Door County, Wisconsin is one of those picture perfect destinations you have to experience once in your lifetime. Mom and pop shops, endless photo opportunities, and outdoor adventures for all ages, make it the quintessential family getaway any time of year. We took a recent trip to this northern Wisconsin peninsula and discovered we could cover a lot during a weekend in Door County, but next time we definitely plan on taking our time and exploring more. These are our favorite things to do in Door County with kids during the summer.
Best Things to Do in Door County with Kids
*We were guests of Door County Visitor Bureau for the purposes of this review. As always, opinions are 100% our own.
Explore the small towns of Door County Peninsula
There are a countless number of small, charming towns dotting the peninsula from Sturgeon Bay to Fish Creek to Gills Rock at the northern tip. Each town is unique in its own way, with specialty restaurants, farmers markets, and attractions, but they all offer Midwestern hospitality at its finest. Explore one, explore them all, you won’t be disappointed by what you find.
Visit The Farm
Just outside Sturgeon Bay is a hands-on experience the kids will love, The Farm! Kids can feed milk to goats, watch chicks hatching, or give corn to the cows. It’s perfect for all ages, and there’s more than just animals. There are beautiful gardens on site and it is the perfect way to teach kids about agriculture in a fun and natural setting.
Take a day trip to Washington Island
Washington Island is an idyllic place, a quick 30 minute ferry ride from the northern tip of Door County. Hop on the ferry at Northport Pier (you can park your car and walk on, or just drive your car onto the ferry, we recommend the latter), and head to the island for a day of fun. Be sure to pack swimsuits, water shoes, and beach towels, because there’s an awesome beach on the island. The ferry runs about every 45 minutes during the season, and the last one returns around 7 in the evening. You can check the Washington Island ferry schedule here.
Upon arriving, head to Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, for a scene that’s straight out of France. During the summer, lavender blooms span as far as the eye can see, and kids and adults alike can take part in cutting their own lavender to bring home. There’s also a bistro and store on site, so if lavender is your thing, be sure to make a stop. Working in the lavender field is sure to work up an appetite, so head to one of the restaurants in town – Fiddlers Green, Jackson Harbor Soup & Sandwiches, and Island Cafe and Bread Company are all good choices.
After lunch, head to Schoolhouse Beach, a beach like no other. This beach has no sand, only limestone rocks, and some of the clearest water we have ever seen! Schoolhouse Beach is a one-of-a-kind place, as there are only four other beaches like it in the world. Kids will love skipping and stacking stones, swimming out to the pontoon and jumping from it, or simply splashing in the water. It’s the perfect beach for families.
Before heading back to the ferry, stop for a cup of coffee at Red Cup Coffee House and peek into Fair Isle Books next door, grab a book for the ferry ride back, or at the very least say hello to the sweet dog who greets visitors.
Go zip lining in Baileys Harbor
There are plenty of outdoor adventures in Door County, but why not head up into the trees? We took a fun tour with Lakeshore Adventures that took us soaring over pine trees, ponds, and across a 150’ long suspension bridge. The kids’ favorite part was the dual zip line where they raced one another for a photo finish. Such a fun way to see this area from a different view.
Take everyone hiking in The Ridges Sanctuary
Right down the road from zip lining on the edge of Baileys Harbor, is The Ridges Sanctuary, a nature preserve created over 80 years ago to protect the ecosystem of this area. Start in the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center and learn about the scope of the sanctuary and local plant and animal life. Then head out to the Hidden Brook Boardwalk, a third of a mile completely accessible trail showcasing the flora and fauna of the area. Don’t miss the range lights built in 1869 to help guide ships to safety. If you want to explore more, there are multiple hikes available with our without a guided tour. The Ridges is open year round, so if you go in winter, be sure to bring your snowshoes!
Ride the tractor or walk across the water to Cana Island lighthouse
Yes, you read this right, there are two ways to reach the lighthouse on Cana Island. One way is to walk across the causeway (highly recommend water shoes for this), the other is to ride a tractor to the other side. We opted to ride on the way over, but my youngest insisted on walking on the way back (show-off). The Cana Island Lighthouse is over 140 years old and stands 89 feet tall, overlooking the 8 acre Cana Island. Be sure to climb the tower’s 97 steps for beautiful views of the island and surrounding area. It’s stunning! (If you want to check out the rest of Door County’s lighthouses, click here).
