I must’ve been 8 years old when I first visited Ohio.
We were visiting an aunt who had moved there for work with her husband. It was the middle of summer, the July sun complimenting the golden landscape of wheat fields that surrounded us. My memories are much like one you would see in an idyllic portrayal of middle America. My aunt lived in an old house with wooden siding, the canary yellow paint chipping away giving the sense that this was one that had seen many stories unfold.
Behind her house rested an old tree, its trunk wide and strong. I remember this tree because I spent what seemed like hours sitting underneath it, staring out into the opened field that spread itself beyond the thin wire fence which served to mark the boundaries of her backyard. It was while sitting underneath this tree, as the sun slowly set one 4th of July, that I saw my very first cow.
I had no idea what to expect when visiting Ohio this time around. My adventure was destined for Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands. I landed in Akron International Airport, about an hour and a half from Sandusky, where I would take the Miller Boat line to Put-in Bay from Catawba. The day was gorgeous, the vast blue of Lake Erie interrupted only by the shadows of islands in the horizon.
The short ride to Put-in-Bay was peaceful, the waves reminded me just how much I love the water…though lake water is something I am not very much used to.
South Bass Island, Put-in-Bay Township
Walking around this 4-mile island or driving in any one of their golf carts, especially in the summer months, one would think that they’ve arrived to a Caribbean island further away. Nicknamed the “Key West of the North”, Put-in-Bay township certainly has that feel with its laid back atmosphere and many bars and restaurants. All the boats docked added to the warm island feel, as the air vibrates to the many sounds of indie musicians that can be found performing at various locales throughout.
The town is great because it easily caters to both the young party crowd and families alike. The ability to do so is quite impressive actually, and a great option for couple’s looking to get away from the kiddos for a fun night out without having to venture too far.
During my visit, business owners were setting everything up for the annual “Christmas in July” celebration, considered one of the busiest time of the year there.
Where I Raised a Glass (or two)
We stopped into favorite places such as Frosty’s Bar for drinks, and my favorite, Mojito Bar offered the chance to sink your feet in some cool sand, as we lounged on one of the many swings by the bar while enjoying drinks and live music.
Another favorite spot was The Goat Soup and Whiskey, a bit separated from the busier part of downtown, but still filled with loyal guests who love the owner’s gracious and friendly spirit and the comfort food and drinks he serves.
Where I Raised My Fork
If you do nothing else at Put-in-Bay, nothing else at all, have sushi at Nagoya. Pretty much some of the best sushi I have had this side of NYC. Nagoya is one of four destinations where one can enjoy a drink and a good meal, located in The Keys complex, with beautiful views over Lake Erie.
Oh, and breakfast a Pasquale’s because old school diners with casual flair, friendly service, and generous portions make for an excellent choice, especially after a few visits to the bars the night before (ahem).
Where I Laid Me Down To Sleep
My hotel of choice while in Put-in-Bay was the Islander Inn, a really cool, old-school beach inn, bright Caribbean colors and all, with modern comforts and amenities (though WiFi is password protected – so you have to ask). I stayed in the Jacuzzi Room (think “romantic holiday retreat”), and though my room was right by the pool and pool bar – oh yes, pool bar! – it was really quiet at night. The inn is a short walk from everything, which makes it really convenient for guests.
What I Did
My time at Put-in-Bay was short – too short really. There are tons of activities to do there, regardless of the type of trip you are taking. Girlfriends getaway? Couples retreat? Family vacation? Yup, they’ve got you covered. Of course, there are water sports galore, from kayaking to jet ski. But, land lovers can have fun too.
I had fun driving around in the golf cart rental through South Bass Island State Park, where you can go camping, check out Perry’s Cave, the Butterfly House, among other fun activities.
Rumor has it that Johnny Depp slept here.
I especially enjoyed a visit to Gibraltar Island to check out Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory Field Office, which offers Upper-level courses, designed for undergraduate and graduate students, in biological sciences, education, and natural resources, as well as for biology and general science teachers.
Community members and visitors can take a one- to two-hour historical and scientific tour. This is an opportunity to enjoy the sights of Cooke Castle, Perry’s Lookout, the island’s glacial grooves, and the Stone Laboratory classroom building, as well as the Aquatic Visitors Center, a former State Fish Hatchery. It’s also a great place for everyone, regardless of age, to learn about their immediate environment and get involved in projects to help sustain and protect the lake.
Where I Raised a Glass (or two)
My trip itinerary required that I visit local wineries…You know, it’s one of those things that I have to do in order to give travelers a full view of all that Lake Erie’s Shores and Islands has to offer. The plan was to visit four wineries but it was so much fun chatting it up with like-minded oenophiles and eating cheese and crackers while sipping through glasses and glasses of great wine selections that well, we made it to two. A shame really because if the other two wineries were anything like Paper Moon Vineyard (Vermilion, OH) and Quarry Hill Winery (Berlin Heights, OH), then wine lovers are in for a big treat when they take on the wine trails here.
