For those who live outside of the Midwest, you may be unfamiliar with Door County, Wisconsin.
It is a lovely place in the upper Midwest that is surrounded by water; on one side is Green Bay (yes, it’s an actual body of water and not just a football team), and the other side is Lake Michigan.
It has become a huge tourist getaway for Wisconsinites as well as Chicagoans for decades. It is what the Hamptons is to New York City or Cape Cod to Boston.
Only maybe a bit less pretentious than the Hamptons. I only have reality television to base the pretentious comment on, so don’t go by me.
Anyhoo, my parents started going up to Door County in 1991 and after that first trip, it sort of became a family tradition to go up at least once a year whether as a family or separately.
As you can see, it was set in stone.
Oh and Mike and I got engaged up there in 2004, so it holds lots of great memories for us as well.
There is a whole story behind our engagement which I wrote about it in 2014, so I won’t bore you today.
So when my mom suggested that since we had never been on a girls trip with Ella we should make good on that, the second place we thought of was Door County.
The first place was Kentucky and Tennessee but it is a long trip for just the three of us and Ella doesn’t like to travel.
She is a homebody by nature. Like, she is happier in her bed with a box of Cheezits and Netflix than she is going to a theme park.
I know a lot of you can relate to that statement, so I am just gonna leave it there and not say anything smart ass.
So after coming to our senses, my mom and I decided Door County would be a better idea. It’s only three and a half hours from home, it’s a favorite place to go, and it was perfect for a short weekend getaway.
Before I go any further, let me offer a little Door County education. There are several little towns that make up Door County and not all of them are on the peninsula.
Most people think that Door County is only the peninsula but it also includes the towns of Sturgeon Bay, Brussels, and Forestville.
Also, if you live nowhere near the Midwest, please don’t stop reading. This isn’t a local post, it’s a human nature post.
First stop was Door County Coffee and Tea just outside Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (just inside Door County) because I need afternoon coffee and it was indeed afternoon when we got here.
This place used to be in Fish Creek (see map) back in the 90s and it was so adorable, smelled like coffee, and had the friendliest owners. Now it’s huge, busy, and just not a great vibe. Also, their coffee is just okay.
Stuff like this is completely lost on me. I am just fine with my packaged pre-ground Dunkin Donuts coffee. My standards have never been high and honestly, I am just fine with that.
But their hydrangeas were glorious!
By the way, this low standard thing will come in handy later in this post.
Only in Wisconsin…..
Only in Wisconsin part two…
Also? They didn’t smell like cheese so I was instantly disappointed.
Okay, we need to talk about the motel we stayed in.
Adorable, isn’t it?
So I booked this hotel in July, two solid months before we planned to go, not at all last minute.
The reason we booked here was that every other hotel/inn/Airbnb we looked at was booked solid.
Then I wondered why this place wasn’t booked as well.
But after some research found that every single Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google rating was 5 stars. I think maybe only two slipped through that were 4.5 stars.
Great reviews, everyone loved this place, so cool, the great vibe blah, blah, blah. I didn’t even worry once about where we were staying because of those glowing reviews.
Which, as you know, isn’t typically like me.
This is also the point in the post when you are remembering that my standards are fairly low.
Obviously, I don’t want to stay in a place that has a roach strip on the wall or mouse shit everywhere but I am pretty easy going about where I stay on vacation.
So I checked us in and was met in the office with this beautiful scene:
The lady at the front desk was lovely, the views were spectacular, they even offered complimentary coffee all damn day long.
I was really getting excited about staying here!
By the way, this was one of those motor inns (hence the name motel) like back in the 70s and 80s where you drive right up, park in front of your room, and walk in the door.
So you all know how I believe in signs. I have written about it before with my most recent discussion about the book I read that kind of changed my trajectory if you will, aptly named Signs (affiliate link).
