The moniker refers to the city’s somewhat central peninsula location on a shipping canal that connects Green Bay and Lake Michigan, affording visitors an easy home base to fan out north or south. However, and this is the insider tip, there is so much to do in Sturgeon Bay that you may just want to stay put.
1 p.m. – As you get to the outskirts of Sturgeon Bay, be sure to make your first stop at Renard’s Cheese. To shop like a pro here, have your list of preferences at the ready and a spare cooler in the car to fill up with these gourmet cheeses and cheese curds made by third-generation cheesemakers.
Because wine always goes with cheese, mosey down the road a bit to Red Oak Vineyard and pop in for a tasting before selecting favorites to enjoy during your getaway. Try the wines made from St. Pepin and Marquette Blush grapes grown at their Door County vineyard. North of the city is Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery and here they offer vineyard tours, too.
If stomach rumblings need to be addressed after your drive, try Kinara Urban Eatery for authentic Indian food. Their “Indian to Go” menu is complete with favorites like tandoori chicken and vegetable curry.
3 p.m. – To get a lay of the land, take a guided “Everything Sturgeon Bay” segway tour run by Segway the Door Tours. On water, you can take a tugboat tour of the Sturgeon Bay ship canal or past the Sherwood Point Lighthouse aboard a vessel originally designed as a Chicago fireboat and offered by Ride the Fireboat cruises.
Once back in dock, head into the adjacent Door County Maritime Museum to explore tales of bold ship captains and lighthouse keepers. Hint: Don’t overlook the Door County Historical Museum for a history of early settlers, the cherry orchards and fish boils.
5 p.m. – Now it’s time to check in to your lodging. For couples, the Inn at Cedar Crossing is a traditional country inn with rooms upstairs and a full-service restaurant and pub on the ground floor. For those who favor signature Victorian, there’s the Scofield House Bed & Breakfast or White Lace Inn.
If this is an annual friends’ getaway, a resort like Bay Shore Inn, located a few miles outside the city and right on the water with free bikes and a fire pit on the beach, could be perfect. If you prefer to stay in the city, there’s full-service Stone Harbor Resort.
7:30 p.m. – Round out the evening by attending a performance at the Third Avenue Playhouse, Door County’s only year-round professional theater company.
8 a.m. – Start the day with a scone from Sunflour Artisan Bakery. Ask for a loaf of their Starboard Brewing Company wheat bread, which incorporates beer from a local one-barrel brewer. There’s also Scaturo’s, where you can order a hearty sit-down breakfast or some pecan rolls to go. Tip: They open at 5 a.m. for those wanting to get an early start on outdoor pursuits like fishing.
9 a.m. – Speaking of fishing, the Sturgeon Bay Sport Fishing Association of Door County is a one-stop for fishing charters.
Hikers, your destination is the 1,200-acre forest in Potawatomi State Park. Trek the nine miles of trails, saving energy to climb the observation tower which also marks the east end of the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail. If you're a real outdoorsy type, consider tent camping here. Bonus if you’re a birder, with 50 species of songbirds to serenade you in the morning.
Noon – Replenish calories at Sonny’s Pizzeria, with signature pizzas and the Chicago-style variety, plus a full page of pasta offerings. Nice views on the outdoor patio are no charge. Bluefront Café is an upbeat spot with vegetarian options. Get Real Café emphasizes organic, fresh, local food and the smoothies come highly recommended.
1 p.m. – For the afternoon hours, put on your walking shoes and switch up the pace. Stroll across all three downtown Sturgeon Bay bridges, including the steel bridge at Michigan Street.
Next, shop one, two or all three shopping districts. Start on Third Avenue and visit Cornucopia Kitchen Shop for high-end cooking gadgets and wares, Louie D’or Olive Oil and Wine Shop for olive oil and balsamic vinegars and wine tasting, and Dancing Bear for old-fashioned children’s toys and books with gifts wrapped for free (look for resident cat Jean Louise while you’re here).
On Madison Avenue, G&J Glassworks is a working glass studio and gallery where the stained glass pieces sparkle. Jefferson Street shops include Bliss with home décor finds, Monticello for those who like to shop for apparel that’s ethically made, and Jefferson Street Books for a good mystery.
There’s also a burgeoning arts district on Second Avenue, anchored by Popelka Trenchard Glass, where you can see the owners blowing and sculpting magnificent fine art glass pieces that you can purchase in the gallery, and Margaret Lockwood Gallery filled with Lockwood’s ethereal Door County abstract landscapes.
5 p.m. – Before dinner, wet your whistle at Starboard Brewing Company, a nano-brewery where the owner has created more than 160 different brews using Wisconsin ingredients over the two years he’s been in business. It’s one-barrel brewing, so when the barrel is gone, it’s gone.
6 p.m. – It’s tradition to dine at a supper club like Donny’s Glidden Lodge or Mill Supper Club. Downtown there are intriguing choices like Crate for sushi and a sake cocktail, and Trattoria Dal Santo for shareable small plates.
8 a.m. – 5th and Jefferson is a coffeehouse located in an actual house, serving Counter Culture Coffee and fresh baked goods. Ride your bike to Glas Coffee (glas is Gaelic for "green") and you’ll receive a 10 percent discount.
9 a.m. – Golfers, your tee time awaits at IdleWild, an 18-hole championship course with views to the Niagara escarpment rock ridge. There’s also Cherry Hills Golf Course, offering a challenge for skilled golfers yet equitable for recreational players.
Noon – One final food stop wraps up your autumn itinerary. The Sunday brunch at Inn at Cedar Crossing is available until 2 p.m. and spans sweet to savory with lots of breakfast and lunch offerings to choose from. If you’re in no particular rush to hit the road, opt for lunch at Waterfront Mary’s, a restaurant the locals frequent for its leisurely pace, pub portions and pretty fall views.