Door County Adventures – July 2022 – Sister Bay

Hi everyone,

Welcome to another adventure in Door County Wisconsin. Click here and here for links to the first two articles in this series.

We spent the month celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary with family and friends. Our lodging was at the farmhouse on the Heart of the Door Homestead near the center of the Door peninsula. This location gave us many directions for sightseeing and recreation.

During our many previous visits to Door County, we haven’t spent much time in Sister Bay. That changed during our recent stay. In about twenty minutes we could be creeping through the slow traffic in Sister Bay, common during the high season.

Sister Bay, population about 950, is located north of Fish Creek and Ephraim on the Green Bay side of the Door Peninsula. It sits on a harbor protected by the tiny Sister Islands, from whence the village gets its name. It has a well used beach, a couple of large marinas, excellent restaurants, and several resorts. The summer population swells to several thousand on any given day, hence the traffic. In addition, the only way to get north to Ellison Bay, Gills Rock, and Northport to catch the ferry to Washington Island is to go through Sister Bay. It’s a pretty town, I’m sure you’ll like it!

Goats on the Roof

The main reason for the traffic jams and difficulty in finding parking is caused by Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Batik, also known as, the restaurant with goats on the roof. As tourists drive-by Al Johnson’s, they slow down to check to see if the goats are grazing on the roof. The restaurant is popular too. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, waits for a table can be up to ninety minutes. A few years back, Al Johnson’s added the Stabbur Beer Garden next to the restaurant. This is a great place to relax with a drink or some pub food under the yellow umbrellas. Goat watching is popular too. The view is fantastic with the beautiful Sister Bay Harbor across the street.

During one of our stops at Al Johnson’s, a plein air painter was sketching the scene at the Stabbur as we enjoyed a cold drink in the warm sun.

One of the many tourist attractions our out of town visitors wanted to see were the goats on the roof. The goats were not out on our first trip through Sister Bay. But I did get an interesting photo of an employee mowing the roof! That attracted nearly as much attention as the goats!

The next couple of trips, we had success. Users of the internet can also check out the goat cam to see the goats grazing the roof.

The Boat Tour to Death’s Door Crossing

Over the years that we’ve been coming to Door County, we’ve explored nearly every crook and cranny of the peninsula. I’ve photographed sunrises looking out over Lake Michigan at Cave Point County Park and sunsets over Green Bay from Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, and Ephraim. However, we’ve never seen Door County from the water until this visit.

It was a beautiful, sunny Thursday afternoon when we boarded the Norra Dörr for a two hour cruise up the north shore to Death’s Door Crossing and return.

Meet the entertaining narrator for our tour. He regaled us with stories of the past and present, rich and famous, and the stoic and quirky. 

As we left the harbor, the view of Sister Bay was spectacular. 

Our guide pointed out this house built overlooking the waters of Green Bay. The owner, a wealthy railroad executive, wanted an office built on the property so he could work while enjoying the view. He had the wood building with full length glass built jutting over the tree tops. It even had a see through floor! It is said that visitors were astounded by both the office and the view.

Our water cruise took us past Ellison Bay and Gill’s Rock where the car ferry is loading cars for the short trip to Washington Island.

Death’s Door is the chief passageway between the Bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. It lies between the tip of the Door peninsula and the nearby islands. There are a lot of stories conjured up about Death’s Door, some based on truth while others are pure fantasy. One thing that is known is that the current of Death’s Door passage changes with the direction of the wind. Early sailing vessels on their way to Green Bay or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan were occasionally caught in stormy weather when passing through Death’s Door and ended up dashed to smithereens on the rocky shores. In the mid-1800’s a series of lighthouses were constructed that reduced the toll on ships and men. Two of those lights were on Pilot Island (top photo) and Plum Island (second photo). As you can see, Pilot Island is bare with little of any vegetation. This is due to the abundance of cormorants (a large diving bird known for their voracious appetite) and the waste they leave behind. 

Plum Island is largely under the control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is open to the public and has hiking trails throughout the island. The Plum Island Range Lights in the photo below are still in use but unmanned.

On our return trip, our guide stated that Upper Peninsula Michigan is just over the horizon. This trio of  pelicans appear to be headed that way!

It was a fun boat ride on a beautiful. Highly recommend giving it try if the cost of tickets are in your budget.

The Protest

During one of our stops in Sister Bay, a protest popped up at the main intersection just down from Al Johnson’s. As usual, traffic was slow and heavy. The protesters generated a lot of horn honking and waving in support of their cause. There were only a few that gave the hundred or so protesters the middle finger salute. I saw the protest as a photo opportunity. I did leave several photos in the digital archives due to their vulgar nature. Here in the US, we have the right to assemble and petition our government for redress. It was in action in Sister Bay this day.

The Artist

The same day as the protest, we parked near the Mill Road Gallery, home of artists Tom Seagard and his wife Brigitte Kozma. As I was browsing around the gallery, Tom came up to me and started talking. Our conversation went on for nearly a half hour, my Traveling Partner came looking for me or I’d might still be standing there talking with this interesting fella. Tom has been an artist since age 19 when he was studying art and design at UW-Milwaukee. He told me he was injured as a young man, nearly crippled but he turned those injures particularly to his hands into opportunities. His current work is of Native Americans. The medium is brown paper, like a grocery bag, stretched over a piece of masonite. He uses traditional art materials as well as common items like bleach, coffee, and food coloring in his work. Tom has quite a story to tell. Stop in and check out his work. I enjoyed my visit with him. Here’s a link to his gallery webpage.

That does it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the photos and stories about Sister Bay, Wisconsin. More Door County next week.

Until then, happy travels!