Door County’s fall festival season celebrates artsy fish, cars, apples, lighthouses, more

DOOR COUNTY – Labor Day has passed, Halloween is more than a month away, but festivals aplenty fill the calendar for Door County residents and visitors in September and October.

Fall festivals have been part of the scene on the Peninsula for more than 70 years, since Sister Bay business owners put together their first Fall Festival in 1945. Over the years since, local community and business organizations across the county have created their own festivals to celebrate the season and draw visitors to get a breath of fresh, crisp autumn air (hopefully) and take in the fun, food, entertainment and scenery once more before winter begins its arrival. 

Here’s a quick look at Door County’s 2023 fall festivals.

Sturgeon Bay: Harvest Fest, Classic Car Show and ‘Bass Around the Bay’ Street Art Auction, Sept. 16

It’s the 23rd year for Destination Sturgeon Bay’s annual fall festival and auction of the 27 sculptural works that make up the citywide street art project, but the subject of this year’s art is different from past years.

The first-ever “Bass Around the Bay” saw 27 sculptural bass that were painted, decorated, enhanced and reimagined by local artists, then exhibited on city streets on the east and west sides of downtown throughout the summer. Past street art subjects have featured sturgeon, lighthouses, sails, “Chair-ies” (Adirondack-style deck chairs) and most recently cherries.

To cap Harvest Fest, the game fish are available through an online auction, with bidding closing at 5:30 p.m. The auction is being conducted via the Handbid app, which provides notifications on bids; a link is available, and people can view photos of the bass, on the Harvest Fest page at the Destination Sturgeon Bay website.

The artistic bass will be on view at Martin Park at 3:30 p.m. with interviews of the artists who created them conducted from the bandstand.

Another highlight of the day is the 17th annual Harvest Festival Car Show held by the Old Bolts Car Club. More than 100 antique, classic and customized cars are expected to be on display up and down South Third Avenue from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with awards presented at 3 p.m. To enter a car in the show or for more information, go to oldboltscarclub.org.

The car club also will hold a “Cruise By the Bay” parade the night before. At 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, show cars will depart from the Door County Fairgrounds and roll up Egg Harbor Road into downtown, crossing the Michigan Street Bridge, then coming back across the channel on the Maple-Oregon Bridge to stop at Martin Park.

As for the rest of the fest, there’s also a craft show, food booths, in-store specials, children’s activities and live music and entertainment all along Third Avenue on Saturday. A firkin of a special craft beer from Starboard Brewing will be tapped in front of the North Third Avenue brewpub at noon, followed at 1 p.m. by a contest to hold a full stein of beer at arm’s length.

Harvest Fest starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. All events are free to attend; Third Avenue will be closed to traffic from Jefferson Street to Pennsylvania Street. For more information, go to Destination Sturgeon Bay, 36 S. Third Ave.; call 920-743-6246; or visit sturgeonbay.net.

Baileys Harbor: Autumnfest/Pin Ups & Pistons, Sept. 23

Show cars and motorcycles are the focus of this annual fall fest presented by the Baileys Harbor Community Association, which accents the car and bike show with its Pin Ups & Pistons Photo Shoot.

Taking place at various times throughout the day, the photo shoot re-creates the artwork seen in old car or bike calendars and magazines, with models in 1940s-’50s-style clothes and hair striking pin-up poses for photos around the machines.

Models pose with a classic, show-quality Chevy Chevelle during last year's Pin Ups & Pistons classic car show and photo shoot at Baileys Harbor Autumnfest. The annual fall festival and car show returns this year on Sept. 23.

The car show runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Awards will be announced at 3, with trophies to the top car or cycle in each of 12 classes as well as People’s Choice, Emergency Vehicle, Best in Show and the Louie Oldenburg Best in Show Motorcycle. Cost to enter is $10; registrations are taken in advance (a link is on the “Events” page of the Baileys Harbor website) or until noon at the show.

Opening the day at 8 a.m. is another popular event, the eighth annual Hey Hey 5k run, named after a favorite saying of the late local character and “Polka King” Freddie Kodanko. The run starts and ends at Door County Brewing Co., and participants get a special Door County Brewing Co. Hey Hey 5k pint glass (with a free first fill-up from the brewery tap room) and a Hey Hey 5k shirt.

Runners can register at the brewery from 6 to 9 p.m. the night before or starting at 7 a.m. before the event. For more information, visit heyhey5k.com.

Of course, live music is part of this festival, and Autumnfest organizers are bringing in Nashville-based country cover band Anna Lynn Ferris and the Wheels from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. An arts and crafts show and food and beverage stands will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Most Autumnfest events take place at or near Kendall Park and Town Hall, at State 57 and County F. For more information, call 920-839-2366 or visit baileysharbor.com/events.

Sturgeon Bay: Apple Fest, Sept. 23

In the midst of apple picking season on the Peninsula, the Door County Historical Society again holds this annual celebration of apple-themed festivities, treats, entertainment and chances to learn a little history at its Heritage Village at Big Creek.

Apple tasting stations will offer a chance to sample the diverse flavors of different apple varieties, and of course a variety of apple treats will be available, from traditional apple pies to caramel apples and cider.

Among the activities are apple-themed games, such as an apple toss challenge, and artistic apple crafts for all ages and abilities. Guests also can try their hand at apple peeling and operating an apple cider press.

Visitors can learn about the history of apples and their significance to Door County’s culture and history, along with stories of the orchard owners, farmers and apple enthusiasts who have contributed to their place on the Peninsula.

