Whitefish Dunes, Wisconsin
Round-trip 510 miles
Wisconsin, home of obnoxious football fans, enough cheese to sustain a small nation for 50 years and…spectacular beaches? While America’s Dairyland isn’t any more synonymous with beach vacations than it is with tiny waistlines, the state boasts quite a few sweet sandy spots. Whitefish Dunes State Park (3275 Clark Lake Rd, Sturgeon Bay, 920-823-2400; $10 admission/car) in Door County is one of the best, and if you squint, you’ll feel—for a second, anyway—like you’re in St. Kitts. Located outside sleepy Sturgeon Bay, the park includes nine miles of hikable trails, a mile-long beach and Wisconsin’s largest sand dune, Old Baldy (93 feet).
“The cells in your body just sort of stop when you get here,” says Ken Sturgis, a chiropractor in nearby Green Bay. “The sound of the waves, the long view across the bay—it’s just very peaceful and tranquil.”
Nature’s the star here, and you can find little surprises everywhere: in the shells of shiny zebra mussels, in the icy-cold, crystal-clear water and even, if you listen closely enough, in the sand, which is so soft and milky white that it squeaks beneath your feet.
If singing sand doesn’t float your canoe, hike a half-mile to neighboring Cave Point County Park (5360 Schauer Rd, Sevastopol, 920-746-9959; free) for a breathtaking view of aquamarine water hitting 30-foot-high limestone cliffs. Intrepid visitors can scale the rocks to the bottom, where they’ll be greeted with spectacular ground-level views of the cliff bottoms extending nearly 40 feet into the lake. Bring your snorkeling gear to check out local species like salmon and trout. Kayakers can either put in at the shore or go on a tour with Door County Kayak Tours (4690 Rainbow Ridge Court, Egg Harbor, 920-868-1400; $48 for a four-hour tour), where they’ll find hidden sea caves nestled in the cliffs.
A day at Whitefish Dunes wouldn’t be complete without sampling its namesake fish, so head to a traditional fish boil (fish are cooked in a wood-fired kettle). Square Rigger Galley (6332 Hwy 57, Jacksonport, 920-823-2404), only a mile from the dunes, does fish boils twice nightly, at 6 and 7:30pm. The $16.95 dinner includes onions, potatoes and cherry pie for dessert.
Head down the road to Mike’s Port Pub (6269 Hwy 57, Jacksonport, 920-823-2499) for affordable bar food. To-go sandwiches—a good idea, since there are no concessions at Whitefish Dunes—range from $5.15 for a grilled ham and cheese to $7.75 for a double cheeseburger.
Town Hall Bakery (6225 Hwy 57, Sturgeon Bay, 920-823-2116) oozes cute: Pastel wooden chairs and white-doilied carry-out boxes complement the Polo-shirted crowd. Everything’s made from scratch, including the egg-licious Colonel Mustard in the White House skillet for $9.95.
After a long day in the sun, you may be tempted to kick back on the sand and sleep under the stars. But because camping isn’t allowed in the park, your wake-up call could be an annoyed ranger escorting you to your car. Better to go for a bed nearby. The four cleverly named rooms at the Reynolds House Bed and Breakfast (111th S 7th Ave, Sturgeon Bay, 920-746-9771; $130/night and up) scream Victorian. Relax in the Cortland Room’s claw-foot tub, or relive childhood memories in the Granny Smith Room’s century-old rocking chairs.
For budget travelers, the most basic lodging option is the Chal-A Motel (3910 Hwy 42-57, Sturgeon Bay, 920-743-6788; $59/night and up). Maroon-colored rooms and Zenith TVs add to the kitschy vibe. It’s near the busy Highway 42-57 split, so bring earplugs.
It’s hip to be square at the Square Rigger Lodge (6332 Highway 57, Jacksonport, 920-823-2404; $115/night and up), but it’s cooler to relax in its cedar-paneled communal hot tub. It’s adjacent to the motel’s lobby, so once you’re overheated, you can quickly jet to your room.
They call this the peninsula’s “quiet side” for a reason; “nightlife” consists of throwing one back at the local tap. Mr. G’s Logan Creek Grille (5890 Hwy 57, Jacksonport, 920-823-2112) is the place, as long as you can handle the dirty jokes told by Patty the bartender (the one involving a toothpick is particularly entertaining). The sautéed scallops are a house specialty, and Patty makes a mean mojito, but only if you ask her nicely.