Less than an hour to the west of downtown Cleveland are the Sandusky Islands, which offer great 1-3 day staycations close to home. Known simply as “The Islands” by locals, each island has a distinct personality and appeal. Just far enough away from the bigger cities of Cleveland, Toledo & Detroit, this section of Lake Erie offers crystal clear waters and is filled with pleasure boaters, water skiiers, fisherman and sunbathers. Many of the islands offer jet ski & kayak rentals, marina docking for boaters and fishing expeditions as well.
The biggest draw in the area is Cedar Point Amusement Park, which has been voted the best amusement park in the world 16 times in the past 17 years by Amusement Today’s annual poll of 500 well-traveled
amusement park fanatics. With more than 3 million visitors a season, Cedar Point takes a minimum of one full day to experience and being the only park in the world with four coasters taller than 200′, sometimes several days to get through all the rides! On a beautiful summer day, the lines for the most popular rides can top 2 hours, so more and more visitors are investing in the legal line jumping Fast Lane pass that costs $60+ (on top of your regular park admission price of $55) to go to the “head of the line”. Getting the evil eye from visitors stuck in the standard lanes is worth the price of squeezing in twice as many rides in one day as you normally could!
Close by are water parks including Kalahari and Castaway Bay, wineries (ok, it’s Ohio wine, so don’t get too excited), golf courses, historic lighthouses and too many ice cream shops to count. Another very popular getaway in this area is Lakeside, Chautauqua’s little sister on Lake Erie. This private community, founded by the Methodist church, has rentals available including an historic hotel, and offers programming open to the general public including concerts, speakers, shuffle board contests and a beautiful beach and walkway along the lake.
If you want to jump on a ferry and spend the day exploring one of the islands, here are the two most popular visitor islands:
Kelleys Island – the largest of the American islands in Lake Erie (4 square miles) with the most year round residents (about 300), this island is charming & very family friendly. Kelleys Island State Park offers a public beach and camp ground and the island is dotted with single family homes for rent as well as quaint bed & breakfasts. Downtown has shops and restaurants and a place to rent bikes & golf carts. The entire island is on the National Register of Historic Places and is so darn cute,
you’ll want to spend a week here. You can take an inexpensive ferry ride, a more expensive charter plane ride or pull your own boat into the marina. Seeing the glacial grooves carved into the island by the glaciers centuries ago in this small but charming state park is worth the visit!
South Bass Island (AKA Put-in-Bay) – while very family friendly during the day, on weekends and evenings this island is a bit more rambunctious than Kelleys, attracting loads of singles, bachelor parties and fun seekers (think spring break crowd). The Perry Peace Monument (run by the National Park Service) is a must see historic sight. At 352′ tall, the observation deck offers views of Canada on clear days and serves as a marker where US Commander Oliver Perry defeated the British fleet in the War of 1812. The 100th anniversary is being celebrated in a big way over Labor Day weekend, 2013 and would be a great time to visit.
Other islands: Middle Bass Island – since Lonz Winery closed, very little tourists on this island; North Bass Island – primarily occupied by private homes, this island does little to cater to the public and prefers it that way; Johnson’s Island – 338 acre island in the middle of the Sandusky Bay and is an historic site where 9,000 Confederate soldiers were imprisoned during the Civil War; Pelee Island – largest of the Canadian islands, is more rustic than the others with mostly unpaved roads, weathered buildings
And, getting there is half the fun…several boat and ferry lines serve the islands. The fastest ( and most expensive) way to arrive is on The Jet Express which takes passengers from the Sandusky/Port Clinton mainland to Kelleys and South Bass islands (passengers & bikes only, no cars). The Miller Ferry is half the cost, takes passengers and vehicles and is the more liesurly way to arrive if you have time to spare