While my trip to Door County, Wisconsin, was only a year ago, it seems like a lifetime ago. I visited Door County only weeks before my home state of Michigan and the nation shut down in response to COVID-19. Amid the craziness of last year, my visit to Door County turned out to be a blessing and something I crave each day that passes without travel. 

Small towns, local shops, art galleries, craft beverages and massive lake views make up the region home to 19 distinct communities.

“Groups can enjoy a variety of experiences like winery tours, theater performances, scenic boat tours, musical performances, boutique shopping and museum tours,” said Laura Bradley, senior marketing & sales manager at Destination Door County.

Day 1: Cheese curds — a Wisconsin favorite

My long weekend on the peninsula began with a Wisconsin favorite: cheese curds. These tasty bites were enjoyed at Renard’s Cheese — Door County’s oldest cheese store.

After lunch, our group made our way to Sturgeon Bay. The small town’s shops and restaurants compliment its history, with many located in 19th-century buildings.

The sun set as our group sat in Popelka & Trenchard Glass Fine Art Gallery & Studio’s workshop to see a glass blowing demonstration. A delicate process, I witnessed small pieces of intricately designed glass become an elaborate vase.

The day closed with dinner at local restaurant Moja Rosa’s.

Day 2: Beverages galore and a fish boil to finish

Friday morning’s forecast brought a light snow shower which was watched from inside cozy (and aromatic) Door County Coffee & Tea.

I kept the morning going strong, leveling up from caffeine with a stop to Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Distillery. Our visit consisted of sampling fruit wines and handcrafted liquor and touring both facilities — from the fermenting process to the bottling room.

Heirloom Provisions, Credit: GTM/Kate O’Neil

With hundreds of galleries and studios throughout, Door County is a creator’s haven. In a way, I became a Door County artist myself that weekend at Door County Candle by hand dipping my own candle.

Lunch at Heirloom Provisions was followed by a hike through Ridges Sanctuary. The 1,600-acre natural preserve is Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature reserve and includes the historic 1869 Baileys Harbor Range Lights.

A hike and shopping spree later, I was again hungry and looking forward to a favorite Door County experience, a fish boil dinner at White Gull Inn. Established in 1869, it is the only Door County establishment offering the traditional Scandinavian-style dish. Freshly caught white fish from Lake Michigan is first cooked outside over an open fire and then boiled. It is an event watched by all and enjoyed in the inn’s rustic dinning room.

Day 3: Scenic beauty and cherry wine

Saturday’s agenda began with Exploring 3,776-acre Peninsula State Park. Scenic overlooks, wooded trails and a frozen Green Bay shoreline made for the perfect start to another exciting day. The afternoon was spent wandering through both the towns of Ephraim and Fish Creek.

The most unexpected sight I encountered that afternoon was Anderson Dock, a graffiti covered dockside warehouse in Ephraim. The red building covered with bright yellows, greens and blues set against the white winter landscape was mesmerizing and serves as a popular destination for pictures.

Door 44 Winery, credit: GTM/Kate O’Neil

As one of the top producers of cherries in the nation, Door County celebrates this fruit in many ways. At Lautenbach’s Orchard Country, I tried cherry wine for the first time and learned how Montmorency cherries are used in many of the family-owned business’ products.

Free time and dinner in Sister Bay were followed by a peaceful candlelit hike under the star-studded sky at Newport State Park. The stimulating day ended on a peaceful note while at this designated Dark Sky Park.

My last day in Door County had room for only one more stop; Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay. The winery specializes in making wine from grapes only, unique from the many other wineries in the region that use other fruits as well.

The snowflakes became thicker as I finished off my glass of ice wine, ignorant of what the next few months would bring for the travel industry.

“We have made the most of the situation and our local businesses and organizations have showed incredible resiliency to keep things moving safely,” said Jon Jarosh, director of communications & PR at Destination Door County.

A year later, these businesses have come through the tumultuous crisis of the last year and are again attracting visitors to the natural beauty that is Door County.

For more information, call 920-743-4456 or go to doorcounty.com.