Pick cherries at one of Door County’s numerous orchards
Wherever you go on the peninsula, you are sure to see pick your own orchards. Agriculture is big business in Door County. During the summer, cherry orchards will be plentiful, and in the fall, it will be apple picking time. We stopped at Lautenbach Orchard and grabbed two small buckets to fill. The cherries were much sweeter and softer than our typical grocery store cherries, and the kids couldn’t get enough. We ended up heading inside to buy cherry jam and cherry pie filling to last us for months to come!
Treat the family to a movie at Skyway Drive-In Theatre
One of the highlights of our visit was loading the car with pillows and blankets and heading to the local drive-in. This seemed to be quite popular with other families as well who showed up for the double feature. Such a fun way to spend the evening. They even had a retro snack bar, with reasonable prices and the kids would play between the films. Don’t forget the bug spray though, those critters will come in the car and eat you up!
Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay
One of the unexpected surprises on our visit was the Door County Maritime Museum. Located in the heart of Sturgeon Bay, the museum takes a look at the history of this Midwestern ship canal. There was an interesting exhibit about the area’s involvement during World War II, and the kids were fascinated by the Shipwrecks of Door County exhibit. This area was very interactive, and it was interesting to learn about the numerous wrecks and recoveries in this area.
Outdoor adventure in Door County
We ran out of time to try everything, but the kids are already asking to return so they can try fishing, kayaking, miniature golf, and SUPing. These are only some of the adventures they can’t wait to have on our next trip.
Best Restaurants in Door County for Families
Rowley’s Bay Fish Boil – It’s impossible to visit Door County and not partake in a fish boil. A fish boil is a tradition made popular by the Scandinavians who settled this area of Wisconsin. A large cauldron of salt water is filled with local whitefish, potatoes, and onions and brought to a boil over an outdoor flame. At Rowley’s Bay, a story about the history of the fish boil and local area accompany the food preparation. The event culminates in kerosene being thrown on the fire, causing the water to “boil over” the sides in an explosive display. Afterwards, all the guests head inside the restaurant for a fantastic buffet meal which includes soup, salad, multiple side dishes, and of course the whitefish and potatoes! Be sure to try the baked goods for dessert, they are beyond delicious!
Scaturo’s Baking Co & Cafe – This café in Sturgeon Bay is perfect for a quick, delicious meal or homemade baked goods to go. My boys loved the cherry hot cakes.
Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor – Wilson’s has been located in Ephraim in 1906 and draws a crowd all hours of the day. The ice cream is delicious and the burgers and sandwiches are quite filling. Grab a bite on the patio and then take a stroll along the water to walk off some of those calories!
Harbor Fish Market & Grille – Harbor Fish Market has a beautiful setting in Baileys Harbor, right on the water. Don’t miss the lobster roll or Harbor chowder.
Malibu Moo’s Frozen Griddle – This cute little ice cream shop is located at the marina in Fish Creek and makes delicious ice cream with mix ins. You choose the ice cream and the toppings and they make it right in front of you. They were really good with my son’s nut allergies and went in the back room to prepare his ice cream separate from the others.
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant – It’s not often one has the opportunity to eat at a restaurant where goats graze on a grass covered roof, but that is possible here. Don’t miss the Swedish pancakes and be sure to stay awhile and enjoy the ambience of the outdoor patio.
Great Places to Stay in Door County
Bridgeport Resort – This resort is perfect for families who want space to spread out. Located in Sturgeon Bay, Bridgeport Resort is a bit south of most of the Door County attractions, but it’s easy to reach everything on the peninsula within an hour. The property has one, two, and three bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, dining rooms, living areas, and wi fi. There’s a huge indoor swimming pool/splash park, outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, and games/DVDs to borrow. It’s also within walking distance to several restaurants, stores, and attractions.
The Shallows – Located in Egg Harbor, this beach side resort is perfect for families. Guests can use the kayaks or canoes to explore the water or enjoy a leisurely bike ride into town.
White Gull Inn – The White Gull Inn includes breakfast with all bookings, which is worth it just for their cherry stuffed French toast. Children age twelve and over are welcome in the Main Lodge and all ages are welcome in the cottages on the property.