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The Charms of Door County

Nearly 300 miles of shoreline and an array of charming villages have helped earn Wisconsin’s Door County its nickname: the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Set between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, the region has an impressive 53 public beaches to kick back on. You can spend your days on the water, taking sailing lessons and chartering a fishing guide, or exploring the area’s historic lighthouses, cute cafés, endless quaint shops and famous cherry festivals. With so much to take in, the long days of summer are an ideal time to experience all Door County has to offer.

Kick off your vacation at Gills Rock, known as the Top of the Thumb. From there you can catch a ferry to Washington Island. On the way you’ll pass through Porte des Morts, a strait that connects Lake Michigan and Green Bay and from which Door County gets its name.

Once on Washington Island, you can rent a bike and follow your nose to the acres of lavender at Island Lavender. Keep an eye out for the newly rebuilt Viking Garden Pavilion, in the center of the farm’s flower fields. You’ll find the Historic Island Dairy next door. Formerly the epicenter of the island’s dairy business, the space has since been converted for a variety of uses, including a lavender market, an island historical exhibit and an art gallery. After you’ve browsed your fill, you can build limestone castles on Schoolhouse Beach, one of a handful of smooth-stone beaches in the world. In-the-know visitors bring picnic lunches and indulge in swims along the cove.

Back on the mainland, sample artisanal cider made with Door County apples, pears and cherries in Island Orchard Cider’s airy tasting room, in Ellison Bay. When you’re ready to eat, Wickman House serves dishes with farm-to-table ingredients, many of which are sourced from an on-site garden. Or opt for the quintessential Door County dinner: a fish boil at the Viking Grill. A boil master cooks whitefish over an open fire and entertains the crowd with stories until the fish is ready to be eaten with melted butter, lemon and coleslaw.

Amateur historians have plenty to discover in Door County, starting with Sturgeon Bay. The harbor city has been a major shipping hub since it was founded, in 1835. Stop by the Door County Maritime Museum’s Sturgeon Bay outpost for insights on the fishermen, sailors and ships that once navigated the lake. Don’t miss the restored tugboat, built in 1919. It sits right in the bay, thanks to the museum’s location on the active waterfront.

Afterward, explore the lake firsthand. Keep an eye out for the lighthouses that line the coast; many were built in the 1800s, and they are an iconic part of Door County. The Sail Training Foundation provides affordable classes for all levels, while Reel Action Sportfishing Charters can set fishermen up hook, line and sinker. In Baileys Harbor you can rent clear-bottomed kayaks from Lakeshore Adventures and paddle over shipwrecks. To simply sit back and enjoy the scenery, book a cruise on a restored wooden yacht with Sail Door County.

If you’re ready to fuel up, stop by Sunflour Artisan Bakery to snack on cherry scones and other made-from-scratch goodies. Or for more substantial fare, try Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille’s recently opened second location. When you order the Donation Creation, a specialty pie that changes monthly, a dollar is donated to local nonprofit organizations. Nearby, Sister Bay’s renovated Waterfront Park is the largest in the area. With 600 feet of sandy beach, it’s a great spot from which to watch the sunset.

There are 2,500 acres of cherry orchards in Door County, so don’t leave without eating your fill. Picking starts at the end of July and continues into mid-August.

To join in the fun, head down Highway 42 to Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market, a 100-acre farm and shop in Fish Creek. There you can fill a pail with tart Montmorency cherries and stock up on countless prepared food options, like apple cinnamon jam and cherry fudge. In early August Door County celebrates the end of the season at Cherry Fest in Jacksonport.

For more locally grown flavor, indulge in a wine-and-cheese pairing at Door County Creamery. The selection of goat’s- and cow’s-milk cheeses is made on-site, and you can’t go wrong with the fresh goat’s-milk gelato. On Saturdays you’ll find Sister Bay Farmers Market bustling in a historic farmyard. There you can browse among stalls of fresh produce and watch artisans’ demonstrations.

A short drive away, the Peninsula School of Art puts on classes, workshops and exhibitions. Or you could support a local artist by shopping while you eat at Village Café, in Egg Harbor. Everything on display is for sale.

Don’t leave Door County without visitingl The Ridges sanctuary, the state’s oldest nature preserve. The beautiful sanctuary recently introduced an interpretive center to welcome visitors to its wildflower-laden trails and picturesque bridges. Drop in for naturalist-led tours as well as a monthly lecture series during the summer. Wrap up your trip at Whitefish Dunes State Park, the site of the state’s tallest sand dune. With its white sands and forested trails, the park shows off much of the stunning scenery that calls travelers back to Door County again and again.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.