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Washington Island Coastline

BON VOYAGE
Washington Island, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logo It’s probably not a typical weekend destination, but could be a long weekend, and definitely a vacation spot. Neil and Alan visited the Island while working on More Door and Neil along with his son James finished the investigation of this Wisconsin icon late last summer. Off the tip of the Door Peninsula, Washington Island (www.washingtonisland.com)  is not only beautiful, but largely pristine and unspoiled. In addition to its 680 year-round residents, it has its quota of summer people too, but their impact isn’t overwhelming. washingtonisland1In part because unlike the rest of Door County, Washington Island is only accessible via a  ferry boat ride (www.wisferry.com) over often choppy waters, an adventure in itself that costs (car and driver included) about $45.00 round trip. Plowing through the frequently heavy swells of the Port de Mort passage, it’s not hard to understand why this body of water separating the mainland from the island (when translated from French to English) is called Death’s Door. A cheery something to contemplate while underway.

For Island visitors on foot or bicycle the cost of a round trip ticket is a lot less expensive. washingtonisland2Cars aren’t an absolute must. The terrain is reasonably flat and traffic isn’t heavy, making walking or biking not only feasible, but fun. Rental bikes are available right off the boat, but they’re industrial strength (not Italian) and a little bit clunky. As a getaway-chicago destination, Washington Island is the kind of place for Alan (Mr. Pedals Everywhere). Neil is fond of bikes too, but he doesn’t think Henry Ford was completely wrong when he put America on (motorized) wheels.

Along with Kick in Sturgeon Bay, a place called The Red Cup near the intersection of Detroit Harbor Road and Main Road brews about the best cup of java in Door County. The Red Cup is a great place to relax and plan the day’s itinerary. Along with the Welcome Center down by the boat landing, The Red Cup has a variety of brochures about stuff to do and see. And speaking of the Welcome Center, don’t miss the Island Outpost diagonally across the road. It’s a great place for a woodsy/lumberjacky clothing selection at reasonable prices. washingtonisland3The main drag of the island is appropriately called Main Road and most island activity appears to take place along it, including performances by the Island Players in a new and striking facility called the Trueblood Performing Arts Center (www.truebloodpac.com). Further along Main Road, a stop at the Art and Nature Center (920-847-2025) is a must. Off Main Road on Town Line Road, another stop at the Stavkirke (a Norwegian stave church) is rewarding too. washingtonisland4Near the end of Main Road on Little Lake Road there’s an obligatory stop called the Jacobsen Museum. Less a museum and more a collection of things, the Jacobsen is an example of the ideal getaway-chicago find. Within its small and humble walls there’s more Washington Island history and anthropology than any other place on the island. A museum registrar’s nightmare and enough to give a conservator a heart attack, this simple institution is an archival gem in an enchanting setting. The Jacobsen Museum in itself is well worth the$45.00 ferry boat ride. Admittance is free and donations are graciously accepted and worthy of a visitor’s generosity.

washingtonisland6Just beyond the Jacobsen is the former Veblen homestead and the birthplace of Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), author of The Theory of the Leisure Class. The homestead (or what’s left of it) isn’t open to the public, but just being close makes a socialist’s heart beat faster. Neil felt faint and Alan, of course, thought Neil was nuts.

Washington Island is first and foremost a nature destination: on this Neil and Alan agreed. Both loved the wide open spaces and the rolling hills, the rock strewn beaches and the tranquil waters of the Island’s many secluded coves. Both would advise not going to the island if non-stop activities and binge shopping are necessities of getting away.washingtonisland6 A visit to this charming place is about relaxation. There are numerous places to stay and eat (www.washingtonislandchamber.com), but the Getaway Guys found one of their best discoveries to date, the Washington Hotel (www.thewashingtonhotel.com). A restored early 20th century establishment, the Hotel (and Restaurant and Culinary School) is a first class operation in an idyllic setting. Rooms (outstanding) and meals (exceptional) aren’t for the financially faint-of-heart, like Alan. A week’s stay could be expensive, but Bentleys are too.

Getting to Washington Island takes some time. Take the Edens (I-94) to I-294 (Tollroad)  back to I-94. In Milwaukee, switch to I-43 north to Green Bay and then to WI 57 east. Follow 57 to Sister Bay and continue on WI 42 to North Port and the ferry landing. Depending on weather and road conditions this is about a 6 ½ hour drive.  May 2008

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