The Midwest's Most Underrated Vacation Spot Boasts Cute Coastal Towns And World-Class Food

The Midwest is underrated in a lot of ways. Heck, it's home to underrated waterfront national parks, beaches, and even world-renowned restaurants. Despite access to stunning freshwater lakes and rivers, charming historic towns, and more state parks than you can throw a stick at, there are still deeply underappreciated spaces in this region of the country. Few places feel like true hidden gems anymore — with one notable exception: Door County. Perched along the eastern side of Wisconsin, jutting out into Lake Michigan, this county literally sticks out. Its 300 miles of shoreline are an ever-present reminder of its storied history of shipwrecks in the water passage that gave it its name: Death's Door. 


Some have called it The Hamptons of the Midwest or the Midwestern Cape Cod, though to Wisconsinites, it is just deeply Wisconsin. Coastal homes here do have an East Coast flair to them, while Simon Creek Winery and the curdy goodness of Renard's Artisan Cheese are clear reminders that you're still deeply rooted in the Midwest. Door County is especially pertinent for lovers of cherries. If the Dells is the water park capital of the world, Door is most certainly the cherry capital. After all, the county grows 10% of the country's cherries, and you'll see them everywhere. 

From cherry pies to cherry wine, cherry tchotchkes to cherry art, Door demonstrates how sweet life can be along the lake. Especially for all those lighthouse lovers out there, Door is practically a smorgasbord of sights. 


Adorable coastal towns to enjoy

When you think of those iconic, historic Midwestern small towns, it's likely you picture exactly what comprises Door County. Despite its skinny visage on a map, the peninsula is 70 miles long and houses 11 incorporated towns. These towns are like a Midwestern Stars Hollow made real. You've got too many boutiques to count, bed and breakfasts, art galleries, and eateries surrounded by breathtaking Wisconsin beauty. 


You could easily spend a whole day in the largest city in the county (which is still under 10,000 residents). Sturgeon Bay is home to phenomenal natural space, like Potawatomi State Park and the thrilling Cave Point County Park. But it also has plenty for indoorsy folks too, like the Door County Historical Museum and the Door County Maritime Museum. In visiting both, you'll get an even greater sense of how special this place is, as well as how treacherous it was for anyone taking to the water. You also must pay a visit to Plum Bottom Gallery and the Popelka Trenchard Glass gallery & studio — there is no shortage of art in Sturgeon Bay.

For an even more quaint Door experience, you can't ignore the other towns that make the county so special. Ephraim is the most reminiscent of New England, while there's a multitude of shops in Fish Creek. There is also Egg Harbor, which has even been named one of the coolest towns in the whole country. You can't go wrong here.


Food is the soul of Door County

A fish boil is to Door County as shellfish is to Anguilla. When it comes to food, the two are synonymous. These fish boils are an event in themselves, as crowds gather around the massive fire sending steam into the sky. They're a popular dining pastime in Door specifically because of the area's Scandinavian heritage. Given the easy access to fresh fish from the lake, it was a simple way to feed a lot of people all at once. There are half a dozen restaurants that offer fish boils in Door, though the one at White Gull Inn is particularly special, namely because the inn is the oldest in the county, dating back to 1896. 


There are fine dining options in Door County, like the steakhouse Alexander's of Door County, but there are a lot more casual spots with equally delectable food. From the not-to-be-missed comfort foods at Wild Tomato, a perfect breakfast at Door County Coffee & Tea Co., or an old-fashioned at Sister Bay Bowl, you'll happily nosh your way through the county. And for any new-to-Wisconsin travelers, if you order an old-fashioned, be prepared for one that's Wisconsin style — brandy with a hint of sweet or sour. You may never go back to a traditional old-fashioned once you savor one of the state's signature cocktails.