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Things to see while sailing Door County: Washington Island

Leave the hustle and bustle of the peninsula behind. Many consider Washington Island the opposite of the Door Peninsula. As beautiful but with a fraction of the crowds. As an avid, long-time visitor to Washington Island, here are some of my favorite places.

Where to Dock on Washington Island

There are several marinas on the Island, Shipyard Marine and Kap’s, both on Detroit Harbor, and the Town Dock at Jackson Harbor. The Jackson Harbor dock is small and can only hold a few boats at a time. It has water hook-up, restrooms, ice, trash receptacles, and electric. 

There are at least three things that make it a cool place to dock: 

  • A beautiful view of Rock Island
  • The best sandwiches (and soups and homemade pies) to be found at the Jackson Harbor Soup Company. I recommend the “Dagwood” sandwich
  • The Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum is a small, quaint but very interesting, museum chronicling the Islands commercial fishing industry, shipwrecks, ferry line and Coast Guard history. 

As a side note, Pam (the Harbor Master) owns the Jackson Harbor Inn, a terrific place to stay for friends and family or for yourself when you’re not sailing. There are nine rooms and a cottage available. 

Lookout tower on washington island

How to Get Around Washington Island

Biking is a great way to get around the Island. There is over 40 miles of paved road and minimal traffic. To get a birds-eye view of the island, climb the 186 steps of the Lookout Tower on Mountain Road. 

Where to Get a Bite to Eat 

You may be hungry after that climb. My favorite bar and restaurant is Fiddler’s Green. Fiddler’s is an Irish pub with an incredibly eclectic décor housed in a building that started its life as the Detroit Harbor School in 1860. In 1920 it was moved to its current location and became Tom’s Store. Over the years, it was a grocery store, butcher shop, gas station, auto repair shop, and finally, an Irish pub. The menu leans towards healthy options (no greasy bar food). Almost every weekend there is live music.

Where to Wet Your Whistle

For your caffeine jolt, the Red Cup on Detroit Harbor Road is a classic coffee shop with great artwork lining its walls. For those who are looking for an adult beverage, Main Street has four bar/restaurants in a row: KK’s, Middle Bar, Karly’s and the famous Nelsen’s Hall. Tom Nelsen built his Dance Hall in 1899. During Prohibition, Tom received a pharmaceutical license. Why? Well, Angostura Bitters is 90 proof. This allowed him to sell shots of Bitters as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.” It appears that many residents had stomach problems during Prohibition. The Door County Pulse has a great article: To this day, Nelsen’s is the largest consumer of Angostura Bitters in the world.

Don’t Miss Stavekirke

Mann’s Grocery Store and Mann’s True-Value Hardware store are just across the street for any provisions you may need. Around the corner and down a bit on Town Line Road lies Stavekirke. This is an exact replica of an ancient church that was built in 1150 in Burgund, Norway. A definite must see! 

Visit a Rare Beach

As your day winds down, visit Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Harbor. Part of the Niagara Escarpment, it boasts a sandless beach, one of only five beaches in the world with the same characteristics. Instead of sand, the beach is made up of smooth limestone rocks polished by glaciers and wave action.

Watching the Sunset

One of the most relaxing times I have had is grilling out in People’s Park. It is a long, narrow park with several picnic tables and fire pits which is not frequented all that often. It runs to the edge of the Death’s Door passage upon a 50-foot bluff. Facing west, it is the best place to watch a sunset on the Island. 

Other Washington Island Gems

Other places that I recommend include visiting the Jacobsen Museum, a performance at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center, and if you’re around on Sunday, a Door County League baseball game featuring the Washington Island Islanders.

Article and photo courtesy of Jim Schwartz, SailTime Door County

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