Accessible by private passenger boat, plane or ferry from Sandusky, Ohio, (home of Cedar Point, the self-proclaimed roller coaster capital of the world), Catawba or Port Clinton, experience laid back island life on South Bass or Kelleys Island and explore the world’s largest geode, dine in a restored blacksmith shop, and ride to the top of a 352-foot monument for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding islands.
The Lake Erie Islands are Your Getaway to Fun
The islands on Lake Erie, specifically South Bass and Kelleys, offer an ideal location for a family, multi-generational or girlfriend getaway. You’ll find plenty of attractions, dining and lodging options and if mom and dad plan to travel with another couple or grandparent’s you’ll find nightlife to enjoy on the islands as well.
What to Do on South Bass Island
Sit back and relax on The Put-in-Bay Tour Train. This narrated “train”, which is more of a tram, offers hop on, hop off service at some of the island’s most popular attractions. Ride past Oak Point, the smallest state park in Ohio and the Doller Estate Winery, to Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center.
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Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center is a popular spot for families. You’ll find a snack shack, a rock wall, fort maze, mini-golf, gemstone mining, an antique car museum, butterfly house with over 50 different types of exotic butterflies, and Perry’s Cave, a limestone cave over 50 feet below the service. If you get tired there, walk across the street to Heineman Winery where you can take an educational tour through the winery and the world’s largest geode, a cavity in a rock lined with crystals or other minerals.
History lovers will enjoy learning about the War of 1812 at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. The memorial was built to honor those that fought in the battle and celebrates the longest undefended border in the world.
The South Bass Island Lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers a great view of the southern tip of the island. Though the grounds are open from dusk to dawn, if you want to tour the lighthouse plan to visit during the early part of the week, in season.
You may have learned about the water snake research conducted on the island if you watched the Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe episode filmed there. If you missed it or want to learn more about the research currently conducted by OSU students, you can view the facility for yourself when you explore the Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island. If you’re lucky you may be able to hold one of the snakes.
The free Aquatic Center offers a look at the Lake Erie Ecosystem. You’ll find fish native to the lake, hands-on science activities and exhibits, and learn about research that is currently being done to protect the lake. If you plan to visit this attraction, make sure you Schedule your visit in advance.
If you’re traveling with small children, check out the Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center. Located on over an acre of land, you’ll find short hiking trails, a frog pond, fun photo ops and an extensive collection of mounted animals. Be sure to check the schedule for live events.
DeRiveira Park in downtown Put-in-Bay,is a great place for your little ones to play while you take a break from the attractions.
Across the street, you’ll also find plenty of shops selling t-shirts, souvenirs and necessities like sunscreen or sunglasses that you may need on the island if you forgot yours at home. Don’t miss the Candy Bar that sells homemade fudge and chocolates and offers a large variety of retro candies and salt water taffy.
TIP: While Put-in-Bay is one of my favorite Ohio destinations, I’ve found it’s best to visit during the week and on non-event weekends unless they are specifically family friendly.
Where to Eat on South Bass Island
You’ll find a large selection of places to eat on South Bass Island, from counter service to upcale sit-down restaurants. Here are four of my favorites:
At The Keys, you’ll have a hard time deciding if you’re in Key West or Ohio. The upbeat atmosphere has seating indoors or out, with great views of both the bay and Perry’s Monument. Make sure you start your meal with Conch Fritters and finish up with a slice of Key Lime Pie.
The Goat Soup and Whiskey is a bit of a walk from downtown, but has the best perch tacos on the island. After dinner, step into the Chocolate Museum downstairs and then buy a scoop of ice cream for the road.
The Old Forge Café and Creperie offers both sweet and savory crepes, making this restaurant a yummy stop any time of the day. Located in a former blacksmith shop, a trip to this restaurant is worth the ferry fare alone.
CAMEO Pizza was a favorite for my kids. We enjoyed a pizza in our hotel room after a full day of sightseeing and exploring.
What to do on Kelleys Island
Families looking for a more laid-back atmosphere will find it on Kelleys Island. Relax on the beach, view the most accessible glacier grooves in the world, kayak, swim, play putt-putt golf, press pennies in the general store, and enjoy the island by bike or golf carts, the local residents’ favorite mode of transportation.
While Put-in-Bay and South Bass is hopping with activity, Kelleys Island caters more to the nature lover. So park your golf cart, grab your binoculars or camera and visit North Pond State Nature Preserve, Jones Preserve or Kelleys Island State Park to bird watch and see other local wildlife. And don’t forget to look for fossils!
Where to Stay
Reserve a hotel room, or secure (in advance) one of the many vacation cottages available on either South Bass or Kelleys Island. With properties to sleep up to 22 people, and a variety of amenities, you’ll find accommodations to fit your family’s needs.
For the adventurous, camping is also available with many sites that offer gorgeous lake views on both South Bass and Kelleys Island. If you’re lucky and plan in advance, you may be able to secure one of the four cabents available at South Bass Island State Park. This unique cabin-tent combo sleeps up to six people and provides a bathroom and kitchen area to simplify the camping experience.
Kelleys Island also offers tent sites, two yurts, and a rent-a-camp for those who’d love to experience the fun of camping, but either don’t have the equipment, or don’t want to transport it to island.
Tip: If you arrive by ferry, make sure you understand the ferry schedule. (And ask me WHY I feel it necessary to include this tip. Ummm…yeah….)
Have you been to the Lake Erie Islands? What would you suggest?