Door County, WI, is a Far Better Vacation Spot Than the North Shore
Goats, cherries, and implanted memories > icy, highway-adjacent water.
12:20 PM CDT on July 24, 2023
The time has come my studs and babes to talk of many things: Of goats on roofs and cherry picks—of peninsulas and things! My hunks and hunkettes, have you heard? Listen very carefully: SUMMER IS ALMOST TWO-THIRDS OVER. Take a deep breath and let that sink in. Summer isn’t a puppy anymore, it’s a full-grown dog. It’s humping stuffed animals! It’s messed up.
And do you know what the worst part is? I bet a lot of you dum-dums still haven’t even gone on vacation. It’s time to get real: We’ve wasted the last two months. We got lazy. Before you come at me all defensive, know that I’m including myself in this statement too! I’ve been loafing around like a lil sloth just as much as y’all have, but it’s not our fault. That’s just what summer does. It makes us all cute lil sloths. (To make sure you’re paying attention so far: summer = dog; you = sloth.)
I was supposed to write this story six weeks ago when I traveled to Door County in the beginning of June, when summer was still a wobbly pup just adorably bumping into tables. I went to cover the ninth annual “Roofing of the Goats” at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik, which is an event that heralds in the tourist season on Wisconsin’s northeast peninsula. A crowd of people watch as manicured goats run up onto the roof of a building in Sister Bay. It’s incredible. It’s a cultural touchstone for Door County and for the world.
And so I went and watched it happen, and then I was supposed to come back and tell everyone about it. And it was all going amazing up until I got back and tried to write. I failed. The languid June sentiment of infinite possibility got the best of me. I didn’t write anything. I had so much time! I just laid around and made pesto a bunch and then ate the aforementioned pesto on top of saltine crackers. That’s what June does. The days are long and smoky, and we think we have so much summer remaining. But now June is over and so is most of July. We need to get our lives together and go on at least one good vacation before September. We need to play badminton! We need to eat a hot dog and pet a puppy and run through the sprinkler with our nieces! We need to sit in the grass and deepthroat a popsicle. We need rest and relaxation. We need Door County.
Now I get it, you think I’m being dramatic. Well news flash, bozo: THIS IS THE LAST WEEK OF JULY. It’s time for drama. It’s time to start freaking out.
- Fact: July only has like three weeks in it.
- Fact: August is approximately four days long.
- Fact: It will snow in September this year. It will snow on September 11, because of freedom.
We might as well start planning our friggin’ Halloween costumes, because summer is more or less finito. I can hear y’all now. You’re saying, “No Ian, I did summertime stuff: Me and my partner went to the North Shore for a night. We found a beach in the city and splashed around in one of those stagnant cesspools we call lakes...”
Well that’s not gonna cut it, my darlings. That’s not enough. That’s not a vacation. I know I’m being a bully, but this is the kind of tough love that you need sometimes. I need to force you to go on a real vacation. Why? Because if you don’t then you’re all going to be dicks for all of fall and winter and the city will be full of assholes because no one will be relaxed because no one got their summer R&R in. This is a big deal. The fate of good vibes in this city depends on you chilling the fuck out and taking a week off of work to just lay out in the sun with the Hawaiian Tropic bottle.
Am I being a tad hyperbolic? Yes. And in a lot of ways, the summer is still a horny lil adolescent teen dog; it still does the zoomies. But remember that August moves faster than June or July does, because summer speeds up as it rounds the bend. Also, time speeds up as we get older because of how we perceive it. (AP Physics, baby!) If I wasn’t sounding the alarm, then most of August would be spent dreading September, like one giant Sunday Scaries. And the idea of us all marching into September without one good summer vacay under our belts, everyone collectively just raw dogging it into fall without memories of summer R&R keeping us pacified? Well that makes me want to fill my pockets with rocks and walk out into the sea, like that woman at the end of The Awakening. (Feminism, baby!) Or maybe I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf… In any case, let’s take the rocks out of our pockets and listen to logic.
Door County is the answer to our prayers. Repeat after me: It’s time for us to all go to Door County. We need to swim in Lake Michigan. Lake Superior is nice but it’s also cold and stupid. You need to go to a beach. A real beach. A Lake Michigan beach. Not the dirt surrounding our pisspot ponds in the metro area. No. Those are gross. Those don’t count. Didn’t someone dump a porta-potty into one of them last year? Eew. No. We need to go to a great Great Lake.
Myth: The North Shore is better than Door County because it is closer.
Fact: The North Shore is a boring place and only rich people from L.A. buying their climate change homesteads live there now. Betty’s Pies is outright bad; Sven & Ole's Pizza is barely OK. Gooseberry Falls State Park smells weird.
