Mimi Magazine reveals this season’s Top 10 Put-in-Bay Must-Dos

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Honoring the Battle of Lake Erie that took place here, Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial (far right) is one of the tallest monuments in the United States. It serves as a beacon on Put-in-Bay. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Laura Briedis & Patricia Nugent

Ahh…island life. Something transcendent takes place when you’re surrounded by water. It cocoons you and transports you to a place that rekindles the spirit.

Not surprisingly, most of the world’s best vacation spots are islands, from the turquoise waters of Bora Bora to the tropical Florida Keys.

But you don’t need a passport, or even a plane ticket, to enjoy a refreshing dose of island life. Located just over an hour’s drive west of Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, Put-in-Bay is everything you’d expect from a vacation destination—and more. Zipping around in golf carts, sipping locally produced wine, imbibing a frosty mug of beer and having a bite to eat downtown, exploring ancient underground caves…take your pick to forge family memories.

Like a sliver of beach glass, there are many shades to the island, such as live music and dancing in the evenings for grown-ups or exploring during the day with the kids on a laid-back Sunday. When you are on island time, you never have to look at your watch or phone, you just go with the flow. And no need to busy yourself with making plans. All you have to do is start with Mimi Magazine’s choice of Top 10 Put-in-Bay Must-Dos.

Miller Ferry
After motoring over a winding, two-lane road that skirts the lake, you make a final hairpin turn and the first thing you hear is the friendly blare of the Miller Ferry horn.

When embarking on the ferry, which makes trips to Put-in-Bay every half hour, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer, the ride is what you make of it. Hang out on the lower deck to greet the unofficial ambassadors (jumping fish), or hit the upper deck, several stories above sea level, to take in the majestic 360-degree views.

Getting there is half the fun! Ride aboard the Miller Ferry, which makes trips every half hour until 9 p.m. in the summer.

Founded in 1905 and currently owned and operated by the Market family, the ferry has earned a myriad of distinctions. It’s the shortest route to Put-in-Bay, toting in at 18 minutes over three miles of breathtaking scenery. Fares are the lowest and overnight parking is free. It’s also the only mode of transportation to the island for cars and trucks, motorcycles, bikes, kayaks and boats. Four-legged family members are welcome on the vessel as well. Dogs, cats, even iguanas on a leash are invited to ride the ferry for free.

“This year the Miller Boat Line is having a new ferry built to add to our fleet,” says Katrina Reed, who is communications director for the boat line. “Her name is the M/V Mary Ann Market, in honor of the family matriarch, and she’ll be christened in the spring of 2020.”

The 140-foot-long ferry joins four others in the fleet and accommodates up to 600 people or 26 vehicles.

“As time has passed, the needs of the islands have changed,” she says. “Trucks are bigger, pools and houses are bigger. (Yes, we transport both!) The new ferry will alleviate peak demand times and provide a smooth, quick ride along the shortest route to Put-in-Bay.”


Island Bike & Cart Rental

As soon as you disembark from the ferry, continue your escape trick by hopping on a golf cart to tool around in. Don’t worry about sitting in traffic, either.

“Our fleet of 220 golf carts actually outnumbers the automobiles on the island,” says DeeDee Duggan, whose family owns Island Bike & Cart Rental. “Carts have right of way on the island’s streets. And we don’t even have a stop light, so it’s nice to go your own pace and enjoy sightseeing without dealing with traffic.”

With Island Bike & Cart Rental, you can hop on a bike, cart or trolley to explore PIB.

She says the four-seaters are their most popular ride, in addition to two- and six-seaters.

You can rent and return them by the Miller Boat line or downtown. All of the carts are covered, and windshields can roll back depending on how much open road you want to feel.

If squeezing in a little cardio and fresh air while you tour sounds like fun, you can also hop on one of the more than 130 single-speed coasters and tandem bikes available.

For an informational treat, take a ride on the open-air Tour Train, which leaves the downtown depot every half hour. It covers 80 percent of the island, with an hour-long narrated ride. Sit back and learn about everything from island history and lore to fun facts that are chronicled along the tour. And let DeeDee handle all the details as your hometown tour guide, planning all-day, all-inclusive school outings and private groups on the train with package rates.


Pasquales Café

Benches outside a restaurant entrance are usually a hint that you won’t be the only one dining inside. And a line wrapped around the building—like at Pasquales Café on weekend mornings—is the telltale sign of a place you must try.

