14 Top-Rated Things to Do in Put-in-Bay, OH
The top deck of the Jet Express is a thrilling way to enjoy Lake Erie on the short ride to Put-in-Bay from Port Clinton or Sandusky. The cool breeze surrounding the Lake Erie islands in northern Ohio makes it feel like an instant vacation.
That is probably why the village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island is one of the top resort destinations in the state for residents and vacationers from nearby Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Canada, with things to do for all types of travelers.
South Bass Island is only 3.5 miles long, but it is the most popular among the cluster of islands because of Put-in-Bay. The village makes a great day trip or weekend getaway in Ohio. Many people vacation longer and stay on the island in a historic or boutique hotel or a bed-and-breakfast.
The area of Put-in-Bay is small, so you are always near restaurants and attractions. Be sure to try a perch sandwich, a famous delicacy on Lake Erie, from the Boardwalk restaurant or one of the small eateries at Put-in-Bay.
While you can take a car via Miller's Ferry (Jet Express accommodates pedestrians), it is best to leave your car at the ferry docks and rely on golf carts, bicycles, and walking to get around Put-in-Bay. All the attractions are easily accessible, and most things to do are free or only have a small admission fee.
Plan your trip with our list of the best things to do in Put-in-Bay.
1. Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial
The Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial and monument is one of the best places to visit on South Bass Island and one of the most recognized locations at Put-in-Bay. The 352-foot-tall monument is managed by the National Park Service and is a must-see during your visit. The monument commemorates those who fought in the War of 1812 in the Battle of Lake Erie.
Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial is open from May through September and weekends in October. Going up to the observation deck at the top of the tower is one of the best experiences on the island. You can see all the activity below and get a fantastic view of Lake Erie. There are special events planned at the monument throughout the year and regular ranger-led programs.
Be sure to go inside the visitor center, which has information and exhibits on the history of the monument and the area. The walkway around the monument is one of the best spots on the island to take an evening stroll along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Address: 93 Delaware Ave., Put-In-Bay, Ohio
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/pevi/index.htm
2. Ride the Tour Train
If you take the Tour Train when you first arrive in Put-in-Bay, it offers a thorough introduction to the layout of the island and a snapshot of the many things to do here. The hour-long train ride runs every 30 minutes.
It takes you past five stops, including Perry's Cave Family Fun Center, Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial, and the Lake Erie Nature & Wildlife Center. You can get off the train at any of the stops to explore for a longer period of time then just catch the next train when you are ready to go to the next location.
Address: 411 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, Ohio
3. Explore the Perry's Cave Family Fun Center
One of the best places to visit for families in Put-in-Bay is Perry's Cave Family Fun Center. There is a collection of activities that can easily fill a day or several days. One of the best activities is taking a cave tour in Perry's Cave. It is a designated Natural Landmark in Ohio, with stalactite and stalagmite formations throughout the 208-foot-long cave corridor.
Besides the cave tours, the complex has the Butterfly House with dozens of exotic butterfly species, miniature golf, gemstone mining, a rock wall, a fort maze, and a free entry to the Antique Car Museum.
The car museum is worth a short stop even if you are just exploring the island by golf cart. It is in a barn on the property and includes rare finds like a popcorn car. The gift shop is also interesting, with unique and educational items, like science sets and gemstones.
Address: 979 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: http://www.perryscave.com
4. Watch Sunsets from South Bass Island State Park
South Bass Island State Park is located on the opposite end of the main activity in Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. The park offers a more tranquil and natural respite from the tourist commotion in the downtown village, with cabins and campgrounds on-site. There is a boat launch in the park and a swimming area.
South Bass Island State Park is one of the best places to visit on the island to catch a spectacular, unobstructed view of a Put-in-Bay sunset. There is green space with park benches for relaxing and waterfront viewing.
While visiting the park, drive around the campground area to explore the remnants of the old Victory Hotel. It was the world's largest hotel in the late 1800s. The resort burned to the ground in 1919, but remnants like the old swimming pool and other relics are still visible.
Address: 1523 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/southbassisland
5. Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center
The small building of the Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center holds some of the most interesting things you will see at Put-in-Bay. The original conservation center was started by a teacher and is now preserved to educate visitors about the unique ecosystems on the island.
