Southwest Ohio has always been home to our family. Growing up in Cincinnati, going away to college in Dayton and returning to Cincinnati to raise a baby– you could say we are “stuck” here forever. In 72 hours, we were lucky to explore a new part of our great state, the Shores and Islands of Lake Erie!
Just 3.5 hours from Cincinnati, Lake Erie is home to Sandusky and Kelleys Island, two family-friendly destinations on the waterfront.
Where to Stay
The Washington: Located on, you guessed it, Washington Street, The Washington is a gorgeous blue home restored to host big and small families in separate apartments. In apartment J | The Family Suite, 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms with views of Lake Erie is the perfect spot to relax with the kids between adventures.
Only a few blocks (walking distance) away from Shoreline Park with a nice playground, Saucy Brew Works and Coffee, Clubhouse No. 3 sports simulator rentals, and the Jet Express ferry keep you busy. The Washington’s location is perfect for a family stay as most of the area is walkable with nice sidewalks and cute shops nearby.
Inside apartment J, the natural lighting is stunning on the top floor apartment. With up to 8 guests, the entire family can spread out in three queen rooms and one room is perfect for kids with two twin beds. The kitchen comes fully equipped with the cutest old-school refrigerator and comfiest couch. Don’t worry, the Keurig is ready for those early morning wake-ups with excited kids.
What to Eat: Sandusky
Saucy Brew Works: The Brew House and Coffee Shop combo is awesome. For dinner, the Brew House recently released a new kids menu with the most delicious mac and cheese (I know because Mom had to steal a few bites- the mom tax). The highlights of the dinner menu are the wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches; we were recommended the Saucy Smash Burger with onion, pickle, 1000 island, cheddar, and lettuce.
At Saucy, return the next morning for coffee, hot chocolate and tea. The espresso at Saucy is great and makes for a delicious iced honey latte or hot caramel macchiato. There’s plenty of seating inside or grab a patio table to sip on your morning coffee in the fresh air, the kids will love the train mural across the street!
Dockside Cafe: Located on the Sandusky Bay next to Dockside Pier, the taco and burger joint has live music and great food. A nice spot for a quick bite, adventurous eaters will love the menu but picky kids may stick with the classics: hot dogs and french fries. The seating at Dockside is outside only so follow along on their Facebook for weather closures.
What to Eat: Kelleys Island
KI Cantina: Location is everything at KI Cantina! The property is so pretty with open space seating and dining. With a delicious menu of tacos, nachos, burritos and all the adult drinks you can think of. Order inside and find a spot out back in the shade or at one of the many picnic tables on the property. The best part? There’s goats next to the playground that kids can feed leaves!
Letting the little ones run around outside while mom + dad actually get to taste and enjoy their meal is always a major win.
What to Eat: Catawba Island
The Orchard Farmstand: Speaking of stunning properties, The Orchard takes the cake on Catawba Island. Vineyards, a chicken coop, walk-through garden with water features, cornhole, the ultimate farmstand gift shop and a gorgeous old farm house turned diner makes The Orchard a bucket list stop for families.
The menu is so, so delicious with fun non-alcoholic drinks like the Pina Colada Lemonade, a barista-curated lemonade with coconut syrup, coconut milk and vanilla. Menu items range from breakfast pastries to lamb gyros with a tasty kids menu of chicken tenders, grilled cheese (so good!), pb&j, and cheeseburgers.
Adults will love the hearty and healthy lunch and dinner menu of Wisconsin cheese curds, truffle fries, turkey club, applewood-fired pizzas, burnt end brisket, coop wings and more.
What to Do: Sandusky
Clubhouse No. 3: Clubhouse No. 3 is where the cool kids hang. The sports-simulator bar is open for kids in the earlier hours and is so much fun! Rent a simulator for just $40 an hour and play fun games with the kids like home run derby, bocce ball, football, and carnival type games. The beautiful exposed brick space has large comfy couches for lounging around dart boards, the simulators and pinball machines.
Jet Express: The Jet Express ferry has several routes out of Sandusky, Put-in-Bay, Port Clinton, Kelleys Island and Cedar Point. To get to Kelleys Island from Sandusky at Jackson Street Pier, guests stop once on the 25 minute ride at Cedar Point before hopping off on the island. Jet Express is a blast for kids who can choose to sit up top in the open air space or down below in air conditioned booths. We were pleasantly surprised with how fast and fun the ferry ride is! Arrive just 10 minutes before and climb aboard, we recommend purchasing your tickets online ahead of time.
