Traveling Ohio’s Erie Coast and Western Basin Islands

The Ohio coast of Lake Erie and the western basin islands offer a little bit of everything including a world class amusement park, peaceful family retreats, sport fishing, boating, history, geology and fine wines.

Officially established in 1983, the Lake Erie A.V.A (American Viticultural Area) includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, the district has been producing fine wines for over 150 years. The extended growing season provided by the relatively shallow Lake Erie provides an excellent climate for wine grapes. The western Lake Erie sub-district features the wines of mainland wineries, Kelley’s Island and the Bass Islands. Several of the wineries offer tours and wine tasting.

The Mon Ami Restaurant and Historic Winery, in Port Clinton offers both fine dining and fine wine. Housed in an historic building originally built by the Catawba Island Wine Company in 1872. The winery was purchased by the Mon Ami Champagne Company in 1937, and the restaurant was added in 1945 after a fire gutted the winery. The upper cellar with massive walls of native limestone, lined with giant aging casks, is open for weekend tours and special event rental. The current owners have added a cooking school and rose garden to the already delightful Mon Ami experience.

For a less formal atmosphere the Kelley’s Island Wine Company, with its Deli & Bistro, offers an array of domestic and imported meats and cheeses, in addition to their own wines. The winery boosts a large air conditioned “Outback” styled tasting room, a wine bar, a shaded picnic area and a covered pavilion.

One of the few wineries to survive Prohibition, Heineman Winery, on South Bass Island, has been in continuous operation since 1888. Still owned by the Heineman family, the winery is known for producing wine from the native Lubrusca grape. The winery weathered Prohibition by selling unfermented grape juice and giving tours of the Crystal Cave beneath the winery. The Crystal Cave is the world’s largest known geode (a hollow spherical rock lined with crystals).

The glacial grooves of Kelley’s Island provide a stunning look at the forces that shaped the region. A National Natural Landmark, the largest groove is 430 feet long, 35 feet wide and 15 feet deep gouged into the limestone bedrock about 18,000 years ago. The grooves can be seen up close year round. The grooves are located on the north side of the island, near the public beach and Kelley’s Island State Park Campground. On the south side of the island Inscription Rock is covered with well-preserved aboriginal pictographs.

Kelley’s Island is the perfect place to get away from the city for a few days. Hiking trails highlight the natural beauty of the island. Or rent a bike and tour the island. With 50 shipwrecks near the island it’s a prime launch point for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Lake Erie Walleye is famous the world over for its delicate flavor. Yellow perch are also abundant in the waters of western Lake Erie, as well as a tasty treat for those who appreciate good fish fry. Smallmouth bass present a challenge to the sport fishermen. Catfish can be fished in the streams around Lake Erie.

Just about every type of water sport is available around the Lake Erie Islands, from sailing to water skiing. The calm summer waters of Lake Erie offer a tranquil paradise to pleasure-boaters. Hundreds marinas, both large and small, offer endless destination choices from Toledo to Sandusky. Charters, boat rental and tour services are readily available. The Kelley’s Island Fairy runs back and forth between Marblehead and the island daily from May through Augest. Ferry service is available daily back and forth between Catawba and Put-in-Bay, or Catawba and Middle Bass Island, from late March through late November. The Jet Express runs from both Port Clinton and Sandusky to Put-in-Bay from Memorial weekend to Labor Day weekend.

“On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated and captured a British squadron of warships at the Battle of Lake Erie. The battle, fought during the War of 1812, secured control of Lake Erie for the United States and enabled General William Henry Harrison to conduct a successful invasion of Western Upper Canada. Harrison subsequently defeated the British and Indians at the Thames River on October 5, 1813. The dual victories of Lake Erie and the Thames provided an important morale boost to the young country and gave the United States a much stronger bargaining position at the peace talks.” The National Park Service

Put-in-Bay is the site of Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial commemorating the US victory at the Battle of Lake Erie. The memorial column towers 352 ft above Lake Erie. An elevator takes visitors from the lower landing, two stories above the rotunda, to the observation deck at the top of the column. On a clear day the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Canada can be seen from the observation deck. During the summer months ranger give daily interpretive talks about the monument and the Battle of Lake Erie. Park rangers provide living history demonstrations on weekends.

Civil war buffs will want to visit Johnson Island, in Sandusky Bay, where confederate prisoners of war were imprisoned. The island is now connected to Marblehead by a small causeway.

Sauder Village, in Archibald Ohio, offers and interactive look into the early settlement of the Great Black Swamp. A mixture of historical buildings and faithful reproductions the village mixes the feel of a living history museum and fun of a neighborhood fair. A visit to the village makes for a fun day trip for the whole family.

The Toledo Zoo was founded in 1900 after the donation of a woodchuck to the Toledo Parks Board. Many of the early buildings were built in 1930’s as WPA projects. The Carnivore CafÃ?© housed in the original large cat exhibit is a treat for the kids. The zoo in now a large complex of attractions, including and extensive African Savanna exhibit, an artic exhibit, a gray wolf exhibit, an aviary with small habitats and few cages, and many other exhibits.

Downtown Toledo offers many unique activities including; COSI an interactive science museum, Mudhens baseball, Willis B. Boyer -maritime museum, Erie Street Market & Toledo Warehouse District and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Lakeside, Ohio, a Methodist vacation retreat founded in 1873, is still a great place for a family vacation. Although still a Methodist community everyone is welcomed to participate in the cultural and educational activities. Still a Chautauqua style retreat Lake Association still organizes and offers lectures, symphonies and other entertainment. All at pace that lets you relax on vacation. Hotel Lakeside is a grand Victorian building that faces Lake Erie. Still furnished in the Victorian style each room is unique. Hotel Lakeside is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Just up the road is the modern Fountain Inn offering accommodations year round.

Cedar Point is a world-class amusement park, in Sandusky, Ohio, with more and bigger rides than anybody else. With 68 rides, 16 roller coasters, live shows, arcades and over 50 food stands and 15 restaurants there’s no risk of the kids getting bored.

Cedar Point offers a family friendly atmosphere for parents with young children. Childcare supplies are available at the Infant Shop and at the Marina Store, the sit down restaurants and first aid stations offer bottle warming and kids menus. Parent swap allows parent with small children to alternate rides, but be sure to get a pass at the one of the guest service stations first. The latest ride added the Cedar Point experience is maXair a giant thrill ride that accommodates up to 50 passengers at a time and swings the riders 140ft into the air.

Ohio’s Erie coast and western basin islands are relaxing diverse place to spend your vacation. From a world-renowned amusement park to award winning wineries the region offers something for every interest and taste. Take a trip off the beaten path and come see for yourself.

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