When you think of a vacation in Ohio, an island is likely the last idea that comes to most people’s mind. To many, Ohio is known for its famous Cedar Point Amusement Park, The NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers & LeBron James, and unfortunately the home of the Cleveland Browns Football team who went a perfect 0-16 last season.
Despite your idea of what Ohio may have to offer, there actually are five inhabited islands in Ohio’s Lake Erie. South Bass Island is home to the village of Put-in-Bay, aptly nicknamed the Key West of the North. Over 1 million people visit this freshwater retreat every season according to the Put-in-Bay Visitors & Convention Bureau. From April to November the island is one of the area’s number one travel destinations.
You cannot drive there, but here are several ways to get to the island including a private plane or boat, or one of the island’s commercially operated ferry boat services. Once you have arrived, it is like a step back in time to a more carefree era. You will not find a single stoplight on the island and the only traffic you will run into are the hundreds of Put-in-Bay Golf Carts and bicycles that are used to get around the island by tourists and locals alike. Cars on the island are discouraged although if you are willing to pay the fee and wait in line, you can get one there.
The island is home to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, the 3rd tallest Doric Column in the world. It commemorates the historic battle fought and won by Oliver Hazzard Perry against the British during the War of 1812. Today the 352-foot-tall column features an observation deck where visitors can ride an elevator to the top and enjoy stunning views. On a clear day you can see as far as Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland. The remains of three soldiers are buried beneath the memorial to commemorate the everlasting peace along the United States longest unprotected border with Canada.
Put-in-Bay offers a wide variety of things to do. In fact, there are more things to do in this 2.5 mile by 5-mile island than most vacation destinations could hope to offer. Both adults and children will have no shortage of activities including two different cave tours, winery tours, jet ski and boat rentals, parasailing, fishing charters, a 9-hole golf course, a butterfly house, and more. An antique car parade averages over 200 vehicles and is the highlight of each Sunday afternoon and holiday. The island has been protected from over development by a well-organized Lake Erie Island Conservancy who managers five large parcels of land that host walking and nature trails.
An annual Boy Scout Camporee brings thousands of Boy Scouts who pitch tents on the monument grounds for a weekend on the island. Each September, hundreds of vintage road racing cars make their way to the island where the Put-in-Bay Airport is closed and converted into a thundering road race course for 2 days of competition. Into October, and the island is host to Ohio’s largest Halloween Party which signals the end of the season.
You will not find chain restaurants or run of the mill tourist shops here. Instead, shopping on the island is an experience of it’s very own. Numerous privately-owned shops and boutiques line the streets with unique wares and a personalized experience you could only have at Put-In-Bay. It is like a walk down main street in small town America 40 years ago. You will find our local hardware store, one bank, one gas station, and a local grocery. Ice cream parlors, soda shops, and homemade fudge are just a few of the items you will find downtown in one of the many restored Victorian structures from the 1800’s.
The island offers a wide variety of dining experiences, many of which serve the local favorite, Lake Erie Perch, and Walleye. In the evening hours, over 30 liquor establishments serve up a wide variety of nightlife from country to dance and nationally known touring artists.
There are several Put-in-Bay Hotels and resorts on the island offering modern accommodations. The Put-In-Bay Resort and Conference Center is the largest and is home to Put-in-Bays highly popular swim-up pool bar, The Blue Marlin Bar. Bed & Breakfasts are scattered throughout the island and a few rental homes are available, but downtown is the place to be and be seen.
In the winter months, the population shrinks from peaks of 30,000 people to around 600 people who brave the winter on the island. A few of those winter months, the only way on or off the island the small passenger planes, which service the remote island and provide milk, mail and other perishable products.
Very few places have as much bang for your buck as this tiny island in Ohio and its one that will not break the bank visiting. As a bonus, Cedar Point is just a short ferry ride away, but that is another story.