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Introduction to Door County: Communities & Culture

One Peninsula, Endless Possibilities

Although "Door County" sounds like a single place, the name refers to an area comprised of more than 3,000 square miles, 19 distinct communities, 35 named islands, thousands of diverse businesses, and countless ways to spend a day, week, or an entire season. Explore this quick primer to learn why Door County is one of the top vacation spots in the US and start packing your bags for a Midwestern getaway unlike any other.

Just the Facts:
Door County Q&A

How do I visit an entire county?

The short answer is…you don’t! DC is comprised of 2,000+ square miles and more than 19 distinct communities, so your best bet is researching individual towns, choosing 1–3 near each other that suit your getaway style and tastes, and exploring this pocket and its surrounding areas.

Where in the world is Door County?

Door County is a region in “the left thumb” of Wisconsin, USA—the small land mass projecting into the water from the east-central side of the state. The county is about a 2.5-hour drive northeast from Milwaukee and a 4.5-hour drive north from Chicago or east from Minneapolis.

How do I get around Door County?

Like many relatively rural areas, Door County lacks public transportation, and its towns are spread out enough that driving between them is a must. So, although you will definitely need a car to get around, the streets and highways will be pleasantly void of buses, high-speed trains, rideshare companies, and taxis.

What’s a peninsula?

A peninsula is a land protrusion almost entirely surrounded by water. In DC’s case, Lake Michigan (east side) and Green Bay (west side) flank three sides; its southern-most base connects to Wisconsin’s mainland. DC also contains Washington Island and Rock Island, both of which are a few miles off the peninsula’s northern shore.

What’s the landscape like?

No, you won’t be climbing any mountains or exploring any deserts here, but our beaches, islands, lakes, forests, woods, meadows, and nature preserves are sure to satisfy your longings to connect with nature. DC boasts five state and 19 county parks, and a lack of light pollution has earned Newport State Park an International Dark Sky Place designation.

What’s the weather like?

Wisconsin has four distinct seasons that more or less create the conditions you’d expect. We won’t pretend the summers can’t be extremely hot or that our winters can’t be brutally cold. They very much can, but those beautiful extremes also result in 3–4 months of perfect beach weather and 2–3 months of stupefyingly gorgeous winter landscapes.

Can I bring my kids? My dog?

Absolutely—Door County is a top destination for family trips, and dogs are welcome in many local businesses and public spaces. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant or attraction that doesn’t cater to kids, but do your research on dog-friendly trips before bringing your pet with you to an establishment.

Communities Explorer

One of the best ways to get to know Door County is to explore the vibrant towns, villages, and communities that comprise it. Some people choose a single community and stay for their entire trip, and others travel between communities to get a fuller sense of place.

explore map

Quiz: Find Your Travel Style

Scroll through this series of images and check the ones that depict the activities and experiences you’re interested in. Then, we’ll help identify your top trip styles and provide you with the activities, businesses, and attractions you’ll like the most.

Door County’s People, Places, & Things

Get to know the region on a deeper level by exploring its history, natural landscape, and most iconic sites. Plus, learn from those who know Door County best in the Ask a Local series where our community members share their favorite places across the peninsula and islands to help you plan your perfect trip. 

Overview of Local Maritime History

Door County is defined by its proximity to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. These waterways are why many nomadic settlers would camp here, and they’re how the earliest permanent settlers got around and sustained life. Residents have worked as fishermen, mariners, and shipbuilders, and others worked as loggers and farmers, relying on ships to transport their wares. In the 20th century, local shipyards produced up to five ships a day to keep up with the military’s demand for large boats and other sea vessels.

History Quick Links

Hiker walking a path in a clearing between the trees.

A Quick Foray into Local Nature

From a 93-foot sand dune and the jagged walls of Cave Point to the lavender fields of Washington Island, Door County is a lesser-known treasure trove of ecological wonders. Nature and its endless splendors are woven into daily life, as evidenced by passionate locals who operate nature-based businesses, artists constantly inspired by the landscape, and those who’ve chosen to make their homes among our forests, lakes, and wide-open spaces.

Nature Quick Links

A family looking at goats on a grass roof

A Tiny Taste of Iconic Door County

If you want to look into the heart of any culture, start with its cuisine. The menus, recipe books, and dinner tables of Door County are likely to contain cherries, lakefish, meat, cheese, and Scandinavian and Western-European dishes. But visitors can also look to the roadside Belgian chapels, British-Victorian homes, Swedish-influenced Stavkirke and Björklunden chapels, Viking-inspired Thordarson boathouse, and other architecture to get a feel for the people who settled Door County and made it what it is today.

Culture Quick Links

The 7 Must-Instagrams of Door County

  1. The ‘I was here’ exterior of the Hardy Center in Ephraim
  2. Goats grazing on a Sister Bay Swedish restaurant’s roof
  3. A fish boil at one of many local eateries across the county
  4. The twists and turns of Highway 42 that runs throughout the peninsula
  5. Some gloriously ruddy limestone walls at Cave Point in Sturgeon Bay
  6. Impossibly smooth stones on Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island
  7. A heart-quickening view from a Death’s Door-crossing ferry near Gills Rock
Closeup of a red, graffiti-covered building exterior, the iconic Hardy Center
Four goats graze on a grass-covered roof at Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant
A man pours fuel on an outdoor fire in front of a crowd at a fish boil
A open and super curvy road flanked by trees in fall color
Kayakers paddling along the shoreline and marveling at rock formations
A view of the rock-covered Schoolhouse Beach under an electric blue sky.
A group sits on a ferry deck and admires a blue-green lake and wide-open horizon

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What Now? Start Planning Your Trip!

Trip Planner

Explore local businesses, activities, and events and add them to your custom trip itinerary.

Business Directory

Check out our comprehensive business directory to find great spots for dining, shopping, playing, and exploring.


Find the perfect place to rest your head while you visit.


Browse our extensive list of local restaurants to get a proper taste of Door County.

Door County Events

Find Door County events for every kind of trip, including festivals, performances, and kids’ events.

Local Itineraries

Our handcrafted itineraries are designed to keep adventurers, historians, and sports enthusiasts busy.