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Sheboygan (pop. 50,792) is the Bratwurst Capital of the World. They make toilets too; it's the circle of life. Large enough to have "suburbs" like aforementioned Kohler and the Sheboygan Falls, the area is home to a number of major companies, including Kohler, Acuity Insurance and the aforementioned Johnsonville Sausage and Bemis. Comedian Jackie Mason, basketball coach Rick Majerus, and the Chordettes (the '50s group that sang "Lollipop") all hail from Sheboygan. The city was referenced in the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot when Daphne & Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) claimed to Marilyn Monroe they had studied music at the "Sheboygan Conservatory." The movies Home Alone, A Kid in Aladdin's Place, World Trade Center and Surf's Up all reference the city. There was even a board game in 1979 called The Creature That Ate Sheboygan - who no doubt consumed a lot of bratwurst during that meal. Mattel even claims that the iconic Barbie, their signature doll's character, hails from the fictitious Willows, Wisconsin - a city claimed by many to be based on Sheboygan. The city even had an NBA team called the Sheboygan Redskins back in the '40s. It's also consistently named one of the best places to raise a family and, interestingly enough, one of the best places to retire, in the U.S.
Points of interest are quite plentiful considering the city's size. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (608 New York Avenue, 920-458-6144) hosts galleries chock full of innovative explorations in the arts. Rather than only showing historical artistic pieces, the center works to foster new concepts and forms of artistic creation. It's definitely worth a stop.
Golfing and Surfing in Sheboygan
One of the reasons Sheboygan is considered a good place to retire is the plethora of golf courses. Incredible courses like Whistling Straits bring worldwide acclaim and establish Sheboygan as a premier place for golf. Nestled along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan north of the city along County LS, Whistling Straits reminds most golfers of the classic olde links in Scotland and Ireland. Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championships in 2004 and 2010, and will again in 2015, as well as the Ryder Cup in 2020.
A popular annual event is Brat Days, which takes place the first weekend in August. In its 2006 celebration, the city hosted the International Federation of Competitive Eating and Takeru Kobayashi broke the world bratwurst-eating record by downing 58 brats in 10 minutes against heavy competition, live on ESPN. Sales of antacids were massive in town that night.
While you're going downtown, check out the Rahr-West Art Museum and the brass ring in front of it. At 610 N. 8th Street (the northbound side of U.S. 10, a good route for re-joining Higwhay 42), you can check out a variety of visual arts and exhibits, as well as a piece of Sputnik. Yes, the Soviet satellite. A 20-pound piece of it, the only one surviving re-entry into the atmosphere, crashed to earth in 1962 and just happened to pick the middle stripe of 8th Street in Manitowoc for its landing. What some may simply assume is a manhole cover is actually a brass ring, marking the spot where the chunk of Russian craft, reportedly "still glowing" when police found it, landed. It's right in front of the Rahr-West Art Museum. The original chunk was returned to the Soviets (one can only imagine... "um, here, this is what's left of your satellite"), but a good replica is available for viewing in the museum. There's also an annual Sputnik Fest now in Manitowoc, taking place every September.
If the chocolate monster within you needs satisfaction, check out Beerntsen's Confectionary (108 N. 8th Street, 920-684-9616), a local favorite since 1932. Beerntsen's maintains the ice cream parlor atmosphere in their original location; meanwhile, they ship their chocolates to other parts of the state, including the tony American Club in Kohler, which features Beerntsen's in their gift shop. Further up 8th Street on the other side of Highway 42/Waldo Blvd is the Lincoln Park Zoo (920-683-4537), rife with a variety of animals amidst a beautiful park setting. The zoo is free, but you know, they'll accept donations.
Upon reaching Lake Michigan, Waldo Boulevard carries Highway 42 along a stretch along the lakefront from Manitowoc to Two Rivers. Running within a few hundred feet of the water, a brilliant summer day makes for a beautiful ride along Lake Michigan. The Budweiser silos, perhaps the tallest signature buildings in downtown Manitowoc, are clearly visible down the shoreline, and don't be surprised to see the SS Badger steaming its way across the lake for the 45-mile ride to Michigan.
