(Photo courtesy Cedar Point)
Yes, we know that Cleveland rocks, and has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame filled with guitar gods and disco divas to prove the point, but take a closer look, and you’ll find other luminaries shining brightly along the shores of Lake Erie, offering alternative entertainment options for travelers to this southernmost Great Lake.
Fly in to Cleveland and drive about an hour west and you’ll find yourself in Sandusky, Ohio. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it should be on your list of weekend getaways. There’s a bit of everything for all tastes here, from Cedar Point, where you can take your amusement park thrill seeking to new levels, to the subtle and sublime lakeside life around Put-in-Bay, a village on South Bass Island.
Let’s start with Cedar Point (cedarpoint.com), the world’s top amusement park, or so says Amusement Today. Cedar Point is also known as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World and is a sister park to Kings Dominion in Doswell. Its first roller coaster was built in 1892, but it is now home to 18 roller coasters and more than 70 rides, including water, thrill, family and kids rides. But the roller coasters are the main attraction. Ride the Magnum roller coaster, which is more than 200 feet high, and you can catch a glimpse of Canada. The newest ride, Valravn, crushes 10 world records, including the world’s tallest and the fastest dive coaster.
This park is like Walt Disney World in that it’s massive and also offers food and dining options.
There are five places to stay, including Hotel Breakers (reservations.cedarpoint.com), which was refurbished in 2015 and offers a beautiful beachfront view and boardwalk.
The park has 27 dining options (Pink’s hot dogs and Johnny Rockets ‘50s-style diner top my list), plus typical amusement park concessions, including boardwalk fries, burgers and hot dogs. Sticking to a tighter budget? No problem, because the park has a nice picnic area, where you can enjoy your own food. A tip: Buy a souvenir bottle ($10.99) and you’ll get free drink refills all day.
Across Sandusky Bay in Port Clinton, you’ll find African Safari Wildlife Park (africansafariwildlifepark.com), which offers drive-through or walk-through experiences for all ages. You can see and feed animals from around the world, not just Africa, all from the comfort of your car. The walk-through safari would be great for older children and couples without kids. As you walk, check out different animals up close and personal.
The park has other activities, including camel rides and gem mining. Don’t forget to end your wildlife journey with a little dirt and worms at the ice cream shop.
Whether it’s just for the day or overnight during the long weekend, there’s plenty to do in Put-in-Bay. Rent a go-cart, moped, bike, or just go about it the old-fashioned way — walking — it doesn’t matter how you get around.
Water sports and activities including personal watercrafts and parasailing are popular here, as you’d expect on an island. The island offers watercraft rentals (pibjetski.com) if you’re eager to go out on your own.
If your getaway itinerary includes shopping, there are more than 15 stores and an array of restaurants.
Must-sees include the Put-in-Bay Winery (putinbaywinery.com), and the Chocolate Café & Museum (chocolateohio.com), where you can enjoy the confections and see the antique chocolate collectibles, and Kimberly’s Carousel, a circa-1916 restored carousel.
Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center (perryscave.com) is a complex centered on a natural limestone cave with an underground lake. It also includes the Butterfly House at Put-In-Bay, with more than 50 types of exotic butterflies, and a free antique car museum.
You can learn about the lake’s crucial role in the War of 1812 at the 352-feet-tall Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (nps.gov/pevi). It’s named for Oliver Hazard Perry, the American Navy commander who played a key role in that conflict. From this tower, all Lake Erie Islands can be seen, as well as the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario.