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Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands: Good times on a Great Lake: Wine, Waves, and White-Knuckle Fun

Whether you are seeking soothing relaxation or ultimate thrills Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands has something for you. Little wonder it is known as the most popular vacation destination in the Midwest. With natural beauty, a rich history, and renowned attractions and amusements, it offers about as much fun as anyone can handle.

Historic Sandusky, with stately limestone buildings and lovely floral displays, was once a city of boat builders dubbed “Fish Town” for its fresh water fish market—the largest in the world. Fishing boats and steamboats transported fugitive slaves to Canada from this nationally known escape port, and Sandusky’s role in the Underground Railroad was mentioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The movie Tommy Boy was set in Sandusky.

Merry-Go-Round Museum, Sandusky, Ohio
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Merry-Go-Round Museum, Sandusky, Ohio

Today, Sandusky is a good base from which to explore the region. Downtown, you can watch the woodcarvers and go for a spin in the Merry-Go-Round Museum. It takes an an average of 400 hours to carve a carousel horse, according to Paul Koerner, pictured here, who made the Christmas Horse, Baby Sea Serpent, and Ostrich at the Merry-Go-Round Museum. His father, who continues to carve, made the larger Sea Serpent and the Frog.

Learn about pirates, rum runners, and Confederate rebels at the Maritime Museum, and catch a performance at the Sandusky State Theater. Executive Director Thomas T. Kazmierczak, III is rejuvenating the city with spectacular theater seasons.

For local flavor, try the perch sandwich at the take-out New Sandusky Fish Company, voted a Best Dive by Coastal Living. For dessert head to Wendy Kromer Confections, owned by the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes . Many of her cakes appeared on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine.

Berlin Fruit Box Company, Berlin, Ohio
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Berlin Fruit Box Company, Berlin, Ohio

Matt Adelman, 6th generation at Berlin Fruit Box Company, Berlin, Ohio
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Matt Adelman, 6th generation at Berlin Fruit Box Company, Berlin, Ohio

Just outside Sandusky you can see specialty baskets made–from log veneering to weaving– at 6th generation family-owned Berlin Fruit Box Company in Berlin Heights. They began over 150 years ago making fruit and vegetable baskets for area farms and orchards and have expanded to include a wide range of cherry and maple specialty items for the home.

Thomas Edison birthplace, Milan, Ohio
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Thomas Edison birthplace, Milan, Ohio

Nearby and inland Milan was once the second busiest wheat port in the world. It is best remembered as the birthplace of one of the world’s most prolific inventors, Thomas Edison. The Edison home is between the historic Milan Canal and the Edison Birthplace Museum.

Hoover Potato Digger, Milan, Ohio
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Hoover Potato Digger, Milan, Ohio

Also of interest in Milan are the many well-preserved Greek Revival homes and the block-sized Historical Museum complex, where you can see the Hoover Potato Digger, invented by another Milan resident, Isaac W. Hoover. Have lunch at Polly Anna’s Tea Room & Effie;s Attic in the all-American Village Square or continue on to Vermilion and stop at the soda fountain, coffee shop or ice cream parlor in this quaint harbor town.

Fireland's Winery, Marblehead Peninsula, Ohio
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Fireland’s Winery, Marblehead Peninsula, Ohio

For a carefree day, drive to the Marblehead Peninsula. Stop for a tour and tasting at Firelands Winery, Ohio’s largest producing winery, named for the land allotted to Connecticut citizens after the British burned their homes in the Revolutionary War. Try Tres Sorrelle Cioccolato, candies made with Firelands’ award-winning wines.

See Cary Ferguson, internationally known master glass cutter at work at Ferguson Gallery. Climb 77 steps for the view from Marblehead Lighthouse, the Great Lakes’ oldest continuously operating lighthouse. When it was entered service in 1822, the keeper had to carry 40 pounds of whale oil to the top to keep the light burning.

Nurture your mind, body, and spirit with a day pass or a stay at Lakeside, a gated Chautauqua community. It’s a place of spiritual growth, cultural and educational growth, and relaxation. Hotel Lakeside guests include Eleanor Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Amelia Earhart.

Popular area eateries are Marblehead’s Netty’s Chili Dogs and the G&R Tavern in Waldo, which features thick sliced fried bologna sandwiches.

Where else but in the peninsula’s Port Clinton, gateway to world-class fishing, would you find the popular Perch, Peach, Polka and Pierogi Festival and the children’s favorite—a drive-through African Safari Wildlife Park? You can stroll the sandy beaches, browse the shops and sample some of the 30 flavors—amaretto to wild walleye– at Great Lakes Popcorn, in the downtown area. Relax over a fish dinner in the Walleye Fishing Capital of the World.

Get Into the Groove

Catch an early ferry from Sandusky’s historic waterfront to Lake Erie’s islands. Kelleys Island is the largest American island on Lake Erie and one of the least developed. The entire island is on the National Historic Registry and the first modern hotel just opened– Kelley’s Island Venture Resort with 31 rooms.

glacial grooves, Kelley’s Island, Ohio
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glacial grooves, Kelley’s Island, Ohio

Rent a bicycle or golf cart to explore the world’s largest accessible example of glacial scoring, Glacial Grooves, on the island’s north, or the petroglyphs of Inscription Rock on the south end. It’s some of the best aboriginal art in the Great Lakes region.