About five miles northeast of Manitowoc lies its sister city, Two Rivers (pop. 12,639), known locally as "Trivers". It's where the ice cream sundae was invented. Sure, Ithaca, New York makes the same claim, but what the heck do a bunch of New York upstaters know?
So, hop up to the historic Washington House and order a sundae. With its antique soda fountain, you'll swear you're in the throwback days when they only cost a nickel. But I'm sure they'll remind you that it's not the case anymore. The city's official slogan is "Catch Our Friendly Waves", which lap up on Lake Michigan and the East and West Twin Rivers, which are the two rivers the city is named after. Highway 42 bridges both in the downtown area and also offers access to the Point Beach State Forest, where you can hike or bike through the woods and dunes on your way to the Rawley Point Lighthouse. County Highway O also offers a drive along the forest's boundary and will link you back up to Highway 42 and County V about five miles north of Two Rivers.
Highway 42 itself makes a beeline north out of Two Rivers, past the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant (clearly visible from the highway) and providing access to the Point Beach Energy Center (6600 Nuclear Road, 920-755-6400), which features displays and information about the history of electrical generation and how electricity is generated today - including nuclear, fossil fuels, and renewable, all big topics in our world today. Highway 42 continues north into Kewaunee County, where you pass the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant before heading into the plant's - and county's - namesake town.
Kewaunee (pop. 2,806), like many towns along this stretch of Lake Michigan, features a beautiful lakefront area. With an attractive harbor, Kewaunee was a popular Native American settlement for centuries; the French followed suit in 1634, when Jean Nicolet landed here. In 1674, Father Marquette celebrated a Holy Sacrifice of Mass here. But it wouldn't be until 1836 when permanent European settlement took place - largely on rumors of a "gold rush" led speculators to believe Kewaunee could become a Chicago-esque, booming city someday. They laid out wide avenues and bought up lots in preparation, but things ended up falling a little short. No matter. The city thrived as a lumber town and trading center, finally becoming a city in 1893. A nice view comes as you descend a steep hill into the downtown area, where you cross Highway 29, which ends here after a long trek across the state from Prescott, on the Mississippi River.
Attractions include the Tug Ludington, a U.S. Army tug built in 1943. Made to help with World War II efforts, the tug participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and assisted with harbor operations in France and Virginia before being transferred to Kewaunee in 1947, where it lives a much calmer life. It rests in Harbor Park in downtown Kewaunee and is available for tours. Kewaunee Historical Jail Museum (613 Dodge Street), is an 1876 structure featuring a six-celled jail, the sheriff's living quarters and a lot of the original materials and arrangements to show you what incarceration was like for the outlaws of the day.
You know you're getting further up north when you see a sign welcoming you to Alaska. In this case, it's an unincorporated community noted on the highway for two lakes, a golf course, a supper club, and two sharp turns. From Alaska on north to Algoma, you're hugging the lake shore.
Algoma (pop. 3,357) is the next stop and home to a large charter and commercial fishing fleet (once the largest on Lake Michigan) as well as a nice downtown. Algoma also has a nice beach (in clear view from Highway 42, since it hugs the lakeshore on the south side of town). Fish shantys used to dot the shoreline, and some remain, which leads to the biggest annual event in town, "Shanty Days", which takes place every August. They have fish, music, and - if you ask nice - beer and wine. Algoma is known as a salmon and trout capital of the Midwest. They make stuff here, too: hammocks, doors, mops and labels among them. Algoma also has a heavy Belgian population (as in "numerous.")
On the south side of Algoma, Highway 54 ends at Highway 42, 243 miles from its origin over the Mississippi River going into Winona, Minnesota. Travelers to Door County at this point can use Highway 42, or County S, which runs through Algoma's northeast side and serves as a "short cut" to Sturgeon Bay. If you follow Highway 42, you'll go through downtown Algoma and then head along the Ahnapee River (they changed the name of the town, but not the name of the river) for several miles to Forestville.
