Last summer (2014) my husband and I and our two adult children, ages 21 and 25, suddenly realized we all had a few days off at the same time. We wanted to take a little trip but we would have to plan it fast. We hadn’t been up to the Lake Erie islands since the kids were small, and were able to find a cute little B & B called Ashley’s Island House in Put-in-Bay (http://www.ashleysislandhouse.com/) with three reasonably priced rooms together and available, so we took it! Above is the shoreline of South Bass Island at East Point. I loved the EVOLVE message there, which resonated so much with me at a time when I was making big changes in my life.
While we went to Put-in-Bay for a family trip, the popular destination has become known as the “Key West of the North” or the “Key West of the Great Lakes” in recent years. The weekends are very crowded, but as we went during the week we missed the worst of the crowds. In addition to the many restaurants and bars, the island hosts two wineries, including Heineman’s Winery, which is also the location of the largest geode in the world. See below some photos from our winery and geode tour, where you can see that the geode is large enough for multiple people to stand in it together!
We didn’t particularly enjoy the wines at Heineman’s (or the kitschy atmosphere), but they were quite inexpensive–many under $10 a bottle. We much preferred the Put-in-Bay Winery which had a more reserved, traditional winery feel about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos from that tour, but it is definitely worth the minimal cost. The history of the property’s house and winery are very interesting, plus they are very generous with their tasting samples on the tour; I believe you get eight, and not in those tiny plastic cups–in a wine glass–and my personal favorite was their “Celebration” sparkling Moscato. At $22.95 a bottle, it would make a great gift or special event wine for those who don’t enjoy champagne.
While on Put-in-Bay, definitely rent the cruiser bicycles. That was one of the favorite parts of the trip for our entire family–riding good, old-fashioned cruiser bikes around the island. Our B & B included the use of their bikes free with our stay, but there are many other rental facilities. We rented a golf cart for one day, but found we really didn’t need it, as we could easily have biked to all the places we drove the cart. (It was fun to ride in the golf card, though!) Above are photos from Perry’s Monument. History buffs will be thrilled with the Battle-of-Lake-Erie displays and other Great Lakes history on the island.
The island is also a unique ecosystem with important species native to the Great Lakes. Above is a beautiful vineyard adjacent to a protected wildlife area. There is an area nearby where you can hike down to the shore and enjoy the wildlife of South Bass Island. It is very quiet out near East Point where these photos were taken. My husband and I went out running early in the mornings and enjoyed the serenity of the quiet island in the residential areas.
Below is just one of the many signs you will see about the Lake Erie Water Snake. While we were kayaking, we got to see one of them up close and personal. We had two kayaks–a mother-son team and a father-daughter team. As I was part of the winning–that is, the mother-son–team, we were out far ahead of my husband and daughter when we heard a scream. A huge, black water snake had lifted its head about a foot out of the water just yards from my husband and daughter’s kayak. They started rowing a much faster after that!
On our last day on the island, my 25-year-old son paddled his kayak all the way out to Middle Bass Island (alone) in what he fancied as his Young Man and the Sea Hemingway-esqe experience. I guess that’s appropriate in the Key West of the Great Lakes.
Although Put-in-Bay is a popular party destination, rest assured that families, nature lovers, history buffs, wine tasters, and active vacationers can enjoy this Lake Erie gem as well. Oh, and while you are there, make sure you stop by the Old Forge Cafe and Creperie. We could have eaten every meal there–crepes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. They also serve a grapefruit shandy beer that is the one and only beer this non-beer-drinking girl has ever enjoyed.