In the half-decade that I’ve been writing for OnlyInYourState, I’ve heard it time and time again: “I’d love to explore with you.” Truth be told, I’d like to take you on my adventures, too. While most of the articles we write for the Cleveland page empower you to embark on your own adventures within driving distance of home, I wanted to take you on a personal summertime excursion with me.
What better summertime destination near Cleveland is there than Put-in-Bay? This island, sometimes called the “Key West of Lake Erie,” has oodles of attractions that the whole family can enjoy. I headed to the island bright and early to provide plenty of time to explore some of its attractions but, quite honestly, one day alone wasn’t enough to explore
everything on the island. There’s so much to do here that you could spend a whole weekend exploring… and you definitely should. There are plenty of welcoming places to stay overnight but, for this article, we’re just going to take a quick day trip. Ready? All aboard Miller Ferry, because that’s where our adventure begins!
The trek from Cleveland to Miller Ferry takes a little bit over an hour, so you'll want to wake up bright and early if you intend to spend the whole day at Put-in-Bay.
allows both passengers and vehicles, so you can transport your car to the island if you're planning to stay for a few days. However, if you're only staying for a few hours, you'll just want a ticket for yourself... there are golf carts, taxis, and buses to help you get around the island.
The ferry provides easy access to different Lake Erie islands, and the journey across the waterway is over in the blink of an eye.
The journey to South Bass Island where Put-in-Bay is located only takes about 15 to 20 minutes. If you decide to ferry to Middle Bass Island, that time is doubled... but the trip is scenic and eventful.
As soon as you arrive on the island, you'll want to rent a golf cart for easy transportation. E's Golf Carts was our chariot-conveyor of choice, and they're located mere steps away from the dock.
Whether you go with
E's Golf Carts
or another option, it's always wise to book online to ensure you get a ride. During our visit, several golf cart services were already sold out unless you had a reservation!
E's Golf Carts offers a variety of options to accommodate your party. Since we had four adults total in our crew, we opted for a four-seater.
They offer anywhere from two-passenger to eight-passenger rides, so there's an option that's perfect for your crew. Golf carts allow you to set the pace for your own journey, and they're a popular option for small bachelorette parties and similar excursions.
Having skipped breakfast to allow for a speedy trip, the first thing on our minds upon arrival was food.
There are tons of delicious places to dine in Put-in-Bay... in fact, there's a
great variety of restaurants
despite the island being a bit small. No matter what your group is craving, there's likely a local restaurant that will hit the spot.
We've tried a lot of food over the years of visiting Put-in-Bay, but we opted for a restaurant we'd never visited before: The Keys.
is a fun and colorful Put-in-Bay restaurant. Their menu is a bit modest, but the servings were impressive and we ended up with a
If you've ever been to the Florida Keys, you'll instantly notice that this restaurant captures the vibe of the tropical islands perfectly.
With bright colors, beachy vibes, and tons of playful signs and decorations, you'll feel like you're dining surrounded by an actual ocean.
Just as is true in the Florida Keys, the food here is best enjoyed on the patio right beside the waterfront.
From front to back, we got the hummus tray, cheese curds (which came with a delicious sriracha ranch), shrimp with asparagus and cilantro lime rice, and fries.
The food was delicious, and the drinks were almost as just as yummy. However, the live music was really what set the island-friendly scene during our early lunch.
Live music and happy hours are half the fun at this cool coastal eatery! Plus, a nearby bar allows you to enjoy libations as you listen.
As the Lake Erie islands are, you know,
on Lake Erie, the weather tends to get a bit breezy. Our crew needed some sweatshirts ASAP, so I recommended the budget-friendly gift shop at Heineman Winery.
The first gift shop we went to had sweatshirts priced at nearly $80, which is pretty on-par with what you'd expect for a tourist-heavy area. However, Heineman's sweatshirts range from $10 to $15, so it's the perfect spot to grab a cozy cover-up if you're cold. If you get stuck in the rain (we did not during this visit, but it has definitely happened to me during past visits to Put-in-Bay), the gift shop also has affordable ponchos.
After selecting our (fun Put-in-Bay branded) sweatshirts, we took a moment to explore the gift shop to look for other treasures.
Fossils, rocks, wine-themed collectibles, and more await savvy shoppers. Everything here is priced very fairly, so this is definitely one spot you'll want to keep on your radar during your visit.
Then, we naturally decided to grab a few bottles of wine for our crew to share.
Local wines tend to be sweeter and smoother than those grown in dryer regions.
is the perfect place to experience local flavors, and they even ship to various states if you decide to order some more wine after you return home.