A 900-square-foot expansion at the nature center now includes a wildlife viewing window and displays showing the common birds of the Lake Erie Islands, natural history information, and the geology of the area.
Be sure look at the live animal exhibit to see local reptiles and amphibians. Those who collect or enjoy wildlife artwork should visit the wall mural painted by local artist Janet Stearns in the large mammal exhibit.
Learn about local monarch butterfly tagging and bee pollination with the interactive exhibits. Most notable is the taxidermy collection showcasing native animals and North American species. Look at the wall of fish to learn about species like walleye and perch that are abundant in the surrounding Lake Erie waters. The nature trail out back showcases the flora and fauna found on the island.
Address: 255 Meechen Road, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: http://lakeerieislandswildlife.com
6. South Bass Island Lighthouse
The South Bass Island Lighthouse is located at the southern end of the island. Take a walk around the lighthouse and stand at the water's edge to watch boaters on Lake Erie. There is a comfortable park area with benches for a picnic lunch. The lighthouse has limited hours, and tours are available certain days of the week.
Climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse and get a seafarer's view of Lake Erie and the islands near South Bass. The old structure has beautiful architectural details that make great photographs. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a must-see for anyone who is a lighthouse fanatic.
This is one of the many free kid-friendly activities on Put-in-Bay, located on the Kids Love Put-in-Bay Trail. You can download a trail map and find all the locations from Shores & Islands Ohio.
Address: 2368 Langram Road, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
7. Hike at Massie Cliffside Preserve
Take a short hike along the nature trails at Massie Cliffside Preserve at Put-in-Bay to enjoy some of the nature that inhabits the area. The 11-acre preserve has park benches near the cliffs, making this a prime location to relax with stunning views of Lake Erie. It is also an easy hike to do with kids, since it is short and has flat terrain.
There is a dock for fishing at the end of the short hiking trail. The location is a stop along the Lake Erie Islands Water Trail for kayakers and non-motorized boats. The preserve is popular among birders, who come to observe the rare species that pass through the area during migration.
Address: 611 Columbus Ave (S.R. 357), Put-in-Bay, Ohio
8. Water Sports & Swimming
Since Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island are surrounded by beautiful Lake Erie, it is no surprise that water sports are one of the most popular things to do during your stay. Kayak and Jet Ski rentals are available at various locations on all sides of the island. Try your hand at paddleboarding or parasailing if you are feeling more adventurous.
While much of the South Bass Island shoreline is rocky, there are two beaches you can enjoy. There is a small beach at South Bass Island State Park, with swimming access to Lake Erie in designated areas.
There is also the Village of Put-in-Bay Beach, located behind Perry's Monument at the end of Delaware Avenue. This is a family-friendly sandy beach with play areas for kids, picnic tables, and grills.
9. Historic Fish Hatchery & Aquatic Visitors Center
Beyond the tourist activities in Put-in-Bay, it is home to some of the most extensive biological research taking place on Lake Erie. Visitors can get an up-close lesson on conservation at the Historic Fish Hatchery & Aquatic Center.
The interactive exhibits let you learn about Lake Erie's native species and those that threaten the ecosystem, like Asian carp. There are even live fish exhibits. If you are traveling with children under 16, they can borrow fishing tackle from the center and fish from the pier.
The Aquatic Visitors Center is a nice free activity on the island because you can take tours and engage kids in interactive experiences, like looking through microscopes to learn about the biodiversity that exists in Lake Erie.
The center is run by the Ohio Sea Grant and the Ohio Division of Wildlife as a research facility, so you get a behind-the-scenes experience to see how researchers are tackling the issues facing the waters and wildlife on Lake Erie.
Address: 1 Peach Point Road, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: www.ohioseagrant.osu.edu
10. Sightseeing by Golf Cart
Golf carts are the transportation of choice around the village of Put-in-Bay, but beyond their convenience, the carts are a fun way to explore on your own and cover a lot of ground during your stay. Golf cart rentals are available in many locations around the island and generally rent by the hour or the day.
Bike rentals are also popular, but venues on the island cater to the carts. Just getting out to drive the back roads on the island and stumbling on old barns and waterfront views is one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy your visit. Be sure to make a stop at the tiny Chocolate Museum to view antique marketing items related to the chocolate industry and buy an ice cream cone.
