food, although the portions are huge! We left a lot behind.
Where We Stayed
We based out of the Bay Shore Inn north of Sturgeon Bay. It was 20 minutes to Egg Harbor, 30 to Fish Creek and 40 to Sister Bay. We loved the lodge. We had a very large two-room suite with a full kitchen, and it was just steps to the pool and the beach. My daughter was constantly looking for shells in the lake, looking for bunnies around the property, or swimming at the pool. There were kayaks and pedal boats at the lake, available for free. If the water had been calmer we would have headed out.
Summary and Finance
We thoroughly enjoyed Door County and easily could have spend another day or two exploring. Basing out of the far south of the peninsula we spent a lot of time in the car. Even though we loved the Bay Shore Inn, we may stay farther north next time.
Late-August was a great time to visit, other than the rain that moved through. The days were warm, and it wasn’t crowded anywhere. We never encountered any bugs.
Our trip was sponsored by Travel Wisconsin and the Door County Visitor Bureau. The Bay Shore Inn is anywhere between $209 and $389/night in the summer depending on how large a unit you’re in.
Peninsula State Park was $13. Cana Island Lighthouse was $22. The Packers Hall of Fame was $24.
Breakfast for the two of us was $24 at the Bistro at Liberty Square, $17 at Base Camp and $22 at Morning Glory for far more food than we could eat.
Lunch was $22 at the Roadhouse of Carlsville and $26 at Wild Tomato Pizza. Dinner at Crate was $70.
Kanwal Ali says
Hey Eric, I found your blog when googling for baby friendly travel and have been binge reading since. In fact it is the first blog I have ever commented on. You have great stuff out there, really addictive! Saw that you don’t have any Thailand post up except a layover. If you have travelled to Phuket then please do a blog on it too. We have a baby who would be near two years when we travel to phuket in April and I’d love your insight if you have traveled when your kids were young.
Eric Stoen says
Nope – in all of the times that I’ve been to Thailand, I’ve never visited Phuket. I’ll write about it once we’ve visited!
Charles McCool says
That pizza looks amazing. After recently visiting other parts of Wisconsin recently, I know the state has some great food and drink.
Nate S. says
Lot of good information and we look forward to going there with your recommendations! Thank you!