The Door Peninsula: A Coastal Family Retreat in the Heart of the Midwest

By Anita Finley

Who would have known that such an enticing recreation and arts world existed had it not been that my recent press trip opened my eyes, and all my other senses to this world of extraordinary sights. As I am writing this, i am enjoying the Autumn Spice coffee loaded with cinnamon, my favorite spice that I received from them.

Door County was founded in 1851, named after Death’s Door, not such a friendly way to describe such a friendly place. It was aptly named because as a water passage that lies off the tip of the peninsula where the waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay converge. More than 200 shipwrecks are scattered along their 300 miles of shoreline Their 11 Lighthouses are filled with mystery and adventure and are still in use. Their peninsula is 70 miles long, with 300 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 53 public beaches, 34 outlying islands and lots of trees.

If you are a state park traveler, this is the place. Door County has more state parks than any other county in the U.S. and attracts family get-togethers. What I observed is that there was so much for each member of the family to enjoy, young to older. Water sports abound, along with hiking, canoeing and fishing. When you travel and see Lake Michigan at practically every turn, it is a nature lover’s paradise.

I tend to gravitate to antique shops, art galleries and food. Door County is famous for all three of those pleasures. If you like tart cherries, they are the 4th largest producer of tart cherries in the USA, growing between 8-15 million pounds annually on roughly 2,500 acres and earned the name Cherryland USA. Of course, how can one compare those bragging rights to their cheese makers and wineries. I was especially impressed with our tour of the Door Artisan Cheese Company. We were shown how cheese is made, stored and shared with customers throughout the world. We also dined in a casual fine-dining restaurant sampling unusual and epicurean food. The chef greeted us with stories and enthusiasm and we practically rolled home after sampling their luscious desserts. We also went to a large apple orchard and emporium where the proud owner gave us apple treats and facts about why Door County has the best apples.

Taking time to discover the artists was a real treat. Many of the gallery owners were actually artists themselves as well as showing simple to extravagant art from local artists. When you live in South Florida as I do, I am always amazed to find extraordinary artists working and displaying often unique and rare pieces. I could have purchased gorgeous jewelry as well as paintings, but walked around enjoying the art. I especially appreciated the large abstract art by Ginnie Cappaert. Working in oil and cold wax, the woods, waters and skies are seen in so many of her paintings, as she observes in her local and world travels.

As a frustrated artist myself, I found the perfect place that I would like to pursue my hunger for art. Located in one of the state parks, is The Clearing FolkSchool. Tucked away on 128 acres of quiet forest, meadows and water, this treasure of a summer art classes takes place with students, living and going to school, making friends and literally filling their bucket lists. Describing the unique and universal art being taught would take up this entire page, so here is just a sampling of what you can learn. Weaving, Polymer Clay Jewelry, Poetry camp, Watercolor, Woodworking, Quilting, Photoshop, Pencil Drawing,Women’s Writing, Somatic Yoga, Sculptural Welding, Japanese Woodblocking, and I could go on and on. Go to their website for more excitement and unbelievable classes. ( Their Executive Director, Michael Schneider, is so enthusiastic and popped into many of the classes to literally have the students voice their appreciation of what they are learning. By the way, friendships abound and many students return each year to enjoy and continue their artistic quest.

Not everyone is so interested in art, so don’t fret, especially if you love to cook and want to learn about those treasures. The Savory Spoon Cooking School and Marketplace in Ellison Bay, treated us to a one-half day of learning all about tips and specialties of cooking. We were delighted to hear the owner, instructor and accomplished chef, Jamie Thomas, share her expertise while we prepared a lovely meal with her supervision. One of my tasks with others, was to prepare salmon, but what salmon it turned out to be! Never thought of putting pistachio nuts on my salmon, but now I know. Their classes are sold out and Janice and her husband, Michael are famous in the culinary world.

For those sports fans, you already know how dedicated Green Bay Packers are, and I caught the fire when I attended a new play dedicated to them and their fans. “Dad’s Seasons Tickets” was hilarious and seeing this charming and funny show in the New Sky theater, one of their new theaters, was a treat. I now understand why their fans love their team! When I traveled from Minnesota to Michigan, I always remember going through Green Bay and now can relate to their town’s enthusiasm. By the way, it was sold out, as I am told that most events having to do with the Packers are.

When you are in Door County, there is a must…it’s called the Fish Boil and performance. We went to Rowden’s Bay to hear and elder storyteller sharing stories about the area and its history while his assistant kept piling on wood and coals and when hot enough added the fresh white fish caught in Lake Michigan. The flames went high in the air, with gasps from the audience. Cooked with potatoes and other spices, it was served with lots of other delicious food for a major buffet. One impressive aspect was how this tradition has been going on for so many years.

With all the good food, the wineries are flourishing. the breweries and this new beer, with different flavors have caught on, making dining out more of a celebration, tasting, drinking and having fun.

When one lives in Florida, we don’t see the foliage change, but if you really want to catch an eyeful, Door County was named the Beat Fall Foliage Destination in a nationwide competition. People travel there to get charged up with the variety of colors and enjoy all the tourist loaded events and places. I whole hardily encourage anyone who is looking for a unique and friendly place, to bring your family and friends to this big secret in Wisconsin. I can’t wait to return!