When it comes to local getaways, Wisconsin has long been Chicagoland’s destination of choice, especially in the summer. Some folks zip to nearby bustling Lake Geneva. Those looking for something more remote trek to the Apostle Islands. Just under four hours from the city, Door County offers a bit of both, with lively little towns and plenty of wide open spaces.
Seventeenth-century explorer Jean Nicolet was among the first European to pass through what became Door County. The first white family settled there in 1835 and by the mid-19th century, the area was home to an increasing number of farmers, loggers and fishermen. Tourism took hold in the 1870s, with many visitors arriving by steamer. Well into the 20th century, Door was a place of simple inns, cabin style motels and humble second homes, where A.C., TV and even landlines weren’t always to be expected. Today, this peninsula tucked between Green Bay and Lake Michigan is fully up to speed on the hospitality front. Even Al Johnson’s — a family-style Swedish restaurant famous for the goats grazing on its grass roof — has become cool, with its massive new beer garden. And when it comes to accommodations, the newly opened Dörr Hotel in Sister Bay is a smart choice if you’re not into bedding down on the hard ground after a day of getting back to nature (or carding too many double bogies on the Peninsula State Park Golf Course).
Smack-dab in town, with the water right across the way, the 47-room hotel rides a rustic industrial vibe filtered through a Nordic sensibility. Steel and timber frame the soaring lobby, where you can chill with a beverage on a big sofa in front of the fireplace. Every room sports a balcony or patio, and if you need help planning your day, the Guest Experience team will devise an itinerary. Although there’s no restaurant on site, you can grab a nice just ribeye steps away at Chop, a steakhouse that wouldn’t be out of place on Randolph Street.
If ricotta gnocchi with braised rabbit and smoked carrots is more your speed, snag a spot at the Ellison Bay newcomer, Wickman House. The cooking here is sophisticated, not smartypants, not so much about spectacular invention as it is a masterful understanding of ingredients. From an ace Aviation cocktail in the bar to the unbelievably moist cast-iron chicken with hasselback potatoes served in the austere yet homey dining room, Wickman House doesn’t miss a beat.
Of course, there’s more than chowing down in Door County. Hikers will find plenty of ground to cover, from the short but tricky Eagle Trail in Peninsula State Park to the Thordarson Loop at Rock Island State Park. Two ferry rides away from the tip of the peninsula, the Thordarson Loop offers a satisfying off-the-grid experience.
Getting out on the water is a must here, though no worries if you’re not exactly a skipper. There are several boating operations with options that range from sightseeing to parasailing. For those who like to sail but not crew, an afternoon aboard the Edith M. Becker is the way to go. Operated by Sail Door County and docked minutes from the Dörr Hotel, this 65-foot wooden schooner was built by hand in the 1980s and has been around the world twice.
Before heading back to civilization, pay a visit to Newport State Park in Ellison Bay, which has been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as one of 48 places on the planet where you can still see the stars. That alone might be worth the trip. (doorcounty.com)
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