Door County

Door County,  Wisconsin                                                  by: Suz Pisano

 Door County is a popular vacation destination in the middle of the upper Midwest “inland seas” of Wisconsin. With 300 miles of shoreline overlooking Lake Michigan, its scenic and serene landscape encompasses a wonderful variety of seasonal escapes. Whether you like lighthouses or landscapes painted in watercolor, boating, or just clean air relaxing, this series of quaint villages is small town Midwest, slower paced vacationing at its finest. The bay and the harbors lap at the breathtaking shoreline, filled with beautiful, lush state parks. Art galleries, restaurants, wineries, recreational activities, and a thriving culture take the place of fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Although most of the peninsula operates on a seasonal schedule, some Door County establishments operate year round.

The minute I knew I was going to visit Wisconsin, I immediately thought of one things: CHEESE. I was only about an hour or so into my trip from Green Bay to Door County when I landed at Renard’s Cheese. Since 1961, Renard’s has been making some of the best Wisconsin Cheddar in the Bay area. Chris Renard recently earned his certification as a Wisconsin Cheese maker, joining an elite group of cheddar and mozzarella cheese specialists. Cheese making is a family tradition at Renard’s, as is tasting! We don’t see a lot of cheese curds in Pittsburgh, but at Renard’s they take great pleasure in demonstrating how the fresh curds squeak in your teeth. Yes, I said squeak in your teeth. They have a great website, that sells their authentic Wisconsin cheddar cheese. I have to mention, I bought several different kinds of cheese to bring back to Pittsburgh and I made THE best macaroni and cheese using just a hint of their Ghost Pepper Cheddar!

Door County’s most nostalgic place to eat cheese curds is Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Located in Ephraim, right in the heart of this quaint little bay town stands this Door County landmark. The old fashioned soda fountain opened its door in 1906, serving up simple fare and home-brewed root beer to families and friends.  The classic red and white décor of ice cream parlors welcomes all patrons and the friendly service makes it a destination for both refreshment and relaxation year after year.

The historic Hardy Gallery sits just across the street on Eagle Harbor. The gallery, which aims to educate the public on the importance of the arts, as well as promoting the visual arts and artists of the Door County Peninsula with seasonal exhibitions, educational programs and special events that help enrich the cultural fabric of Door County. One of the gallery’s most successful fundraising endeavors is The Community Mosaic Project which sells 300 6 x 6 canvases through a lottery process, charging $25 for each canvas. You can read more about the project at

Evenings in Door County offer the beautiful sunsets over Sister Bay. Fred and Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, located on the edge of the bay is the ideal spot to enjoy both quality food, and those beautiful sunsets.  It offers a casual, relaxing atmosphere in addition to the breathtaking scenery. Reasonable prices, friendly service and a smoke free environment only add to the charm. The menu boasts a wide variety of options, ranging from burgers, wraps, salads and fish fry. Nightwire recommends Fred and Fuzzy’s original, Door County Cherry Margarita. Check them out at

Door County Coffee Company, located in Carlsville, WI is a “must see” for coffee lovers. The family owned business, which has grown exponentially since 1993 serves and ships some of the finest Specialty Class 1 Arabica coffee beans to customers near and far. Founder Vicki Wilson hosted a breakfast and tour of her company, offering a delicious meal, accompanied with even better coffee. Vicki and her staff roast several types of beans in their processing facility, which can be seen through the café windows.  If you’re in need of a little retail therapy, Door County Coffee Company offers a fully stocked gift shop, or visit their website at

By now, it’s probably clear that Door County is made up of many small villages resting on the harbor. What you might not know is that Door County is home to dozens or artists, artisans and fine craftspeople.  As an artist myself, it seemed like heaven. I saw beautiful barns converted into studios and galleries filled with patrons looking to buy and collect works of art. With a Land Trust to protect the natural environment of the area, you’ll find yourself taking a leisurely drive to admire the beauty of the area. However, that leisurely drive will quickly result in many stops at the shops and galleries are tucked quietly away on the back roads of Door County. A particular stunning example of working artists involves a visit to Morning Mist Studio at Windmill Farm where painter Ed Fenendael and his partner Frank Villigan operate a Bed and Breakfast in a restored farmhouse. The farmhouse is absolutely picturesque and serves as inspirations for many of Ed’s watercolor paintings. The Bed and Breakfast offers reasonable rates, but books up fast, so if you’re interested in staying at a great Bed and Breakfast, visit their website at

