Our Rides: Discovering Our Door County

Photo by Randy Stern
Photo by Randy Stern

The idea of a “summer getaway” should be one where the locale and the company you keep should be able to enjoy it. 

There are plenty of places that fit this bill. Have you ever thought about Door County in Wisconsin?

There are many reasons why Door County would be a great choice for your summer getaway. One such reason is that the Door County Visitor Bureau advertises that they welcome LGBTQ visitors to their special part of Wisconsin. 

Photo by Randy Stern

Another reason to visit Door County is that it has its own microclimate. For example, the time I went there, I left the Milwaukee area in a mini-heat wave. That warmth and humidity continued all the way to Green Bay. As soon as I crossed the Door County line, the temperatures began dropping. The further north I drove along the peninsula, the clouds loomed angrily in our front view. On the day when I traveled, lighting struck somewhere beyond our destination. Raindrops began falling on the Mazda CX-5 I was driving. As I drew closer to my destination, Rowleys Bay Resort, the rain fell so hard that visibility was challenged. 

My arrival was past 7:00 PM on Saturday evening. The rain let up. I checked into my room. It was a nice king-sized bed with a whirlpool as a bonus. My building was a three-story annex next to the main resort building, with the property lined up with cottages, campgrounds, and lovely grounds.

The window in my room gave me a view of Rowleys Bay, a large water respite from Lake Michigan. The resort had a set of docks with a public boat launch for mainly smaller craft. Next door to the docks was a place where you can rent kayaks to go out into the bay, along with a zip line. Sadly, I passed on the kayaking and zipline activities. 

Photo by Randy Stern

My arrival agenda was simple: relax and explore. Being a Southern California native, bodies of water entice me. It is not an invitation to swim or take a watercraft out onto the water, but rather a calming and joyous experience to celebrate the shoreline. This would be the theme for the rest of the weekend in Door County – the idea of being near a shoreline.

After the stormy welcome, I woke up to an absolutely beautiful Sunday morning. The energy from the sun and sky was amazing. I never saw anything about 85 degrees wherever we went. I did our best to protect ourselves from the UV rays and flying insects. 

Our first stop after a small breakfast from Grandma’s Swedish Bakery at Rowleys Bay, I took the Mazda CX-5 up towards the “thumb” of the Door County Peninsula. My attempt to check out the car ferry to Washington Island was thwarted by a very long back-up on the highway. My Plan B was to see Gillis Bay, which was the landing for the passenger ferry across the small channel they call Death’s Door.

Photo by Randy Stern

Have you heard the story about how the waters between the island and peninsula were named the “Death’s Door?” There were two Native American tribes that were at war again each other – The Potawatomi on the island; the Winnebago on the peninsula. The first attack from the island resulted in canoes capsizing and warriors drowning. The next attack came from the peninsula, where the same fate happened. The area had been ripe with shipwrecks not from native peoples, but of everyone else who tried to navigate the rough waters at the southern mouth of Green Bay into Lake Michigan.

My next step was to check out Newport State Park, where another beach welcomed me. It was a short hike onto Newport Bay where the beach and cove were welcoming.

For a late lunch, I stopped back onto Sister Bay. I perused the restaurants along Highways 57/43, and wound up at Grasses, which was actually listed on the Door County Visitor’s Bureau website under “brunch.” This place served up great food in a very cool atmosphere. 

It is worth noting that down the highway in Sister Bay was Al Johnson’s restaurant. If you look up at the grass roof, you will see two goats grazing on it. Though I never had a meal there, it was worth watching! Many of the tourists in town wholeheartedly agreed.

Photo by Randy Stern

As I have been trying to keep weight off and lighten my sugar intake, I caved in for the locally made ice cream. A survey of three ice cream shops within a few doors of each other lead me to the Door County Ice Cream Factory Scoop Shop. A single scoop of chocolate with hard chips on waffle cones was a great treat to enjoy on a warm Sunday afternoon. 

Another food theme to talk about is Door County’s bumper agricultural crop – cherries. When you have a confection with cherries, or a drink, or another food, how do they taste? The truth is that cherries are supposed to be tart. I was introduced to a locally produced cherry juice that was indeed tart, as intended. I bought a bottle of the juice up in Gillis Bay and had a glass of one at Grasses. Over dinner at the Viking Grill in Ellison Bay, I had a slice of cherry pie after dinner. I remarked that the pie was not only delicious but tart as it should be.

The Viking Grill stop came after a break from driving around. It was extremely convenient to Rowleys Bay, so I took advantage of quiet and friendly dinner service. The special came with a lot of food – roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cole slaw, and the aforementioned slice of cherry pie. Dinner was indeed enjoyable. 

Photo by Randy Stern

On a spur of the moment, I headed down Highway 42 towards Ephraim to check out the town. What transpired was a lovely sunset that danced with the cloud cover off in the distance. I just sat there until the sun disappeared into the bay. 

There were only two nights for me to enjoy Door County. As I made my way back towards Green Bay, I decided to drive through Sturgeon Bay. As the county seat, Sturgeon Bay is where everything you need is there. I passed by a lot of shops I did not see anywhere in the county. There were also a lot of storefronts that were closed and empty. However, Door County residents can still count on Target and Walmart, along with Walgreens and CVS – all right in Sturgeon Bay. I got lucky with going the Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay when we needed items to keep me going for my stay at Rowleys Bay. 

Photo by Randy Stern

It was a lovely time in Door County. I found that the people – locals and tourists – were friendly and did not pry as to who we were. I did notice other LGBTQ tourists and some familiar symbols up and down the peninsula that confirmed that I was welcomed up there. That is a sign that I was comfortable up in this part of Wisconsin.

Do I recommend Door County as a summer getaway? Absolutely! Without question! If you haven’t been, start with the Door County Visitor Bureau website (https://www.doorcounty.com) and search for ideas of what to do during your visit.

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