On my first visit to the Hands On Art Studio, I agonized over a glittering rainbow of mosaic tiles, carefully piecing together glass flowers for a vibrant mirror that I love. A creatively braver friend had disappeared elsewhere on the “art farm,” then excitedly returned more than an hour later. Holding up a metal garden sculpture of a dog with angel wings, she said triumphantly, “I played with fire!”
That apparently happens a lot at this sprawling Door County farm with a two-story barn and outbuildings packed with a staggering array of possible projects — no reservations or classes needed. Show up. Decide. Get help. Get busy.
The hardest part is figuring out what to do. Splatter-paint a T-shirt or try a plein-air painting in the gardens? Glaze a fruit bowl or make a mosaic table top?
Sparks fly and conversation chatters from inside buildings dedicated to welding and metal work, glass fusing and stained glass and even a jewelry cafe with Precious Metal Clay and the chance to make handmade glass beads.
On my last visit, I picked the latter, with an art coach to guide me in wielding a blowtorch to melt thin rods of glass. They quickly glowed orange, drooping and almost dropping until my coach helped me gently turn the metal rods holding molten glass. Eventually, I got the knack for swirling flecks of greens and reds into clear one-of-a-kind beads.
They seemed like spot-on souvenirs for a part of Wisconsin famed for classy galleries, red barns and cherries, and lush green scenery around every bend of the road. It all leaves you craving return visits — especially the creative nirvana of Fish Creek’s art farm (1-920-868-9311; www.handsonartstudio.com).
What to do
Plays beneath the pines: Door County can claim two of the most endearing theater settings in the Midwest. Go early to enjoy the charming setting of the Peninsula Players Theatre, where you can sip a drink and catch a pre-show sunset on the beach (1-920-868-3287; www.peninsulaplayers.com). The more rustic American Folklore Theatre specializes in original comic musicals (such as “Cheeseheads” and “Packer Fans From Outer Space”) at an open-air stage beneath the pines at Peninsula State Park (1-920-854-6117; www.folkloretheatre.com).
Hit the beach: Enjoy Lake Michigan by swimming or renting watercraft at Nicolet Bay Beach within the 3,775-acre Peninsula State Park or join the vacationers who gather at Sunset Beach Park to soak up the colorful end to a sunny day.
Paddle Lake Michigan: Anyone itching to paddle along the bluffs of Peninsula State Park can get lessons and guided tours with outfitters such as Door County Kayak Tours. The outfitter also takes visitors across the peninsula to Cave Point (1-920-868-1400; www.doorcountykayaktours.com).
Savor the fruit: Enjoy all things cherry — from salsa and brats to cider and wines — at Orchard Country Winery and Market alongside a scenic orchard. If you time it just right (most likely mid-July this year), you can pick your own fresh cherries or buy them already glistening in tidy pint cartons (1-866-946-3263; orchardcountry.com).
Catch a family movie: Skyway Drive-In’s vintage neon sign lights up at dusk when tires crunch across gravel and the scent of buttered popcorn and bug spray mingles in minivans. Kids can go wild on the playground or snuggle under a blanket on a viewing platform below the big screen, which runs seasonal double features (1-920-854-9938; doorcountydrivein.com).
Admire more art: Places such as Edgewood Orchard Galleries make art interactive with its sculpture garden that winds through the woods (1-920-868-3579; edgewoodorchard.com).
Take Interstate 94 east of the Twin Cities and catch Hwy. 29 east near Chippewa Falls. Follow it to Green Bay and continue on Hwy. 42. The 350-mile drive takes about 5 ½ hours from Minneapolis.
Where to sleep
If you don’t want to roam far, grab a room at the historic White Gull Inn, opened in 1896. You can start the day with cherry-stuffed French toast or cherry pancakes and finish with one of Door County’s famous fish boils. Rooms are spread throughout three buildings, plus two cottages and two home rentals ($170 and up, including breakfast; 1-888-364-9542; www.whitegullinn.com).
Another historic option, Thorp House Inn, serves strata and other breakfast goodies on the porch or in the turn-of-the-century kitchen. Private cottages also are available (from $155; 1-920-868-2444; www.thorphouseinn.com).