Every summer an escape to Put-in-Bay always tops my family’s summer bucket list. We have had five island adventures on South Bass Island and each adventure has been unique and packed with fun. There is simply so much for families to do on the island that you cannot do everything in one day. Which is perfect, because it gives the kids something to look forward when we return the next summer. That being said, there is definitely enough family activities on the island to entertain a family for an overnight adventure if you’d rather tackle more in one trip. However, we do have our favorites that we must do every year.
Getting to South Bass Island is one of the best parts of the trip. For the past three years, we have taken the voyage on Miller Ferries. We have found that Miller Boatline offers the most economical passage to the islands for our large family. Additionally, their dock on Catawba Island is the closest dock providing transportation to South Bass Island to Cleveland. Which cuts down on your travel time in the car. It took us about an hour and a half to drive to Catawba Island from the Cleveland Eastside Suburbs. Westsiders, you’re in luck, as you can arrive at the Catawba Island dock in about 45 minutes!
Besides saving travel time and money. Miller Ferries are a blast! My kids love seeing the wide variety of vehicles that are on the ferry with us. We have shared a ferry with food trucks, RVs, bikes, cars, and even smaller boats! Yes, a boat on a boat! Miller Ferries is extremely family friendly, and often passes out stickers for the kids.
After about a 20-minute ferry ride, you arrive on South Bass Island. If you want to get the most out of your island adventure, I would recommend renting a golf cart. This will enable you to explore the island at your own pace, plus my kids love this unique touring experience. Riding around the island is much more fun in the open air.
For the past three years, we have rented from E’s Put-in-Bay Carts which is located just up the hill and to the right when you leave the dock. We like the convenient location of E’s Put-in-Bay carts and have found their prices to be the best on the island. On a past visit to the island, they even suggested an hourly rate over the daily rate we asked for in order to save us money. I love businesses with this type of honesty and customer service. I would highly recommend you make a reservation for your golf cart, especially if you are exploring the island during peak season or have a larger group requiring a 6 or 8 passenger cart. Reserving a cart is easy online, and you can often get a discount this way.
Our first stop on the island was to grab a bite to eat. There are so many fabulous family friendly dining options in Put-in-Bay. My family’s favorite is The Boardwalk. We like the boardwalk because the Main Deck offers three different concession-style restaurants. Every family member can pick what they want from corn dogs to Alaskan king crab and dine together. We also LOVE the Boardwalk because of the view. If you are going to dine on an island, you should definitely be eating bayside, on the water! There is also an open air indoor seating for those who want to escape the sun.
The Boardwalk is heralded the Lobster Bisque Capital of Ohio! Their famous lobster bisque is homemade all day, every day and is made with real Maine lobster. My kids love the lobster bisque in the sourdough bowls. I always enjoy a more regional dish and opted for a fresh, hand-breaded Lake Erie walleye sandwich. We always enjoy testing our Lake Erie knowledge during lunch with the ‘How Well Do You Know Lake Erie’ placemats. You’d think that after five years, we’d have these questions down. Yet, every year there are one or two stumpers.
Scheef East Point Preserve is always a family favorite. Located at the end of Columbus Avenue, the nature preserve is an 8.8 acres and provides some of the best views of Lake Erie and some of the surrounding islands. There are no signs identifying the preserve, but it is east to identify by the large painted concrete blocks near the parking area. These blocks, especially the Don’t Give Up the Ship block, are great places to snap a few family photos.
There is an easy walking path around the perimeter of the Scheef East Point Preserve. This year has been very dry, so there were not many bugs on the trail. However, you may want to grab some mosquito repellent for your walk as we have been bombarded by mosquitoes in the past.
The paths lead to some beautiful, secluded Lake Erie beaches. My kids enjoy looking for small shells and marine life along these rocky beaches.
Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial is definitely the focal point of the island. This monument was built to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The Memorial rises 352 feet over Lake Erie and offers some breathtaking views.
Although most of your trip to the top of the monument is onboard a beautiful elevator, you must first climb 37 curving steps to reach the lower elevator landing. There is a $5 fee for adults to ride to the top of Perry’s Monument (kids are free). However, our entire family was able to ride to the top for free using my daughter’s Every Kid in a Park Pass. Every Kid in a Park is a program which allows 4th graders to explore the National Park System for free. If your child has just finished 4th grade, go to everykidinapark.gov to download his or her free pass.
The views from atop Perry’s Monument are amazing. It was so clear on the day we visited that when looking north we could see Canada along the horizon. There are maps of the islands so you can easily identify what you are seeing. We could also see the tops of a few coasters at Cedar Point.
There is also a fabulous visitor’s center located just to the west of the monument. Perry’s Victory Visitor Center offers art, exhibits, and artifacts from the Battle of Lake Erie. One of my kids’ favorite exhibits shows models of the ships during the Battle of Lake Erie. There is also a short film covering the history of the battle. The visitor’s center and film are free and open to the public.