Into Door County
Just south of Forestville, Highway 42 enters Door County, or as some people call it, "The Thumb." Geologists note that the Door Peninsula is the western segment of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs along the north shores of Lakes Michigan and Huron, through Niagara Falls and along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to Rochester, New York. It's a significant geographical feature through the Great Lakes and forms much of Door County's landscape, as well as the cliffs lining the east coast of Lake Winnebago further south. Others may not care as much, so we'll just move on...
Door County is divided into south and north regions; it used to be a full peninsula, but the 1882 completion of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal made northern Door essentially an island. French explorer Jean Nicolet, who now has a national forest, a brand of bottled water and a high school in suburban Milwaukee named after him, landed on Door County in 1634. According to Wisconsin lore, he was searching for a route to the Far East - as most explorers on the Great Lakes were in those days, though they refused to ask for directions - and happened upon Ho-Chunk Indians. Thinking they were Asian, he celebrated. He was teased quite a bit after that. The county itself is named after the passage between the peninsula's tip and Washington Island, known then in French as Porte des Morts and more commonly to this day as "Death's Door" ("Door County" sounded better than "Death's County", right?) The passage is the site of many shipwrecks over the years, and Highway 42 ends right at that passage, about 50 miles from the highway's junction with Highway 57 just southwest of Sturgeon Bay. Once hooked up with Highway 57, it's a four-lane ride for several miles. You reach County S, which comes in from Algoma as an occasional shortcut mentioned before, and a connection to the northern trailhead of the Ahnapee State Trail, a rail-to-trail biking and snowmobiling route that runs back towards Algoma.
Entering Sturgeon Bay (pop. 9,437), you're in the first of many tourism-heavy towns in Door County. Strugeon Bay is the county seat and the final place on the peninsula where chain stores exist, so if you need something at Target or Wal-Mart, better stock up. Sturgeon Bay has a history of massive shipbuilding and serves as a regional port city. Shipyard tours are available near the many cranes that abound to the north during the Ship Canal crossing. The original bridge downtown, officially called the Michigan Street Bridge and referred to by most as the "Steel Bridge", opened in 1930 and rehabilitation is underway. Before the bypass opened in 1977, it was the source of massive traffic jams when the bridge opened to let boats pass. Today, you follow a one-block jog (pay attention to the "Business 42/57" signs around to a new bridge, opened in 2008. The view of and from the bridge is quite nice, though, and a series of restaurants, hotels, resorts and shops surround the streets on either side. A number of bed and breakfasts in town also makes Sturgeon Bay a popular overnight stop for Door County travelers. The old steel bridge is being resurfaced, so once that reopens there will be a total of three crossings between northern and southern Door County.
Six miles up the road, just after a twisty, turny ride down a bluff toward the water level, is Fish Creek (locally called "Fish Crick"), one of the most charming Door County hamlets. Fish Creek's first pier was built back in 1855 and its oldest remaining home, the Alexander Noble House (repotedly haunted and available for tours, 920-868-2091), was built in 1874. Most of the gift shops came much, much later, even though tourism was starting to replace commercial fishing as the local economic engine by 1890. Over 40 structures in Fish Creek have "historic" designations; that's one historic structure for every five residents! The continuing charm, the views, access to fishing and camping, and notable shops and restaurants make Fish Creek a popular stop for Door County visitors. During World War II, Fish Creek hosted a German POW camp under an affiliation with Fort Sheridan in Illinois, about 250 miles down the Lake Michigan shore. The prisoners cut wood, engaged in construction projects, and picked cherries in the area. Restaurants amd shops abound in "downtown" Fish Creek. The former C&C Supper Club, a longtime State Trunk Tour favorite, has now been transformed into a new place called Cooper's Corner, which features a second level outdoor bar and restaurant and a wine cellar below. There's also The Cookery (920-868-3634), and the historic 1910-era Summertime Restaurant (920-868-3738) on Spruce, adjacent to Highway 42. Gift shops, craft stores and boutiques also line the streets, offering up more than the standard tourist town fare. The area is, after all, a popular place for artists.
