Sunday, August 27, 2017

Island Life: Closer to St. Louis Than You Think

Gulf Shores may be the closest beach to St. Louis, but did you know there is a tiny island town that is even closer? Surrounded by sandy beaches, clear blue waters and dotted with quaint shops, museums and restaurants. To get there you have to travel north about 600 miles and then take a 30 minute ferry ride. Washington Island is located seven miles off the northeastern tip of Door Pennisula in Door County, Wisconsin.

During our week-long stay we immersed ourselves in the island's Scandinavian history and culture. We enjoyed breakfast favorites like pannekaken (Swedish pancakes), limpa bread and kringles -- a Danish confection filled with nuts and fruit and covered in a blanket of white frosting. We visited their local museums, churches and art and nature center. We caught crawdads, toads and snakes (eek!). We spotted deer, a fox and were awakened by a flock of sand cranes as they gathered near our cabin.

We had very limited access to WiFi. Instead we visited with other Sunset Resort guests...some of whom have been returning to the resort each summer for more than 45 years! We met an adorable couple -- Edith and Peter. Edith was just 88 years young (a former anthropologist - she shared with me some of her early adventures working in New Guinea and her groundbreaking experiences as one of the first women to attend Yale) and her partner of 16 years, a retired computer professor -- 30 years her junior! Every day Peter swam out into the clear far onlookers may have mistaken him for someone with the goal of not returning. Faithfully, Edith took up her post in a seat where the dining hall juts out providing a truly majestic, unobstructed view of the shoreline. With binoculars in hand - she'd watch his figure as it shrunk into the horizon. There she would remain until he had safely returned to shore. The two of them truly a set of "love birds" as they frequently embraced and shared how grateful they were to have one another. Peter often played piano in the sitting area and Noah, our budding pianist, shared his love for Star Wars and its music while Peter listened patiently and asked him thoughtful questions.  Later Peter told me how much he enjoyed meeting Noah and was impressed by his ability to memorize so many pieces of music. He thought Noah could recite more than he could (someone who had been playing all his life).

Our daily "to do" list looked like this:
1. Beach
2. Eat
3. Sunset

Our world became very small as we slowed down. Steve and I got into the habit of rising early and taking our steaming cups with us to sit and envelope ourselves in the smells of fresh air and sounds of the water lapping near the shoreline.

Sand Dunes Beach
Schoolhouse Beach only 1 of 5 beaches in the world with perfectly smooth stones -- perfect for skimming and building stones castles.

The water was a crisp 66 degrees.
Our home away from home. My friend, Kim, described it perfectly - "It's like staying at grandma's only with a killer view"

Catching a sunset just outside our cabin.
Mountain Park & Lookout Tower

Enjoying a day at Rock Island State Park. A short 15 min. ferry ride from Washington Island. No cars, no bikes...just peds. Many people we met kayak and canoe from the island.
We took a 1 mile hike from the ferry to tour the Pottawatomie Light House.

Rock Island beach
Noah freaks out over every bug...including flies, but snakes - no problem.

The weather is perfect for growing lavender. The island is home to two lavender farms. Historic Island Dairy and Fragrant Isle

Nat sampled a lavender cookie
Early island settler, Jen Jacobsen spent his life collecting island artifacts and erected this cabin that now serves as a museum.
Noah asks the docent questions while visiting Jacobsen's Museum
We took part in a local tradition: Fish Boils!  We went to K.K. Fiske Restaurant. The owner, Kenneth Koyen, is one of Washington Island's remaining commercial fishermen. We enjoyed fish he had caught earlier that day. We learned that while most boils fish are not de-boned -- at K.K. Fiske -- the whitefish is completely de-boned and served so each morsel can be dunked into a generous helping of melted butter. The servers are friendly and the food is simply delicious. They also offer a variety of homemade breads and while they are known for their fish -- Noah raved about their burgers.

Fire in the Hole!
island lawn ornaments

Island Bowling
The Stavkirke Prayer Path offers visitors a place for reflection and prayer. It features a number of prayer stations and meditation benches with scripture verses engraved onto plaques.

Stavkirke Trinity Lutheran Church holds services in July and August. Truly remarkable

Each morning Sunset Resort flew different flags to represent the heritage of the guests.

Steve purchased a minnow trap. They caught exactly one crawdad - who the kids named Kermit. They played with Kermit   all   day   long  before releasing him back into the water. Best $20 bucks spent - ever.

We attended their Farmers Market...while there were only a couple of vendors -- we purchased vegetables to make a salad and something called Maple Bliss - an all natural maple product of Sweet Mountain Farm that tastes like the candy of my childhood - Bit O'Honey. Delicious spread on toast or enjoyed on pancakes or even ice cream!
Washington Island Farmers Market nestled in the vineyard.
The kids especially liked visiting the Art & Nature Center.

On our last day we caught the 6:45 a.m. (yep... a.m.) ferry back to the mainland so we could stop in Sister Bay to have breakfast at the famous Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant where adorable goats graze on the grass rooftop restaurant.

Natalie enjoyed pannekaken with fresh strawberries

After breakfast we headed to Sturgeon Bay to squeeze in one more thing! A trip to The Farm. A delightfully clean, well-run, family business that offers visitors the opportunity to feed baby goats, hold a kitten, milk a goat and more! - while you walk their pristine, 40 acre property.

In his happy place. Lord, I wish I could have a cat.

There are so many cute shops and places to visit along the Peninsula - if only we had had more time. Between Memorial Day and Columbus Day there are festivals happening nearly every weekend.

Another time...farewell Door County.


  1. Finally got a chance to click on the link you messaged me! And now I want to do pretty much this exact trip. :-) It looks like something for everybody.

    Kelly A.