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I Do, Door County: The Perfect Wedding Destination Right in Your Backyard
(Above) Hannah Reilly and Andrew Stone’s wedding at Gordon Lodge provided endless opportunities for photos in Door County’s breathtaking natural scenery.
When most people think of natural beauty and small-town charm in Wisconsin, Door County quickly comes to mind. From its quaint villages and cool shops to the welcoming locals and beloved restaurants and pubs, Wisconsin’s famed peninsula is a Midwest vacation hotspot and an in-demand wedding destination. But what exactly is it about Door County that makes it so special?
“Door County is absolutely breathtaking. We have amazing waterfront views with 300 miles of shoreline. All of the small towns in Door County are picturesque and the people are beyond friendly,” says Amy Gorham, executive director of food and beverage at Gordon Lodge in Baileys Harbor. “Door County is often referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. You can have a dream destination wedding without the extremely long travel.”
For Claudia Graf and her husband Alexander, who chose Door County for their destination wedding last summer, it’s all about that local flavor. “Have a slice of pizza at Wild Tomato and a local microbrew after hiking all day at Peninsula State Park, and the answer becomes clear,” says Graf. “Door County is beautiful, laid-back, unique, affordable and easily accessible—qualities that are often lost in the fine print and glitz and glam of the big-city wedding.”
Photography: Andrea Naylor Photography
Exploring the Area
The Grafs, who live in Wauwatosa, wanted a destination wedding that their families and friends—mainly from the Milwaukee and Chicago area—could drive to for the weekend and feel like they were on vacation. To kick off their weekend in true Door County style, they treated their guests to an old-fashioned fish boil at the White Gull Inn. “A musician entertained guests on the patio with an acoustic music set while the whitefish boiled and the sun set over Fish Creek,” says Graf.
For a relaxing drink by the bay, check out Fred & Fuzzy’s. With its sprawling outdoor space, live music on select nights, famed Door County cherry margaritas and all-around vacation vibe, it’s the perfect place to unwind the night before the wedding. For a cold local brew, pull up a stool at Door County Brewing Co. in Baileys Harbor and try one (or more) of 10 local beers. With live music on rotation and the occasional food truck nearby, it’s perfect for a relaxing day in the Door or a pre-reception stop.
If wine is more to your taste, Stone’s Throw Winery in Baileys Harbor and Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery in Sturgeon Bay offer both public and private tastings. (Don’t miss live jazz on the patio at Stone’s Throw on select weekends during the summer season.) For the true Sturgeon Bay supper club experience, make reservations at the historic Glidden Lodge Restaurant for their exceptional fare, Mr. G’s Logan Creek Grille, which also boasts a creekside tiki bar, or Nightingale Supper Club, complete with an old-school cheese and crackers table for nibbling.
Joanne and Dane Volden turned their Door County wedding into a week-long vacation for family and friends. The main event, held at About Thyme Farm, offered the perfect setting for lawn games and dinner inside the rustic barn. “It provided a background more lovely than I even imagined,” says Joan. / Photography: Art of Exposure
Make It a True Getaway
Chicago-based Joanne Volden and husband Dane were married in Door County in August 2016, and they encouraged guests to stay in Door County for a week leading up to the wedding.
“My immediate and extended family rented out an inn in Gills Rock,” she says. And the wedding party enjoyed a fun tour of Door County—they rented a Door County Trolley to take them from the church to the reception space. “We were able to enjoy champagne and relax and laugh and drive around Door County looking for photo opportunities.”
According to Gorham, staying more than just a couple days is the key to making the most of a destination wedding in Door County. “Plan group activities for a couple of days before the wedding so on the wedding day you can stay relaxed and focus on wedding-day activities,” she says. “We encourage couples to keep their guests informed on their itinerary. This is done usually by putting the weekend’s schedule in their welcome bags and by picking up Door County visitor guides and giving them to their guests.”
Photography: Art of Exposure
Keeping It Local
While Door County is an endless source for bridal inspiration, it’s easy to get lost in the plethora of vendors and venues that make the area so appealing—even for those who know it well. That’s why hiring a wedding planner is an essential for most brides-to-be.
“My family has a house in Ellison Bay, so I am familiar with the area,” says Graf. “Neighbors recommended Carrie Baldwin Smith [of Door County Event Planners] as a wedding planner, and in hindsight, this was the best decision we made. She was our passport to local venues and vendors.” Just south of Door County, Sash & Bow in Green Bay is another wedding planning favorite.
Where to start planning your Door County wedding? We suggest the menu. FlourGirl Patissier in Fish Creek is a renowned local bakery. “Whether or not you get married in Door County, you should try one of her cupcakes,” says Volden, who skipped the cake and offered an assortment of cupcakes at her wedding. “We had four different flavors, and I had more than one guest tell me that they had one of each and still couldn’t choose a favorite.” Pink Bakery in Egg Harbor—which was voted Best Bakery for the past two years by Door County magazine—is also known for its mouth-watering cupcakes, wedding cakes, pies and cookies.
When it came to catering, Volden sought out Scott McEvoy of McEvoy’s Culinaria and Paella Catering in Sister Bay, and was immediately impressed. “He worked with us to come up with a unique menu that everyone enjoyed,” she says.
“We chose Thyme Catering because they cooked on site and sourced from local farmers,” says Graf. The menu, which featured filet mignon, duck breast or salmon, paired with local seasonal vegetables, was a hit. His and hers signature drinks—a brandy old fashioned and vodka Door County cherry lemonade, respectively—were the highlight of the cocktail hour, which also featured Pastoral Farmhouse Ale from Door County Brewing Co.