Additional fact: I was joking and it’s nice there and I kind of want to move to the North Shore and start my hipster ore-mining business: Ian’s small batch, artisanal, single-source taconite. I will get really cottagecore and bake pies and sell twee and beautifully rendered, old-fashioned, homegrown, locally owned, and cute sourced iron pellets. I will sell my artisanal taconite to the rich people from L.A. who are building their stupid climate change homesteads all along Hwy. 61. Eventually I will get greedy, switch to goblincore, and get obsessed with shinies. Then I’ll mine too deep into the earth, hit a Balrog, and then the Balrog will destroy the city of Duluth. Scary stuff isn’t it? Good thing none of that jazz will affect Door County in the slightest!
At this point I’ve gotten so off topic that you’re still all thinking that you will go to Lake Superior and not to Door County, I bet. Why? Because of all the sweet memories you have, right? No, you little dolts, stop thinking that. OK, OK, OK: You’re not dolts, you’re sweeties, but you need to go East. To Lake Michigan. You need to go to Door County. The summer is rapidly running away.
Door County is the answer to our problems. The cherries are finally ripe and ready. The goats are on the roof. It’s time. You need to go. Remember how back in June I traveled to Door County specifically for you, to get the scoop as Racket’s official goat vacation correspondent? Well, I should have told you back then to go, but I didn’t because I was paralyzed with summer-itis. Also I wanted to interview the goats and I couldn’t get any goats to allow me to interview them on the record and so it felt like I’d let everyone down. I only have off-the-record goat interviews, and a couple on deep background. In my head I believed that I was going to be a cool travel writer like Paul Theroux, but also shittier and not as good in any way.
Being Paul Theroux was too hard though, so I pivoted and decided the tone of this story would be me chiming in with another slice of piping-hot goss. I was gonna be all, “Extra! Extra! This week we’re talking vacations, and how you Minnesotans are going to the wrong shore. I’m Snooki. Also I’m The Situation.” I was going to make a lot of dated Jersey Shore references and write to you romantically about Door County because I love it there and have fond memories from when I was a young lad.
We need to leave now. Stop reading. Just get in the car and drive toward the lake. Door County is better than the North Shore. You all need to scramble to get there before summer ends in 10 minutes or whatever. You have no choice in the matter. You all WILL go there. Do as I say! Go! Eat! Fudge!
“But Papa Ian,” I hear you saying, “Papa Ian, how can I have fun in Door County? Summer vacations in adulthood are built around nostalgia of childhood vacations and yearly traditions. How can I go to a new resort destination like Door County when all I have to draw from are years of inferior North Shore memories?"
Well, fear not. I’ve already come up with a solution: I’m going to give you a few lil memory lozenges to suck on, just to get you started. We can share them. It will bring us all closer, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. For we all want Endless Summer/Peter Pan memories, me included, and now all of my memories are part of Creative Commons. And so the people rejoiced and there was much frolicking, and the gods looked down on the Minnesotans climbing into their cars heading across Wisconsin and over to Door County and they smiled, for it was good.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks. In planning your Door County vacation, first thing’s first: You’ll need to leave on a Thursday morning. Maybe Wednesday morning even, if you’re lucky, to get an early start on the weekend. For some of you, maybe your employer gives you those summer Fridays? Great. But you’re gonna need Thursday too, so call in sick on Thursday. Lie. Just lie a lot. Lying is cool. So is swearing. Don’t be a dumb bitch. Lie and say you have Covid. Say you have Long Covid but sneak the word “weekend” in between the words, “Long” and “Covid” but not loud enough so they can hear. That’s just a fun little joke for us. You have “LONG weekend COVID,” baby!
Pack up the car. You need at least five days of vacation if you’re not going to be an asshole all year because you didn’t get enough R&R, so plan for five days. Seven days would be better. Nine days would be best.
Plan for 14 days.
Oh, also, the drive to Door County is kind of long so pee before you leave. First you have to drive to Green Bay where Ian is from, and that takes four and a half hours. Then you drive another hour to get into Door County. Whoops! Worry not though, because the drive is fun. There are something like 50,000 Kwik Trips in the state of Wisconsin, so you should see how many of them you can stop at along the way. Once, when I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, one of my students did a project on how to drive fastest to all of the Kwik Trips near campus, like he mapped them all out, and it was his final project and it was incredible. I gave him like 110% as a grade. College! You can have that memory, now you’re the professor! Also, Busch Light cases have fun corn on the cob designs on their packaging this year, so buy several cases of Busch Light because that’s a collector’s item. Also your alcohol tolerance increases tenfold the second you cross the border from Minnesota into Wisconsin. It’s science.
There are three good Culver's right along Highways I-94 and 29 as you make your way toward the thumb of Wisconsin. Feel free to eat at all of them. The thumb of Wisconsin is where Door County is, and so it’s a very important part of the state. Just like with hands and with sex, the thumb is very important to Wisconsin.
