When I was researching things to do near Sandusky, Ohio, I came across an island town called Put-In-Bay Ohio, referred to as Key West of the North. I’ve been to Key West, Florida so I admit that I was a little skeptical of a town in Ohio (of all places) making such claim.
Planning (pretty much none)
I was attending my very first blogger conference in Sandusky and we were staying at Cedar Point, home of some of the craziest, biggest, wildest roller coasters on the planet. I’ve made it habit of always trying to plan some type of adventure or excursion whenever I travel, even if the trip is for business or some other reason. While the theme park was certainly an adventure, I thought I’d at least do a little light TripAdvisor search and see what came up.
I was so surprised when I came across the Great Lake isles. I had no idea there were islands on the lakes, let alone islands large enough for inhabitants. Don’t judge me; I blame public school! We learn the names of the lakes and move on with life. So, I just really had no idea. This fascinated me and I made up my mind that I definitely wanted to extend my trip and spend some time on one of the islands. Put-In-Bay is on South Bass island and the list of things to do on the island just went on and on and on and on. Then, I read the magic word….WINE! They had wineries on the island and caves to explore. That sealed the deal for me and I didn’t read up on anything else! We were extending our trip to visit Put-In-Bay Ohio!
The only detail of this day trip I planned was how we would travel to the island. Ironically that’s the part of the plan that didn’t go right! The original plan was to catch the Jet Express Ferry from Sandusky. I looked up the website the night before and jotted down the fares, but I didn’t pay attention to the schedule. So after our conference ended on Sunday morning, we meandered, networked, and even went back into the theme park for one last ride, not really paying much attention to time. Silly me….
When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we were informed that the next ferry wouldn’t be arriving for almost an hour and a half and we would only have time to stay on the island a couple of hours because they didn’t have service after 5:30. With a rate of almost $40, it seemed like our hopes would be dashed. Fortunately the ticket cashier was kind enough to refer us to an alternative that would be much more flexible for our schedule. Kudos to her for allowing her customer service to extend beyond just trying to get a sale. It’s rare for a business to actually refer you to a competitor but we were most appreciative.
She gave us a brochure for the The Miller Ferry line that operates out of Clinton just a short 20 minute drive away from Sandusky. The cost was only $7 each way, they ran every 30 minutes, and the last Ferry returned at 7:30 p.m. which would give us plenty of time to explore.
My only experience with ferries is the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and the ferry in Puerto Rico over to the location of the Bacardi Factory. Neither of those experiences stuck in my mind as being the cleanest or smoothest, so I was very impressed with the cleanliness and friendliness of the Miller Ferry crew. I had also never seen a ferry transporting you with a car. That’s also an option for an additional fee. The ride was just fine, even with the water a bit choppy. We sat outside just taking in the view of the lake and the other islands in the distance. The wind and the breeze blowing through my curly hair-do was so refreshing. We certainly don’t get breezes like that in Florida at this time of year. I even saw a couple of water snakes swimming along side the boat!
Once you arrive in the port you can hop in a cheap $3 cab or a $2 retro school bus and they will take you into town to the main strip. Since it was only my friend and I the bus driver was kind enough to drop us off at our first destination and we would be able to walk to the other locations we wanted to see. She was so friendly, and she just couldn’t believe we were visiting all the way from Florida. There is also an island “train”, which is more like a theme park tram that we saw going around the island. The most prevalent mode of transportation I saw was golf carts. There’s an abundance of places to rent one. Since neither of us were really wanting to be the designated driver, we decided against the golf cart this trip. Maybe next time….
First stop on the agenda and really the only planned activity for the day, was the Heineman’s Winery. What makes this winery even more special is the crystal cave located 40 ft below the earth on its property. It’s the largest geode cave of its kind in the world and the home of the single largest geode in the world. The largest crystal in the cave measures between 18-20 inches long and it’s a whopping 300 lbs. It’s also absolutely worthless! As nifty as it is to look around at the crystals, they have no value whatsoever. Their brittle structure doesn’t lend them well to making jewelry with them. The cave itself is just one room but it’s neat to see and listen to the interesting facts about how the discovery of the cave in 1827 became essential in saving the winery during prohibition.
The winery tour is what I was most looking forward to. They grow concord, labrusca, and catawba grapes on the island. Catawba can also be found on the east coast but it’s not a wine I had ever had before. On the tour it was evident that this family puts pride into every bit of the 40,000 gallons a year they produce. There are even some processes that still have to be done by hand for certain wines that need corking. The vineyards are harvested every fall by hand, which translates to my taste buds as love.
At the end of the tour we were taken to the bar where we were able to try any one of the wines that we were shown on the tour. There’s one free tasting included in the $7 tour admission. There were so many wines to choose from but my personal favorite was the Pink Catawba, a blend of the catawba and concord grapes. It was delish!
Imagine my disappointment when I learned they are only able to ship within Ohio and not out of state. Each wine sample is just a mere $2, so naturally I just about tried them all. We were in such good company with the staff that works there. They treated us just like family! They were most gracious to the “Florida Girls” as they called us. I told them I’m somewhat envious of the beautiful scenery they are surrounded by and the laid back atmosphere. I can totally see how one could come there and never want to go back home.