Speaking of art, the Peninsula Players Theatre performs a variety of Broadway-style plays and musicals in what some call the nation's oldest summer theater. Not to be outdone, the American Folklore Theatre also performs here, sometimes adding a zanier edge to their performances. The Peninsula Music Festival takes place every August here. If sitting in your car watching a movie is more your style, yes, they have you covered there, too: the Skyway Drive-In is located right along Highway 42 and will accommodate that desire to squint at a distant screen with the sound coming out of a tiny speaker next to your window.
The phenomenal Peninsula State Park is the most popular in Wisconsin's state park system, bordered by the waters of Green Bay and Highway 42 between Fish Creek and Ephraim. Covering 7 miles of shoreline, steep bluffs, abundant camping opportunities and terrific hiking and biking trails, Peninsula State Park offers 3,776 acres of adventure. Check out Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, with its 45-foot tall square tower and magnificent views; even the view from the stone wall overlooking the water at the lighthouse's base is excellent, and a popular rest stop for bikers, hikers and cross-country skiiers making their way through the park. Eagle Tower, a 75-foot high observation tower with 3 decks, is a must. Perched on Eagle Bluff 180 feet above the water, you can see all the way up the peninsula, the island chain leading to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and the twin cities of Menomonee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin on a clear day.
Beyond Ephraim lies Sister Bay (pop. 886). Along Highway 42 is a multitude of things to do, including Johnson's Go-Kart Track (always a lot of fun and, ironically, a good break from driving) and . A "can't miss" - and it's hard to when goats are grazing on the grass roof - is Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butik (800-241-9914). Al Johnson's whips up a ton of great Swedish fare, including pickled herring, pytt i panna, and the ever-popular Swedish meatballs. And it's probably the only restaurant in the country where the roof needs to be mowed. However, the job is often done by 4-6 goats that use the ramp in the back. They much away from about 8:30am to 5pm during nice weather days while guests munch inside all year 'round.
Yup, you're seeing goats grazing on what is undoubtedly the original "green roof", part of the charm in Sister Bay at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butik (that, apparently, is how they spell "boutique" in Sweden.)
Highway 57 arrives in Sister Bay and meets up with Highway 42 just before Al Johnson's. From this point forward, Highway 42 is the last main road to the tip of the peninsula. Beyond Sister Bay, things get more sparse; much of the tourism development simply hasn't reached critical mass here (yet) and you can almost feel the peninsula getting narrower as you continue. Foggy weather is much more prevalant from here to the tip; it's not uncommon for this area to be shrouded in fog and 10 degrees cooler than Fish Creek or Sturgeon Bay. Just past Ellison Bay, Highway 42 cuts into the center of what's left of the peninsula; Europe Bay Road will lead you to Newport State Park, which hugs the peninsula's edge. The road then heads north to Gills Rock (once known as Hedgehog Harbor), home of the Door County Maritime Museum and a passenger ferry to Washington Island.
Gills Rock is the northernmost point of the Door Peninsula, but Highway 42 manages 2 more miles, pushing east to the very tip via a crazy, slalom-esque path. Back and forth, back and forth you'll go, zigzagging until you see the water once more - and you've reached the end.
This is Northport, home of the Washington Island Ferry Line and one restaurant. It's truly the point where you're at the tip of the Door peninsula and the only way to go further is to walk the pier for a few hundred feet. At the edge, just past the "End Highway 42" sign, look back and you'll see the land goes left and right, but not behind you. 'Cause you're at the tip. Look in any other direction and you're looking at Porte de Morts, or "Death's Door", home of swirling waters and a multitude of shipwrecks. Plum, Washington, Detroit and Pilot Islands are all in view. Stop in the restaurant, take the ferry to Washington Island, camp out in Newport State Park... or just relax and marvel for a bit. Then, since going back on Highway 42 is your only option, prepare to zig and zag for the first mile as you make your way back.
Upcoming events in places along Highway 42: