Sitting down for an island-brewed beer at the Put-in-Bay Brewery provides a much needed break after the four-hour, not-so-long but not-so-short trip that many Cincinnatians make for Lake Erie getaways and vacations.

It's a teasing drive, short enough to pose the question "Are we there yet?" and notorious for prolonging the answer.

A drive's-worth of radio selection disputes comes to a close with a sip of unfiltered Summer Brew and lively conversations with Brewery waitress Sarah Cummings and manager Tom Dailey. They speak of quaint island life, of the 500 year-round residents and of the two-person graduating class of the island's only school.

Originally from Chicago, Dailey has been an annual summer-long inhabitant of the tiny island since childhood. It gets in your blood. Workers stay 7-9 months to be here for the crowds but leave peak snow times to the true locals.

A cycle of summer tourism draws more than two million people annually to the Bass Islands, just north of Catawba Island and west of Kelleys Island on Lake Erie's southern shore. Just a ferry ride from Port Clinton or Catawba, Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island offers shopping, walleye and perch fishing, and great restaurants. Getting around is done on foot, bikes and golf carts.

Ferries, Fishing

Memories are made here. It becomes a place with years of overlapped experiences because families come again and again, resulting in vacation rituals like four-hour radio battles on the drive north. Every so often, the car-ride-warriors make a three-minute peace as a mutually loved, soft-rock ballad plays and everyone can sing along.

A Lake Erie vacation is that soft-rock ballad of destinations, the beloved center in a spectrum of experiences.

"No matter what kind of trip you're interested in planning we've got something that will appeal to you," says Jill Bauer, public relations coordinator for Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

"People are doing their planning online and we try to get as much information to them ahead of time as we can," says Bauer. Prospective travelers can find discounts and coupons online, and download a traveler planner.

The area has something for everyone, so consider your interests.

For thrill seekers
(and families)

The roller coaster capital of the world is clearly Sandusky, Ohio. A 17-roller coaster amusement park, Cedar Point also offers an outdoor water park, thrill rides and four children's areas. New this year: life-size dinosaurs, fast lane options and laser light shows with pyrotechnics.

For food and spirits

The islands are a great place to head for dinner and nightlife. The Put-in-Bay Brewery Co. is the place to be for summer weekend nights. The island's only brewery, the beer is made fresh and the flavors are rotated between seasons. This summer, try the popular Summer Brew or give a salute to island history by trying the Ole Cotton Top Irish Red or Captain Barclay's IPA, two brews made in honor of island heroes.

Down the street is the sandy cabana bar of Mojito Bay. A thatched-roof paradise, it's the newest edition to the nightlife that gives the lake a taste of the tropics.

On Kelleys Island, be sure to stop by Bag the Moon Saloon, a restaurant and tavern famous for its strawberry shot and weekend entertainment line-up.

For the wine enthusiast

"What makes a good wine is a wine that you enjoy," says Patrick Myers, owner of the Put-in-Bay Winery at the historic Doller Estate. True history and wine enthusiasts, Myers and his wife Melinda have been working the past three years to restore the Doller Mansion as a museum.

Customers sample the variety of wines and tour the mansion.

Be sure to check out Put-in-Bay's Heineman Winery, Ohio's oldest family-owned winery. Taste fine wines and tour Crystal Cave, the world's largest recorded geode, located directly below the winery.

Every year near the middle of August, Sandusky holds the annual "Toast of Ohi' wine festival, celebrating the heritage of the Lake Erie area as the nation's largest wine-producing region prior to prohibition.

"People don't realize that we have so many wineries in the area," says Bauer.

For the outdoor devotee

If nature is your playground, Kelleys Island is your jungle gym, a concentrated space for varieties of outdoor fun. Hike, scuba diver, or go bird watching.

Rent a bike at Caddy Shack Square and ride under a canopy of leaves and sunlight down the island's tree-lined streets. Check out the glacial grooves scored into the limestone some 18,000 years ago or take a swim at the pristine Sandy Beach in the Kelleys Island State Park.

Row, row, row your boat and rent a kayak from Kayak the Bay, Ltd. in downtown Put-in-Bay or go fish on a fishing charter of the coast of Port Clinton. Famous for their Walleye Fish Festival every May, the area becomes a hotspot for summer fishing.

Take time to enjoy the Marblehead Lighthouse, one of the state's most photographed landmarks. The Keeper's House features a museum and the surrounding grounds are the perfect picnic spot.

For the culture lover

Immerse yourself in local culture by participating in events and observing customs. Festival-rich near the end of the summer season, the region offers local celebrations with plenty of traditions.

Dance in the parade at the weekend-long Kelleys Island Homecoming celebration held mid-August. Eat melon ice cream at the annual Melon Festival in Milan held Labor Day weekend.

Set aside the itinerary and just explore.

Take a scenic drive down Ohio State Route 163 known as the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail.

Heading east from Port Clinton, you'll find yourself in the charming village of Marblehead. Embrace small-town life by stopping in the local shops and galleries along the way. Talk with the locals. There are great stories to be told and heard, making your vacation that much richer. - 



Check it Out!
 
Cedar Point
A roller coaster lover's dream on the water's edge. Family fun and dinosaurs.
www.cedarpoint.com
 
Doller House
Island life as it was 200 years ago if you lived in a majestic Italianate home lakeside.
www.dollerhouse.com/winery
 
Heineman's Winery
A winery, cave and tastings in the garden.
www.heinemanswinery.com
 
Kelleys Island
Picnic, hike, kayak or swim. Truly a vacation treasure.
www.kelleysisland.com
 
Lake Erie Shores & Islands
Plan your trip.
www.shoresandislands.com
 
Put-in-Bay
Calendars, ferry schedule,attractions, lodging.
www.putinbay.com


More to Explore in Lake County

On the east side of Lake Erie, is the quiet destination of Lake County. Often confused with the western areas of Lake Erie, it is the more relaxing and peaceful counterpart. Fresh air awaits visitors, along with hemlock ravines, open meadows, mature forests, the Lake Erie shoreline and more than 43 miles of trails.

Most trails are gravel-surfaced; some are hard-surfaced and suitable for strollers and wheelchairs; and some include steps and inclines that will challenge even the most experienced hiker. Horses and bicycles are permitted on specially designated trails, and dogs on a leash are welcome at most parks. Hiking trails are open every day of the year and specific hours are posted.

Take a Lake Erie fishing charter and enjoy an incredible day of fun in the sun and fishing, or bird watch at one of the Lake MetroParks locations, which annually provides nearly three million visitors with countless recreational and educational experiences at diverse facilities. There's an agriculturally themed park, a nature center, a state-of-the-art education and wildlife rehabilitation center, two golf courses, five parks on Lake Erie's shoreline and a cross country ski center.

Don't forget to visit the Holden Arboretum, one of the largest arboreta in the U.S. with 3,600 acres of woody plants and gardens. Whatever you decide, you can expect a relaxing trip in a beautiful natural atmosphere.