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Lake Michigan sportfishing really shows itself as you enter Baileys Harbor, every inch of road chockablock with trucks and boat trailers and a glistening new marina. It's a fitting legacy, actually.
In 1844, a Captain Bailey and crew were foundering in a sudden squall when they espied this cove and took shelter. They were amazed to find a deep, well-isolated harbor and gorgeous cedar stands backing off the beach. So enthralled was the captain that he and the shipping company owner persuaded the U.S. government to construct a lighthouse at the entrance some years later.
Thus, the first settlement in Door County was established. Its harbor remains the only designated Harbor of Refuge on the peninsula’s lake side.
Before you come barreling into town, know that the sights around here are mostly south of town coming from Cave Point County Park. South of town along WI 57 at the southern end of Kangaroo Lake are my absolute undiscovered gems—Lyle-Harter-Matter Sanctuary and Meridian County Parks, which sandwich the highway and feature rough undeveloped trails past Niagara Escarpment rocks and one of the largest dunes in the county. (And remember as you sit and munch your granola bar, you’re halfway to the North Pole!)
A bit south of town and along a splendid stretch of beach is a decidedly different kind of vacation, an educational seminar (from $1,000 with superb food, far less if living off-site) at Bjorklunden (7590 Boynton Ln., 920/839-2216), more a relaxed, soul-searching means of personal growth than a for-credit school experience (though it is the northern campus of Lawrence University in Appleton). Participants can live in a recently reconstructed Norwegian-style lodge built of local fieldstone and undertake courses in humanities and natural sciences. Some midweek seminars are also cheaper. Just to stay at the lodge, which looks like a Viking ship, is around $400 a week, meals included. Visitors can tour from 1–4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday ($4) and check out the Norwegian stavkirke (church).
During the summer, the gardens of the estate host Door Shakespeare (920/839-1500, www.doorshakespeare.com), with evening performances daily except Wednesday.
The Town Hall (can’t miss it) has the local visitors information center (corner of WI 57 and CR F, 920/839-2366, www.baileysharbor.com), open daily in summer and fall.
Chinook salmon and rainbow and brown trout are the quarry for local charter boats, and the fishing in Baileys Harbor is some of the best in the county—Lilliputian Baileys Harbor (pop. 780) boasts a salmon harvest one-half the size of Milwaukee’s.
Baileys Harbor has a couple of basic, modestly priced motels. I stumbled into the Sunset Motel & Cottages (8404 WI 57, 866/406-1383, www.baileysunsetmotelandcottages.com, $75 and up) once and was most impressed by what you get for what you pay—as confirmed by a couple of other guests staying there. It’s casual, rustic, but comfortable, with friendly proprietors—the way things used to be everywhere in these parts. It’s just north of the Highway Q turnoff.
On the south side of town, there are above-average motel rooms and a lovely littoral setting to boot at the Beachfront Inn (8040 WI 57, 920/839-2345, www.beachfrontinn.net, from $90). In addition to a private beach, indoor heated pool, and regular campfires, this place gets many, many kudos for being so pet-friendly (they even have their own rescue dogs).
What may be the most enviably sited lodging in all of Door County is
Gordon Lodge (1420 Pine Dr., 920/839-2331, www.gordonlodge.com, $160–425). Spread across the tip of a promontory jutting into Kangaroo Lake’s north bay, the long-established Gordon Lodge sprouted in the 1920s as an offshoot of a popular Sturgeon Bay doctor’s summer home. The main lodge has a lake view, while villas with fireplaces creep out right atop the water. Some original cottages are set back and nestled under the pines, which also drape over fitness trails. The dining room is casually elegant, and the Top Deck lounge, originally a boathouse, is unsurpassed for after-dinner dancing. Go north out of town and follow Highway Q toward the lake to Pine Drive.
The 1860s-era log home Scofield House North (920/839-1503 or 877/376-4667, www.scofieldnorth.com, $135–285) was painstakingly dismantled near Pulaski, Wisconsin, and relocated to the village, where it has become a showpoint lodging option. The gorgeous two-story log home has two bedrooms with skylights, two fireplaces, cathedral ceilings, and a lovely sunroom.
The town has gone from basic fare to two road-trip-worthy eateries. Newest is Harbor Fish Market and Grille (8080 WI 57, 920/839-9999, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, $6 and up), a casually fine place in a 120-year-old building offering wondrous atmosphere. All comers will be happy; you gotta try the Wednesday and Friday (Friday only off-season) lobster boil! There's great custard and espresso next door.
Restaurant Saveur (8041 WI 57, 920/839-2708, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $17–35), very close by, is fabulously creative in its entrées that, despite flitting about the globe, are firmly rooted in the co-owner’s South America (Chile to be precise). If nothing else, the restaurant would get my business for eternity for promising, when they opened, to be “creative, ambitious, elegant,” and all those other usual things, but also to be “completely unpretentious.” Done and done, and so it’s become possibly the best new restaurant in Door County for this edition.
That said, some of us are old-school. If so, or if you’re a Packers fan (rhetorical?), head immediately to Weisgerber’s Cornerstone Pub (WI 57, 920/839-2790, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily May–Oct., shorter hours off-season), which has three squares of solid comfort food (pan-fried perch since 1926) and quite honestly the best service during the last trip to the Door!
© Thomas Huhti from Moon Wisconsin, 5th Edition