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Road Trip to Door County

Article by Stacy Conde

Photography by Stacy Conde

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I was born and raised in the Midwest, but I never really viewed it as a place to visit, let alone vacation. Growing up in a small Indiana town provided enough cornfields and cows for a lifetime, so when I left for New York and then Los Angeles, I never went back. Give me exotic beaches or gothic buildings and street names I can't pronounce, and I'm happy.

Cut to 2020, a global pandemic and the disruption of life as we know it. This is the longest stretch of time that I've been grounded, literally. Large-scale travel has become a risky business, but the humble road trip—well, this old friend has made a strong comeback. If you open your eyes and hearts to the treasures that are right in your backyard, I think you'll find that delightful surprises await you.

On a recent visit to Door County, I couldn't believe all the goodies that were packed into a compact stretch of peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, off the northern coast of Wisconsin. I could write many pages about all the fantastic things I experienced in just two days, and I will in a future piece; but for now, I'm going to focus on the seemingly little things that to me, make all the difference.

First up: COFFEE. I could be in the most paradise-y of paradise locations and still cannot start the day without a good cup of coffee. I know "good" is relative, but trust me, if it's just bog-standard brown liquid, it won't do. Bearded Heart Coffee in Bailey's Harbor has it all: the coffee (their miel latte is delish), an avocado toast that is among the best I've ever had, a lemon lavender scone that was so good I had to have it two days in a row, and a lovely setting to enjoy it all in.

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With coffee in hand, I'm off to explore... and where there are gorgeous country roads, there are nearly always cool old signs and peel-y paint buildings.

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Another Door County delight is FISH. So. Much. Fish. It just doesn't feel right ordering chicken when you're in the land of fresh-out-of-the-water whitefish, trout and perch. One of our traveling party ordered walleye cheeks... because of course you do. They are exactly as advertised: the cheeks of a walleye fish and they were tasty.

The fish boil is a tried and true tradition that dates back over 70 years. The "boil" itself is quite a spectacle and the result is a hearty meal that you are encouraged to slather with melted butter (we absolutely did) and finish with a slice of cherry pie (guilty). The Old Post Office in Ephraim is a great spot for a traditional fish boil, with all the history story telling and kerosene BOOM that puts the "boil" in fish boil.

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I'm sure that autumn in Door County must be a dream, with the changing of the leaves and brisk air off the lake. We visited at the tail end of the summer. We enjoyed an abundance of outdoor activities, which allowed for all the social distancing and fresh air that makes travel in the time of COVID feasible. That said, be warned: the outdoors also give the gift of the intrepid mosquito. These mosquitos laugh at your nice smelling herbal repellents. They even scoff at your DEET spray. I counted twelve bites in just a day and a half. So be vigilant with whatever works for you and your Door County experience will be divine.