Had Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial been standing on September 10, 1813, the view from the top would have consisted of British and American ships firing relentlessly at each other during the Battle of Lake Erie. Today, the 352-foot-tall monument (dedicated in 1931) stands as a salute to America’s War of 1812 hero Oliver Hazard Perry and as a tribute to the lasting peace between the United States, Britain and Canada.
Costumed interpreters at the Put-in-Bay memorial make the War of 1812 seem like it’s still raging offshore. After interacting with “sailors” and their worried shoreside wives, visitors ride elevators to the observation deck where park rangers answer questions about the landmark and its history. On clear days, the surrounding islands and shoreline spread out like a map: Mainland Ohio dominates the south, the Canadian shoreline the north. (419) 285-2184; nps.gov/pevi
Put-in-Bay—the sole village on South Bass Island—still sees plenty of action. The 400-acre village is often dubbed a party paradise, and college students fill Key West-style bars on summer nights. But family-friendly attractions, like the memorial, make for a well-rounded destination.
5 more Put-in-Bay gems
1 The Boardwalk A smorgasbord of dining and drinking options fills this lakeside spot, incorporating a cantina, quick-service fish stand and full-service restaurant. Obligatory nautical decor fills the Upper Deck, which serves creamy lobster bisque in bread bowls and a decadent Cinnabon sundae—two scoops of ice cream sandwiched between cinnamon roll halves drizzled with caramel. (419) 285-3695; the-boardwalk.com
2 Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center Although many stalagmites were stolen by early visitors, a rare underground lake makes the cave worth exploring. Don’t miss the War of 18 Holes mini golf course and the Butterfly House. If you’re lucky, volunteer Chuck—aka The Butterfly Guy—will let you release one of the 600 colorful insects. (419) 285-2283; perryscave.com
3 Crystal Cave Here’s a sparkling find: This tiny cave is billed as the world’s largest geode. Workers at Heineman’s Winery discovered the cave in 1897 while digging a 40-foot-deep well. Venture down the steep steps into the tight space surrounded by shiny crystals ranging from 8 to 18 inches in length. (419) 285-2811; heinemanswinery.com
4 Put-in-Bay Winery The pastel exterior of this Italianate home hints at the bright notes in many of the 10 wines made using local and California grapes. Sample five, including the almost saccharine Pink Catawba, during a 35-minute tour of the parlor, ice house and tasting rooms. It’s part of the former estate of Valentine Doller, a German immigrant entrepreneur who, thanks to his ice business, became one of the island’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. (419) 285-3343; putinbaywinery.com
5 BayShore Resort The island’s quietest lodging option, BayShore Resort’s rooms look across the lake toward Kelleys Island. The rooms are clean and simple, but who needs luxury when the fun is outdoors? Unwind at two shoreline pools of varying temperatures and a large hot tub. Pop music wafts from the open-air tiki bar, and hotel guests dine al fresco on delicious breakfasts at the Waterfront Restaurant and Lounge. (419) 285-3931; bayshoreresortpib.com
For more information: Lake Erie Shores and Islands–West (800) 441-1271; shoresandislands.com
MWL Tips: Ferries
To Kelleys Island: The Kelleys Island Ferry departs every 30 minutes from Marblehead (a 30-minute drive from downtown Sandusky). One-way fares cost $10 per adult, plus $16 for vehicles. (419) 798-9763; kelleysislandferry.com
To Put-in-Bay: Take the Miller Ferry from Catawba Island (18 miles northwest of Sandusky). Ferries depart every 30 minutes. One-way fares cost $7 per adult, plus $15 for vehicles. (419) 285-2421; millerferry.com
Leave the car behind: Take The Jet Express from Sandusky to both islands. Check online for departure information. Fares start at $18 per adult. (419) 732-2800; jet-express.com