Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin came on my radar early in the year because my sister had gone up there for a conference and couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. She gushed about the cute town and the lush state parks until I just had to check it out for myself. I booked a rental car and a few nights at the Holiday Music Motel in downtown Sturgeon Bay and then I was off for a long weekend at the end of April.
I drove the four hours straight through, listening to an audio-book entitled “800 Grapes” (good, not great, but perfect for a long drive). My first stop, once I arrived in Door County, was Whitefish Dunes State Park. There was a $5 fee for an hour of hiking, which I paid at the visitor center. I set off, aimlessly hiking down a path that was set next to the rocky coast of Lake Michigan. There was still snow on the ground that far north, so that and the fact that I was there before the tourist season picked up in Door County meant that I had the park pretty much to myself.
Once I got further into the wooded area along the lake, there wasn’t really any defined path. I switched between walking on the rocks by the shore and through the trees where the ground was covered in pine needles and dotted with patches of ice. It was windy, and the waves on Lake Michigan crashed into the rocks, spraying up water. The views throughout the park alone were worth the drive up there, and there was still so much to see. Right next to Whitefish Dunes is Cave Point County Park, but they might as well be the same park as they run into each other. The “cave” was an unassuming rock formation that dipped into the lake, the waves splashing in and out, soaking anyone that stood too close.
I couldn’t get over the view from each outcropping. The lake was a perfect sapphire blue. My time was halfway up when I reached the cave, so I turned around and went back the way I came, taking it slow to soak up all that fresh air. I decided to come back to Whitefish Dunes again at some point while I was in town. It was just too pretty to not take another hike there.
Since I had driven straight to the park and then hiked, I was so hungry by the time I got back to the car. I didn’t have any phone service to try and look up where to go, so I drove towards downtown Sturgeon Bay. I stopped at Grammy’s Country Store, and they recommended the Door County Firehouse on 3rd Avenue for lunch. I took them up on their suggestion and set myself up at a high top in the bar side of the restaurant. I felt compelled to order a Spotted Cow and got a pulled pork sandwich too. I know I was really hungry, but that had to have been one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.
After lunch, I went and checked into the Holiday Music Motel. The motel is a renovated space that has gained a good amount of attention for their affinity for live music and their retro decor. Once I actually got to my room, I immediately showered and took a glorious nap before heading out to explore the downtown area. I walked along the lake first, which was beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. The bridge and the rocks along the shore were so pretty, the water perfectly clear.
I meandered over to the local fancy Italian restaurant, Trattoria Dal Santo, for dinner. They sat me at a lovely table for one, and I immediately picked out the Montepuciano by the glass to start. The waitress commented on the book I was reading (“In The Woods” by Tana French”) and we had a nice conversation about books and the absence of bookstores in the area. Apparently the local bookshop had closed recently (though I’m told they now have a new one). I ordered the Scalllopini Marsala for dinner, which came with a garden salad to start and mashed potatoes on the side.
The food was delicious, and the ambiance in the restaurant made it all the better. I savored each bite and took my time, reading while I ate. The staff was so wonderful, and let me hang out longer than the average dinner check, which I appreciated. After I finished, I walked over to the Door County Maker Space, which is an event space/concert venue/center for the arts. They were having a singer/songwriter showcase. I was a little bit late, and the place was packed, but luckily, the guy manning the door let me bypass the cover charge.
I stayed for a few songs, and then it was intermission time. Everyone seemed to know each other, which was nice to see, but not the best case scenario for an outsider. I felt a little awkward, so I moved out and went across the street to Roots, a wine bar. I got into a discussion with the bartender about what was going on in town that evening. She gave me a newspaper to check out the local section and directed me to the Stone Harbor Pub to see a local cover band.
The pub was right on the lake, and I sat at the bar with a (couple of) Spotted Cows, content as could be. They had the Celtics vs. Bucks game on the TVs, and I stayed through the end of the game, cheering for the Bucks, since I was in Wisconsin. The cover band was pretty good too! They were called the Tighty Whiteys. I walked back to the hotel after awhile to have a glass of local wine and watch a movie. It was a great first day in Sturgeon Bay and I was looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.