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Choose Your Adventure: Door County - A Custom Wedding Experience
The late August morning dawned clear and cool, a remarkable break in the sweltering heat wave that dominated the week leading up to Julia Asp and Patrick Blunt’s nuptials. As Julia set out for a wedding-day run, her thoughts turned to the past few days and all the food and fun her guests had enjoyed. She knew her Door County destination wedding was already a roaring success, and it technically hadn’t even happened yet.
“Door County is probably my favorite little place in the world,” says Julia, who lives in Colorado now but vacationed every summer at her family’s Egg Harbor cottage while growing up. “It’s just so beautiful, so quaint and peaceful, and I think the air is a little clearer, too. There’s just something special about it.”
It’s that slower-paced, perma-vacation vibe that makes the ordinary in Door County feel a little bit extraordinary. If Wisconsin is a left hand, Door County is its slender thumb, set apart from the rest of the state and surrounded by oceanic Lake Michigan. Despite its relatively small size (just over 2,000 square miles), the peninsula is packed with shops and galleries, eateries and orchards, state parks and wineries, lighthouses and inns, providing an à la carte smorgasbord of vendors that virtually guarantees no two weddings are alike. You can mix and match—ceremony at a lighthouse, state park, or church like Bjorklunden’s Boynton Chapel; reception at, say, Woodwalk Gallery’s rustic barn; lodging at any one of Door County’s hundreds of B&Bs, inns, cottages and resorts, such as Glidden Lodge Beach Resort. Or you can opt for all-inclusive venues such as Stone Harbor Resort or Gordon Lodge, the possibilities are endless.
“Even though we had five days, it wasn’t nearly enough time to show everyone all of our favorite spots, and our guests were discovering things I didn’t even know were there,” says Julia, who used her wedding website to encourage her 125 guests to create their own mini-vacations; most stayed Wednesday through Monday for the Saturday wedding. “I’ve heard it referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and I think people were surprised at how many things there were to do. It’s so fun to jump from town to town and be involved and active, or find a nice, quiet spot to relax and read a book. It’s got the best of what everyone is looking for, whatever kind of vacation you want.”
Plan for Something Different
Although Julia never thought she’d hire a wedding planner, reaching out to Carrie Baldwin, owner of Door County Events, turned out to be one of the best decisions she made—“She paid for herself tenfold,” Julia declares. Planners have an encyclopedic knowledge of established vendors and venues, most of whom they’ve cultivated relationships and secured discounts with, and they often know about new or off-the-beaten path options Google has yet to discover. It’s a service that comes in particularly handy in Door County, where options can seem overwhelming.
“There is a new barn we just opened called About Time Farm in Bailey’s Harbor, it’s a classic Door County Barn near a cornfield,” says Baldwin. “Another neat place is Birch Creek Music Center. What’s nice about those facilities is that they’re a blank slate; you get to create your space. There’s the Peninsula School of Art, another neat and different place to have an event.” And that’s just the beginning.
“Everything in Door County is very intimate, and in the majority of the venues I work with, you’re the only bride there,” Baldwin continues. “You’re the only wedding that everyone at that facility is concentrating on. It’s very personal, and that’s what I love about being up here.”
If you’re looking for a private property, wedding planner Danica Portier, a Door County native now based in Milwaukee, suggests checking VRBO.com for potential homes or estates to rent. She says there are dozens of lesser-known venues, particularly for smaller weddings. Sturgeon Bay allows weddings at the aptly named Sunset Park. Celebrate down the street at the Inn at Cedar Crossing, whose nine guestrooms, plus their focus on fresh, regional cuisine, guarantee a cozy, authentic feel. Maxwelton Braes in Bailey’s Harbor and Whistling Swan in Fish Creek both combine a similarly intimate feel with delicious fare for gatherings.
“Another one of my favorite places is Stone’s Throw Winery, and a lot of people don’t think of it,” says Portier. In regards to planning your ceremony, she adds that many local officiants will come to you. “I bet there are at least half a dozen independent, non-denominational officiants in Door County that perform weddings.”
Explore the Door
Creative planning should extend to your guest experience. Baldwin helps couples organize activities such as pig roasts by Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse or Door County Custom Meats; yoga on the beach, golfing and charter fishing, private kayak rentals and catamaran sailboat tours in the summer; candlelight cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, skating in the rink at Sister Bay and s’mores around the outdoor fire pit in the winter. Sister Bay Bowl, boasting a cozy six alleys, is another popular Door County experience.
And then there’s iconic Door County food. Cherries dominate the culinary scene, with everything from cherry salsa and chips and chocolate-covered cherries to restaurant offerings such as Mission Grille’s Door County cherry barbecue chicken. Order a wedding cake at Pink Bakery or get creative; Sweetie Pies and Sunflour Artisan Bakery make mini cherry pies and cherry pie pops, respectively. Taste unique cherry wine while touring local wineries and nibble handmade fudge and chocolate at Door County Confectionery. Sip local beer at Door County Brewing Co. and sample world-class cheese at Wisconsin Cheese Masters—or hire them to provide an artisan cheese display for your champagne reception or cocktail hour. Any visit to Door County is incomplete without experiencing a traditional fish boil; Pelletier’s Restaurant and White Gull Inn, both in Fish Creek, do a particularly nice job.
Can’t-Miss Photo Ops
In addition to all the eateries and boutiques, Door County boasts five state parks and 10 lighthouses. Even if you don’t get married at one of them, they’re all worth a visit for stellar photography. Cave Point County Park, the cliffs at Whitefish Dunes State Park and Cana Island lighthouse are definite standouts. One standout is Anderson Dock Marina, where couples can paint their names on the boathouse. Although Ephraim is Door County’s only dry town (therefore not the best choice for many wedding receptions), Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor makes for an iconic shot; grab a scoop of ice cream and walk across the street for waterfront photos.
Exploring Door County with their photographer, Tammy Lutze, was a big part of Julia and Patrick’s wedding day. After her morning run, Julia met her four bridesmaids and Lutze at a Bay Shore Inn condo to get ready, then visited nostalgic sites including Julia’s family cottage, Chateau Hutter (a now-abandoned Door County landmark with childhood memories for Julia) and Cave Point. Julia and Patrick did a first look and then enjoyed the whole afternoon together with friends and family, taking pictures. Once at their wedding venue, Woodwalk Gallery, the couple lingered over a drink—just the two of them in a private room, watching everyone arrive through the window. Guests, most of whom were staying at the Alpine Resort, had easy transportation with Door County Trolley. After a short and sweet ceremony, Julia and Patrick enjoyed a relaxed cocktail hour, especially low-pressure since they’d already taken care of photos and spent several days with their guests. They all noshed on crab-cake sliders and late-night pizza from family favorite Mission Grille, and danced the night away.
“Everyone who came to our wedding,” says Julia, “is eager to get back to Door County.”
GIVEAWAY! To celebrate the beauty that is Door County, in conjunction with the Door County Visitors Bureau, we're giving away (1) two-night stay at Baileys Harbor Yacht Club resort along with (1) $50.00 gift certificate redeemable at participating Door County businesses to one lucky winner!
2. Follow @wisconsinbride
3. Follow @doorcounty
4. Comment on our Door County Giveaway Instagram post by tagging a friend you'd hope to share your visit with.
Winner will be selected at random.
*Open to all U.S. residents