Door Explore

Mentioned: Peninsula State Park, Eagle Tower, Peninsula Park Players, Northern Sky Theater, Not Licked Yet, Green Bay, Lake Michigan, Shoreline Restaurant, Square Rigger in Jacksonport, fish boil, Fish Creek, Gills Rock, White Gull Inn, Chives Restaurant, Bailey’s Harbor.

After missing a couple of summer visits to the beautiful cedar woods and breezy Lake Michigan shore of the Wisconsin peninsula, I made it out of sweltering central Illinois for a short visit this month. Bliss.

I visited some former spots and found some new ones. Here are a few highlights if you go.

Peninsula State Park ~ In just about the middle of the county on the Green Bay side, “Pen Park” offers miles of winding roads and bike/hike trails through a gorgeous mixed woods forest. Every so often, we pulled off to enjoy the view across the bay. (Note: We did try camping there once and were smoked out by the crowds.)

Peninsula Park Players ~ Theater in the park is always wonderful. There are two main venues. Evidently, the charming American Folklore Theatre has grown up, become Northern Sky Theater, and gotten fancy. We went to the other venue this time to see “The Rainmaker” by the Peninsula Park Players. Every seat is great, in a lovely open air but fully covered setting by the water, and it was very well done.

Walk up 95 steps, or take an easy walk along the 850-foot gentle-incline ramp from the forest floor through the understory and over the canopy to a wonderful overlook all the way to Michigan.

Eagle Tower ~ The surprise of the trip was the newly finished Eagle Tower in the Peninsula Park. It features a winding, easy walk, 850-foot ramp from the ground up through the forest undergrowth and understory, and over the canopy to a 60-foot overlook. Frequent landings along the way offer educational panels for all ages, and the view atop the tower is quite beautiful.

Next stop, not next time ~ Tradition called for a stop at the famous Not Licked Yet for frozen custard just outside the park in Fish Creek. It used to be expensive and worth it. Now, just expensive. Next time we’ll stop by any of the many small ice cream stops throughout the county for a hand-dipped cone. Make mine peppermint!

Favorite beaches, best dining, and a lot of very weird hours

I love the county’s rock beaches but, on this trip, I wanted to get away from the crowds and headed to a rugged beach all the way north.

The key to finding your perfect beach is in knowing the difference between the Green Bay (west) side and the Lake Michigan (east) side. In general, although there are exceptions: Green Bay sunny, busy, popular, more rocks. Lake Michigan, cooler, less crowded, more sand. I was so starved for water, wind, and peace that we journeyed to the quiet northern tip of the Door.

The biggest change we noticed was the sporadic service hours of shops and restaurants. One of the landmark dining rooms, The Shoreline Restaurant in Gills Rock, was closed at a peak serving time and the door sign indicated severely reduced hours. Same with another formerly popular stop known for family fare and homemade pastries. Is this a result of COVID? We weren’t there long enough to ask around, but that’s our best guess for now. So, call ahead and don’t count on website information to be current.

Scheduling wasn’t the only food change, however. Door County is known for fish boils. It is the iconic outdoor cook of whitefish, onions, potatoes, and salt in a huge vat over a wood fire which becomes a blaze of glory in the few seconds of “boil over” from throwing kerosene on the fire to get any fats and impurities up and over the top before serving. It’s fun the first time and every time, and most destinations have offered reliably good food for all 32 years we’ve visited. Things have changed.

Our perennial favorite, The Square Rigger in Jacksonport, wasn’t offering a fish boil at all, and the one we chose, notably the most elegant and delicious on the peninsula for many years, was, sad to say, awful. From the scripted, phone-preoccupied, fish boil master, to the pre-minced piece of fish spread across my plate (seriously, ask me if I want you to debone and MINCE my food for me, it was gross), absence of onions; pile of off-color, suspicious cole slaw and basket of dry bread drawing flies; dark dining room, and radioactive red cherry pie, it was a complete disappointment. White Gull Inn fish boil again? —No. Might try a breakfast, but not the fish boil.

Instead … Visit Chives Restaurant in Bailey’s Harbor!

We ate outdoors, up off the street, with a view of the lake. Breeze too cool? Individual overhead heaters take the chill off if you’d like. Think it won’t be private? Not so. Even with the efficient layout of tables, we felt free to talk as the rest of the crowd melted away and our wonderful wait staff Julie and Lauren made us feel completely at home.

We enjoyed shrimp grilled with harissa and served with chickpea puree, tomatoes, and broccolini; and one of the evening specials, seasonal asparagus risotto with shrimp, a micro greens, salad, and shaved radish. The portions were generous enough to divide and take home, but we ate every bite — all better than anything we’d had on the rest of our trip.

Dessert was a celebration. We chose the seasonal cream puff and the pastry chef’s own creation the “Slice of Paradise Cake,” which is a layered combination of sweet and tart key lime pie, coconut sponge cake and passion fruit.

We each had one drink and this wonderful meal for $95 ~ but it could have been twice that. Worth it. We left knowing Chives will be the first reservation we make next time.

So, this is a super long post. I could say more about lodging options and how to plan your stay, the different types of stays for families, lighthouses, Washington Island, Koepsel’s Farm Market, and more. Next time!

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