Dine alfresco on Lake Erie walleye or perch and add a signature Brandy Alexander at The Village Pump. Choose your favorite flavor at the Original Island Fudge Shop and sample a Strawberry Shot at Bag the Moon. With cool summer breezes and the relaxed pace of island time, Health magazine’s July issue named Kelley’s Island one of the America’s Top Ten Healthiest Beach and Lake Getaways.

Then hop aboard the Jet Express for the touristy Put-in-Bay in South Bass Island, one of the Wine Islands. The narrated tram tour stops at the island attractions—caves, a winery, mini-golf and the like. On Sundays there’s an antique car parade.

“Don’t give Up the ship” and “We have met the enemy and he is ours…”

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, South Bass Island
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Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, South Bass Island

South Bass Island is dominated by the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. This column of Rose Granite from Milford, Massachusetts is our third tallest national monument, exceeded only by the Washington Monument and St. Louis Arch. The elevator to the top brings visitors to spectacular views of the bay and neighboring Canada. The visitor center has an informative film and displays.

The monument commemorates the War of 1812’s decisive Battle of Lake Erie, in which Rhode Island-born and Newport-educated Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry courageously carried the battle flag “Don’t Give Up the Ship” and reported “We have met the enemy and he is ours…”. The war soon ended, the West opened to expansion, and the U.S./Canadian boundary became the longest friendly border in the world.

Where To Stay

It’s summer all year long and Vegas for kids, a vacation with a splash at this authentically African-themed destination resort, Kalahari, Ohio’s largest hotel.

Kalahari indoor water park, Sandusky, Ohio
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Kalahari indoor water park, Sandusky, Ohio

You can surf, slide, raft, boogie board, and ride an uphill water roller coaster all year long in America’s largest indoor water park. If Kalahari’s indoor and outdoor water parks, full-service spa, themed restaurants candy hut, shops, video arcade, miniature golf, and weekend pig roasts, are not enough, there are also scheduled activities like crafts, cooking, story time, swimming lessons, pottery classes, and scavenger hunts.

giraffe at Kalahari Safari Park, Sandusky, Ohio
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giraffe at Kalahari Safari Park, Sandusky, Ohio

At Kalahari’s Safari Park animal exhibit, you can feed giraffes at their eye level.

Those who prefer tranquility enjoy Sawmill Creek Resort’s beach and marina. The nature trails are a birder’s delight, and anglers can book fishing charters on Lake Erie, the Walleye Capital of the World. A favorite for conferences, reunions, weddings, and the like, the hotel has a North American Indian décor and grounds that include a waterfront championship golf course, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, shops, and restaurants.

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket…

Cedar Point coaster, Sandusky, Ohio
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Cedar Point coaster, Sandusky, Ohio

The ultimate attraction of the area is Cedar Point Amusement Park and Resort— second oldest amusement park in North America and recipient of the Golden Ticket Award as the Best Amusement Theme Park in the World for 11 straight years. Spin, soar, flip, plummet and freefall in this ultimate family vacation destination with more rides and coasters than in any other park on earth.

Cedar Point coaster, Sandusky, Ohio
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Cedar Point coaster, Sandusky, Ohio

Cedar Point is internationally renowned as the #1 Roller Coaster Capital of the World — the premier destination for screaming, white-knuckle fun. The introduction of the Magnum XL-200 in 1989 “put them on the map” according to Robin Innes, Director of Public Relations. With three dark tunnels and plenty of airtime, it’s regarded as one of the best roller coasters ever built. Innes’ favorite is the straight up and down Wicked Twister, which he calls “the ultimate ride”.

Cedar Point Mantis coaster, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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The stand-up Mantis roller coaster twists, turns, and takes riders upside-down after dropping 145’ at 60mph on its first hill, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

The unmatched thrills draw coaster clubs from around the world. The 42-story, 120-mph spiraling Top Thrill Dragster is one of the tallest and fastest coasters anywhere. Millenium Force has been named the “Best Steel Roller Coaster in the World” since its introduction in 2000. Amusement Today readers voted Maverick’s quick turns and 400’ tunnel “Best New Ride of 2007”.

show at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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show at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

rafting at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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rafting at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Hotel Breakers and beach, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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Hotel Breakers and beach, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

But Cedar Point is much more than the roller coasters that put it on the map. There are four children’s areas, award-winning live shows, the Peanuts gang, an impressive 18 acre outdoor water park and a year-round indoor water park, and beach, as well as a full range of on-site accommodations and places to eat. Cedar Point’s Hotel Breakers overlooks Lake Erie and is the largest and most historic hotel on the peninsula.

original log cabins of Connecticut families, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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original log cabins of Connecticut families, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Land known as the Western Reserve and Firelands and later the Ohio Territory was allotted to Connecticut citizens after the British burned their homes in the Revolutionary War. Some of their original log cabins are at Cedar Point.

And don’t forget the special events. Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends is both family-friendly and hauntingly spooky. It was voted “Best Seasonal Event” by the readers of Theme Park Magazine.

Ready to Go?

Whether you are seeking the serenity of nature, art and culture, history, or excitement and adventure, you’ll find it all along the shore of Lake Erie. To discover even more of what the area has to offer contact the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center Be sure to ask about the Shore Savings Card.

Song Titles

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Don’t Give Up the Ship (from Shipmates Forever)

Get Into the Groove (Madonna)

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket…(from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

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