Maybe you’ve already experienced a fish boil in Fish Creek, ordered an ice-cream cone from Wilson’s (an adorable century-old parlor in Ephraim) and hiked your heart out in Peninsula State Park. Is it time to venture to Door County’s quieter side?
In the tiny town of Baileys Harbor, snug along Lake Michigan, with its “main drag” on Highway 57, are all the components of the perfect autumn getaway.
Although Baileys Harbor’s year-round population hovers around 1,000 residents, there’s enough to do within a few square miles to fill an entire weekend. Start by checking into Beachfront Inn, a darling motel right on the beach. Fresh off a renovation and appearance on Hotel Impossible (a Travel Channel show), rooms feature pretty blues, yellows and whites. Thirsty for a beer or glass of wine during your stay? Selections from local wineries and breweries are sold in the lobby, where a complimentary continental breakfast is also served. Clusters of Adirondack chairs on the sand are a great spot to warm up next to a fire pit on chilly nights.
Start your first night in Baileys Harbor right with a visit to Chives, a fine-dining restaurant across the street from the inn. (The owners also operate a second Chives location in Suamico.) It’s often considered Door County’s best eatery — and for good reason. Much of the ingredients are sourced locally, including Wisconsin cheddar with house-made grilled sausages as a starter, or a side of Washington Island potatoes with lamb porterhouse, and the dining room’s perch a story up affords nice views of Lake Michigan. Items on the menu rotate based on what’s fresh and in-season. Innovative cocktails and a stellar wine list are two other reasons to book a table here.
Wind down the evening with a visit down the block to the new tap room for Door County Brewing Company, celebrating its first season. Built to resemble a barn with lofted ceilings and lots of rough woodwork, patrons sip beer while engaged in board games or conversation. Live music fills the tap room on weekend evenings and a fire pit is often crackling in the beer garden.
The Ridges Sanctuary, also in Baileys Harbor, is a private reserve that established a LEED-certified Gold visitor center (Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center) two summers ago. Start here to get your bearings and pay the $5 trail fee. Then, be prepared to pull out your camera or smartphone every five minutes on a short hike — distances on clearly marked trails range from a third of a mile to five miles — because the scenery is that stunning. Naturalist-led, two-hour hikes teach you more about the sanctuary’s flora and fauna, departing daily at 10 a.m.
Post-hike, drop by Bearded Heart Coffee, a quirky little coffee shop tucked into a tiny house. Locally famous is its lavender latte. Beans are roasted from Ruby Coffee, another Wisconsin business, and nibbles include avocado toast with a poached organic egg, sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt.
Two more dinner options in Baileys Harbor: Try Harbor Fish Market & Grille for a lobster bake (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday only), or its casual cousin Pizza 57, a to-go pizzeria located inside a gas station (but don’t let that fool you). If it’s a warm night, take your pizza pie out to the grassy lawn behind. This is Anclam Park.
In Bailey’s Harbor during a Packers game? The best spot to watch the game is at The Blue Ox Bar & Grill, piled to the roof with antiques, including horse saddles over the bar stools. In business since 1975, this is a no-frills spot (inside a structure dating back to 1887) with a good line-up of craft beers and, yes, even food, from bratwurst patties to slices of Italian roast beef stacked on a bun.
Before heading back to Milwaukee, pay a visit to Koepsel’s, an indoor farmers market, where jars of pickled vegetables, fruit salsas, maple syrup, jams and cherry-pie fillings line the walls. There’s also a decent selection of craft beer and artisan cheese from around the state. During the autumn months, you might be lucky enough to score bags of just-picked apples. If you’re into old-fashioned sodas, especially ones with offbeat flavors, a selection of several dozen near the check-out could be your dream. An antiques vendor next door provides another reason to stop at this farm stand.