Finding fabulous floral in Door County is a breeze. Gorham raves about Helene Ingsten-Anderson from Flora in Sister Bay. “Her arrangements are absolutely breathtaking and unique.’” Blossoms Flower House in Sister Bay takes inspiration from the beauty of the Door County landscape, while Folklore Flowers, also in Sister Bay, focuses on growing local blooms.
For many couples, wedding photography is at the top of the to-do list, and Door County has several local photographers who capture the beauty of the setting. “One of my priorities in planning the wedding was choosing a photographer, since I knew the pictures of the day would be memories I would cherish forever,” says Volden. “Tammy Lutze from Art of Exposure Photography is an amazing photographer, but I feel like Door County helps make her job a little bit easier. There is no shortage of picturesque locations that make for stunning photo backdrops.” Local photographers Jason Mann and Andrea Naylor are also known for capturing the splendor of Door County from behind the lens.
Photography: Andrea Naylor Photography
A Perfect Setting
Sash & Bow lead planner and CEO Alliey Kline-Weichelt loves the slowed-down pace of a Door County wedding. “Guests are able to relax and enjoy the area. Time is on their side. They’re able to discover and get back to nature,” she says.
Kline-Weichelt loves to incorporate iconic local items in Door County weddings and take advantage of the area’s natural beauty: think Door County cherries and apples, outdoor games during cocktail hour, lakeside ceremonies, tented receptions and exquisite food offerings. And for venues, Gordon Lodge is at the top of her list.
“As you drive into the tucked-away resort, you are immediately given the feeling of years past—starting with the signage and through the welcome desk. It screams retro. It reminds me a little bit of the lodge in ‘Dirty Dancing,’ ” she says. “There is a beautiful fireplace, gorgeous wood beams, a sun porch and a large bar—after all, we are in Wisconsin.”
Wedding venues are abundant in Door County. For a stunning lakefront resort in “the city,” try Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay, toast your union at a local winery like Stone’s Throw or Simon Creek, or exchange vows amid nature at Egg Harbor’s tranquil Landmark Resort. Beautiful settings and nine holes await at Maxwelton Braes Lodge & Golf Club and Horseshoe Bay Golf Club or you can say “I do” at the historic Hillside Inn of Ephraim.
Many couples look for a rustic vibe in Door County, and Volden was one such bride. Volden and her husband loved the idea of a barn wedding, which is how they decided on About Thyme Farm in Baileys Harbor for their reception. “It provided a background more lovely than I even imagined,” she says. “There was a beautifully landscaped field out front where we set up an outdoor bar and lawn games that our guests could enjoy while the wedding party took photographs.”
Door County is the best of both worlds—a rural setting with unique big city-caliber wedding venues and vendors, according to Jillaine Burton Seefeldt, co-owner of Woodwalk Gallery, an art gallery and rustic event venue in Egg Harbor. “We have first-class caterers, florists, event planners and so many other services,” she says. “In minutes you can be standing by a lake or in the midst of a historical farm setting—and you still have all the amenities right there.”
Photography: Andrea Naylor Photography
The Door County ‘Must’ List
Door County insiders love to give their personal recommendations to visitors of Wisconsin’s beautiful “thumb.” From cocktails at sunset to hearty fish boils, ferry trips, Segway tours and more, there’s no shortage of fabulous activities and sights. Here’s a look at five things our experts say you must see and do during your Door County wedding weekend:
1. Catch the sunset, cocktail in hand. Top Deck Restaurant & Bar at Gordon Lodge in Baileys Harbor is a top destination for catching a stunning Door County sunset. At Top Deck, guests gather for drinks around the outdoor fireplace to watch the sun sink over North Bay. Other gorgeous sunset options recommended by our experts: Boathouse on the Bay in Sister Bay and the Shoreline Restaurant in Gills Rock.
2. Enjoy a classic Door County fish boil. Fish boils are popular—and plentiful—in Door County. From Pelletier’s and the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek to the Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim and Rowleys Bay in Ellison Bay, this classic Door County experience is punctuated by a burst of flames and satisfying meal of whitefish and baby red potatoes. It’s also a great option for rehearsal dinners. And whatever you do, don’t forget the Door County cherry pie.
3. Take the ferry to Washington Island. A unique treat for guests and the wedding party alike, a trip to quaint Washington Island is a great option for a quiet Sunday. Take the 30-minute ferry ride, which departs from the tip of Door County, through the Death’s Door passage to the popular 35-square-mile island. Visit a lavender farm, climb a tower that looks over the island, stroll on Schoolhouse Beach or join the “bitters club” at Nelsen’s Hall (by taking a shot of bitters—yes, it’s a thing).
Photography: Andrea Naylor Photography
4. Indulge in a sweet treat. Door County’s cute villages are chock-a-block with sweet somethings for you and your guests. Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim is a must-visit, with its storied ice cream cones (complete with a jelly bean at the bottom) and malts in an old-school diner-inspired space. Not Licked Yet Frozen Custard in Fish Creek is a local and visitor favorite; just look for the memorable gnome sign. And don’t miss the homemade ice cream, with flavors like Death’s Door Chocolate and Door County Cherry, at Door County Ice Cream Factory in Sister Bay.
5. Get in touch with nature at Peninsula State Park. Rent a bike or Segway, or venture out on foot, through the numerous trails of Peninsula State Park. Eight miles of Door County shoreline allow for unmatched views from the many bluffs and beaches throughout the nearly 4,000-acre park. Or take to the water on a kayak or paddleboard.