It’s the morning rush hour in Sandusky. The causeway connecting the mainland and Cedar Point practically sags under the line of cars, all pointed toward a looming skyline of looping, arcing steel that sends kids in a thousand minivans into a frenzy at first sight.
The Willis Tower of Cedar Point is the Top Thrill Dragster. At 42 stories, it’s the second-tallest roller coaster on the planet. Riders fire from 0 to 120 miles per hour in less than four seconds courtesy of the same hydraulic launch system that propels planes off aircraft carriers. The coaster rips along a quarter-mile of track before blasting straight up (and then straight down) a 420-foot tower. It’s all over in about 20 seconds, but with 16 other coasters waiting at “America’s Roller Coast,” there’s hardly enough day to ride them all.
The 364-acre park generously sprinkles family favorites among the thrillers. There’s a water park with a lazy river, musical revues and an animatronic dinosaur exhibit. Younger kids gleefully run around the Camp Snoopy area, getting their thrills on attractions like the Snoopy Bounce until the day comes when they can jump in line for the star attractions. (419) 627-2350; cedarpoint.com
5 more Sandusky gems
1 Berardi’s Family Kitchen Chain restaurants and hotels crowd Milan Road, Sandusky’s main tourist drag, but Berardi’s adds a dash of local flavor. Its legendary fries were served at Cedar Point from 1939 through 1978, and the founders’ granddaughter co-owns the place. The fries are thick-cut, perfectly salted and blanched before being fried. (419) 626-4592; sanduskyberardis.com
2 Crush Winebar One of a handful of finer dining options, Crush stands out with its partially exposed-brick interior, top-notch service and range of wine flights. The classy restaurant has two areas: a “Kitchenbar,” with an Asian Fusion menu of kicky noodle bowls and sushi rolls, and a wine bar serving small plates like pan-roasted Brussels sprouts in a truffle-balsamic sauce. The impressive wine list has vintages from as far away as New Zealand and as close as local Firelands Winery. (419) 502-9463; sanduskywinebar.com
3 Water park resorts Indoor water parks sprawl across the Sandusky landscape. Favorites include woodsy Great Wolf Lodge (greatwolf.com) and the massive African-theme Kalahari Resorts (kalahariresorts.com/oh). Lesser-known Maui Sands Resort and Indoor Waterpark may not offer the splashy amenities of its competitors down the road, but it’s a bargain, with room rates starting at $188, including a hot breakfast and passes to a new indoor water park (mauisandsresort.com).
4 Merry-Go-Round Museum Housed in the sleepy downtown’s grand former post office, this enchanting museum provides eye-opening tours covering the history of carousels. Who knew that the Crusades helped shape the modern merry-go-round? The main attraction is an intricately carved and painted 1939 carousel in the exhibit hall. Yes, you can ride it! (419) 626-6111; merrygoroundmuseum.org
5 Toft’s Dipping Parlor You can order Toft’s ice cream from several places in Sandusky, but if you want to see where the dozens of flavors are made, Toft’s Dipping Parlor waits 10 minutes west of downtown. Be warned: The menu may say “one scoop,” but what you get looks more like three. A favorite is Buckeye Bites, peanut butter ice cream studded with chocolate-covered peanut butter and fudge. Arrive early to avoid crowds. It opens at 8 a.m. daily, and because you’re on vacation, it makes a completely reasonable breakfast. (419) 625-5490; toftdairy.com
For more information: Lake Erie Shores and Islands–East (800) 255-3743; shoresandislands.com
Click ahead to read about Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay.