GREAT ESCAPE: Wisconsin's Door County, Four Hours North of Chicago
By Trudy Ring
Winding Highway 42: Courtesy Doorcounty.com/door County Visitor Bureau
The waters where Lake Michigan and Green Bay meet in northeastern Wisconsin can be so hazardous that early French explorers called the area "Porte des Morts" -- literally "Death's Door." The phrase provided the name for Door County, on the narrow peninsula between the lake and the bay, but visitors today are more likely to find "the Door" a gateway to life-enhancing experiences.
Door County is a popular vacation destination for upper-Midwest residents, but it's lesser known outside the region. It deserves greater fame, though, as it's a locale of breathtaking natural beauty, with ample opportunities for outdoor sports plus a variety of cultural offerings. For honeymooners, it has many cozy inns and bed-and-breakfasts, places to walk on the beach and watch the sunset, and intimate settings where you can sip local wines and enjoy a romantic dinner.
While marriage equality has yet to come to Wisconsin, this blue state has offered domestic partnerships since 2009, making it the first Midwestern state to pass legislation giving relationship recognition to same-sex couples. Wisconsin was the first state in the nation with a law banning antigay discrimination, and it gave us Tammy Baldwin, the first out gay U.S. senator. And while Door County, the "Riviera of the Midwest," is short on LGBT-specific venues, it's definitely open to all.
Heavily wooded, Door County is noted for lush summer greenery and fabulous fall colors. It's a paradise for outdoorsy types, with sports for all seasons: swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, golf, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing. Its 23,000 acres of public and preserved land encompass five state parks, 19 county parks, and numerous local parks, nature preserves, and state natural areas. There are 53 public swimming beaches, with 6.5 miles of sandy shores, on Lake Michigan and Green Bay.
For those who prefer the great indoors, the many villages of Door County are full of antique shops, upscale boutiques, and galleries where you can discover local painters, sculptors, and artisans, and pick up some distinctive jewelry for the one you love.
The area's also big on performing arts. Several professional theater companies draw talent from Chicago, New York, and elsewhere. Peninsula Players, the nation's oldest resident summer theater (since 1936), offers performances in a gorgeous theater set amid a cedar forest. American Folklore Theatre stages shows under the stars in Peninsula State Park in the summer, moving to an indoor auditorium for the fall. Door Shakespeare produces works by the Bard and others in a garden setting.
For music lovers, Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a summer music school, features concerts by students and nationally renowned faculty members in jazz, classical, and other genres. The Midsummer's Music Festival ensemble, with musicians from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other top arts organizations, performs the classics at a variety of venues. There are outdoor concerts throughout the county during the summer, plus numerous music clubs.
That's just scratching the surface; the county has historic lighthouses, museums, boat and trolley tours, wineries, and more. There's much awaiting when you go through this Door (DoorCounty.com).