Friends walking in downtown Willoughby in Lake County (photo by Laura Watilo Blake)

3 Ways to Explore Lake County this Summer

This northeast Ohio county may be the smallest in the state, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in lakefront fun, small-town experiences and great wineries.

Downtown Willoughby

The city of Willoughby offers a vibrant hub of small-town living. Filled with opportunities for shopping, dining and drinks, outdoor fun and more, it is a perfect place to spend time in the peak of summer.

One of the newest additions to the downtown dining scene is Tricky Tortoise Brewing Co. Opened in spring 2024, the brewery is housed in the city’s old trolley-repair facility (which more recently housed the Willoughby Brewing Co.). Spearheading the building’s revival is Bobby Ehasz, whose goal is to modernize the space without forsaking the history or industrial charm.

Exterior of Tricky Tortoise Brewing Co. in Willoughby (photo courtesy of Tricky Tortoise Brewing Co.)

“We’ve tried to just keep in mind that this is the community’s property, the community’s place to come hang out, smile, drink and have fun, and we want to give that back,” he says. “When I saw this building dark and dilapidated, it struck something in me where I wanted to get in there and fix it and bring it back again, and it’s been very, very satisfying to see it come together.”

The food menu leans toward American-comfort fare, although the brewery itself is more drink-focused, serving house-made craft beers, seltzers, ciders and sangria.

Another spot to check out in the summer is The Yard on 3rd, a seasonally operating food truck bar located just off the city’s main drag of Erie Street. As the name suggests, the venue is set outdoors with a centralized shaded bar area and faux turf covering the ground, as well as plenty of room for giant versions of tabletop games like Connect 4 and Jenga. Cocktails are fueled by the Columbus-based Simple Times Mixers, while all other drinks come in cans, adding to the backyard vibe.

“We’re unique because we’re the only outdoor seasonal venue in Willoughby,” says general manager and operating partner Katie Uminski. “We’re the only truck park in Willoughby … and we’re very Instagram-worthy.”

For summertime shopping, head down Erie Street, and you’ll spot local businesses Etc. on Erie and Yogi’s Closet. Etc. on Erie specializes in versatile home decor, while Yogi’s Closet offers boutique clothing, women’s activewear and locally made products like lotions and greeting cards.

Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, Ohio (photo courtesy of Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse)

Fairport Harbor

With 31 miles of shoreline along Lake Erie, Lake County is home to some of the best beaches in the state. Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park is the second-most visited park in the Lake Metroparks system, with summertime drawing thousands to the beach and nearby village of Fairport Harbor.

The neatly groomed park spans 1,200 feet of sand beach, making it a great place to lounge and soak up some rays or hop in the lake for a quick cooldown. During the summer, visitors can take advantage of the park’s amenities such as kayak and paddleboard rentals, a boardwalk and concession stand.

A new addition to the experience is the Lakefront Trail, an ADA-accessible path right along the lake that will eventually bridge the 2.5-mile span between the beach and Painesville Township Park, something Lake Metroparks executive director Paul Palagyi is looking forward to.

“There are a lot of lakefront trails throughout the Great Lakes. Some are longer than this one, but very few are directly on the lake like this,” he says. “It has beautiful views of sunsets to the west, Fairport Harbor and the lighthouse. It’s really a beautiful setting.”

Phase one of the project was completed in March 2024, with a half mile of the trail being constructed at Painesville Township Park, and phase two is set to begin this summer.

Further inland, the village of Fairport Harbor has plenty of fun to offer visitors as well. Refresh on a hot day with homemade ice cream from Fairport Harbor Creamery, which also serves up boozy varieties for the 21-and-up crowd. Sit down for a meal at The Pompadour, a trendy small-plates restaurant and cocktail bar, or explore the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse, which houses a collection of Great Lakes artifacts in a historic, two-story keeper’s house.

While you’re in the area, head less than a mile west and you’ll encounter another of the region’s great beaches (the largest in Ohio, in fact), Headlands Beach State Park. The 35-acre park offers excellent opportunities for swimming, sunbathing and even beach-glass hunting. 


Interior at Standing Rock Farms in Madison (photo courtesy of Standing Rock Farms)
Wineries & Getaways

The unique qualities of Ohio’s Grand River Valley region are what make it one of the best places in the state to grow grapes and produce wine. Many businesses have taken advantage of the blend of rich soil and warm air that make this area so fruitful, and today, over 30 wineries can be found here.

One vineyard known for its idyllic location in the Grand River Valley  (and one of the region’s oldest) is Debonné Vineyards. Located on a family-owned century farm in Madison, this winery has been making a name for itself in the Grand River Valley since 1972. With 175-plus acres of vines, Debonné produces over 85,000 gallons of wine each year, including many award-winning creations such as the pinot grigio and unoaked chardonnay.

“We are the largest grower of grapes in the state of Ohio, which makes our products somewhat unique,” says owner Tony Debevc Jr. “It’s because of the soil in our area and the climate here on the south shore of Lake Erie; that’s what makes our wines so unique and different from other parts of the world.”

Venturing through just a handful of Grand River Valley region wineries can be a full-day affair, so end your trip with an overnight at nearby Standing Rock Farms. Spanning a total of 350 acres, the property contains nine renovated cabins available for rent as well as a variety of on-site activities. The property contains a 6-acre, catch-and-release fishing lake, hiking trails, and a farm with 25 acres of commercial flower fields and a herd of Scottish Highland cattle that guests can visit at their leisure.


Explore the Lake County Taco Trail 

Returning with over 20 locations this year, the Lake County Taco Trail offers a fun way to experience the many authentic taquerias and Mexican restaurants throughout  Lake County. Download the passport on your mobile phone, grab some friends and family and visit locations to earn prizes.

When You Go
For more information about these and other destinations in Lake County, visit

Debonné Vineyards

Etc. on Erie

Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park

Headlands Beach State Park

Standing Rock Farms

Tricky Tortoise Brewing Co.

The Yard on 3rd

Yogi’s Closet