“We are a must-stop destination for food on the island,” says Ty Winchester, Pasquales’ general manager. “Our quality is high, ingredients are fresh, the atmosphere is friendly and the food is delicious.”

Housed in what was once a U.S. Customs Office, Pasquales serves breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring classic American favorites.

Open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, Pasquales Café serves breakfast all day to accommodate an island of late risers.

“We have been an enduring staple on the island for more than 50 years,” says Ty, who graduated from Put-in-Bay High School and returned to the island after earning a marketing degree from the University of Cincinnati. “We are one of the first places to open in spring and the last to close in fall, so a lot of locals, as well as visitors, dine with us.”

Open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, the café serves breakfast all day to accommodate an island of late risers.

“Our house favorite is the Hot Mess,” notes Ty. “We take everything that you love about an all-American breakfast and throw it into a bowl, including eggs, hash browns, bacon, cheese and sausage gravy.”

Also popular are the made-from-scratch buttermilk pancake stacks that spill over the plate, topped with strawberries and cream, or cranberries and walnuts.

On the lunch and dinner menu are pizzas, burgers and sandwiches aplenty. For that something different, try the Roasted Cauliflower & Quinoa Burger, Gloria’s Summer Salad or Shrimp and Corn Chowder Soup.

To relish some of the best views of the park and harbor, dine at the tables next to the floor-to-ceiling front window, or, if you prefer an al fresco experience, there is a quaint patio tucked on the side of the building.


Perry’s Monument

Commemorating the Battle of Lake Erie that took place here, in which Commodore Hazard Perry led a fleet to victory in the War of 1812, Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial is one of the tallest monuments in the United States. This 352-foot Doric column is even taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The observation deck offers panoramic views of the shorelines of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada. And the grassy area around the monument hosts events throughout the summer, including the 2019 Music Festival on Saturday, June 8.


Heineman’s Crystal Cave & Winery

Not many family businesses can trace their beginnings back six generations to 1888. Current owner Ed Heineman is still making wines with the same exacting care—and a few secret recipes—as his great-grandfather Gustav, who came to PIB from the Black Forest wine-growing region in Germany. Today the winery serves more than 40,000 gallons of its 25 award-winning wines each year, about half of which are made from grapes grown on the island, including its most popular, the Pink Catawba.

“Our limestone-based clay soil and unique microclimate make for ideal growing conditions,” says Ed. “Back in 1900 there were 17 wineries on the island, we are the only family-owned one operating today.”

Heineman’s Crystal Cave & Winery serves more than 40,000 gallons of its 25 award-winning wines, about half of which are made from grapes grown on the island, including its most popular, the Pink Catawba.

Take a fascinating tour of the modern wine-making and bottling facilities, including a mini-museum of antique wine pressers and corkers. And after sampling one or two from the wormy walnut-walled Sales Room bar, head to the bucolic outdoor Wine Garden behind the winery. Surrounded by concord grape vines trailing along the fence, it’s the perfect floral setting to savor wines with local cheeses and meats.

And don’t miss the Crystal Cave adjacent to the winery. Now open for tours, it was originally discovered in 1897 by Gustav while drilling a well about 40 feet below ground, and is thought to be the largest known Celestite geode in the world.

“The walls and ceiling of the cave are covered in Celestite crystals, which are about 15,000 years old,” says Ed. “Crystals taken from the cave are actually on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.”

No stop to the cave and winery is complete without a visit to the gift shop, where you’ll find everything from agate slices to fossil and rock specimens from around the world, as well as everything wine-related, including novelty wine openers to accessories.


Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

Be a hands-on adventurer by gemstone mining. Just buy a bag of rough mix with emeralds, fossils or rubies at The Shop at the Top, then let water wash over it and pan just like they did during the Gold Rush.

“Kids and adults of all ages have a ball,” says owner DeeDee Duggan.

Other discoveries await you via the big reveal of geode cutting. Pick a geode and one of the staff will split it with a special diamond-bladed saw. It’s a unique observation to be the first to peek into the inner grandeur of a crystal gemstone.

For another thrilling experience, venture 42 steps 60 feet below to Perry’s Cave.

“Our 20-minute tours appeal to geology lovers, history buffs and adventurers,” says DeeDee. “You’ll learn about the integral role the cave played in both the Battle of Lake Erie and War of 1812, and how the water in the cave was thought to possess healing powers for Commodore Hazard Perry’s injured men, who sought shelter there.”