So the first sign was that we were struggling to open the door to the room. There were two locks: deadbolt and doorknob, which is good because your room leads to the outside. But it took a solid 5-10 minutes to get the damn door open.
Once we got the door open, we noticed something blocking the door from going the whole way.
It was sign #2.
One of the two queen-sized beds they had crammed in the room.
Crammed is a generous word.
Stuffed in the room.
The room was small.
Like you could touch all four walls just standing in the middle of the room.
Okay, I am teasing but I was trying to be breezy and nonchalant about it because GIRLS TRIP 2019 WOOO HOOOO!
Listen, I got Ellie off of her bed and out of the bottom of the Cheezit box, and into a pocket-sized motel room.
Now, I am not trying to brag here so please don’t take it as such but it is important to the telling of this story: I paid a lot for this room.
A lot more than I would normally pay because there was no room at the inn in Door County this particular weekend and this place had gotten five friggin’ stars.
Plus we never really go anywhere besides Destin and trust me, while we are very appreciative of that vacation, we never EVER go anywhere extracurricular other than our local Target, occasionally Chicago, and sometimes even Kenosha, Wisconsin if we are feeling really adventurous.
But it got 5 stars!
It’s on Lake Michigan!
It’s in Door Bleepin’ County!
So of course, paying what I paid and knowing it’s on Lake Michigan, entering the office with the sweeping views (play the video up there again for effect), I expected us to have a water view.
Honestly, if you are running a motel on any lake in America, EVERY EFFIN’ ROOM should be facing the water.
I would stay the hell home if I wanted a sweeping view of a street.
Or a bush in somebody’s backyard.
Although, my mom found that if you stood to the very right of that window and leaned a bit to the left and turned your neck to the right while standing on your tiptoes, you could see a sliver of the lake.
You could even hear the lake if you had the window open too.
Of course, then you’d have a room full of water gnats, which we did indeed have because the window had been left open all afternoon prior to our arrival.
As well as several flies.
My mom and I got a good laugh out of the motel room, sarcastically cackling about how it wasn’t up to her standards.
To be clear, her standards are a Holiday Inn Express, in case you were thinking she is a stay at the Ritz Carlton type of person.
Ella, however, was just fine with the accommodations, but her standards are pretty basic.
Does it have a bed?
Does it have a toilet?
Does it have four walls?
Just so you know what we are working with.
We got back on the road to head to dinner at 4:15, a solid twenty minutes after getting inside our room, because of the diminutive
cell block motel room.
But that’s okay because this was what awaited us:
Pancakes and meatballs (NOT made of goat).
Our favorite all-time restaurant in Door County is Al Johnson’s for many reasons but the biggest is that there are goats on the roof.
There weren’t goats on the roof while we ate there because they clock out before four o’clock, apparently. We did get to see them the next morning while driving through the town to head to the Christmas shop, so it’s all good.
All of the food is really delicious but our favorite go-to are the Swedish pancakes and meatballs. Normally breakfast here commands a solid 30 minute to one hour wait but since we came at 4:30 , it wasn’t busy at all AND they serve breakfast all day.
If we had a massive hotel room, we may have missed this opportunity altogether!
They have really good hot chocolate too.
After dinner, our bellies full of pancakes, meatballs, hot chocolate and the like, we headed out to the parking lot and took this picture:
Ella took three flowers from the beds outside the restaurant and while normally I would tell her not to touch them, it’s September and they will be dead soon, so the gesture was much more acceptable.
See? Getting to go to the Early Bird Special dinner with your mom and grandma to get the hell out of the prison cell IS fun!
After dinner, we drove around for a while to sightsee and take in our beloved Door County. Then as we passed through the town of Ephraim (my favorite DC town), we had to stop at Wilson’s for ice cream. We were completely full of pancakes and meatballs and such but when you are going by a well-loved ice cream joint, you need to stop.
It’s a rule.
Also, it was 60 degrees this particular evening and for us Midwesterners who aren’t used to such “frigid” temps, we needed to eat in the car.