When you get near the thumb, you might stop in Green Bay. You don’t need to stop here for very long. It’s a silly place. You can stop for one hour and go to Kroll's East, which is a restaurant that I worked at when I was 16. It has fantastic hamburgers and chili. When I worked there, we would periodically go out to this shed to “get charcoal” which was code for smoking weed. One time I got too high and knocked over an entire shelving rack of water glasses. Like hundreds of glasses. I can remember that the Jimmy Eat World song “The Middle” was playing. That memory is yours now: Take it, it’s for you.
After Krolls you’ll wanna get the hell out of Green Bay as soon as possible. Turn on the radio for sheer novelty and revel in the fact that Green Bay inexplicably still loves that band Buckcherry. Once, I drove by a bar on my way to the movies, and a cover band was playing Buckcherry, and then it was immediately on the radio as I parked. What are the chances? I thought. But then Buckcherry was someone’s ringtone while I was in line to get my movie ticket. I’m not joking, three Buckcherry things happened in two minutes. This was like two years ago, too; Green Bay still really rides for Buckcherry. That memory is yours now. Don’t want it? Too bad. I curse you with it. That’s right, this door swings both ways. Sometimes I get to just heap memories onto you so as to unburden myself. The Buckcherry thing is on y’all now. I feel lighter already.
You might be thinking, “Ugh Buckcherry? This seems like a lot of hassle. Remind me again why I have to go to Door County?” Well bozo, because it’s incredible in every way. Because farmstands line the roads and cherries rain down like shiny red manna from heaven. It’s a magical place where goats wander the roofs of restaurants freely and the beer flows like wine. Love romance? Great! Quaint, romantic-ass shit happens left and right. You eat Hickey Brothers smoked whitefish Lady and the Tramp-style and then share an ice cream cone at Wilson's Parlor with your sweetie. You get to second base in a meadow of lavender on Washington Island. You sit in the grass next to your car at Skyway Drive-In Theater and drink Lautenbach’s cherry wine while your brother and his girlfriend argue in the front seat. Those are all your memories now! Visualize them!
And once you’re on the peninsula, the meadows and fields are aglow in pastoral glory. Every town is pretty. The bayside, the lakeside, it makes no difference: There are two different shores—Green Bay to the West, Lake Michigan to the East—and they’re both good. At 300 miles, that’s roughly double the shoreline of the North Shore! You can just pick a town and settle in and chances are you’ll have a cute-ass time. I’m not the first writer to declare it the Cape Cod of the Midwest. One summer when I was younger, I had a French girlfriend come visit me, and while we drove through the farmland in between the two shorelines, she told me that Door County looked the most like France out of anywhere she’d been to in the U.S. And then I asked her if that made Green Bay kind of like the Paris of Wisconsin, and then we laughed and laughed and ate brie and kissed. That’s another memory for you! A fun lil Frenchie memory! Sacre bleu!
Door County is a fabled land where dreams come true and where you will make memories forever. All kinds of memories: Memories of witchy barn art and farm stands and Koepsel’s cherry salsa. Memories of Amish hand pies and Holsteins flush up to the side of the road. Memories of Florian II Supper Club and Deprey’s Frosty Tip, and Death’s Door Vodka, of Peninsula State Park and drive-in movies, of fish boils and sailboats and Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Club, the Madeline Island bar that stayed open through prohibition by prescribing a medicinal regimen of angostura bitters shots to townspeople. Sure, you can take my memories, but you’ll make your own—I swear it by the old gods and the new.
You’ll make sun-soaked, tanned-legged, laugh-wrinkled beach memories—the Proust’s madeleine cookie kind where you still remember 30 years later, the exact way the cottage smelled, remember the grit of the sand in your PB+J sandwich, and how you ate it while sitting on a bed of folded down reeds at Whitefish Dunes State Park. You’ll remember being 12 years old and hiding from your family, skipping rocks and feeding the gulls, sitting alone and staring out into that flat endless horizon of blue, and realizing for the first time that you’ve finally gotten what you wished for: You’re finally more adult than child. And inexplicably, you immediately feel melancholy about that realization.
These are universal memories; this is what Door County is for. We all need it. Head to the peninsula my lovelies. What are you waiting for? Leave now. Leave tonight. Flee the city. Throw a swimsuit and two pairs of shorts into a bag and whistle for the dog and husband, whistle for the kids. Get out and pet a cow. Interview a goat. Sprint out to the sandbar. Kiss your sweetie with a mouth full of Renard's Cheese curds. There’s seriously like five minutes left in summer, why are we even still talking? Stop reading this you bozo! You silly goose, you beautiful and flawed and sometimes still wild thing. We are the same and we all need this. We deserve it. Don’t we?
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