Find out more about the war, and Perry, from the historic plaques featured on each hole of the War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf putt-putt course just outside the cave.

You can also see if you’re up to the challenge of giant Fort aMaze’n.

Kids and adults of all ages can have a ball at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center.

“Each participant’s passport is time-stamped and they race to locate special stops in the maze,” she explains. “Working in teams or against each other, they can repeat the maze to try to beat their times.”

For a kinder, gentler pursuit, why not commune with 1,000-plus exotic butterflies from around the world in their own garden habitat of the Butterfly House?

And if shopping until you drop sounds like all the excitement you need, don’t miss the gift shop, which carries delightful garden items, glass and crystal butterfly figurines, books, kitchenware, clothing and jewelry.


Aquatic Visitors Center

Release your inner Jacques Cousteau at this fascinating facility. Check out free weekly programs on the docks for kids. Topics range from “Our Friend, the Spider” to “What is Plankton?” And whether you’re a beginner or expert angler, kids under 16 fish off the docks for free and are provided a rod, line and bait. Indoor tours, which begin in June, take you behind the scenes to experience aquatic science up close. OhioSeaGrant.osu.edu/visit/avc

Frosty Bar
Frosty Bar is synonymous with Put-in-Bay. Celebrating 70 years on the island, this restaurant and bar has been serving pizza and beer, along with good cheer, generation after generation.

Though some things never change, like cooking the same pizza sauce recipe and serving cold beer in frosted mugs (hence the name), this island staple continuously adds new menu items.

Kim’s favorite is the Brie, Chicken and Arugula pizza.

“As an option to our traditional pizza crust, we now have a wood-fired crust,” says Kim Morrisson, who, along with her brother, Ryan Stoiber, are the third-generation owners. “We also have created new specialty pizzas to go along with the thinner, softer crust, including Philly Cheesesteak, Double Pork BBQ and Caprese Chicken.”

In addition to Frosty’s restaurant menu, the Big Man’s Burrito Stand on the back patio serves Mexican fare to spice up any afternoon or evening. And, new this year, they will be grilling burgers outside as well.

Frosty opens early for breakfast at 7 a.m. every day, and serves food into the wee hours of the night.

“Our weekday breakfast signature items, like the Mexican Skillet and Philly Cheesesteak Benedict, are best sellers,” notes Kim.

On the weekend, Frosty Bar hosts live music featuring bar favorites inside the main bar, and laid-back island tunes on the patio. An island favorite, singer/songwriter Pat Shepard, who has been performing at Frosty Bar for the past 13 years, is a big draw.

“To celebrate our 70th anniversary, we have a new Frosty T-shirt in our gift shop,” she adds. “When you wear a Frosty’s shirt, everyone knows that you have fun in the summer.”

“Don’t let the summer slip away,” adds Kim. “As soon as school is out, grab the kids and come to the Bay and enjoy all we have to offer.”


Massie Cliffside Preserve

Dedicated in 2016, this trail system links visitors to the lake. Take a leisurely 10-minute hike on a path framed by native trees and fragrant wildflowers to the edge of the cliff, where you can enjoy stunning views while relaxing on a bench or take the stairs to the fishing pier.

Nature lovers will enjoy a quick hike at the Massie Cliffside Preserve.

As part of the Lake Erie Islands Conservancy, this shoreline acreage on the East Point of the island is a hidden gem where you can fish, bird-watch or just take a nature walk. And don’t forget your camera, as you may catch a blazing orange sunset or see a Giant Swallowtail, the largest butterfly in North America.


South Bass Island State Park

Located at the opposite end of the island, away from bustling downtown crowds, this 33-acre park offers a tranquil place for camping, picnicking and swimming. Plus, there is a fishing pier and fish cleaning house on-site, as well as nearby rentals for kayaks and personal watercraft to venture out on the lake. If you want to spend the night, you can pitch a tent in the campground or rent a cabin.


Swimming, kayaking and camping are available at the South Bass Island State Park.

For more information on to do’s and events, like the upcoming Pyrate Fest and the PIB Foodie Trail, head over to the Chamber’s website, VisitPutinBay.com.

Purchase a Put-in-Bay Getaway Package, a $194 value for just $99!

Categories: Arts & Entertainment