Wisconsin August 22, 2022
Sturgeon Bay Is The Best Small Town In Wisconsin For A Weekend Escape
Many tourists used to only stop in Sturgeon Bay — formerly a blue-collar shipbuilding town — long enough to gas up before they headed to other destinations north. A lot has changed, and today Sturgeon Bay is a town that has come into its own. New upscale inns and restaurants and a growing number of tourists are seeing what was here all along: beautiful beaches, maritime heritage, wild parks and trails, and iconic sights. Today, there’s no need for tourists to keep driving. Sturgeon Bay has it all.
From the Hawaiian Island of Oahu to the coast of Massachusetts and everywhere in between, come along with OnlyInYourState as we introduce you to the best Small Town Getaways you can take this year. From nature lovers and foodies to history buffs and shopaholics, there’s something for everyone within these unforgettable, two-day itineraries curated by our local travel experts just for you. Is Sturgeon Bay Worth Visiting?
Sturgeon Bay is not for every traveler. You might be happier elsewhere if you’re looking for a giant theme park experience or a huge Caribbean-style all-inclusive resort. It also won’t remind you of downtown Chicago – the town is Door County’s largest city but still has just 9,000 residents.
But what Sturgeon Bay does have is pretty magical and you might find it’s exactly what you need to relax and recharge and there are a lot of things to do in Sturgeon Bay. Here’s a helpful Sturgeon Bay travel guide.
How To Get To Sturgeon Bay
There’s a small airport just south of town and some marinas with nice services, so if you own your own plane or yacht, the town can accommodate you. But the rest of us – and the vast majority of travelers - arrive by car.
The trip up the peninsula from Green Bay is pretty fast and carefree, thanks to an expanded four-lane highway. It will take you right to the city's bridges and canal.
Getting Around Sturgeon Bay
While Sturgeon Bay is fairly bike and pedestrian-friendly, this is a place where you’ll want to have a car to get around. Many attractions around Sturgeon Bay are spread out and there is no public transportation serving many of these sights.
Driving is one of the popular activities in Sturgeon Bay - the surrounding roads are incredibly scenic, and you’ll never know what you might find!
Best Time To Visit Sturgeon Bay
Sturgeon Bay sees the largest numbers of travelers in the summer and weekends during the fall color season. But consider a shoulder season visit in the spring (April and May), late fall (November), or winter to enjoy Sturgeon Bay attractions without the crowds.
The parks are especially tranquil and while you won’t be able to roll out a beach towel and go swimming, you might just have the whole beach - and a beautiful view - all to yourself - you can own the town!
Where To Stay In Sturgeon Bay
Sturgeon Bay has a lot of great lodging options, including small hotels, vacation rental homes, and lakefront resorts. The largest is
Stone Harbor Resort & Conference Center. It was named “Best Lakeshore Resort” at the Governor’s Conference for Wisconsin Tourism.
Stone Harbor is in the heart of Sturgeon Bay’s renovated downtown and it has rooms for every traveler, from comfortable single rooms to multi-room suites with amenities like fireplaces and balconies. Once you check in you may not want to leave!
Day One – A Taste Of Sturgeon Bay History And Beauty
Sturgeon Bay is a place with a rich history worth discovering. Start with a stroll downtown and stop in for a beverage at
Kick Coffee, a place that will help start your vacation off with a bang.
The shop serves all the classic coffee drinks and some inventive specials. The menu includes fast and flavorful items like breakfast sandwiches and quiche wraps. The restaurant’s menu focuses on fresh, local ingredients so whatever you order will likely be delicious!
Once you’re well-fueled, take some time to explore Sturgeon Bay’s fascinating fishing, sailing, and shipbuilding history at Sturgeon Bay’s Door County
The museum is located along the waterfront and it tells the stories of the community’s past fishermen, ship captains, shipbuilders, inventors, and lighthouse keepers. It’s a must-visit when you’re exploring the history of the area.
Sturgeon Bay’s maritime history lives on – out in Sturgeon Bay’s canal, you’ll see massive ships and pleasure craft that have come into port or are passing through the bay and into the canal.
The canal was an engineering feat in the 1800s. It dramatically shortened the shipping distance between Green Bay and Chicago and eliminated the need for some ships to cross through the treacherous waters at the tip of Door County. The canal runs seven miles and took more than 10 years to complete. It was finished in 1882.
At the end of the canal, you’ll find one of Door County’s most-photographed sights – the Sturgeon Bay Canal Light and Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light. Get your camera ready!
The Sturgeon Bay Canal Light is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1899 and reinforced with steel bracing. The bright red Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light was built in 1903 and it’s located on the north pier of the southern entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.
Continue your trip back in time with a stop at the
Door County Historical Museum. The Chicago Tribune named this the best small museum in the Midwest and when you step inside you’ll see why.
The museum tells the story of Door County onward and kids of all ages love this interesting and informative place – there’s a Pioneer Fire Station that’s complete with a carefully restored 1920s fire truck, a vintage jail cell, and a diorama that recreates Door County’s natural beauty. Take your time to enjoy all the displays. Donations are accepted.
After exploring Door County’s past, you may find yourself a little hungry. Complete your historical tour with a fine meal at the
Inn at Cedar Crossing, a wonderful restaurant and Inn in a beautiful 1884 brick building.
The restaurant serves delicious and upscale meals made from scratch with as many local ingredients as possible. You’ll want to make reservations – the dinner menu includes well-done comfort food like slow-roasted ribs and pan-fried walleye. If you return for lunch you might want to enjoy one of the well-crafted sandwiches, along with fried Wisconsin cheese curds as a starter. Whatever you do, sure to save room for a slice of Door County cherry pie!
Day Two – Exploring Sturgeon Bay’s Natural Beauty
We’ll start the second day of our getaway with a hike and lakefront picnic at Potawatomi State Park on the shore of Sturgeon Bay. This park was established nearly a century ago and it’s a natural treasure now enjoyed by thousands of county visitors every year. But don’t worry – there are plenty of places to find solitude.
Once the site of a federally-owned quarry with strategic value, the land has been returned to a natural state. There are miles of scenic hiking trails and the park is the eastern end of the ice Age National Scenic Trail, a thousand-mile footpath that winds across Wisconsin. Ponder your next hiking adventure as you picnic by the water’s edge - the park has more than two miles of scenic shoreline.
Leaving the park, turn back across the bridge and head north to another gorgeous natural site. The
Bayshore Blufflands State Natural Area traces more than seven miles of the Niagara Escarpment, a geologic feature that extends to Niagara Falls.
You’ll find the parkland just six miles from Sturgeon Bay. There are parking areas at the east and west end of the property and miles of trails. You could hike all day here but save a few steps for the incredible parks ahead.
Drive east through farmland across the peninsula to one of the state’s iconic state parks.
Whitefish Dunes State Park is an 867-acre park that has the largest collection of substantial sand dunes on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Humans have enjoyed this special place for a very long time. The North Bay people lived in the area that’s now the park in 100 BCE and over hundreds of years, many others followed. Today the remains of eight successive prehistoric Native American villages are on the National Register of Historic Places. Your footprints in the sand are just the latest tracks here!
You can step through this rich history as you take in the park’s natural beauty. The Whitefish Dunes Nature Center features exhibits about the ecology, geology, and cultural history of the park and trails that will lead you to a sweeping, dune-lined beach.
Use caution swimming, as there are often dangerous currents at the beach. You may want to stay on the shore's soft sand and enjoy the view.
North of Whitefish Dunes State Park, you’ll find another gorgeous park.
Cave Point County Park is a little park that’s a must-visit spot for people traveling in Door County. It’s connected to the state park via a short and scenic trail through the woods, so you can hike or drive between the parks.
When you get to Cave Point, you’ll understand why it draws so many visitors. Even before you get to the edge of the bluff, you’ll hear the sound of the waves thumping into the caves below. Hike to the edge and you’ll be treated to some gorgeous views.
The park’s shore is laced with dolomite/limestone formations and underwater caves. There’s a rocky trail along the lakeshore where you can see the caves and enjoy some nice views from above, near the parking area.
Consider renting a kayak from an area outfitter to truly take it all in. You can paddle through the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan, right up to the edge of the caves.
Cave Point is arguably one of the most beautiful paddling spots in the state.
After taking in all this outdoor beauty, head to a special restaurant near Sturgeon Bay that’s a work of art.
The Nightingale Supper Club has been a Door County institution since 1913.
Hopefully, you’ve worked up a big appetite on the trails and dunes because this is an old-school place that creates meals that are simply sublime – this is the place to seek out Wisconsin classics like prime rib and fish fry. Arrive early and enjoy the classic supper club offering or a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar. You won’t want to rush any part of this wonderful meal – go ahead and order another Wisconsin classic with dinner: the brandy old-fashioned. Enjoy the drink your way, sweet or sour, and start planning your next return trip to Sturgeon Bay.
Learn more about things to see and do in Sturgeon Bay and see details on upcoming events on the Destination Sturgeon Bay
website. If you decide to pull yourself away from this amazing city and venture north, here are some villages worth visiting. They are an easy drive from Sturgeon Bay – many people choose to make Door County a base camp for exploring these lakeside towns. Address: Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, USA