Our first beverages were the Sweet Catawba and Cabernet Franc, and these two drinks satisfied those who love sweet and dry wines, respectively.
While this is not the only winery on Put-in-Bay, this
is the only winery that produces its own wine and grape juice. Most of the grapes they use are grown on the island, though some are imported from nearby since there is so much demand to meet. You can tell which is locally harvested based on the cork or screw... corked wines often feature imported grapes, whereas ones with screw caps tend to be locally harvested.
After a few sips, we were ready to take a tour of the grounds. Tours include admission to Crystal Cave, a tour of the wine-making tools, and a token for a free drink.
are pretty affordable, and they're super fun. They are, unfortunately, not wheelchair accessible... you'll be taking a steep staircase deep into the earth to see the cave, so some visitors may have to pass on this experience if that steep staircase is a concern or challenge.
As we made the descent into Crystal Cave, which is actually the largest geode in the world, we instantly appreciated the cool air of the inner earth.
Crystal Cave, which is an aptly-named natural feature, was discovered in 1897 when workers were digging a well. The crystals on its ceiling and walls range from 8 to 18 inches long, and they're stunning to see in person.
Crystal Cave was cozy and petite, but boy, was it beautiful. Every inch of the cavern was lined with celestine, a soft tabular crystal that has amazed visitors since the cave's discovery.
While you may be tempted, remember to refrain from touching the crystals. The same is true of the stalagmites in the cave across the street... the oils in your hands will destroy these beautiful natural features.
After that tour wrapped up, we immediately got to see how one of the state's oldest wineries used to make wine...
There are some incredible historic tools awaiting visitors. You won't believe how wine-making has changed throughout the years! Long-gone are the days of barrel-aging wine but historic barrels are awaiting your visit.
...as well as how the winery makes its wine today.
You'll love seeing what goes into the process of winemaking. Amazingly, many aspects of the process are still done by hand - workers thread bottles, boxes, and other supplies through tools like corking machines. Even the recipe aspect of wine-making is done by hand rather than using a recipe, expert vintners taste the wine as they add sugar and other ingredients to ensure each bottle produced is satisfactory and delicious.
Our cave-diving curiosity wasn't quite satiated after just one cave tour, so we decided to visit Perry's Cave right across the street.
Perry's Cave Family Fun Center
has various attractions that the whole family will love. There's an antique car museum on-site, as well as a maze, gemstone mining, and more. Perry's Cave is its crown jewel, and it's quite a bit bigger than Crystal Cave at 208 feet long. It even features a hidden underground lake.
And, of course, we swung by the Butterfly House right next door to soak up some more natural splendor.
is a must-do attraction. There are more than 50 types of exotic butterflies here, and they might even land on you. With beautiful plants and a spacious aviary, you'll feel like you're surrounded by tropical vibes.
Next, we back-tracked down the street to visit the Chocolate Museum, which was a fascinating and free experience.
The museum is pretty small, but it's a fascinating glimpse into how chocolate is made. You'll encounter antique memorabilia and chocolate-making tools, and you might even swing by the counter to try some locally-produced confections, too.
The guys also decided to enjoy some beer and brats right outside in the Biergarten, which was a lovely place to unwind.
The chocolate shop, Biergarten, and Goat Soup & Whiskey are all located on Catawba Avenue in this same area. There's tons of delicious food here, though it is a bit removed from the Downtown Put-in-Bay dining scene. Truth be told, it's lovely to break away from the bustling part of the island for a bit!
After driving around the island for a bit to admire its architecture, we ended up at one of its most notable landmarks: Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, otherwise known as Perry's Monument.
Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial
is a whopping 352 feet tall, and it towers over the landscape. You might even spot it from the boat as you're approaching the island! It's more than a century old, and it is taller than the more-famous Statue of Liberty.
You can purchase tickets at its Visitors Center. Admission is only $7, and it's arguably the most unique monument in Ohio.
Then, we ended up on the beach to skip some stones and enjoy the birdsong along the forest-lined shore.
There's a great deal of nature on the island, and it has a variety of
to help you experience it first-hand. Some of the trails brushed right up against the beach, but the area was still fairly private. There were people there, but it was beautiful to unwind in nature for a bit before we went home.
Enjoying the sounds of Lake Erie was one of the highlights of our trip, and it was totally free.
They say the best things in life are free, and this experience definitely rang true for us. While Lake Erie gets a bad rap, it certainly has plenty of natural beauty.
When the sun set on our excursion, we were sad to leave. There was still so much to see and do... but our group decided to pay a visit to the island again in the fall, and we're already looking forward to that.