Talk to us next April when we are going for hour-long walks in 50 degrees.
IT IS DIFFERENT.
I wish I had taken more pictures but I was quite content living in the moment with my mom and Ella, so I just forgot. Trust me when I say that it is so picturesque and reminds me of a little New England village.
Also, that small cottage up there rents for 350 bucks a night.
I didn’t pay anywhere near that for our motel prison cell and felt immediately better that I am a much smarter consumer and also the gnat memory seemed less traumatic when you’re eating brownie caramel fudge ice cream by the waters of Green Bay.
We returned to our motel room around 6:30 that evening and stayed in for the rest of the night because we couldn’t think of anything else fun to do but honestly, it was more fun to just be alone with my mom and my youngest daughter, microscopic room be damned.
My mom and I ended up staying awake until one in the morning talking and that is one of the best moments of the trip and sometimes that is all that matters. Not how large the room is or if it offers room service, or how many restaurants there are, etc..
It’s the little things.
Like the size of our room. SORRY, I HAD TO.
The next morning, we awoke early to find our fly population had tripled as did the gnat population.
OH WAIT, I DIDN’T EVEN MENTION THE BATHROOM.
Literally, we could touch all four walls while sitting on the toilet, no I am not shitting you, pun intended.
If you’ve ever wanted to sit on a toilet and look in the mirror at yourself, then I have a motel for you in Door County Wisconsin!
In a tiny home, I expect this!
In a mobile home, I expect this!
In a camper, I expect this!
In a motel on Lake Michigan that got five-star reviews and was more than my monthly car payment, I don’t expect this!
MY STANDARDS ARE LOW, PEOPLE.
But I don’t need to watch myself taking my morning poop.
It was as I was taking my morning shower with the water that was slowly rising to my knees when I decided we needed to cut our trip short by one night.
Or maybe it was the “homemade” donuts.
I never thought I would ever in my life utter the words, “I can’t finish this donut”.
While my mom was getting ready for the day, Ella and I explored our quaint motel property and found two different worlds.
The world where you must have slept with the owner or paid double what we paid, which would be ridiculous.
Door County, seriously you’re beautiful and all but you need to get over yourself.
So this you need to know about Door County; part of its charm is that there are no chain restaurants or motels/hotels/inns beyond the county seat of Sturgeon Bay.
Which means there isn’t much competitive pricing.
It’s good for charm but bad for people on a budget.
Meaning you really only get a subset of tourists there.
I was 49 years old when I figured all of this out, thank you very much and it made me feel a little hollow inside toward one of our favorite places on the planet.
Maybe we will just come up for a day trip like we’ve been doing for the past ten years instead of staying overnight.
OR stay in Green Bay which is only a 45-minute drive away.
It is totally doable for us to get up extra early, drive up, and spend the day here and still be home by 8 or 9 at night and I think we may just keep doing that.
The day we left, we did get in a lot of fun stuff like….
Finally getting to see in person the art gallery barn with the graffiti in Ephraim.
Getting out of the car and dancing because you are headed home later that day to your bed and Cheezits. I KID.
Impromptu photo shooting because of a great backdrop.
Going to my mom’s favorite little shop in a church and being greeted with some of the most beautiful flowers.
Visiting a lavender shop made with lavender grown on Washington Island which is a ferry trip away, just north of Door County.
Visiting the exact place where Mike proposed to me 15 years ago this past summer (Ella’s favorite part of Door County and mine too).
The gas station where I called my mom from the car to excitedly tell her we got engaged. WHAT? I am a sap for stuff like this.
Eating our traditional Egg Harbor grocery store picnic lunch on the way out of town.
Spending time with my happy place people.
Oh Door Bleepin’ County, you do have my heart.
So many great memories over the years.
And someday, even the toilet facing the mirror will be a great one too.
Not yet, though because too soon.