Are you looking for things to do on your vacation to Door County? The Sturgeon Bay Door County Maritime Museum is one of the more unique things to do in Door County. Here is what you need to know about the Sturgeon Bay Door County Maritime museum.
The organization that runs the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay also operates the Cana Island Lighthouse and Death’s Door Maritime Museum in Gills Rock. This article will only discuss the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay.
We have not received anything from the Door County Maritime Museum for this post, so you can know that these are our honest opinions regarding this attraction.
Overall: Great Introduction to Door County
The Sturgeon Bay Door County Maritime Museum is a great way to get an introduction to what makes Door County special. Located in Sturgeon Bay, consider stopping here before heading north to learn more about Door County’s unique geography and maritime history. The observation deck at the new Maritime Lighthouse Tower helps visitors view Door County’s interaction with the natural environment through maritime industry, and the displays at the museum help visitors understand such things as the origin of the Great Lakes and the Door Peninsula, maritime history, and more. As you experience everything else Door County has to offer, you will be able to put it in a larger perspective by having visited the Sturgeon Bay Door County Maritime Museum.
All of this is why we rated the Door County Maritime Museum as one of the best things to do in Sturgeon Bay, WI.
Exhibitions and Attractions
The Sturgeon Bay Door County Maritime Museum has lots to offer visitors. Tour a huge tugboat, ascending an observation tower, and piloting a virtual ship are just a few of the opportunities here.
The exhibits and attractions will interest a wide range of visitors, from children to hardcore maritime buffs. This is why we rated it five stars.
Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower
The newest addition to the Door County Maritime Museum is the Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower. This striking attraction opens a portal to the unique geography and industry of Door County.
One powerful way it helps visitors understand Door County’s unique geography and industry is through its 10th Floor observation deck. With windows opening out to the north, east, and west, it, visitors can take in the magnificent body of water that is the bay of Sturgeon Bay. Sturgeon Bay’s working waterfront of tugboats and shipyards is on full display here. This is an excellent way to observe in real life the topics that the rest of the museum explores.
The other floors of the tower also have exhibits. The first floor houses a theater that displays a striking movie about the unique geography of Door County. Other floors have exhibits allowing visitors to explore topics such as lighthouses, navigation, and wildlife.
Plan to spend at least a half hour in the lighthouse tower.
Jim Purves Tug Boat
The Jim Purves is a legendary tug boat that served as a military vessel during both world wars and in many roles as a civilian vessel. Over 100 years old, this massive tug boat is open for guided tours during the prime tourist season. Tours last about 40 minutes, and you will be able to visit the engine room, crew cabins, galley, wheelhouse, and more.
The main exhibition in the Horton Gallery is an interactive wheelhouse of a 19th Century steam ship, electronically outfitted to replicate piloting it through various Great Lakes ports. Children will especially like this exhibit as they can take the wheel and guide the virtual ship home.
John Roen Asher Gallery
The ingenuity of the maritime industry is on display in the John Roen Asher Gallery. This space houses a collection of antique boat motors, both large enough to power a freighter and small enough for a skiff.
A number of fine specimens of small boat building can be viewed here, including an antique Chriscraft boat.
Finally, an actual boat-building workshop is housed here, in which local craftsmen build a new wooden vessel every year.
This gallery houses an extensive display that sheds light on the lighthouses of Door County. Door County has one of the largest concentrations of lighthouses in the United States, and this display will help orient your exploration of these fascinating buildings.
Speaking of lighthouses, check out our article on Door County lighthouses to learn more about this major tourist attraction.
This gallery also houses a large number of models of ships and boats that have been built in Door County shipyards.
The Peterson Gallery, named after the Peterson Yacht Builders, tells the story of Sturgeon Bay’s boat-building industry, from manufacturers of small boats to fabricators of huge warships and freighters. A highlight of this gallery is a working submarine telescope that extends through the roof of the museum. It allows you to take in Sturgeon Bay’s waterfront through the optics!
In addition to its ongoing exhibits and attractions, the Door County Maritime Museum also offers periodic events.
