Aerial view of Jackson Street Pier in Sandusky at sunset (photo courtesy of Shores & Islands Ohio)
Travel | Lake Erie Islands

Explore these Lake Erie Shore Towns and Islands

Ohio’s Lake Erie islands and our state’s northwestern shoreline are full of history, nature and great lakeside towns to explore this time of year.

Island Hopping

From quiet, pristine beaches to opportunities for kayaking and hiking, Ohio’s Lake Erie islands offer a great day trip or weekend getaway. South Bass Island, Kelleys Island and Middle Bass Island are all accessible via local boat lines. Each island has a different vibe, and ferries that run between them make it possible to hop from one to the next.

South Bass Island is home to Put-in-Bay, known as the Key West of the Midwest. The bustling island is packed with attractions and has a downtown full of restaurants and bars. Put-in-Bay’s most recognizable feature, visible from the mainland on clear days, is Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, which rises 352 feet above the island. This monument commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie that took place nearby during the War of 1812 and the lasting peace between the United States, Canada and Great Britain. For a fee, an elevator takes visitors to the observation deck for breathtaking views of Lake Erie and the islands. Inside the nearby visitor center, travelers can learn about the pivotal U.S. victory on Lake Erie led by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.

South Bass Island’s neighbor to the east, Kelleys Island, is Ohio’s largest Lake Erie island, measuring 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. Kelleys Island offers a quieter vibe and a downtown area with a few restaurants, bars and shops. One of the island’s biggest draws is Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve, a national landmark showcasing grooves that were carved into the island’s limestone by glaciers more than 18,000 years ago.

“It’s a part of natural history that we rarely get to see the direct evidence for in such a dramatic way,” says Bill Kennedy, an archaeologist with the Ohio History Connection. “When you see this, you can appreciate the immense power of the glaciers to really scour the rock and shape the stone. It’s a fascinating site.”

The Ohio History Connection and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who oversee the site together, recently completed major upgrades to the preserve. It is now fully accessible, with an observation platform and an interpretive trail where visitors can learn about the grooves’ geology.

To the north of South Bass Island sits Middle Bass Island, the smallest and least developed of the three islands. Middle Bass’ most iconic feature is the historic Lonz Winery site, which dates to 1866. Today, the now-shuttered business is part of Middle Bass Island State Park. The state of Ohio restored the winery’s stately facade and displays exhibits in the wine cellar where visitors can see artifacts found on the property and learn how wine was made here. The state park includes the soon-to-be restored Lonz family mansion, kayak rentals, a large marina, a primitive campground and a beach.

View of Lakeside Chautauqua from the water in Lakeside (photo courtesy of Shores & Islands Ohio)
Along the Shore

Picturesque towns lining the Lake Erie shoreline are home to historic lighthouses, beaches and wildlife areas. Perhaps the most popular lakeside attraction is Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. Since the late 1800s, Cedar Point has drawn lake lovers and thrill seekers to its pristine beach and exciting rides. In 2023, the park unveiled a new boardwalk along the beach and debuted the Wild Mouse roller coaster. Cedar Point’s historic Hotel Breakers is a favorite for visitors staying overnight.

The city of Sandusky’s vibrant downtown has seen a renaissance of new businesses and restaurants. Jackson Street Pier hosts an array of public events, such as outdoor movie screenings and concerts. Visitors can stroll by the water, fish, have a picnic or catch a ferry to the islands. Downtown is filled with restaurants and unique shops. Everwild Spirits serves locally made bourbon paired with the distillery’s flatbreads, appetizers and desserts. Moseley’s Rooftop Bar, overlooking Jackson Street Pier, is a unique spot to enjoy cocktails.

Across the Sandusky Bay, Lakeside Chautauqua, a historic gated community founded in 1873 as a Methodist church camp, is a throwback to a simpler time. Lakeside hosts concerts at its historic Hoover Auditorium as well as talks by historians and pastors, art classes and more. The pavilion and pier offer lake views, fishing and swimming.

To the east lies Vermilion, known for its scenic downtown beach, Vermilion River lagoons and rich history in lake shipping. Shipbuilding for the Great Lakes shipping industry was one of the city’s earliest trades. This drew a surge of lake captains to Vermilion and many of their homes still stand today. Along the waterfront, the city and local partners are upgrading the popular swimming beach, an area that includes the Vermilion Lighthouse. The Main Street Beach and Park have new bathrooms and a concession stand, seating areas with benches and picnic tables. The beach is a favorite spot to spend the day, enjoy ice cream or takeout from the downtown restaurants, or watch the vibrant colors of sunset, says Marc Weisenberger, Vermilion parks operations director.

“There will definitely be a wow factor, especially for people who have been there [before],” he says. “What we were really after was to improve the user experience.”

Further inland, the village of Milan is the birthplace of inventor Thomas Edison, who created the incandescent light bulb, phonograph and other inventions. The 1800s home where he was born in 1847 has been preserved as the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum. The inventor’s descendants are involved in running the historic site, which highlights Edison’s achievements, family and the age of invention. The museum features some of his early inventions, family items and documents.

East of Milan, Berlin Heights’ Quarry Hill Orchards and Winery draws summer travelers to sample locally grown peaches, cherries, raspberries and apples. The orchard’s vineyard supports the winery, which has a tasting room where visitors can sample its red, white and fruit wines while enjoying the view of the farm and vineyard.  

For more information about the Lake Erie islands and communities along the northwest Ohio lakeshore, visit

How to Get to the Islands
Here are the boat lines that can take you to and between the Lake Erie islands. 

To South Bass Island

Jet Express high-speed passenger ferry

Miller Boat Line car and passenger ferry

To Middle Bass Island

Miller Boat Line car and passenger ferry

To Kelleys Island 

Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line

Jet Express high-speed passenger ferry

Between South Bass Island and Kelleys islands 

Jet Express high-speed passenger ferry

Between South Bass and Middle Bass islands 

Sonny-S passenger ferry