What Are the Best Things to Do in Ohio in the Summer



80+ Years ago famed writer Ernie Pyle visited Ohio’s Put-in-Bay to write about the islands vibrant nightlife and bustling tourism business. Cruise ships arrived daily in the busy summer season and ferry boats brought vacationers to the island of wine and summer visitors. Pyle called Put-in-Bay the “Capitol” of the Great Lakes.  Pyle could not have been more accurate is his description both then, and in the modern day.

After the island known as South Bass Island endured many setbacks including hotels fires which consumed the largest lodging facility in the world at the time, prohibition and the great depression, today’s Put-in-Bay resembles more of a Key West of the North than anything.

The island while preserving its history, has evolved into a vacation destination that serves all, loves all. There are Put-in-Bay Events that start mid-April and entertain hundreds of thousands of tourists until the last hurrah each year on Halloween weekend. The dress is informal, resort casual, and the vibe is as relaxed as you wish.

The gigantic steamships of the past have been replaced by a high-speed ferry boat called the Jet Express which is the favored and only way to arrive in the downtown area. A freight boat transports what few cars and trucks that do arrive as well as passengers and arrives on the other side of the island.

The island is dotted with stick-built cottages to mini-mansions and is somewhat of a step back in time. You won’t find any franchises on the island except for a small Subway. No Wal Mart’s, McDonald’s or other eyesores of the average community. Nor will you find a stoplight or traffic jam. Cars are discouraged and the vehicle of choice is the Put-in-Bay Golf Cart Rental which is operated as a car with the same basic rules.

Todays Put-in-Bay still produces wine but the mainstay beverage has for the most part been replaced by cool sounding cocktails served at one of the islands popular swim-up bars. The Put-in-Bay Resort is home to the Blue Marlin Bar & Grill, the islands most popular swim-up bar and watering hole. The construction of the islands largest hotel was a feat that took place over 6 years, made difficult by the fact that all materials had to be shipped to the island via a ferry boat and construction in the winter months.

The Put-in-Bay Resort is somewhat of a catch-all lodging facility with typical hotels rooms combined with family size suites and large villas for those seeking more of a rental home atmosphere. Be wary when making vacation plans as the few hotels on the island do book up quickly.

On Sundays, an antique car parade with upwards of 75 cars is the highlight of the day. “It’s kind of an era that’s frozen in time,” stated Pete Pataskala, 69, who drove a 1929 Model-A Ford all the way from Atlantic City, N.J., to Put-in-Bay to spend the summer months. “You truly feel like you’re in a different place and time.” Mr. Pataskala has been visiting the Lake Erie Islands since 1939, and books his following year each October before departing to Florida for the winter months.


Nearby islands include Middle Bass. North Bass, and Kellys Island. Surrounding islands offer their own unique atmosphere but are much more subdued and in the case of North Bass Island, remote.

The personality of the village of Put-in-Bay can be a party town on a weekend and a family village thru the week. Day-trippers are often not aware of the many attractions that Put-in-Bay has to offer and often find themselves wishing they were staying on the island instead of having to take a late boat back to reality, often times missing a large part of what the island has to offer.

Lively marinas in the downtown area afford those arriving by private boat modern facilities and easy to navigate waterways. The Put-in-Bay Yacht Club and the Crews Nest are private boating clubs that also cater to transient boaters when not occupied by members.

While many boast of the nightlife, Put-in-Bay has no shortage of great restaurants, several of which offer a waterfront dining experience. The Lake Erie Yellow Perch and Walleye are served at just about every restaurant on the island and you can’t go wrong with either. Dress at all of the eateries is resort casual. Rare is a tie except for the occasional island wedding.

Fishing near the islands yields near limit catches on almost a daily basis. Anglers come from as far away as the Dakotas to experience the Walleye bite and jig for the prized Lake Erie Yellow Perch. For those without a boat, several local charter boat companies offer full and half day fishing adventures. Most local restaurants will cook your cleaned catch upon request.

The State of Ohio operates the South Bass Island State Park located about a mile from the downtown area. There is a section of primitive and modern campsites as well as a few cabins for rent. A playground and a pebble beach make this a great location for an afternoon with the kids.

The majority of the homes on the island are seasonal second homes. The average number of year-round residents hover near 150 depending on the year. Winter residents hope for solid ice and drag their shanties out for ice fishing. The local Put-in-Bay airport serves as a lifeline to the island when the ferry boats cease operating for the year transporting everything from the mail to milk. Ice guides will use old Christmas Trees to mark a trail to the mainland for ATV’s and ice cars. There are days where the weather prevents flights from operating and the island is truly isolated. Emergency Medical Services can be provided by Lifeflight.

The local police force in the winter months can be two to three officers and swell to over fifty in the busy summer months. The fall months are said amongst locals to be the best of the year. The shallow waters of Lake Erie fold the summer heat long into September and October. As the light winds blow late in the season, this warmer air extends the growing season and allows the many vineyards located on the islands to flourish.

There is so much more that could be said about the Lake Erie Islands as they will always be something slightly different to each who visits her isolated splendor. Few people can truly understand just how special Put-in-Bay is until they experience it.  Of course it exists, Ernie Pyle could have told you so.


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