Since cars are discouraged on the island, even novices can feel comfortable in the carts. Ironically, golf carts are not allowed on the golf course on South Bass Island.
11. Play Golf at Saunders Golf Course
The only golf course at Put-in-Bay is Saunders Golf Course. The nine-hole course is an active way to enjoy the outdoors on the island at your leisure, as no tee times are required. It is open to the public, and club rentals are available.
The short Par 3 course is easy to walk and a limited time commitment, so it is easy to work in with other activities in the day. The golf course is available to anyone on the island, but free unlimited play is available to guests who stay at cottages on the property.
Address: 1494 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: http://www.saunderspib.com
12. Tour the Lake Erie Islands Historical Museum
History buffs will enjoy the treasured artifacts that are preserved in the Lake Erie Islands Historical Museum. The museum houses relics and documents related to the maritime history of the islands.
During your stay in Put-in-Bay, you will probably hear the names of other nearby islands like Kelleys, Middle Bass, and Gibraltar, but there are several dozen others that comprise the Lake Erie Islands. The museum provides a more in-depth look at the island region and provides an opportunity to learn about the rich history of Lake Erie.
Address: 443 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Official site: http://www.leihs.org
13. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at the Chocolate Museum
The tiny Chocolate Museum at Put-in-Bay is a quirky and interesting stop. There are displays showcasing the history of chocolate and a nice collection of chocolate product memorabilia. You will see vintage chocolate tins and boxes as they changed through the years.
After you get your fill of chocolate history step next door to the Chocolate Cafe and get your fill of chocolate treats and ice-cream. The café has iconic chocolate candies like truffles, turtles, and beltway mints, as well as pastries and cakes that are perfect with a cup of coffee.
Address: 820 Catawba Avenue, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
14. Crystal Cave
Put-in-Bay is home to another cave system, Crystal Cave, which is known for its large crystals and geodes. Some of the crystals are as wide as three feet, so people interested in science enjoy seeing them. Crystal Cave also had the world's largest geode.
Crystal Cave was discovered in 1897 while workers were digging a well. Crystals were harvested out of the original cave and used for manufacturing fireworks, but the existing elements have been preserved and protected in the years since for families to enjoy.
One of the unique features of Crystal Cave is the mineral celestite, which has a blueish appearance along the corridor walls. This mineral is often used in fireworks and not often seen, but Crystal Cave provides a nice opportunity to see celestite in its natural form. You can take a tour through the cave daily from May through September.
Address: 978 Catawba Avenue, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Put-in-Bay
- Put-in-Bay Resort Hotel: The Put-in-Bay Resort Hotel is centrally located and a nice place to stay if you do not want to stay in a bed and breakfast on the island. It also has parking if you decide to drive your car onto the island. The resort has a pool and offers complimentary breakfast.
- Bay Lodging Resort: Bay Lodging Resort's location just a few blocks from the main action in Put-in-Bay keeps you close to the activity and just far enough away to escape from it at night. The resort has basic rooms; multi-room suites; and split-level rooms that sleep up to 10 people, which are nice for families or groups. The resort offers free breakfast and golf cart rental.
- Edgewater Hotel: The Edgewater Hotel is within walking distance of many of the main Put-in-Bay attractions. Rooms range from deluxe suites with kitchenettes to rooms with decks that overlook the downtown area. You can rent bicycles and golf carts on-site.
Best Time to Visit Put In Bay, OH - Historical Climate Averages
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Exploring Sandusky: Since lodging can book quickly on South Bass Island, you will find more options in Sandusky, which has a number of resorts and hotels. You can also choose to stay on the mainland and just make a day trip to Put-in-Bay. There are some fun attractions in Sandusky, like the Merry-Go-Round Museum or Cedar Point before you catch the Jet Express to Put-in-Bay.
Exploring Ohio: If northern Ohio appeals to you, be sure to make stops in Cleveland and Toledo to experience some of the new revival and energy of these downtown areas. For nature lovers, Ohio's diverse natural habitats make for great outdoor adventures in the Buckeye State, from fishing and kayaking to hiking in the national and state parks. Plan a weekend getaway to a popular destination like Columbus or head for a quiet retreat in Ohio's tranquil Amish country.