Travel

Door-to-door fun in the 'Riviera of the Midwest'

If you don't like the fish boils, maybe you'll like the goats on the roof.

Door County boasts coastal villages, cherries and whitefish. And on the Door Peninsula, which juts into Lake Michigan like a thumb, beaches are small and suitable for young families. A necklace of tourist towns are separated by just a few miles - Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, Gills Rock.

It's a well-heeled spot for a well-heeled vacation.

I found Door County as wholesome as a glass of milk.

"It is known as the Riviera of the Midwest," a real estate agent told me enthusiastically, "and also as the Cape Cod of the Midwest."

Such puffery isn't necessary. Door County has its own unique attractions:

Goats on the roof

The county was settled by Scandinavians, and people drive for miles to Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. It's a one-story building, but its peaked roof is sod. Every day, goats are led up a ramp to the peak to nibble the grass and be four-legged tourist attractions.

What a gimmick! You can't look away. Plus, most of the families snapping pictures of the goats end up inside the restaurant, feasting on paper-thin Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam.

Fish boils

If you are from Maine, you are never going to mistake this for a lobster boil. But it's all good fun, as area restaurants fire up steaming pots over wood blazes outdoors and boil fresh whitefish fillets and red potatoes. Tourists can find fish boils nearly every night somewhere in Door County.

Just as the fish finishes cooking, the chefs douse the flames with oil, sending up a shooting fireball, guaranteeing a gasping crowd.

Things to see and do

Reasonably priced small plane sightseeing tours: Grizzly Scenic Air Tours runs out of the Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport in Ephraim. Up to three passengers can fly 30 minutes for $162 - that's just $54 each.

As I arrived, Grizzly's 4-seat Piper Cherokee 180 landed, and a beaming Linda and William Basley of Sheboygan, Wis., got out.

"I had the time of my life!" Linda Basley said about her first plane ride ever.

Air tours also are romantic, says pilot Dave Burke. He has had seven prospective bridegrooms pop the question in midair, "and six of them were successful," Burke says.

The seventh? "He proposed, and she said, 'Not in a million years.' It was a long four minutes back to the airport, I can tell you."

The incredibly gorgeous public golf course at Peninsula State Park: I am not a golfer, but this hilly par-71 course with its giant beech trees on Green Bay has got to be the prettiest course in Wisconsin. It was packed.

Cows: Moo! City slickers will love Schopf's Hilltop Dairy and the Dairy View Country Store in Carlsville.

This is not just a working dairy farm - it has a stainless steel milking parlor where visitors can watch cows being milked and learn how milk makes its way from cow to grocery store. Great for families with children or curious adults.

Ephraim: Wisconsin's only "dry town" allows no alcohol to be served at local restaurants or hotels. On the other hand, its classic seaside architecture makes it the prettiest town in Door County. Every building near the water is pure white clapboard - all the resorts, all the churches, everything.

Started as a Moravian religious community in 1853, beautiful Ephraim, now a popular location for resorts, maintains a dignified environment that makes even the local library seem boisterous. Proof? The most popular booth at the Fyr Bal Festival in June was the library's book sale .

Nightlife: For theater and classical music, Door County is your place. It has professional theater (Peninsula Playhouse, Door Shakespeare), the classical Peninsula Music Festival, plus dozens of public concerts.

Beautiful Views: See excellent vistas from Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park, from the scenic lookout at Ellison Bluff County Park or from one of the many tour boats offering sunset tours. In my book, though, the best view is from an airplane, where you can appreciate the unusual undulating series of harbors and see Green Bay in its summer glory.

I was there in June, but the hardwood trees of Door County mean fall color will be spectacular here, too.

I bet the goats on the roof have a great view.

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