Everyone loves island life, and when you live in the midwest, you get the perfect destination when you combine island life and lake life together. South Bass Island has been a go-to destination for summer fun for as long as I can remember and still brings visitors! This small but mighty island in the middle of Lake Erie is one of Ohio’s premier destinations. Here are my favorite 25 things to do in Put in Bay, Ohio.
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Book a Passage on the Miller Ferry
To get to Put in Bay, you need to book a passage over to the island via a ferry. Miller Ferry has been a Lake Erie staple for years, and our family has made many memories on the ride over the islands. The ferries run daily throughout the seasons, and when you take your vehicle over, it is on a first-come, first serve basis. For the 2022 season, they added the Mary Ann Market to the fleet, and I look forward to taking a ride on her.
Truth be told, renting the golf cart is the best part of the day! We have eight kids, and we would get the mack daddy of all golf carts every time we went. We looked like the Clampetts as we ran around the island with kids hanging off and having the time of their life. These days we only need a four-seater, but we are still tearing up the island enjoying life when we come.
Use the code GLEASON for $5.00 off at Erie Island Carts.
Visit Perrys Monument
Don’t give up the ship! This magnificent tribute to the victory on Lake Erie during the war of 1812 and the lasting peace between Great Britain and Canada. Even though we have been to this location many times, we come back each visit we make to Put in Bay. There is something majestic about this structure that draws you to it.
Plan in advance to take the elevator to the top and take in the view of Lake Erie. In the summertime, arrive early to avoid the crowds and long lines.
If you are bringing your family, this is a must-stop for your crew! Our kids have enjoyed exploring the property here since they were little. In 2022, we finally toured the Butterly House, and I wish we had not waited so long to do so.
Butterfly House is filled with 30 – 40 varieties of butterflies from South America and Malaysia. As you walk into the butterfly house, you can see butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.
Perry’s Cave is a historic stop and a journey back into time. Commodore Oliver Perry is credited with finding this cave.
Putt-Putt the War of 18 holes as a family and enjoy fun historical facts while doing it. You’ll have a fun time as you war it out to see who the winner will be.
Fort aMAZE’in is a giant maze challenge. We have not done this activity, but by the looks of things, when we were there, plenty of people were trying it out.
Gem Stone Mining Our grandkids love this, and it is fun to watch them “pan for gold.” You have to buy a bag of gemstones, and then they can “find” them as they sift through it.
If you love the outdoors and want to stay on the island in a tent or RV, check out South Bass Island State Park. While this park is small compared to other state parks, it packs a big punch when it comes to evening sunset on Lake Erie. Tent sites that are located on the cliffside are the best and have stellar views. RV sites are located in the wooded area and, truth be told, a little tight; however, you’re here to explore and not sit around at your RV.
Sip Some Wine at Heineman’s and Visit the Crystal Cave
Heineman’s is the oldest family-owned operating winery in Ohio, and the fifth generation is working to keep the winery functioning at its best. Take the combo tour of Crystal Cave, the winery, and tasting while you are there. The cave is actually a geode that you get to walk down into; while it is small, you can say that you have been inside a geode. After your cave tour, the short but informative winery tour will give you the skinny on what they do here. Before leaving, turn in the token and get your wine or grape juice tasting!
If the weather is right, renting a kayak is a great way to see the shores of Put in Bay! Kayak rentals are available at Kayak the Bay just outside of downtown. On your tour of Lake Erie, you can take in the views of Perry’s Monument or glide the kayak over to Gibraltar Island. The Bay is usually calm and relaxing, and if on the off chance it is a choppy day, they will let you know the best places to explore.
This is one of my favorite things to do on the island. I had no idea there were so many preserves there until I arrived. Each one is unique and has a different feel. My personal favorites are Scheeff East Point Nature Preserve and Massie Cliffside Preserve.
Scheeff Eat Point Nature Preserve is on the lake’s shores and offers some beautiful views. I don’t just come here for the lake views; as an avid birder, I try to get a peek at the Purple Marins and Tree Swallows.
