Door County, Wisconsin has been a tourist destination for generations. With its quaint northern towns, views atop towering bluffs, lighthouses along rugged shoreline and cherry orchards inviting pickers, this midwestern spot has a lot to offer. One thing off the radar, which almost seems counterintuitive, would be its shipbuilding prominence. This sizable peninsula, with a canal running through its largest community, has played home to much boat building in the previous century. The shipbuilding community is known as Sturgeon Bay, and I traipsed through this historic blue collar town, which is now graced with much tourist appeal, to catch the vibe of a city screaming Great Lakes lore.
Last week, I featured a town known as Algoma. The city’s most alluring attribute was its coastal attractions, being right on Lake Michigan’s shore. This week, while it’s not actually set on Lake Michigan, I’ll give you much of the same.
Sturgeon Bay’s history dates back to the 1850’s, being a logging and fishing town. However, during the latter half of the 19th century, Door County residents built a canal linking Lake Michigan and Green Bay. After some time, with its spot advantageous for shipbuilding, a yacht builder, a US Navy contractor and a barge builder, not to mention other maritime services, made Sturgeon Bay their home. Today, some shipbuilders are gone, however, as you turn the corner, descending towards its downtown, cranes and barges, among natural attributes, dominate the landscape. Sturgeon Bay, with as much tourist allure it has, is still very much a shipbuilding town.
But start your walk downtown, and you feel at ease. We parked near the Canal and started our way towards Third Avenue. In this area, turn of the century storefronts will greet you with age old charm. There are candy stores, art galleries, book stores, crafty nooks, bars and restaurants all catering to those looking for a novel experience or keepsake.
If you’re a sailor, first rate marinas, residing near comfy lodgings, can make for an excellent Great Lakes tour stop. If you’re not a mariner, don’t worry, there’s plenty in town for you as well.
A couple of museums will enlighten the history buff on Sturgeon Bay’s past. These include the Door County History Museum and the Door County Maritime Museum. The maritime museum, should you visit during the summer, offers a tower with a panoramic view and tug boat tour. Fun stuff!
For those looking for a little downtime, Sturgeon Bay has a substantial amount of city parks. The town also has two beaches, both adjoined to playgrounds and pavilions. While not enormous, they would be sufficive for a sunbather or individual wanting to cool themselves off.
If craft breweries are your thing, there are some decent choices. My favorite, a kitschy nook overlooking a sensational industrial setting, is the Bridge Up Brewing Company. It’s set right at the foot of a historic bridge, and shares a building with a trendy eatery known as Sonny’s. The view allows for barges and towering cranes, which reside on the opposite side of the canal, to inspiringly live in your memory.
I mentioned bars and restaurants. There are quite a few. Our choice on this cool, misty day was a brewpub known as Greystone. While this particular place oozed with local charm, and a menagerie of taxidermy featuring local wildlife, our bill fell shy of thirty bucks. Our dining choices included beer and a genuine wild game sandwich.
And you’ll have to beg my pardon, I am native to the area, so such a place appeals to me. If you’re searching for a fashionable setting, Sonny’s or Stone Harbor are sure fire bets. Both sport views of the canal.
Yet, if you’re like me, a bit strapped for cash, more affordable options do exist. Choose wisely, you’re bound to stumble on a few.
Man, I haven’t even mentioned the boat tours, trolley tours or charter fishing in the area. And yes, lighthouses are very close by.
Maybe you’re not sold on leisure, dining, museums or fishing, don’t fret, Sturgeon Bay resides, at most, a half hour drive of three Wisconsin State Parks. Oh… and one awesome county park known as Cave Point, where you can cliff jump into the lake. The state parks offer camping, hiking, biking, swimming and a ton more, some activities depend on the particular park. As an added bonus, refreshing green vegetation and stunning royal blue waters await-seemingly at every turn in the road
As far as lodging, it really depends on what you’re after, and what you can afford. Some accommodations, situated at the edge of the city, are available for around 100 dollars, or less, a night. Of course, if you choose closer to the canal, you’ll find classier and pricier resorts. Yet, I did find a retro hotel, smack dab in the middle of downtown, for $128 a night.
After all that is said, My point is simple; Sturgeon Bay offers amazing times for any vacation goer seeking a genuine Great Lakes experience. Whether you’re into watching a wide array of boats churn through the canal, or fishing its waters, the maritime allure, alone, is worth the trip. Couple that with quality shopping, dining, relaxing, adventure and more, and I think you’ll remember this humble Midwestern community for quite some time.