If that’s not enough history for one festival, guided tours of the historic buildings at Heritage Village will be offered. Along the way, guests can watch a blacksmith and yarn spinners at work, attend an 1880s school lesson and visit the Madden Tool Museum.

And if the apple treats weren’t enough to fill you up, a variety of food trucks will be on hand. Live music will be part of the day as well.

Apple Fest runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Heritage Village at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan St. (County TT), Sturgeon Bay. Admission is $5 for age 18 and older. For more information, visit doorcountyhistoricalsociety.org or facebook.com/doorcountyhistory.

Door County: Fall Lighthouse Festival, Sept. 29-Oct. 1

The second of two annual lighthouse festivals sponsored by the Door County Maritime Museum, along with the original one held each June, annually draws more than 5,000 lighthouse buffs from around the world to visit and tour the Peninsula’s 11 lights as well as three to the south.

Built in 1869, iconic Cana Island Lighthouse is one of the 11 lights off the Peninsula, along with three in Kewaunee County and Green Bay, featured in the annual Door County Fall Lighthouse Festival from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

The festival offers airplane, boat, van, adventure and self-guided tours to the lights, some of which are not usually open to the public. Knowledgeable docents and volunteers are at each site to provide visitors with stories of past lightkeepers, their duties and their families. Besides Door County’s 11 lights, the festival offers opportunities to visit Algoma Pierhead and Kewaunee Pierhead lights in Kewaunee County and Grassy Island Range Lights in Green Bay.

Tours are for all levels of activity and accessibility. Some involve hiking and/or kayaking, while others have guests ride in a small airplane or, in one case, aboard the schooner Edith M. Becker. Boat tours depart from a variety of locations around the Peninsula.

All proceeds from tour ticket sales support the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society. Reservations are recommended. For tickets or more information, including schedules, call the museum at 920-743-5958 or visit dcmm.org or doorcountytickets.com.

Egg Harbor: Pumpkin Patch, Oct. 7-8

The entire village turns into a pumpkin patch for a weekend as the Egg Harbor Business Association presents its family-friendly fall festival, with creative, seasonal pumpkin and scarecrow displays outside local businesses.

Of course, there’s more to the festival than just pumpkins and scarecrows. Children can go on carnival rides from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at Egg Harbor Marina and take part in activities, inflatable games, face painting and entertainment during the same timeframe Oct. 7 on the lawn outside the Kress Pavilion. The children’s activities and face painting also are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 8.

Live music with popular local acts is scheduled for both days at Harbor View Park, with country-rock band Modern Day Drifters on Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and classic rockers Glas Hamr from 2 to 5:30 p.m., then on Oct. 8 blues-rock with Big Mouth from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and R&B from Big Mouth and the Power Tool Horns until 4:30 p.m.

Also, a juried arts and crafts fair opens at 10 a.m. both days at Nicolet Bank and a book sale is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Kress.

Food and beverage stands open at 10 a.m. both days in Harbor View Park, and the drawings for the fest’s annual bucket raffle will be held in the park at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 7; prizes must be picked up by 4 that afternoon.

For those who don’t want to try to find a parking spot in the village during Saturday’s festivities, free shuttles will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7 to and from Horseshoe Bay Farms, 7120 Horseshoe Bay Road, and the Seaquist Orchards Processing Plant, 4399 County E. The Horseshoe Bay shuttle pickup and drop-off point in the village is at Dock Road and County G, about a block from the park, and the drop-off for the Seaquist shuttle is at Church Street and Orchard Road, in front of the Kress. The shuttle will run every half-hour.

For more information on Pumpkin Patch, call 920-868-3717 or visit eggharbordoorcounty.org/events.

Sister Bay: 77th annual Fall Fest, Oct. 13-15

The “Granddaddy” of Door County community festivals has been going strong since 1945, with the sponsoring Sister Bay Advancement Association saying an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 visitors annually attending over the weekend to take part in the family fun.

As with most community festivals, there will be kids games, music, local food and an arts and crafts fair, although the Fall Fest art fair is a biggie with about 100 artisans annually on hand.

But Fall Fest also offers three major events that sets it apart from the pack.

The crowd tries to catch and gather prize-bearing pingpong balls raining down from the sky at a past Fall Fest in Sister Bay. The 77th annual festival takes place from Oct. 13 to 15.

First is the Fall Fest parade, which organizers claim is the largest in Door County, at 11 a.m. the Saturday of the festival, Oct. 14. Marching bands from local schools and numerous floats and vehicles traditionally take part, but anyone is welcome to enter the parade, which marches along State 42 through downtown.

Then there’s the Sunday morning Derby Race, which was part of Fall Fest for years, disappeared and resurrected in 2021 for the festival’s 75th anniversary. Starting at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 15, the derby has youths ages 7 to 13 race along Sister Bay’s long downtown hill in gravity-powered Soap Box Derby-style racers they built.

Finally, capping the festival is the immensely popular pingpong ball drop Sunday afternoon. Several thousand pingpong balls will be launched into the air from downtown rooftops and drop on people’s heads at 2 p.m. Oct. 15, with about 75% of them bearing the name of a local business. Those balls can be taken to the named business and redeemed for a prize.

Also taking place are the traditional Sister Bay Lions Club fish boil Friday night and a pancake breakfast Saturday morning.

For updated schedules or more information on Fall Fest, call 920-854-2812 or visit sisterbay.com or facebook.com/sisterbaydoorcounty.

Contact Christopher Clough at 920-562-8900 or cclough@doorcountyadvocate.com.

MORE: Door County summer classical music series launches a new fall concert festival

MORE: Picking your own apples in Door or Kewaunee counties? Here’s what you need to know

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