They feature a garden courtyard out back where you can take your wine samples and unwind. The air was crisp, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the flowers were beaming. I could not have asked for a more perfect setting to enjoy the island air and sip my wine. We took a few tipsy selfies with the staff and left armed with their personal recommendations for the best places to eat and drink and set off to go adventuring.
We decided to walk from the winery to the main strip of activity because we really wanted to take in the island. It was just so quaint. We passed several bed and breakfast cottages and even the EMT was converted from a cute old house. I felt like I was walking the streets of one of those corny Hallmark movies that I enjoy so much. As we walked, we stumbled upon a most interesting sign….soup and whiskey (oook interesting combo)…..and perch tacos! Hold the phone! A new friend at the blogger convention mentioned having perch tacos at a place called The Goat and we had accidentally walked right into it. Score! This trip just kept planning itself.
We were greeted by the friendly staff, then escorted to the most adorable open-air patio ever!! It was just perfect. They had quite an impressive cocktail selection, but (well who’s counting anyway…let’s just say we had our share of wine for the day) we decided water would be in our best interest…at least until we had some real food in our bellies. **Drink smarter not harder, just saying.
Our server was just as sweet as he could be! He highly recommended we try the Ruben balls as an appetizer. Amazeballs!!! Basically, they are these little balls of cheese, corned beef, and sauerkraut that are deep-fried into little balls served with thousand island dressing. Soooo good. Like seriously, if I weren’t trying to turn over a new leaf with my eating habits, I’d try to make them!
The star of the show was the perch tacos. Perch isn’t a fish I had ever had before and it’s not one I can readily get in Florida so I was excited to try something brand new and caught locally so eating perch from Lake Erie was Perfection…you guys know me by now…you know what’s coming right? Yep! Party in my mouth!!! What puts these fish tacos over the top is The Goat’s special Paliwali sauce (named for the resident stuffed goat inside the main dining room). I hope the recipe for that sauce is in a vault somewhere because it was just that good. Don’t ask me to describe it. I can’t. Just know that if you go, you want this sauce. I don’t care what you order…get the sauce!
We really didn’t want to leave The Goat, but we had more island to see. After that nice full meal and plenty of water we were ready to venture on. Soon the main street came into view and we started to pass all sorts of cute shops, restaurants, and bars. One of the recommendations from our friends at the winery was to have a mojito at Mojito Bay Bar. What makes this bar so cool? Well for starters they have a list of like every flavor mojito imaginable. Name a flavor…yes they had it. The most unique feature was that it was an open air tiki style bar, with a floor of sand and instead of having bar stools at the bar, you sit in a swing!! How cool is that?! Because the island was nearing the end of the season, there really weren’t very many people but I could definitely see this bar being the happening spot during peak tourism time. Our bartenders, Diablo and Wild Bill, made excellent drinks and they were pretty obliging in taking photos for us of all of the many poses we could think of using the swings as our props.
One of our friends from the winery recommended we grab a bite to eat at The Boathouse restaurant. We just walked around taking photos of the waterfront, and the memorial hoping we would run into it. And we did, but they had already closed down the kitchen for the day. It just means I have more to try when I return to the island. We actually saw a few billboard signs on the way to Clinton advertising The Boardwalk restaurant. I was afraid it might be über touristy, but their lobster chowder came highly recommended. Since The Boathouse was closed, we gave it a try. Yum! The lobster chowder was very very good. The view of the marina was also really nice from upstairs.
We spent the remainder of our time doing a little souvenir shopping and having photo shoots along the waterfront. I was really wanting to visit the Perry’s Victory and International Peace monument, but it was already closed for the day by the time we made it to the side of the island. Had I actually planned, I probably could have squeezed it in, but I’m ok with it, just more to explore on my return visit. It’s quite a structure, standing at 352 feet. You can even ride up to the top for what I’m sure are some spectacular views!
We caught a cheap cab/van ride back to the other side of the island to catch our return Ferry back home. It had honestly been one of the best days ever! It’s truly an enchanting place, especially since it wasn’t crowded at all. And just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a beautiful sunset in a cloudless sky on Lake Erie. This was even more special because we started our day with a sun rise on the Cedar Point beach and experiencing two golden hours in one day was really special!
Many people think of travel in such a narrow viewpoint. Sometimes you can have amazing adventures in the most unexpected places. America really is beautiful! This country has so much to offer that we never even discover. While I love to get my passport stamped from a new country, I also get just as giddy about exploring lessor popularized destinations, like Put-In-Bay which are right here in my own country. If you weren’t from the surrounding states, then you’ve probably never heard of it. It was also quite interesting to me how many of the islanders were down right flabbergasted that 2 girls from Florida found their way up to their little island, just 5 miles away from the Canadian border. People think of Florida and they think you live in vacation central so why would you ever go anywhere else? You’ve heard of “snowbirds”; I guess we’re “sunbirds”. I live for those exchanges with people. That’s what travel is all about. We made friends at every stop we made and the people of Put-In-Bay were overwhelmingly helpful and accommodating to us.
I leave you with this. Go somewhere…go anywhere! Experience a new place, new food, and most importantly people who are living just a little bit differently than you.
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“It’s only the great outdoors….what are you afraid of?”