Massie Cliffside Preserve offers a cliffside hike through the woods, and there is an excellent dock for fishing at this location.
Pro-tip: All the hikes on the island are short and spread out. Rent a golf cart to have easy access to parking at each trailhead.
Hop on board the tour train for a one-hour narrated historical tour of about 80% of the island. You can hop on and off at various stops along the route. The train stops at the pick-up points every 30 minutes.
Learning the history of the island was one of my favorite parts of this tour!
Put in Bay Island train is an excellent alternative to renting a golf cart. You can go to all the things and not have to navigate. This allows you to enjoy everything the island offers without having to drive yourself.
Shopping on Put in Bay is a must. Most of the shops are all located downtown and within easy walking distance. You will find kitchey little shops along the main street. Park your golf cart and take a stroll.
Local Color: small but quaint gift shop at The Keys complex. Visit Lola the local freshwater mermaid.
Put in Bay Surf Shop: Brand name gear for your island stay and some local branded gifts to take home too.
Hidden gem: The Shops at Compass Point
• Dock 421
• The Little Store
• Happy Holidays
• Island Hardware
• Home Port
Pro-tip: When you see a place to park on the street grab it, even if you have to walk a bit to where you are going. Parking is at a premium during peak season.
Fill Your Belly with Lobster Bisque
Our family has been coming to Put-in-Bay for years, and this is a staple dinner location every time we come. If you are looking for good food and excellent views of Lake Erie, The Board Walk is the place to be! The upper deck is where we like to get seated because of the family-friendly atmosphere and tableside service.
You might have read they have the best Lobster Bisque, and I have to tell you it ranks right up there with some of the best I have eaten. Our kids love to eat here, and we make it a family gathering spot every time we come.
Lake Erie is known as the walleye capital of the world, and getting out on the lake should make your to-do list. Each charter offers something different, and they all have their own personalities. I have not personally gone out with any of the charters on the island and can’t recommend one over the other; you’ll have to do your own research. Book a charter out with one of the captains that call Put in Bay home here
I love to watch people jumping waves on Lake Erie! Located by South Bass Island is Put in Bay Watercraft rentals. Get out on the Lake for a day of fun in the sun by riding along the island’s coastline. This is not something we have done yet because we have chosen to do other things, but it is a popular activity. You will need a boaters safety card to ride, so take that test BEFORE you come. Boater safety course information is here.
Parasailing is a bucket list activity for me, and I look forward to trying it out in the future. It just seems like every time we are on the island, the rides are already booked, or the weather is bad. Moral of the story, book in advance BEFORE you come so you are not left out like me.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? We do! This is a small but free museum with an opportunity to taste some of their delicious chocolate treats. You will see antique chocolate-making pieces and information about how chocolate is made.
Before you leave, make sure to try some of the chocolate Cafe’s delicious treats! The coffee bar has some fantastic choices, and they grind their own beans. I heard their hot chocolate is scrumptious, don’t miss trying that.
Pro-tip: You can spend about 20-30 minutes here.
Put in Bay Historical Museum
This sweet little stop is located right next to the Put in Bay town hall. This museum has four buildings and is 6,000 square feet. It gives you a glimpse into the history of this small island community and its important role in American History. One thing that always gets me when I am there is learning about the Victory Hotel; it is hard to believe there once was a beautiful hotel where the state campground is now located.
We enjoy browsing the resale shop located there too! You never know what you will find when you go there.
Take a ride on Pete the Perch or one of the 12 original horses in downtown Put in Bay. This Allen Herschell Company carousel has been an island treasure, but it fell into disrepair over time. In 1980 George Stoiber and his wife June purchased the carousel and began the labor of love to bring it back to its former glory. It is now back operating daily during tourist season.
To ride, purchase tickets inside The Carriage House.
