Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Scenic and “touristy” Door County, Wisconsin October 11, 2012

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I’d heard so much about it—”touristy,” fish boils, “you’ll love the small towns,” wine, cherries…

To be honest with you, I wasn’t 100, not even 50, percent certain I wanted to visit this northeastern Wisconsin peninsula cozied by Green Bay on the west and dwarfed by massive Lake Michigan on the east.

I am neither a woman who enjoys shopping or masses of people. So a one-day trip to Door County did not come without a bit of trepidation.

One of many Door County shops, this one in Egg Harbor on the western side of the peninsula.

What I discovered is this: Yes, lots of people visit this scenic tourist destination, but not so many on a Friday in early October that I felt overwhelmed. And, yes, the western side of this peninsula could definitely be classified as “touristy,” because, after awhile, the endless wineries, antique and gift shops, candy stores, etc., all begin to blend together.

Collectibles for sale at Peninsula Antique Center near Egg Harbor.

You can only sample so much wine, flavored balsamic vinegar, flavored olive oils, cheese spreads and cherry salsa before you become disinterested. Fortunately my traveling companion husband and second daughter agreed that by the time we reached Fish Creek, we’d sipped enough wine, sampled enough oil and vinegar and salsa and cheese spreads, but no sweet stuff, thus requiring a stop for a shared truffle and shared fudge.

A winery truck parked in Egg Harbor.

I must interject here that we were pleasantly surprised to find Door County wines to be reasonably priced—the ones we purchased being around $10.

After stopping at numerous shops, it was time for a break and a little lunch at Julie’s Park Cafe & Motel in Fish Creek, conveniently located next to the Peninsula State Park entrance. I ordered the day’s soup special of fish chowder while my husband ordered an 8-ounce burger topped with bleu cheese and the daughter chose a chicken sandwich topped with onions and cherries.

My bowl of fish chowder was burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot, but bland in taste and appearance. Is this typical of fish chowder? I don’t know given this was my first time eating fish chowder.

I wish I could tell you our food was over-the-top delicious. But my daughter had to search for the cherries in her sandwich. I found the fish chowder bland. The burger was good, my husband said, but too much at eight ounces, the only burger size available. The thin, dry fries were more like shoestring potatoes than fries.

Scrumptious Door County cherry pie from Julie’s Cafe.

As disappointing as two of our three main menu choices were, Julie’s Cafe redeemed itself with the generous slice of tart Door County cherry pie we ordered and shared. No visit to Door County should come without a purchase of something “cherry,” whether wine, salsa, dried or fresh (when in season) cherries or, most recommended by me, cherry pie, even if it was $5 a slice.

No one was spitting cherry pits into the strong cold wind when we stopped at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery at Fish Creek.

I’d love to visit Door County during the cherry harvest and inquired as to when that might be. Our vibrant and friendly waitress at Julie’s Cafe did not know, which surprised me.

But then I suppose you could say I wasn’t exactly the most prepared tourist either, approaching Door County with the attitude of “we’ll stop when we see something we want to see.” That seemed a workable plan for a first time visitor.

Even on a bone-chilling cold and windy day, vendors were set up streetside in Egg Harbor.

Door County, though, deserves much more than a quick no-itinerary one-day trip. It deserves careful planning so you see beyond the storefronts, drive beyond the two main routes—42 on the more “touristy” western side and 57 on the less populated rural side—and discover all this lakeside land has to offer. For it was the glorious, natural beauty of this place which most charmed us.

Scenic Whitefish Dunes State Park on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Glorious autumn colors as photographed by Miranda Helbling from Eagle Tower in Peninsula State Park at Fish Creek on the western side of the peninsula along Green Bay.

Scenic Egg Harbor.

TO READ A PREVIOUS POST about Door County, click here to see photos of Peninsula State Park.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling