Rating the Suburbs 2010 - Lake

The city’s access to Lake Erie provides recreation, commerce and options for lake-front living.
<< Lorain
Lakeview Park doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as Huntington Beach. It doesn’t draw West Siders from miles around like its smaller, Bay Village counterpart.

But if you’re looking for a place to spend a summer day, Lorain’s 40-acre lakefront park is waiting to wrap you in a big, sandy embrace. So why is it that Bay Village’s beach is the one we hear more about?

“[Outsiders] don’t realize exactly what we have,” explains Pamela Hellinger. “We’ve got a beautiful beach.”

As manager at the Rose Café, the lifelong Lorain resident sees on a daily basis what many others never will. The cafe she operates is located inside Lakeview Park’s renovated 1917 bathhouse. It’s perched on a grassy knoll that looks out across the park’s wide sand beach.

Since Hellinger, 47, started managing the cafe two and a half years ago, she’s watched storms blow in and witnessed incredible sunsets. She loves the quiet morning, when the beach is peaceful and solitary.

“You can come down and have a cup of coffee on the beach,” she says. “People read their papers and start their day off.”

Many people don’t think about Lorain the way Hellinger sees it. With a population topping 70,000, it’s a large, urban city with all the challenges that come with it. And, after spending generations making steel and cars, times have changed. The steel plant is a shadow of what it once was. Ford Motor Co. shuttered its Lorain Assembly Plant in 2005. That’s what most outsiders know.

But the more time you spend in Lorain, the more you become aware of its dual nature. It’s a gritty, blue-collar city built along a naturally beautiful lakeshore. There are, of course, waterfront homes with manicured lawns, but what’s more common are the small, tidy homes of the working class.

And while Lake Erie is undoubtedly Lorain’s biggest recreational asset, it’s also been the 176-year-old port city’s lifeline. For decades, ore boats have traveled across Lake Erie and then headed south down the Black River, which cuts through the middle of the city, ferrying raw materials to the steel mill. In a historically blue-collar community like Lorain, even the lake is a workhorse.

But if you ask Hellinger, she’ll tell you Lake Erie’s power is best seen long after quitting time, on summer nights when the sun begins to drop below the seemingly endless horizon.

“To see the sunset between 8:30, 9:00 is just — sometimes you just don’t believe that you’re really here.”

Avon Lake

More than 450 homes lie within a stone’s throw of the water in this 12-square-mile city on Lake Erie. But even residents without their own lake access can enjoy the shore by heading to two city beaches: Veteran’s Memorial, a mini-beach with lifeguards, and the larger Miller Road Park, with a swim-at-your-own-risk policy, playground, boat launch and free summer concert series.

Bay Village

Think Bay Village in the summer, and Huntington Beach inevitably springs to mind. The half-mile-long swath of sand lies on the sheltered curve of shoreline that gives the city its name and provides sweeping views of downtown Cleveland as well as Bay’s western neighbors.


The public beaches here aren’t staffed, so city officials would really prefer you didn’t use them for swimming. Instead, residents in this East Side city enjoy private access to about 20 members-only beach parks sprinkled liberally along the shoreline. Probably beats whatever lies at the end of your street.

<< Mentor

The mile-and-a-half-long sand beach at Mentor Headlands is the largest in Ohio, but it’s not Mentor’s only lakeside amenity. The city also has the Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve, 450 acres of wooded parkland that stretches for another mile and a half along Lake Erie. Swimming is not an option here, but hiking and biking paths are ample and open to everyone.
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