The original French explorers and fur trappers who came upon the treacherous waters separating Washington Island from the mainland of Door County, Wisconsin, called it “Doors of Deaths.”
Today, the waters do sometimes delay campers and visitors crossing back from the island. Swimmers’ warnings are placed prominently at hotels and parks. But the mainland has so much natural beauty and things to do, it’s worth it.
In 1969, National Geographic Magazine pronounced Door County “a kingdom so delicious,” and the foodie world hasn’t been the same since.
A perfect way to get an overview of the county, its history and perhaps even some secret fishing holes is through a scenic tour on Door County Trolley. They have specialized outings, like culinary tours and haunted pub crawls.
A semi well-kept secret in lodging is the Shoreside Motel at The Shallows Resort. They have a waterfront park and landing on Green Bay. Depending on the view and time of year, some of the rooms can run under $100 a night. The outdoor pool and hot tub is a convivial setting at night. When the pool closes at 10 p.m., the adjacent screened-in porch is a great place to move your party.
Door County used to be known 'round the world as “Cherryland, USA.” It’s still a vital growing area for tart Montmorency cherries. Country Ovens might have started out with a Ronco dehydrator purchased at a garage sale, but they’re the center of the dried cherry universe now.
Orchard Country Winery and Market sells over a dozen kinds of estate-grown fruits, makes its own wine and hosts horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Located in a historic schoolhouse, Door Peninsula Winery is well-known for fruit wines. They have a tremendous selection, along with some TSA-friendly small bottles. Due to prevailing laws, they’re separate from – wink, wink – but in all essence connected to the Door County Distillery, producing award-winning vodkas, gin and eaux de vie. The bartender handling tastings looks like the modern answer to Don Rickles.
If some wineries come off like the South Park “Smug” episode to you, you’ll love the casual, fun atmosphere at Harbor Ridge Winery, offering quaffable wines in a former coffee house. In the same complex is Wisconsin Cheese Masters – you're in America’s Dairyland, after all – which carries the most Wisconsin-made cheeses of any place in the state. They’re not all mac-and-cheese-type creations, either. Many have won international awards, with such sophisticated flavorings as locally grown mustard seeds or dark cocoa.
Parador serves authentic Spanish-style tapas with the finest local and Spanish ingredients until 10:30 at night.
Door County boasts several professional theater companies, including Isadoora Theatre Company. Though in a resort community, they’re unafraid to do modern, quirky productions.
The White Gull Inn is a Select Registry accommodation, but does something very down-home: weekend fish boils.
This is a super-local food tradition evolved from fishermen who got stuck on a boat with their catch. Boiling in plain water with a kerosene hit in the end gets rid of the oily, “fishy” taste. The resulting tender whitefish, seasoned only with salt, is an event and dinner all rolled into one.