The Door County Maritime museum offers a large number of high quality events, and their Lighthouse Festival stands out as an extremely unique opportunity. This is why we rated events at the Door County Maritime Museum with five stars.
Maritime Speaker Series
Local businesses, organizations, and individuals sponsor trees that adorn the Door County Maritime Museum in the months of November and December. Trees are then given away through a raffle. The drawing for the raffle occurs at the “Jingle Mixer,” an evening social event with hors d’oeuvres and open beer and wine.
Door County Lighthouse Festivals
Occurring every June and October, the Door County Lighthouse festivals offers land, water, and air-based tours of Door County lighthouses, including some that are not normally available to be toured by the public.
Door County Classic and Wooden Boat Show
Held every August, the Door County Classic and Wooden Boat Show is a chance to display and see beautiful boats, whether classic boats from years-gone-by, or contemporary boats carefully crafted from wood.
The show also includes a boat-building challenge in which competitors use limited materials to construct a sea-worthy boat over a period of two days.
Wood Boat Building Class and Raffle
Every year, the master boat builders of the Door County Maritime Museum construct a masterpiece of a wooden vessel, using it as a class to train up novices in this ancient art. The boat constructed each year is then raffled off as a fundraiser for the Door County Maritime Museum.
On the whole, the facilities at the Door County Maritime museum are attractive, clean, and well-maintained. However, because the Jon Purves tugboat is difficult for those with mobility issues, and off-limits to those under the age of four, we gave the Door County Maritime Museum 4 stars for facilities.
While the Door County Maritime Museum offers a good value for the price of the tickets, large groups especially might find the cost of admission prohibitive. This is why we rated the Door County Maritime Museum 4 stars for cost.
Pro-tip: Free admission can be obtained by checking out tickets from the Door County library, and the Door County library offers library cards even to first time visitors to Door County. This may sound like a little extra hassle, but these free tickets could save you well over a hundred dollars, and visiting the library in Door County is a worthy activity in itself. In fact, we rated visiting the library as one of the best free things to do in Door County.
Check the Door County Maritime Museum’s website for up-to-date cost. As of this article’s writing, cost is:
Adults – $15 (includes Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower)
Youth (5-17) – $7
Children 4 & under – Free
Seniors (65 years plus) & Retired Military – $12
Active Military (and up to five family members) – Free
Members – Free
Ages 4 and up – $8
Members – free
Museum and Tugboat
Adults – $20 and includes the museum’s galleries, plus a guided tour of tug John Purves.
Youth (5-17) – $15 and includes the museum’s galleries, plus a guided tour of tug John Purves.
Seniors (65 years plus) & Retired Military – $17
The Door County Maritime Museum offers exhibits, events, and attractions that would interest the whole family. The youngest members of the family will enjoy the museum’s hands-on exhibits. However, since the John Purves tug boat might challenge older members of the family and is off-limits to the youngest members of the family, we rated it 4 stars for family friendliness.
Check the Door County Maritime Museum’s website for up-to-date information on hours. As of this article’s writing, hours are:
Open year-round, seven days a week.
January – April: 10am – 4pm
Museum CLOSED Easter Sunday
(For winter weather conditions, if Sturgeon Bay schools are closed, the Museum will also be closed.)
May – December: 10am – 5pm
Museum CLOSED Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Closing at 2pm on December 31st
Tug John Purves Hours
The historic, restored tugboat John Purves is open for tours May – October. Tug tours are only available as guided tours.
Tours are offered daily May-October, at 10:30am, 11:45am, 1:15pm and 2:30pm.
There are age, height and mobility restrictions to safely tour the tugboat: children must be at least 4 years old and 38 inches tall.
Door County Maritime Museum Web Story
Frequently Asked Questions
Kids will enjoy the Maritime Lighthouse Tower and the museum’s interactive, hands-on exhibits. Children under the age of four are not allowed to tour the tug boat, and kids will not likely want to take as much time examining all the exhibits as adults would.
Yes. The Door County Maritime Museum is open year-round, even in winter. Make sure to check the museum’s website or give them a call to get the most up-to-date information on their hours.
The Door County Maritime Museum has attractions and exhibits that will interest most visitors. It is a good way to get introduced to what makes Door County unique.