Further down the road, we stopped for a visit at potter Renee’ Schwaller’s Studio and Gallery, Off the Wheel Pottery. Another renovated farm and granary turned into creative space, Renee demonstrated pulling a pot from clay during our visit. To see more of Renee’s work, visit her website

Our next stop was Edgewood Orchard Galleries, which is one of the Midwest’s most respected art galleries. Located on 80 acres between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek, the gallery features paintings, jewelry, sculptures, glass, clay and wood pieces from more than 100 artists. In its third generation of family ownership, current gallery owners Neil and J.R. Jarosh welcome visitors to this unique place that calls people to return year and year. Edgewood hosts a spectacular sculpture garden where I felt I could wander around all day. The grounds are just as beautiful as the gallery and I highly recommend a visit! To check out more about the gallery, go to their website

My favorite studio visit was Woodwalk Gallery where painter Margaret Lockwood’s ethereal landscapes draw you in through misty layers and muted colors. The 1890’s barn and straw bale construction house 47 regional artists in a contemporary art gallery, rivaling any gallery in any city.  I fell in love with Margaret Lockwood not only for her studio barn space or her lovely paintings, but also for the way she spoke about believing in young artists. She has pieces of art in her gallery that take years to sell, but she believes in those artists so much that she doesn’t get rid of them. Woodwalk Gallery also has a large performance/event area where live music is played during the summer.  Underneath the large gallery is Woodwalk’s Handmade Paper Center. Artist Kirsten Christianson teaches classes and workshops promoting handmade paper as an art form and means of creative expression. She encourages students to explore natural materials from the environment. What fun we had creating our own paper! Check out this amazing space and all of its offerings, as well as Margaret’s stunning paintings at

Hands on Art Studio offers authentic artistic and creative experiences through many different mediums including jewelry, glass fusing, metal sculpture, spin art, ceramics and mosaics. The staff is very knowledgeable and talented! This farm/art complex has something for everyone, including activities for the young and old. My hardest decision was what to make. My traveling companion and I settled on glass fusing. We sat outside on the fresh air patio with our parts and pieces and began to create art! The studio ships pieces to you so you don’t have to worry about breaking them in your luggage. Special Adult Nights, Summer Camps and other fun activities are offered. Read all about Hands on Art Studio at

Traversing the peninsula and traipsing through shops and galleries can start to make you hungry! Here’s a few local favorites you might want to try:

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant is an authentic Swedish, family owned establishment where you can find goats grazing on the grass roof! It’s one of the most famous places in Door County and not just for the goats. Lignonberries are served by girls in Scandinavian attire and the Swedish meatballs are a must! We went for breakfast so we would be sure to see the goats, but it’s not all kitsch. Al Johnson’s is a favorite for the food, the friendliness and the hospitality. The website, is worth a look for the goat cam and the video of “How the goats got on our roof!”

Bistro 42 located at Door County Winery in Carlsville hosts a classy but casual dining experience. The menu features exceptionally fresh and local ingredients, which compliment the award winning wines. If wine isn’t your thing, Door County Distillery offers liquors and Shipwrecked hand crafted beers. We had a nice, relaxed lunch in the middle of a hectic day. I suggest trying one of their delicious brick fired pizzas with a glass of red wine.  Check out their menu at

Rowley’s Bay Restaurant is another local favorite where you can have an authentic fish boil. Chefs brought our fresh Lake Michigan Whitefish that were lowered into a boiling pot of salted water, with potatoes and onion, where they were cooked like they were 100 years ago by Scandinavian settlers. Rowley’s is a small vintage resort with so much charm; you might never want to leave. The modern restaurant presents the fish boil on a buffet with many choices and homemade goodies. When visiting Door County, Rowley’s is a must! To learn more about the restaurant, visit their website at

In addition to the wonderful tasting restaurants, Door County is a cultural hub for theatre and music. Each year the Peninsula Music Festival hosts a 3-week run of concerts featuring a symphony with musicians from all over the country. The American Folklore Theatre ( performs at Peninsula Stake Park’s Amphitheater in the open summer air. It was a wonderful experience to see such a high quality production in the middle of a state park. Another theatre worth visiting is the Peninsula Players Theatre, America’s oldest professional summer theatre. Located in the gardens of Fish Creek, the theatre was built with sliding walls that are opened on warm summer evenings.  To see what else the Peninsula Players Theatre offers, visit their website at

To request an Official Visitor’s guide, visit