We do all of those things, stopping to investigate whatever art gallery, restaurant or park catches our eye. The pace is leisurely. The atmosphere is laid-back. We enjoy the bustle of the city (Port Clinton), the serenity of the countryside (Catawba) and the quaintness of the village (Marblehead).
But the trip is so lovely because our bed-and-breakfast, decorated like a dollhouse, makes everything feel special. Tucked into bed, in her princess pajamas, my daughter springs up: “We forgot to say goodnight to them,” she says, referring to the owners. Between the fresh flowers, homemade cookies and general niceness, she thinks she made a friend, not a business transaction.
Locals pointed us to the fast-food Jolly Roger Seafood House for fresh fish as good as any place in these parts, but a whole lot cheaper. The perch platter is $7.39. The walleye platter is $7.25. 1737 E. Perry St., Port Clinton, (419) 732-3382
Lakeside offers a summer of sophisticated performances, including pianist Daniel Wang (Aug. 8), the Westhuizen Piano Duo (Aug. 12), the Celtic Tenors (Aug. 14) and many performances by the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra. 1-866-952-5374; lakesideohio.com
• Where to Eat •
Our Favorite: Mon Ami. You can’t come near these parts without hearing that Mon Ami Restaurant and Historic Winery is lovely. Saucer magnolias line the walk to the grand building. Plus, it’s fun: The chalet, open and airy with vaulted ceilings, hosts live bands, making it the place to party on the peninsula. The food is good, especially the famous Saturday-night seafood buffet ($28.99) and Sunday brunch ($15.99). Oh, the wine’s not bad either. Especially when paired with live jazz on the lawn on a Sunday afternoon. 3845 Wine Cellar Road, Catawba Island, 1-800-777-4266; monamiwinery.com
Another Great Option: The Garden at the Lighthouse sits across from the lake in the “Walleye Capital of the World.” So there’s really no mulling over the menu. The walleye fillet is breaded with shredded potato and finished with a lemon wine sauce ($20.95), and it’s as crunchy, tangy and good as it sounds. Like to catch your own dinner? Bring it in, and they’ll fix it up for you and serve it with all the trimmings for $12.95. 226 E. Perry St., Port Clinton, (419) 732-2151; gardenrestaurant.com
• Can’t-Miss Events •
Aug. 2 & 3: More than 150 artists sell their paintings, pottery, photography, jewelry and more at the 51st annual Arts in the Park. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lakeview Park in Port Clinton. Free. enjoyportclinton.com
Aug. 30 & 31: The annual Perch, Peach, Polka and Pierogie Festival offers pretty much what the name promises. (419) 797-4002
Dec. 31 & late May: As the “Walleye Capital of the World,” Port Clinton has to celebrate the fish twice a year. On New Year’s Eve, there’s Midnight Madness Walleye Drop downtown. That’s followed up in May by the Mainstreet Port Clinton Walleye Festival, including a fishing derby, parade, food and the crowning of the Walleye Festival princess and queen. Both events are free. walleyemadness.com, walleyefestival.com
• Include the Kids •
So maybe it’s not posh when huge animals slobber all over your car, but it sure is fun. The gates open, we drive into African Safari Wildlife Park and, immediately, our car is stormed by packs of alpacas and one- and two-humped camels. “Roll the windows up,” screams my 4-year-old. By the end of our animal drive-through, she is laughing. Still, we were never as daring as the driver of the car in front of us, who let the giant elands stick their entire heads inside the vehicle. Instead, we just threw carrots out the passenger window. $16.95 for ages 7 and up, $10.95 for ages 3 to 6. Kids 2 and under are free. 267 Lightner Road, Port Clinton, 1-800-521-2660; africansafariwildlifepark.com
Children — and adults — are welcome to create their own vacation memento at Glazed & Blazed, a sun-filled studio overlooking the lake in downtown Marblehead. My daughter picks a heart-shaped tray and then paints, stamps and stencils it in six different shades of pink and purple. 130 W. Main St., (419) 798-4008; glazedandblazed.com
• Where To Stay •
Our Favorite: The Bashful Mermaid Bed & Breakfast. Fresh chocolate-chunk cookies upon your arrival. Lilacs in your room. Morning coffee brought to you as you enjoy an early dip in the hot tub. All yours when you spend a night at this Victorian mansion. We stayed in the Island Goddess room, enjoying the huge marble bathroom, separate sitting area and balcony. Owners Diane and Larry Freedman host everyone from boaters to birders, but the beauty of their home tends to attract more romantics than anyone. Within walking distance of downtown Port Clinton’s restaurants, as well as the Jet Express to Put-in-Bay. $159 a night in summer; $99 in the off-season. 503 E. Second St., Port Clinton, (419) 734-3400; thebashfulmermaid.com
Other Great Options: The peninsula certainly has its share of motels, but none that offer the personalized perks of a B&B.The Bay Haven Inn (419-734-2064 or bayhaveninn.com) in Port Clinton is known for its sailing charters; the Battenberg Inn (419-734-6699 or battenberginn.com) in Port Clinton offers kayaking trips and Reiki workshops; Five Bells Inn (1-888-734-1555 or 5bellsinn.com) is right on the water in Catawba; Sunnyside Tower Bed & Breakfast (1-888-831-1263 or sunnysidetower.com) in Port Clinton specializes in family reunions; theVictorian Inn (1-800-501-3791 or victorianinnbb.com) in Marblehead hosts weddings; McKenna’s Inn (1-877-410-5733 or mckennasinn.com) on Catawba offers access to a private beach; and the owner of theMarshall Inn (1-877-376-5531 or marshallinn.com) leads ghost walks through town.
— a by-the-dollar guide —
|$4.25||A small bag of popcorn from the Great Lakes Popcorn Co. in downtown Port Clinton. Vanilla butternut is the most popular flavor, but they have everything from Wild Walleye to Kahlua. 60 N. Madison St., (419) 732-3080; greatlakespopcorn.com|
|$119.84 plus drinks||Round-trip tickets for two on the Jet Express from downtown Port Clinton to downtown Put-in-Bay, plus dinner for two at the poshest place on the island, Axel & Harry’s Waterfront Grille (227 Bayview Ave., 419-285-2572). From the patio, you’ll see all the action on the docks. Start by sharing the bayou stuffed crabs ($7.95) and homemade chips served with a spicy white tiger sauce ($5.99). Proceed to Lake Erie surf & turf ($34.95) for the perch lover and lime ginger glazed salmon ($22.95) if you’re in the mood for something else. Optional ending: a sundae topped with organic Dagoba fudge sauce and strawberries.|
|$8,000||An original oil painting by Great Lakes artist Ben Richmond. When we stopped by his Marblehead gallery, Catawba Cove was for sale for $8,000. 417 W. Main St., 1-800-441-5631; richmondgallery.com|
|$15,000||A glass sculpture, The Eyes are the Window to the Soul, by internationally known glasscutter Cary Ferguson. Ferguson Gallery. 5890 E. Harbor Road, Marblehead, (419) 734-0600; fergusongallery.com|
|$68,000||A share in the private Rattlesnake Island Club. The 85-acre island, about a mile from Put-in-Bay is open only to its 65 members, who also pay a yearly membership fee of about $6,000. Resort amenities include a pool, restaurant, tennis courts, trails, fitness center and more. rattlesnakeislandclub.com|
|$1,400,000||The most expensive home for sale in the Lake Erie vacationland. This 6,500-square-foot, 5-bedroom, 5-bath house lies on a half acre of land at the very tip of Catawba Island. Call Sharon Woodson at Realty One for more info: (419) 734-5791.3590 Surfside Dr.|