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Thursday, June 3, 2004 09:15 pm

Door county

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Tour the World War II-era U.S.S. Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc
Photo by Cindy Ladage

Once the school doors close, summer travel fever strikes with a vengeance and travelers such as my family hit the road. Although it's a bit of a drive -- four or five hours north of Chicago -- the scenic beauty of Wisconsin's Door County is well worth the trek. It's like traveling to coastal New England without the cross-country haul.

Door County has 250 miles of coastline, more than any other county in the lower 48 states. Once you get north of Milwaukee and reach Wisconsin Highway 43, glimpses of Lake Michigan come into view. Ocean or lake, the feeling is the same.

Though not actually in Door County, the town of Manitowoc is the portal to this wonderful peninsula. In Manitowoc, be sure to visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which chronicles 150 years of Great Lakes maritime history. Manitowoc was the first freshwater port where submarines were built. Here, 28 subs were constructed between the years of 1941 and 1945.

The museum includes a submarine memorial, featuring the World War II-era U.S.S. Cobia. Tours are available, and there's even an overnight program available for groups. For more information, call 920-684-0218 or see www.wimaritimemuseum.org.

As you drive north on Route 43 and then west on 42, the Cana Island Lighthouse comes into view. Built in 1869, the lighthouse is open from the third weekend in May through October. The Door County Maritime Museum (920-743-5958 or www.dcmm.org) operates the lighthouse, which visitors get to by following a long, narrow causeway. If you skipped the maritime museum in Manitowoc, you're in luck: There's another in nearby Sturgeon Bay.

Door County features many quaint towns in which to stay, but wherever you end up, be sure to eat at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. Famous for the live goats that romp on its sod roof, this restaurant offers a unique dining experience akin to visiting a larger version of the Seven Dwarves' cottage. The food's great, too.

For those who enjoy visiting historic small towns, Ephraim offers four operating museum buildings and six blocks of historic buildings, including the Pioneer Schoolhouse, the Goodelston Cabin, and the Anderson School. The town was settled in 1853 by a Norwegian Moravian minister named Andreas Iverson.

If you're heading to Door County to visit some of its famous orchards, Lautenbach's Orchard Country, near Fish Creek, is a great stop. Lautenbach's features a winery and offers free tasting of ciders, homemade preserves, beer, and, of course, Wisconsin cheese. For more information, call 920-868-3479.

Fish Creek offered one of our favorite stops, the Cupola House. This 1871 Gothic Revival mansion, which will charm those enthralled with historic homes, is filled with Christmas items and a fine-art gallery. Best of all was the homemade ice cream available in the mansion's café and ice-cream parlor. For more information, call 920-868-3941.

The Cornerstone Suites in Egg Harbor offered a unique place to stay. Designed like a rambling vintage barn, it's is an affordable, comfortable place, chock-full of antiques. We stayed in the loft area with a bathroom modeled on a silo, decorated with a painting of cows, and equipped with a huge Jacuzzi. The suites fill up fast, so call 888-495-3005 to check on vacancies.

Four miles north of Sturgeon Bay, visit the Farm, a living museum of rural America that offers something for kids of all ages. The Farm is home to chickens, horses, lambs, pigs, and goats. A collection of antique tractors is also on display. A special treat: Goat-milking demonstrations are offered on the hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The Farm is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Labor Day. For information, call 920-743-6666.

This is just a small taste of what Door County offers. From hiking along the coastal beaches to visiting art galleries to fishing to shopping, Door County features plenty of adventure and recreation. For an illustrated guide, call 800-527-3529. For a Wisconsin travel guide, call 800-432-8747.

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