I recently went on a family getaway to one of the most beautiful places in all of Wisconsin. Door County is a peninsula that is approximately 70 miles long and lies in the northeast part of the state bordering Lake Michigan. With 11 lighthouses, 5 state parks, 11 golf courses, 100 art galleries, museums and performing arts venues, 2500 acres of cherry orchards, 6.5 miles of sandy shoreline and more than 23,000 acres of public and preserved land to explore, there is always something new to do.
Rich with maritime heritage, older children can learn about the history of 18th, 19th and 20th century shipwrecks and explore lighthouses and maritime museums. Younger children will be entertained by nature along the sandy beaches and bluffs and as a passenger in mom or dad's kayak. There is plenty of fun with child-themed restaurants, excursions, fishing and playgrounds at many of the resorts and campgrounds.
Our adventure began with about a 3 hour drive from Milwaukee. This included a stop along the way but once we arrived in Sturgeon Bay which is the gate of the peninsula, it took about 50 minutes to drive to Gill's Rock which is the tip. A must-do is a day trip on the ferry for a six mile venture to Washington Island to spend an afternoon.
You can bring your car and bikes along but you don't need either as you can also explore on foot. There is plenty to see on this 35 square mile island which has a population of about 700. Restaurants, golf courses, moped and bicycle rentals and vacation cottages are amongst the most popular. Transportation on the ferry is available every day of the year, weather permitting.
12 "don't miss-must visit" locations with children
The Farm-North of Sturgeon Bay, children can feed bottles of milk and corn to animals and feel what it is like to live on a farm and care for farm animals. This is a living museum of rural America and new exhibits and animals change each season.
Equestrian riding- Whether young, middle or old, every age enjoys watching horses trot and most likely wants to learn to ride. A visit to this equestrian corral is a must-do day trip in the Door County area. Family-owned, they provide safety instruction, arena, walk or walk and trot riding. This is something not to miss.
The Red Putter is an icon in Door County and known for their 18 hole mini-golf course. Located in Ephraim, this course is ideal for the beginner mini-golfer to the most advanced player. Authentic yet vintage, the greens are charming and you must get a photo of your child sitting in the large red chair. A true Door County souvenir.
Candle Dipping- Candleworks wil show and teach youngsters how candles are made. Dip your own for $2.50. The wax is hot so mom and dad need to help but children can choose the colors for their own personalized candle to take home. The store is filled with scented wax and soy candles and the staff is super friendly ready and ready to answer questions about the candle making process.
Pennsula State Park. No trip to Door County should ever be had without a trip to this state park. It is the third largest state park in all of Wisconsin. Kids love to climb the stairs of the infamous tower, play in the sand on the beach, wade in the water and hike the many paths all in the midst of beauty and nature. Parents, bring a stroller as little ones will get tired. Camping is very popular with families here. If you have never camped before, this is a great place for a first-time try.
Skyway Drive In- This is a true authentic outdoor movie theater. There are not many of these left in the country to sit in your car, enjoy snacks and watch an age appropriate movie as a family makes for one really fun evening together.
Learn to Kayak
If your child has never kayaked, the best way for a school-age child to learn is to be sure your swimmer is comfortable in water, underwater and can listen well to an instructor. Start with a two person kayak with an adult in the back so a child can get comfortable paddling in open water before adventuring on his/her own. We took the tour to kayak the bluffs and caves to make the most memorable experience on the water. They also offer a sunset trip which is better for teens than younger children.
Your first Fish Boil!
A Door County tradition that is a "must-do" is to attend a fish boil at one of the many restaurants that offer them. Whether you like fish or not, the storytelling on the history of a fish boil and the visual of the pot boil-over is worth the visit. Of course, there are menu options for non-fish eaters but the boiled whitefish (usually caught that morning) boiled potatoes, boiled onions and the rest of the fixings (each restaurant offers their own) create a memorable family dinner. We loved it so much, we did it twice. Reservations for fish boils are usually required but several time slots are offered throughout the evening. Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before your reservation to watch the show.
The Old Post Office-Located in Ephraim overlooking the lake (try and get a front window table), this family owned renown restaurant is decorated with a homestyle look. The son of the owner was our waiter and helped debone our fish once served. We were able to learn more about the family and the rich history they share in Door County. Our fish boil was led by Erv, who shared funny fish jokes, a history of the fish boil and sure knew how to make that pot boil!
Pelletiers- Located in Fish Creek in the heart of the shopping area, we really liked the casual setting as a great place to relax and enjoy a family meal. They also offer a lite eater option.
Hands on Art Studio
A must-do for any inspiring artist, this make-it-yourself art experience offers children as well as mom and dad a chance to channel their inner artist. You create personal masterpieces of clay, metal, fused glass, bead, wood and paint. Best for children who have skill and patience but there is also an adult-only time slot on Friday nights in case you brought a babysitter along. Great date night idea for parents.
Cava Point County Park in Baileys Harbor. Stand on the rock formations, make a rock tower and see the bluffs and caves. Rough Lake Michigan waters created wonders over the years and to walk on them and see their grand beauty is a priceless experience. Be sure to snap a family photo here.
Renards Cheese tour. By appointment only, witness the whole process on how cheese is made. You'll see how milk turns to cheese and get a chance to taste the result. At the tasting facility (a separate location that than the factory) visitors can try tastings of multiple selections at the cheese curd bar which kids love. Our favorite was the chocolate cheese and the sage cheese though there are many varieties to choose from and sold in many stores around Door County.
Lighthouse Tours. With 11 to choose from, an exploration of each is deep rooted in Door County history and a great way to spend a meaningful and educational afternoon. If you have a budding boater or history afficinado, don't miss this educational opportunity.
Where to Stay:
Parkwood Lodge in Fish Creek
This traditional lodge setting gives new meaning to the word glamping (glamour camping). Enjoy Smore's in the firepit at night while gazing at the stars to a comfy dip in the indoor heated pool after with a coin-operated laundry nearby. The rooms are very rustic and aged but the resort has the feel of a nature-based Door County experience. It is located within walking distance from Peninsula State Park. There are 60 rooms and 6 different styles of rooms so it would be best to review which is the most appropriate and comfortable for the ages of your children.
The Landing Resort in Egg Harbor
Family friendly, this year-round resort offers an indoor and an outdoor pool, arcade games, basketball and ladder golf courts, a free game-lending library and rooms with kitchenettes, private patios and lofts. Try to reserve one of these because it felt like condo-living at its' finest. There is free wifi, in room DVD players and Our room had 1 1/2 baths which is always a plus while vacationing with children. The use of grills is perfect for those nights you just feel like cooking together. Each morning, we took a walk around the property to Egg Harbor to watch the sunrise. A short and beautiful walk, the town is filled with cute shops and restaurants. The resort itself does not allow pets but there are dog and cat boarders nearby in Egg Harbor.
| || The indoor pool at the LandingResort.|
You can't make a trip to Door County without bringing back some cherry pie. Of all we tasted, our favorite was from The Cherry Hut in Fish Creek. There is something magical about their combination of cherries and the crust together. While they sell everything cherry on their website, they don't ship pies by mail, so we had to bring back three! They are that good!
There are so many other things to do (literally hundreds) and we could not cover them all so take a look at the Door County website and do some research to customize your trip based on the ages and interests of your children.
Make family memories!