Tour the Island in an Airplane
Take a ride in a World War II bi-plane ride over the waters of Lake Erie! This is a thrill seeker’s dream opportunity while visiting the island. The most interesting thing about this ride is that it can be tailored to you. Enjoy a thrill ride of rolls and spins or a smooth, easy trip along the shores; the choice is yours.
I tried to call to book a trip on my most recent trip but could not get through via phone. Cell service on the island can be spotty, so make your reservation before you get to the island.
The South Bass Island Lighthouse was completed in 1897 and operated until 1962. You can now tour the Lighthouse Tower and learn about its history. Be prepared to climb its stairs up 60 feet to take in the stunning views of Put-in-Bay and Lake Erie from the top. Remember, what comes up must come down, so plan on wearing a good pair of shoes for this adventure. Groups are limited to five, and the fee is $5.00 per person.
You scream, I scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM! Lake Erie is home to Toft’s ice cream, and we make sure to get some every time we come to the Lake. You can find ice cream at a few places in Put in Bay. DJ’s Ice Cream Parlour is a local favorite, and they serve Toft’s, mmm good! Dairy Isle serves soft serve right on the Lake, and once you get your treat, you can take it to go and eat in the park. We’ve done this many times. Last but not least is Put in Bay Candy Bar, where you can get your ice cream treat but OH so much more. Make sure to try some vintage candy or fudge before you leave!
Pro-tip: Pace yourself and try all three while you are here. 🙂
Swim in Lake Erie
We always take a dip while we are camping on the island. My biggest tip is to bring water shoes. The beach at South Bass Island State Park is rocky. While the rocks are smooth from all their tumbling, they can hurt your feet. There is a playground, volleyball net, public bathrooms, and a snack bar called the Nut House located at the beach. This part of the island offers beautiful views and is an excellent spot to watch the sunset.
Pro-tip: There are some watersnakes around the beaches. On our last trip, we did not see any while we were there but just know they could be present.
Check out the Aquatic Center
We really enjoyed this FREE stop while taking a golf cart tour of the island! You can learn the history of this once fully operational fish hatchery. Today, it houses the local history, aquariums of local fish, and examples of the invasive species of Lake Erie. Come with your questions about Lake Erie because the team here was more than ready to answer those for us.
If you are looking for some free things to do while you are on island time, check out these!
Skip’s Antique Car Museum is located at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. Park your golf cart and hop off for a 10-15 minute walkthrough. These cars are housed in a wooden barn at the back of the property.
Take a picture at the Put in Bay sign at sunset. It is the best time of the day for a picture of one of Lake Erie’s famous nighttime skies.
Enjoy one of the nature preserves or stroll the coastline in Put in Bay,
Let the kids burn off some energy in the town squares’ public playground
Pack a picnic and bring it along to enjoy at one of the picnic tables around the island
Stay the Night on the Island
Everyone is always asking me about where to stay in Put in Bay. Answering this question is tough for me because we always bring along our RV for our trip to the island. However, I will mention a few places that look perfect and are on my bucket list of places to stay if I come without our Heartland Sundance travel trailer.
Ashley’s Island House; built-in 1863 this historic home has been converted into a lovely bed and breakfast. Loaded with historic charm and beautiful hardwood floors, this b and b would be a perfect place for an island getaway. It is located within walking distance of all the shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
Anchor Inn; this boutique hotel is just outside of town and offers a unique stay in Put in Bay. They pride themselves on having a quiet, homey atmosphere for which many come to the island. They serve a hot buffet-style breakfast each morning.
Cabents at South Bass Island State Park: there is one trip advisor review, I recommend you read it. This is a YURT-style camping experience and there is no AC. It sleeps 6 comfortably and is perfect for a family glamping getaway.
There are plenty of things to do in Put in Bay and we have done most of the activities listed in my list of 25. When you come to the South Bass Island, consider your time here a true unsalted water island vacation. Slow down a little, enjoy the lake, and embrace the joys of life while taking a moment breath in the happiness this island gives.