It’s been decades since Wisconsin’s Door County was the shipbuilding capital of the United States. Yet many things haven’t changed in this region of the Midwest. Door County’s villages seem straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Old-fashioned ice cream and fudge shops, independently owned boutiques, and Mom and Pop diners are just some of the kid-friendly things to do in Door County Wisconsin.
Looking to disconnect from the cell phones, computers and jammed schedules that occupy most of today’s families? While you can’t put everything on hold, you can certainly live life at a slower pace for a few days in Wisconsin’s Door County. Families will find plenty of kid-friendly things to do in Door County Wisconsin. There are those lovely Lake Michigan and bayfront beaches, world-class theatre and galleries, fun festivals, and bucolic state parks. A weekend or longer in Door County has been a popular summer tradition for generations of Midwestern families. You might want to add Door County to your vacation bucket list.
Where is Door County?
Door County is a 70 mile long peninsula that runs along the east of Wisconsin, two and a half hours north of Milwaukee. It’s long been a summer playground for Chicagoans (4 hour drive) and Midwesterners. Lake Michigan runs along Door County’s east coast and the bay (essentially also Lake Michigan waters) runs along the west of this 18 mile strip of land.
How Do You Get to Door County?
Part of the appeal of this bucolic bit of Wisconsin is that it’s off the beaten track. Not surprisingly, that means it takes a little effort to get here. It’s a two and half hour drive from the Milwaukee Airport to the southernmost point of Door County, Sturgeon Bay. There’s also an airport an hour away in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with more limited flights. Right now Green Bay Airport offers direct service only to Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Atlanta.
Door County is a nostalgic trip for families. Little has changed in the 100 years since Midwesterners started visiting Door County’s beaches to escape the summer heat. Zoning restrictions have kept the chain stores and restaurants away. Instead, you’ll find lots of independently owned shops and restaurants that have been in the family for generations.
What time of year to visit Door County?
Summer is when everyone flocks to this area surrounded by some 150 miles of water. Lake Michigan is on one side, and the bay on the other. But if your child’s school has a fall break, autumn brings a vibrant spectacle of color, as well as many leaf peeping tourists for fall festivals, including Door County’s largest in Sister Bay.
Things to Do in Door County?
There are plenty of activities to keep kids busy. Here are some of the best:
1. Door County Kayak Tours
Spend a day exploring Lake Michigan on a kayak. Explore the waterfront caves and get up close to some of the beautiful homes lining the Lake Michigan shoreline on the Cave Point Kayak Tour. It takes about an hour and a half and it’s a great way to quietly enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Door County Kayak Tours offers a variety of excursions.
2. Door County Maritime Museum
Devoted to Door County’s history as the USA’s shipbuilding capital, the best part of this museum for kids is out back. That’s where the tugboat is. It’s a permanent floating exhibit, and costs $8 to tour. Kids must be at least 5 to board. If possible, visit on a Wednesday, when 83 year-old Bob Purves gives the tour.
He’s the son of John Purves, whom the tugboat, once the strongest on the Great Lakes, is now named after. Step inside the bridge, the galley, bedrooms, the engine room and more. Bob will lovingly share stories about what life was like for his dad, who operated the tugboat for 43 years.
Nestled in the forest of Peninsula State Park, this 650 seat theatre, performs family-friendly original musicals with a local Wisconsin theme. Make sure and stay afterwards for the bonfire with the performers. Insider tip: they provide complimentary bug spray for theatre goers. Take advantage of it!
4. Hands On Art Studio
It’s always good to have a bad weather plan. Hands On Art Studio in the town of Fish Creek is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. But even if the weather is perfect, this unique arts experience is not to be missed! This sprawling DIY arts center has something for every age. There’s a metal making workshop, a mosaic barn where you can make colorful frames, boxes or whimsical wind chimes from bits of glass. Grab a canvas in the painter’s barn or create a beautiful bowl or vase in the ceramics studio. The various artist barns encircle a playground, so you can always keep a close eye on the little ones.
5. Fun Festivals
Lighthouse enthusiasts should come for June’s popular Lighthouse Festival. Door County has the most most lighthouses of any county in the U.S., outside of Long Island’s Suffolk County. The Door County Lighthouse Festival gives visitors access to lighthouses that aren’t typically open to the public. Ferry and land-based tours take visitors to the 11 lighthouses. Be aware that tickets need to be purchased and range from $35 to $87.
If you’re on a more limited budget, a free festival that kids will absolutely love has quickly become a not-to-be-missed Door County tradition. Pamplona has the Running of the Bulls. In Door County’s Sister Bay, June brings herds of goats down main street during the annual Goat Parade. Can’t make it in June? Wave to the friendly goats, grazing on the grass roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant from May through October.
The town of Eiphram Harbor honors its Scandinavian heritage each year with a summer solstice celebration. The Fyr Ball Festival welcomes summer with music, dancing, crafts and artisans.
Where to Stay in Door County?
Door County is filled with lovely B & B’s and classic summer cottages. But if you’re traveling with kids, you know what tops the list… a pool! The Landing Resort has that (indoor and outdoor) and plenty of other family-friendly amenities. There’s a game room, a hang out area with a TV, games and books, and a hiking trail behind the hotel connecting you to the main area of town. Hike in the other direction to a lovely beach.
Get more information about visiting at doorcounty.com.
Do you have a favorite small town vacation destination? Let us know.