That night we stayed at the tip of the peninsula in Gills Rock (population 75). The 15-room Harbor House Inn is a kick, especially the lighthouse-shaped cottage. There's not much else in Gills Rock besides Bea's Ho-made Products (Mom and I got pretty juvenile over the name). Here, you can watch cooks stirring jams over stoves in the back of the store. Every summer the seventyish Bea comes up from Florida to help with pickle production.
Few visitors make their way to Washington Island. The ferry fee is prohibitive-$33 round-trip for two people and a car from Northport-and, as my father cracked, it's a great place to visit if you like to watch paint dry. On the half-hour ferry ride we passed a section of the lake called Death's Door, which gave the county its name (treacherous currents sank many a ship before range lights were installed on nearby Plum Island in 1895). We explored the island for a few hours, visiting the log-cabin Jacobsen Museum and rocky Schoolhouse Beach. We also stopped by the Sievers School of Fiber Arts, which offers classes in Navajo rug-weaving and papermaking. Dad was right: Washington Island isn't exactly a hot spot, but Mom and I might return one day for Sievers's bent-willow furniture workshop.
After a ferry ride back to the mainland, we headed south to Highway 57. It runs down the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula and is all nature trails, lighthouses, and endless beaches. We were staying 19 miles south of Gills Rock in Baileys Harbor, which feels like a Wild West ghost town, thanks to its still-operative blacksmith shop and wooden-frame saloon. The Blacksmith Inn is a 1912 half-timber house; tools made by the smithy next door hang in the 15 lake-view rooms.
Some sun worshipers stick to the Green Bay side of Door County, tolerating narrow patches of rocky beach for the sake of warmer waters. Instead, we went to Jacksonport, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town, and meandered about 15 minutes down Cave Point Drive to a spectacular golden-sand beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park. The winds off Lake Michigan create great waves, but the water can get high enough to close the beach (call be- fore you go-920/823-2400-to check on conditions). We weren't able to swim because of vicious riptides, but I couldn't think of a better way to spend my last day in the Door.
Well, yes I could-down at Sturgeon Bay's fifties-style Perry's Cherry Diner, eating pie á la mode. (Guess which flavor?) We got back on Highway 57, and within half an hour we were in cherry heaven.
DAY ONE Drive to Sturgeon Bay, one hour from Green Bay, five hours from Chicago. Overnight: Sturgeon Bay.
DAY TWO Head north on Highway 42, which runs up the western shore of Door County. Overnight: Fish Creek.
DAY THREE Go for a slow drive on County Road F, then return to Fish Creek. Rent a paddleboat in Peninsula State Park. Overnight: Ephraim.
DAY FOUR On your way to the tip of the peninsula, stop in Ellison Bluff County Park to see 100-foot limestone bluffs. Overnight: Gills Rock.
DAY FIVE Catch the ferry to Washington Island. Return in the afternoon, then drive south to Highway 57. Don't miss Cana Island Lighthouse, down Highway Q. Overnight: Baileys Harbor.
DAY SIX After sunning on the wide beach in Whitefish Dunes State Park, return to Sturgeon Bay on Highway 57.
Chanticleer Guest House 4072 Cherry Rd., Sturgeon Bay; 920/746-0334; doubles from $130.
White Gull Inn 4225 Main St., Fish Creek; 920/868-3517; doubles from $107.
Whistling Swan 4192 Main St., Fish Creek; 888/277-4289 or 920/868-3442; doubles from $114.
Harbor House Inn 12666 Hwy. 42, Gills Rock; 920/854-5196; doubles from $89.
Blacksmith Inn 8152 Hwy. 57, Baileys Harbor; 800/769-8619 or 920/839-9222; doubles from $175.
Sage 136 N. Third Ave., Sturgeon Bay; 920/746-1100; entrees from $24.
Sweetie Pies The Settlement, Hwy. 42, Fish Creek; 920/868-2743; cutie pie $6.
Donny's Glidden Lodge 4670 Glidden Dr., Sturgeon Bay; 920/746-9460; dinner for two $50.
Wilson's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor 9990 Water St., Ephraim; 920/854-2041; lunch for two $20.
Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant 700 Bayshore Dr., Sister Bay; 920/854-2626; breakfast for two $15.
T. Ashwell's 11976 Mink River Rd., Ellison Bay; 920/854-4306; dinner for two $80.
Perry's Cherry Diner 230 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay; 920/743-9910; lunch for two $10.