Picture yourself on a horse-drawn carriage ride under a cozy blanket, where you hold a mug of hot chocolate and watch snow fall on adorable cottages that look like they are straight out of a childhood fairytale. It may sound like the set of a Hallmark movie, but it’s just another day here in Door County, Wisconsin. A perfect winter wonderland escape from sunny LA, Door Country has much to offer in terms of culture, people, food, landscape, and the chance to make unforgettable memories.
The Unique Charm of Door County
This Wisconsin gem became a large Scandinavian settlement in the mid-1800s, as the bountiful fishing and picturesque countryside reminded the Swedish community of their homeland. To this day, the culture is still very prevalent. We loved seeing Scandinavian flags dancing in the breeze, Dala horses lining the window sills of red barns with white window frames, and fun little gnome dolls pop up at numerous establishments.
Door County has Lake Michigan on one side and the waters of Green Bay on another, which gives you a bounty of beautiful photo ops, including gorgeous shorelines, beaches, and wildlife. Bursting with specialty shops and a tight-knit art community, Door County has often been referred to as the “Cape Cod of the midwest.”
If you find yourself unable to wait until next Christmas to book your trip, you won’t be alone. The summer months bring upwards of 2 million visitors to this town, and many young professionals and families from the Chicago area make it their summer vacay spot.
The Door Peninsula has much to explore along the lake and snow-covered trails. For the more active visitor, we suggest marveling at the winter landscape with a cross-country ski or hike in Peninsula State Park. On your next free morning, wake up early for an e-bike tour to Cave Point’s limestone sea caves. The majestic cliffs and icicle formations are truly breathtaking.
For those more in the “chill and cheer” level of activities, Door County is all about shopping and strolling from one great place to the next. First, we went to the Popelka Trenchard Glass Fine Art Gallery and Studio to see the age-old techniques of a master glassblower. Next, we hopped over to the Third Avenue Playworks, a year-round professional theater with spacious seating and top-tier performers that come from all over the world, including larger markets like New York and our very own LA. We appreciate the arts at Plum Bottom Gallery, which now features 20 nationally collected artists in a variety of mediums, including handcrafted jewelry, so you can knock out that holiday shopping list in just one afternoon. Historic Third Ave in Sturgeon Bay also is a great spot for just strolling from one specialty shop to another, and the shop workers are wonderfully welcoming and cheery.
Food and Drink
Door County is foodie-heaven, and they export some of the country’s best cherries, so you’ll be treated to everything from cherry pie and cherry coffee to even cherry wine and brandy. Up first was Clover & Zot, a chic Euro-hangout on the waterfront of Baileys Harbor. We recommend splitting a few of the apps so you get the whole experience, like the Artisan flatbread Flammekueche and a Gougeres, a cheesy French pastry. We absolutely loved the colorful breakfast spot Sip, featuring local gourmet coffee and a roaring fireplace. We recommend the potato waffle and adding one of their toppings, such as vegetables or a poached egg.
Door County Coffee and Tea Co. was one of our favorite standouts of the whole trip. There, you can attend “coffee college” and learn about the process of high-quality coffee making. The sugar cookie latte here is out of this world! Leave room for a hearty breakfast featuring their famous baked eggs. We will be thinking about the breakfast toast with cherry jam for a long time.
Wine tasting is a MUST while you are in Door County, and we loved Harbor Ridge Winery. You can get a tasting to try their award-winning wines and brave the winter weather while sampling inside their heated “snow globes” outside. We got a kick from creative wine names like “Gimme One Good Riesling” and our favorite beverage, the award-winning “Carmen’s Last Dance.”
Finally, the cheese, of course! We’re in Wisconsin, so it’s important that you bring back all the great cheese for your friends in LA to share. Renard’s Artisan Cheese is Door Country’s oldest cheese store and in its third generation of cheese makers. We took home the flavorful “Cherry Cheddar” and a beautiful bag of cheese curds.
Where To Stay
If you are looking for a super clean, spacious, and sleek place to stay, look no further than The Dörr, Sister Bay’s first hotel in nearly 20 years and Door County’s newest spot. The Dörr blends modern style with local heritage. The staff is incredibly warm and accommodating, and the only reason we were able to get out of the comfortable, warm beds was the smell of fresh coffee and pastries drifting from the lobby. It’s located in a super walkable and easily accessible location and features amenities like a spacious room, a modern squeaky clean bathroom, and convenient check-in hours. We loved bundling up onto the patio with our cheese plate and admiring the twinkling neighborhood Christmas lights from afar.
The Inside Scoop
The residents of Door Country are welcoming and take strong pride in not only their individual businesses and talents, but the town as a whole. Two local traditions we loved were the fish boil at The White Gull Inn and Sister Bay Historical Society’s second annual European Christmas market, Chriskindlmart, where you can get to know local artisans and authors, buy their handmade crafts, and try some traditional Nordic foods.
Door County would be a great place for a solo writers’ retreat or a friend’s trip if you are looking to spend quality time together in a picturesque setting. To sum up the special charm of this town, in the words of our hiking guide Bill, “people can come to Door County to be whoever and whatever they want to be. They come here to be someone.”
A winter escape must also have the perfect wardrobe! Check out some of our favorite pieces we’re wearing all season long.
Want even more? Check out Destination Door County to help plan the perfect winter getaway or summer vacation.