If you haven’t yet heard of Door County, Wisconsin, you’re in for a treat. This well-kept secret in Northeast Wisconsin juts into Lake Michigan with all of its beauty, tranquility, and unique history.
While most guests staying in Door County choose to base themselves in Sister Bay, Fish Creek, or Baileys Harbor farther north on the peninsula, there is something you shouldn’t miss farther south in Sturgeon Bay.
Maritime history lovers on vacation in Door County will be thrilled to visit the Door County Maritime Museum.
Getting to Know the Museum
With numerous exhibits on the local maritime history as well as fun interactive exhibits, this museum is fun for travelers of all ages. Whether you are looking for a rainy day activity or are seeking new knowledge about the Great Lakes and the brave souls who work on them, the Door County Maritime Museum is sure to be a wonderful experience.
The Door County Maritime Museum is a history museum located along the waterfront of Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin. This region has a rich maritime history, and the museum is a wonderful place to learn about the fishing and craft industries that were so integral to the development of the area.
The museum was opened in 1969 and was first located in Gills Rock, Wisconsin, before moving to Sturgeon Bay in 1997. This move meant the museum could be operated year-round, providing education and entertainment opportunities for locals and tourists alike.
The Door County Maritime Museum boasts many wonderful educational and interactive exhibits suitable for children and adults alike. In addition to permanent exhibits, new short-term exhibits are often popping up for your enjoyment.
The Horton Gallery exhibit hosts an actual wheelhouse from a 1907 steamship, giving you the exciting opportunity to actually put your hands on the wheel and sound the horn. The real wood wheelhouse has been restored to its original state, giving you the most authentic experience possible.
The Baumgartner Gallery reflects the great importance of lighthouses in Door County, which has the distinction of having the third-largest concentration of lighthouses in the entire country.
In this exhibit, you will find the “Sentinels of the Shore” exhibit, where you can learn about lighthouses, their keepers, and their importance in the maritime industry. This gallery also houses an impressive collection of model ships.
The Peterson Gallery shows the amazing accomplishments of shipbuilders in Sturgeon Bay throughout history. From Native American dugout canoes to modern car ferries that are still in operation today, the shipbuilders from this area have made a huge impact on the Great Lakes culture and industry.
The Maritime Museum puts on fun events throughout the year, so be sure to check their event calendar before your visit! Seasonal festivals, such as the fall lighthouse festival and the winter Festival of the Trees are a welcome addition to the year-round exhibits and activities at the museum.
The Door County Maritime Museum is open year-round, seven days a week except for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
Admission is $15 for adults, $7 for youth, and free for children four and under. Seniors and retired military personnel can enjoy free admission, along with museum members.
Address: 120 N Madison Ave, Sturgeon Bay
For some added fun and things to do in Door County, consider checking out one or many of these nearby attractions.
Located on-site at the Door County Maritime Museum, the tugboat John Purves is available for 40-minute guided tours from May-October. This 149-foot restored boat was built in 1919 as the ocean-tug Butterfield.
Kids in particular love visiting Tug John Purves and pretending to be captain for a day!
This ship has a long history, even being drafted by the US Army, christened the LT-145, and used as a materials barge in the Aleutian Islands.
After the Butterfield was returned to Great Lakes, it was purchased and rechristened the John Purves, serving for the Great Lakes for Consolidated Water Power & Paper Company until it was donated to the Door County Maritime Museum in 2003. For history, military, and maritime enthusiasts, the tug John Purves is a fantastic addition to your vacation in Door County.
Cana Island Lighthouse
Cana Island is located in Lake Michigan, just off the shore from Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. It is so close to the shore that, when the water is low enough, it is actually possible to walk from the mainland to the island. Even when the water is higher, a complimentary tractor shuttle ride can safely transport you to the island.
The top attraction here is the Cana Island Lighthouse. Built in 1869, this beautiful lighthouse has kept watch over Lake Michigan for over 150 years. The gallery of the 89-foot tall tower can be reached in 97 steps on the spiral staircase, from where you can enjoy incredible long views over Lake Michigan and Baileys Harbor.
It’s just one of many lighthouses in Door County that is worth a visit.
Also operated by the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc., the Death’s Door Maritime Museum is a must-visit for those interested in the history of commercial fishing and of the namesake of the museum, the Death’s Door passage of Lake Michigan.
Death’s Door is a passage in Lake Michigan that has a long and often dark history. Referred to as Ports des Morts by French explorers, this section of the lake passes between Washington Island to the north and the Door Peninsula to the south and is the site of many shipwrecks.
The Death’s Door Maritime Museum has exhibits on these shipwrecks and on the legends and mysteries surrounding this dangerous passage. The museum also features a wooden fishing tug, a diving exhibit, and numerous artifacts that were brought up from the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Those looking for further island adventures in Door County will love a visit to Washington Island. Accessible only by ferry, this quaint island in the northern part of Door County is a wonderful destination with options for boating, hiking, fishing, golfing, and shopping. Visit the island’s lighthouse, which is the oldest in the state.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Lighthouse enthusiasts are spoiled when they visit Door County! Another fantastic option for a day trip from your accommodation is the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.
Located conveniently in Fish Creek, this lighthouse sits 76 feet above Green Bay and can be visited on a guided tour. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was manned from 1868 to 1926 and is still decorated with the original furnishings.
Northern Sky Theatre
After a day of exploring, seeing a play at the theater is the perfect way to spend your evening. The Northern Sky Theatre in Ephraim, Wisconsin, produces professional musicals which aim to further education on American history.
Established in 1970, this theater is a Door County institution that is beloved across the state. With a beautiful setting in the woods of the Peninsula State Park, an evening here is sure to amaze.
Soak Up History While in Door County
The impact of the maritime industry on this region of Wisconsin cannot be understated, and visitors of all ages will enjoy the educational and interactive exhibits found here. With something for travelers of all ages, the museum is a perfect addition to your getaway.
A vacation in the stunning Door County, Wisconsin, wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Door County Maritime Museum.