Another not-to-be-missed attraction is Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. As the name suggests, Perry’s Cave is a part of this family center. The cave is a natural limestone cave that was discovered by Commodore Perry. The cave has a rare underground lake that was used by Perry’s men for cold drinking water. Cave tours run frequently throughout the day.
My family’s favorite part of Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center is definitely Fort aMaze’n. In this giant maze challenge you clock in with your maze passport as you start. Then you travel around the maze in an effort to find four special spots in the maze and punch your passport at each stop. Then try to beat the clock to the finish. This year our fastest time was 6 minutes. Just over the 5 minute mark where you win a free rock climb or round of putt-putt golf. The longest time in our group was over 20 minutes.
There is also a Butterfly House with over 50 different types of exotic butterflies from around the world. We have never gone through the Butterfly House, but it looks like a great way to beat the heat on a warm afternoon.
You can also enjoy a round of miniature golf at the War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf course, also located in the family fun center. On this course, your family can learn some fun facts about the War of 1812 and Commodore Perry.
Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has a FREE Antique Car Museum. The antique car collection gathered by Charles “Skip” Duggan includes Model Ts, vintage snowmobiles, bicycles, road sign and gasoline memorabilia.
You can also pan for gemstones and fossils when you purchase a bag of rough mix at the shop. When we have done the panning on past trips, we found that our kids could easily share a bag. Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center also offers rock wall climbing, a snack shack, and restrooms. A family could easily spend an entire afternoon here.
Just across the street from Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center is Heineman’s Winery. Heineman’s was established in 1888 and is the oldest family owned and operated winery in Ohio. Heineman’s offers frequent tours of their winery, which we have enjoyed in the past. They also give tours of their Crystal Cave, which was discovered by workers while digging for a well. Crystal Cave is the world’s largest geode. I really think the Crystal Cave and wine tour are worth seeing at least once.
We always like to stop into Heineman’s for an afternoon snack. We always get the cheese tray and a few bottles of grape juice. I also had a glass of their Burgundy wine. The kids love taste testing the grape juice to decide which they prefer: the red or white. This year white was the unanimous champion.
You will also pass several vineyards as your drive around South Bass Island.
We’ve driven past the Chocolate Café many times, but have never stopped in. They have a chocolate museum where you learn about the history and making of chocolate. Maybe we will stop in on our next trip.
South Bass Island State Park is a 33-acre park which offers fabulous views and access to Lake Erie. I have always wanted to rent one of their adorable cabents (a tent/cabin combination) for the week. I think these unique camping options look like so much fun, and they sleep 6 (I think it’s a sign that we are meant to do this sometime).
There is a small playground and a few swing sets at the state park which my kids always enjoy.
If you need a bite to eat or drink. Axel’s Waterfront Café is located in the state park and offers shaded outdoor seating.
There is also a rocky beach where you can often find families swimming in Lake Erie. If you would like to bring your swimsuit and take a dip, there are public restrooms that you can change in. You can also rent kayaks, small boats, and jet skis at the beach.
This was our first time visiting the Historic Fish Hatchery and Aquatic Education Center operated by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. We were able to experience Lake Erie science through up-close and hands-on exhibits that include several native Lake Erie fish and invasive species like the sea lamprey.
The entire family loved learning more about Lake Erie’s complex ecosystem and its inhabitants. There is also a brief film that you can enjoy. I think my kids’ favorite was quizzing us on the identities of the fish of Lake Erie. Children under 16 years of age can borrow fishing equipment and fish from the pier for free. The Historic Fish Hatchery and Aquatic Education Center is open Wednesday through Saturday and admission is free.
DeRivera Park is in the center of downtown Put-in-Bay. My kids love the shaded playgrounds at this park and we always spend a lot of time playing here. There are also plenty of picnic tables and public restrooms are available.
The kids also love climbing on the cannons as well as on the dolphin and seal statues in DeRivera Park. These both make excellent photo places to snap some fun family photos.
Kimberly’s Carousel is also in downtown Put-in-Bay. It is a gorgeous, wooden 1917 Allen Herschell Carousel with a variety of animals in addition to traditional wooden horses. It is only one of 100 carousels in the US with all wooden horses. No trip to the island would be complete without one of the kids taking a spin on Pete the Perch.
The South Bass Island Lighthouse sits on Parker’s Point the southern end of the island. This lighthouse is unusual because unlike the typical lighthouse with a small, detached dwelling South Bass Island Lighthouse consists of a large, red-brick home with an attached, twelve-foot tower. Tours of the lighthouse are available on Mondays and Tuesday. However, the grounds are open daily to explore.
One of the great things about Miller Ferries is the Dockside Deli at their Lime Kiln Ferry Dock. It’s a great place to grab some ice cream as you wait for your ferry to arrive.
We always have a blast exploring Put-in-Bay! I hope your family has as much fun on their island adventure as we do.
Disclosure: I was asked to help promote Miller Ferries and Put-in-Bay by Miller Boatline. My family received roundtrip ferry passage and was provided a golf cart for our adventure. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.