travel LE marblehead

Summer in the Lake Erie Islands

Visit seven places packed with history, authenticity and fun.

Marblehead Lighthouse

The oldest of its kind in continuous operation along the Great Lakes, the Marblehead Lighthouse is both a beacon for sailors and a destination for visitors.

Built in 1821, the 50-foot-tall lighthouse was the first in the U.S. to have a female keeper (Rachel Wolcott took over duties for her late husband in 1832).

Tours run daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Marblehead Lighthouse State Park naturalist and volunteer coordinator Dianne Rozak recommends a visit to the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society museum beforehand.

“It makes that climb to the top that much more rewarding,” she says. “You really understand what the early keepers went through, [like] carrying whale oil to the top. That was the original fuel source.” 110 Lighthouse Dr., Marblehead 43440, 419/798-2094,


Round House Bar

A wide dome caps Put-in-Bay’s cylindrical Round House Bar, a landmark that has been entertaining Lake Erie Island residents and visitors since 1873. “There’s been some speculation that it was an ice cream parlor back when it was first built,” says Anita McCann, who continues the business’ legacy of family ownership with her husband, Michael.

Beers replaced scoops of chocolate and vanilla a long time ago, and the McCann family satisfies a thirst for good music by hosting local and regional acts almost daily under the bar’s circus-tent-like ceiling. Even during quieter times, the Round House has a distinct way of announcing it’s open for business.

“We have a neon whiskey light that sits above our front doors,” says McCann, explaining that the Round House marks its opening day of the season with a sign-lighting ceremony. “When the whiskey light is on,” she adds, “that means we’re open.” 228 Delaware Ave., Put-in-Bay 43456, 419/285-2323,


Perry’s Cave

Forget the idea of bat-filled caverns. Perry’s Cave is a different kind of expedition. Located beneath the Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center — a popular Put-in-Bay spot that also includes a butterfly house, an antique car museum and an 18-hole miniature golf course — the attraction treats guests to a bit of local lore.  

“It was believed to have been discovered prior to the Battle of Lake Erie by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his men,” explains Chip Duggan, who co-owns Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center with his sister, DeeDee Duggan. “The cave might have been used for storage and for shelter during the battle.”

A 20-minute tour leads guests through the space, where temperatures hold steady at around 50 degrees. So if you’re prone to goosebumps, bring a sweater. 979 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay 43456, 419/285-2283,


Frosty Bar

Providing food and drink for Put-in-Bay visitors runs in the family for Kimberly Stoiber Morrisson, co-owner of the Frosty Bar. She and her brother, Ryan Stoiber, operate the business their grandmother started in 1949. After watching their parents establish the bar as the island’s go-to place for pizza and a pint, they purchased the place in 2008.

“We saved all of our nickels and built the backyard, which is a patio area [and] has an outside bar that specializes in frozen drinks,” says Stoiber Morrisson.

The duo opened the on-site Big Man’s Burrito Stand and offer breakfast alongside creative brunch cocktails. But their passion is beer, with 28 taps pouring craft and domestic brews.

“We serve all of our draft beer in our signature frozen Frosty mug,” says Stoiber Morrisson. “It’s kind of a big-footed fishbowl, and we freeze them, so when you get your beer, it’s nice and cold.” 252 Delaware Ave., Put-n-Bay 43456, 419/285-4741,


Bergman Orchards

Fifth-generation farmer Dan Bergman runs Bergman Orchards, a family business that started in 1859. Spanning 600 acres with 300 dedicated to fruits and vegetables, the farm keeps each of Bergman’s three stands stocked with peaches, nectarines, berries, cherries, melons, sweet corn, apples and a long list of vegetables.

Each location — two in Port Clinton and one in Lakeside — also serves hand-dipped ice cream from the local Toft Dairy, and Bergman’s nieces and sister-in-law make the goods that fill the bakery shelves.

“They have several bread items that are infused with apples or peaches, whatever the season is,” Bergman says, “and that’s gone over really well.” 600 SE Catawba Rd., Port Clinton 43452, 419/734-6280; 4562 E. Bayshore Rd., Port Clinton, 43452, 419/734-4272; 708 S. Bridge Rd., Lakeside 43440, 419/734-2870,


Glacial Grooves

A short golf-cart ride from the Kelleys Island ferry dock, visitors can check out an unusual natural phenomenon. A boardwalk traverses the Glacial Grooves: ribbons etched into the bedrock by glacial movement more than 15,000 years ago.

The grooves have been preserved as a National Natural Landmark and are some of the biggest and best examples of such features in the world. There are other spots around the globe where you can see glacial grooves. But Joe Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says the grooves on Kelleys Island, which measure 400 feet long and 35 feet wide, are something special.

“The Scandinavians have some,” he says. “But the thing about ours is that they’re handy. They’re easy to see. They’re a ferry ride across the water.” 739 Division St., Kelleys Island 43438, 419/746-2546,


Heineman’s Winery

Seventeen wineries operated on South Bass Island prior to Prohibition wiping most of them out. But Heineman’s Winery — established in 1888 by a German immigrant named Gustav Heineman — is still going strong.

“I’m the fifth generation,” says Dustin Heineman, whose father, Edward, works as the primary winemaker. “Louis Heineman is the third generation, and he’s the owner. Even though he’s 89 years old, he still does quite a bit around here.”

Visitors can taste blends made from native Lake Erie Island grape varieties, from the fruity Niagara to the uncommon Ives. The best-seller is a sweet pink Catawba, but Heineman says the winery caters to all. “We want to make sure that whoever walks in will find a wine they like,” he says. 978 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay 43456, 419/285-2811,