Shoreline Park: On the waterfront next to ODNR, Shoreline Park is beautiful and easily walkable from Jet Express, Clubhouse No. 3, Saucy Brew Works and the Sandusky Bay. Kids will love burning off energy on the playground while adults take in the views under the shaded benches. For a great history lesson, this location is home to the Underground Railroad where boaters would provide relief and aid for those seeking refuge.
What to Do: Kelleys Island
Caddy Shack Square: The Caddy Shack is central to most of the fun on Kelleys Island like putt-putt mini golf, shopping, ice cream and golf cart rentals. To make the most of your trip to Kelleys, you will want to rent a golf cart to get around. Rentals start at $32 for two hours on a 4 seater cart or $44 for two hours on a 6 seater. We recommend atleast a 4 hour rental if you want to see all that Kelleys Island has to offer like the Glacial Grooves geological phenomenon.
Glacial Grooves: The glacial grooves are a must-see on Kelleys Island. The glaciers that created the Great Lakes left behind natural beauty with 400 feet long, 35 feet wide, 15 feet deep grooves. The geological area is important to scientist and explorers as it tells a very important story on the movement of glaciers through Ohio.
Inscription Rock Petroglyphs: A quick stop at Inscription Rock will have history lovers giddy on sight. Rediscovered in 1883, the huge rock was found on the shoreline with depictions of humans in head dresses and birds.
Lake Erie State Park Beach: There are a few places on Kelleys Island to pull off with the golf cart and dip your toes in the water but the best place for swimming is in the State Park. Campers can rent a campsite or guests can visit during the day for beach access.
East Quarry Horseshoe Lake: The tall limestone walls are absolutely stunning around Horseshoe Lake’s blue water. Drive around the lake and pull off at several perfect photo-ops or hike on the five mile biking/hiking trails.
What to Do: Port Clinton + Marblehead
African Wildlife Safari Adventures: Have you ever had an alpaca lean in to say hello? At Port Clinton’s African Wildlife Safari drive-through, the animals are food motivated and love to try to steal a carrot or two from your cup! We highly recommend upgrading to the $15 or $30 feed cups which include extra grain, carrots, and lettuce.
The drive-through is a blast as zebras, bison, elk, alpaca and cattle peek in your car windows. Don’t skip a walk through the Dinosaur Takeover with life-sized animatronic dinos and animals like monkeys, turtles, kangaroos, and bunnies. For $10, kids can ride a couple laps on a camel’s back or purchase $2 feed sticks for birds in the aviary. Be warned, as soon as you step into the aviary with a feed stick, the birds will swarm and land on your arms and stick- be prepared, stay calm, and continue walking as they fly away and find a new spot to land.
Waterworks Park + Port Clinton Lighthouse: Home to the Famous Lake Erie Love sign, visit the Port Clinton Lighthouse- one of the first lighthouses on Lake Erie. Kids will love splashing around in the shallow beach of Waterworks Park or catch-and-release fishing at the pond. Waterworks Park has a small playground but we recommend a super short drive over to Lakeview Park with an epic lakeside themed playground structure.
Portage River Paddling Company: For the family who loves an outdoor adventure, the Portage River Paddling Company is a great spot to rent kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, and stand-up paddle boards. Throw an axe or two or mine for gemstones at this one-stop-shop!
Marblehead Lighthouse: Leading up to the famous Marblehead Lighthouse are adorable shops and eateries on Lake Erie. Stop in at the Mercantile or Pink Perch boutique before heading to the top of the lighthouse. During operating hours, for $3 visitors can climb up the spiral staircase for stunning views of Lake Erie and Cedar Point. Down below, check out the original walls and stairs where workers would carry fuel up the brick siding to light the ‘candle.’
Marblehead is a must when visiting Shores and Islands, the blue-green waves splashing up on the rock bay are picturesque and so peaceful. Kids will love climbing all over the big rocks while parents enjoy a calmer visit to the lake.
Make sure to visit the Shores and Islands welcome center at 770 SE Catawba Road in Port Clinton! Kids will love to play and learn in the kids corner while staff help parents plan the most epic family trip to Lake Erie! Use this hashtag to spread the #LakeErieLove!