Sipping on wine while overlooking the vineyards made it difficult to remember that I was in Ohio. As a matter of fact, I started doubting this was the case – considering I had already been here for three days and I hadn’t seen one cow.
Where I Raised My Fork
If you are going to be so close to the lake, the best thing to do is to take advantage of the eateries that offer options sourced from the same. During my visit I had not one, but two fish tacos. One at Goat in Put-in-Bay (see above), which was delish and the other at Dockside Cafe, which along with my lemonade while overlooking the bay, made me feel like I was nowhere near Ohio at all. I went in the middle of the day when crowds were minimal, but expect larger crowds and a busier vibe on evenings and weekends.
When it comes to impressing foodies and taking the first step towards showing the national culinary scene what Sandusky has going on, J Bistro Downtown is on the right path. I met Executive Chef Jessie Harris as he prepped to treat me to an incredibly bold, wonderfully flavored tasting menu. Every single dish served was not only beautifully presented, but perfectly married a variety of tastes from items both locally sourced and/or gathered from the sustainable Chef’s Garden, in Huron Ohio.
Pan Roasted Diver Scallops with cognac cream, spinach, bacon, and parm
Beet Salad with whipped feta, pistachio, herb pesto, and orange Julius
Say it with me, “Truffle butter and parm covered popcorn“….yeah, it’s THAT good!
As the sounds of jazz filled the cozy space, and cool rain fell outside, I enjoyed some of the best fine food and wine I’ve ever had in the Midwest – certainly not something I expected from little ol’ Ohio, let alone the sleepy town of Sandusky.
Where I Laid Me Down To Sleep
Sawmill Creek Resort is a nature lover’s paradise, but with the luxury we would want to come along with it. I am not a golfer but if you are, the 18-hole Tom Fazio Golf Course aims to please. I am not much of a shopper but if you are, you need not walk too far as the resort is also home to a small shopping center only a few feet away from the main resort building. I am very much a lover of hikes on beaches and nature trails, and the resort offers easy access to both. The private beach is heavenly early in the morning, offering a moment of silence and peace making me wonder, yet again, if this was truly Ohio I was in. Walks in the nearby 500 acre nature preserve was a wonderful way to both start and end your day. And if lounging around the pool is more what you enjoy, you have a choice of both an indoor and outdoor one – both very family friendly as well.
An Ohio squirrel
What I Did
Cedar Point is unlike any place I’ve ever seen before. It’s just thrill ride after thrill ride after thrill ride. From a New Yorker’s perspective, it’s like Coney Island on speed. Lots and lots of speed – so much so that when on one of the rides, I couldn’t stop screaming and swear I almost lost my bra. True story.
But, it also caters to the little ones who like the thrills at a slower scale, and with family change rooms, as well as feeding rooms, and bracelets that help track your child should you ever get separated in this massive park – well, it’s no surprise so many families make Cedar Point a must among their vacation destinations.
The beautiful beach that lays adjacent to the park is also a fun, mellow way to enjoy your visit and the various ticket and lodging options help cater to family of all size and budgets.
Kalahari Water Park is one of the largest water parks in America. I didn’t plunge in any one of their many indoor and outdoor attractions, but I did get to check out all there is to do there with or with out kids in tow. And they also offer 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom suites that can accommodate the smallest to largest groups wanting to take in the fun together.
Ever want to see this Brooklyn girl giggle with absolute glee? Get me on a carousel. But not just any carousel, it must be the antique carousel on display for visitors to admire and ride at the Merry-Go-Round Museum. In all honesty, I was already as giddy as a school girl from the moment I entered the building. The old wooden horses and tigers, and many other carousel animals and pieces on display made this one of the most fun museums I have been to. The art and history in this place makes even those who think carousels are sorta meh feel intrigued with curiosity. The wood carving station – also fun, but empty at the time of my visit – gives children of all ages an opportunity to both observe and interact with the carvers of these masterpieces.
I would call the museum ahead of time to see when the carver would be working there, as they move up to this station to complete the final steps of each piece. All in all, consider a visit here, a tour, and a ride on the fastest carousel around an absolute must. A real treasure!
I never expected to really enjoy my visit as much as I did. I suppose I figured it would be interesting but nothing more. Truth is, I was blown away. Plus, as a woman of color there is much to be suspicious of when venturing into small towns in middle America – we all know the stereotypes and the stories. But everyone was nothing less than gracious, hospitable, and welcoming.
I suppose when you call a place like this home, with all its history and surrounded by so much beauty, there’s really nothing else you can be but happy. Lucky for me, the feeling was contagious.
Thank you to Ryan of Green Door Mediaworks and Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands Tourism for your warm welcome and hospitality in showing me your home town!