Door County comprises the thumb of Wisconsin that sticks into Lake Michigan with Green Bay on its north side. The lake keeps weather temperate and ideal for orchards and vineyards, but is powerful enough to carve out coves, harbors and caves along the cliffs.
Follow Interstate 94 from the Twin Cities into Wisconsin. In Elk Mound, take Hwy. 29 and follow to Green Bay. Hwy. 57 continues to Door County's peninsula. It's about a six-hour, 350-mile drive.
If you're a fan of retro gems and on a tight budget, the 1950s Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay drops winter rates as low as $39 a night. It has a hot-dish kind of charm: unimpressive at first glance, but surprisingly comforting. It mixes art-glass sconces, vintage phones, dowdy curtains, sparse furniture, flat-screen TVs and pillowtop beds. A group of owners, including musician Jackson Browne, saved the motel from extinction in 2009 so artists would have an affordable place to stay with open-mike night every Thursday (1-920-743-5571; www.holidaymusicmotel. com).
Eagle Harbor Inn offers winter packages including one with a massage at the Spa at Sacred Grounds in Ephraim. Suites include kitchens, while guests at the main inn can have breakfast in the cheery dining area and afternoon sweets ($78-$172; 1-920-854-2121; www.eagleharborinn.com).
Some of the homiest rooms can be found upstairs at Sturgeon Bay's historic Inn at Cedar Crossing, which is also considered one of the best eateries in the area. It's easy to linger for meals with warm yellow- and rose-toned brick walls, wood floors, pressed-tin ceilings, and a solid reputation for sweets and baked goods such as tender potato rolls. Each of the nine rooms is stocked with a bag of crisps made from the Inn's "morning rolls" -- an addictive version of cinnamon buns using croissant dough. The corner suite, a former dentist's office, has the most character ($75-$185; 1-920-743-4200; www.innat cedarcrossing.com).
Cruise past on roasting day, and you'll smell coffee from the highway near Door County Coffee & Tea. That alone is reason to stop on a cold morning, but this gift and coffee shop in Sturgeon Bay also offers a tasty sit-down breakfast and lunch. Look for flaky almond batons, cherry yogurt muffins, hash-brown bakes and stratas, and soups and sandwiches (1-920-743-8808; www.doorcounty coffee.com).
The outside may look ho-hum, but Village Café in Egg Harbor is filled with enough colorful artwork and Fiestaware to brighten a winter day. Worth trying: thick, crunchy homemade chips, Bahamian fish chowder with a spicy kick, or tortilla wraps filled with smoked turkey, dried cherries, cheese and honey mustard. Leave room for carrot cake and Toll House pie or grab a bag of Skorpa, the cafe's buttered, chewy twice-baked cinnamon twists (1-920-868-3342; www.villagecafe-doorcounty.com).
Request or download the Door County Visitor Bureau's winter travel guide at 1-800-527-3529 or www.DoorCounty.com.
Lisa Meyers McClintick