Experiencing Door County, all grown up
EGG HARBOR -- I've written many times about being a creature of habit. My group of friends likes tradition so much that for the past 16 years, one of my oldest pals and I have made a nearly identical trip to Door County.
While so much in life changes, so much stays the same. Really, it's not surprising that every summer since 1994, my friend Eron Laber and I spend a weekend in Fish Creek and points north. We vacation very much like we did when we were 20: camping, eating on the cheap and enjoying all things free on our favorite peninsula.
Amazingly, even though we could now swing it, we've never even stayed in a hotel, much less eaten anything that would resemble a fine meal in Door County over the years.
And that's fine, but when the Wisconsin Department of Tourism suggested a few new travel topics for OnMilwaukee.com, it got me thinking: maybe it's time to experience Door County like an adult.
A clean hotel with hot water, a few delicious meals and an itinerary full of activities really changed the way we experienced the area. In fact, this was the most relaxing and satisfying trip I've ever taken to Door County.
Setting a Home Base
Every year until now, Eron and I have camped at Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, so we made the area our base for our shenanigans, heading occasionally north, but rarely south, for fun. This year, we stayed at the Landmark Resort in Egg Harbor, which meant we had to widen our area of operations -- which turned out to be a good decision.
The Landmark is quite nice, though it's not really a full-on resort in my traditional definition of the word. The rooms are suites; we had a two-story loft with a kitchen that overlooked the Green Bay. It was spacious, clean and quiet, decorated in a country / lodge-like aesthetic that wasn't fancy but was way more than adequate. For a family of four, the hotel would truly be perfect. For two guys just happy to have separate beds, it was a dream come true.
The 40-acre property boasts several swimming pools (including a 24-hour indoor pool, hot tub and steam room), as well as a restaurant, tennis courts, a fitness room, trails and more. The restaurant is quite reasonably-priced and good, and my cherry-glazed tenderloin was perhaps the most expensive entrée on the menu at only about $22.
The Landmark has a quiet, campus-y feel, and what it lacks in resort amenities like a spa, it makes up for with a location just off Highway 42 and provides tons of tranquility. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to come back again.
A Few Good Meals
If you've never been to Door County, or, if you think Door County starts and stops in Sturgeon Bay, you'll be surprised how refined the area is. Frankly, there's just a ton of money in the area -- a lot of it from Illinois -- so it doesn't feel especially rural or Northwoods, especially on the Bay side.
While you won't find a Starbucks or McDonald's north of Sturgeon Bay -- and that's awesome -- there is no shortage of places to spend your money on upscale shopping and art.
However, people actually live in Door County, and you won't necessarily feel priced out of good food. While you can eat very cheaply, like we did for all these years at amazing places like the Carroll House for breakfast in Sister Bay, you can also step it up several notches.
This year, we didn't go above what I'd consider "moderate," having dinner and breakfast at the hotel, but we ventured back to a sentimentally significant restaurant for dinner on Saturday night.
The Cookery in Fish Creek was the first place we stopped in '94, grabbing lunch while we waited out a torrential rainstorm before sloppily pitching our tent. Actually, The Cookery had fallen off our radar over the years, but having read OnMilwaukee.com dining critic Amy Schubert's recent review, we felt it was time to try it again.
Indeed, The Cookery was a new and better experience since its owners rebuilt the restaurant after a recent fire. We ate about as much as we could, but with appetizers, entrees and desserts, our bill still came in at just $60. I especially enjoyed my beef brisket over risotto, and The Cookery continues to impress with great service and understated décor. It's no wonder the restaurant has been around since 1977.
Of course, we couldn't throw tradition completely out the door, either, so we had lunch at the Bayside Tavern and ice cream at the Door County Ice Cream Factory in Sister Bay. As much as this peninsula continues to evolve, in many ways it's exactly the same.
Savoring the Great Outdoors
You have to understand that two 20-year-old bachelors vacation differently than two 36-year-old dads, but since tradition is the name of the game on this trip, a typical afternoon in Door County would involve Frisbee, batting cages, throwing the baseball around, bocce and badly playing our guitars. Total cost: about $2.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of trip, but continuing our adult theme, we mixed it up with a leisurely Friday of browsing Fish Creek's shops and a busy Saturday of planned adventures.
First, we rented bikes at the edge of Peninsula State Park and pedaled through the 9.1-mile Sunset Bike Trail loop. If you've never done it, this is a perfect bike ride, occasionally challenging, fairly level and totally scenic on a finely-groomed trail.
Halfway through, we paused at Nicolet Bay Beach and reflected on the last time we rented bikes, in '94 on Washington Island. That was the year we mistakenly took the ferry over on the incorrect advice that the little island didn't allow cars. Using our last pennies, we rented rusty old bikes and eventually had to get a lift to town when Eron's bike broke halfway back. Needless to say, this was a much better experience.
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Love the article! For sure a DC trip is not the same without The Bayside. But, you failed to mention Husby's?!
begins & ends with the bayside----wouldn't ya say wrowbleez?
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