Ohio Adventure: A Long Weekend in and Around Sandusky, Ohio

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Ohio may not be at the top of many people's U.S. travel plans. In fact, I know it probably isn’t. We don't have the mountains of the West, the food of the South, or the beaches of the East Coast. But you know what? Ohio still has a lot to offer.

I've lived in Ohio my whole life, and, while I feel like it's easy to poke fun at the place you call home, it really is a pretty great state. We've got a handful of large cities, acres of picturesque farm land, lots of cool parks, a thriving Amish population, and some interesting history. Not to mention the Lake Erie shoreline, museums like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Football Hall of Fame, and some great amusement parks.

Ohio's not sounding so bad now, is it?

Sunset over Lake Erie
Sunset on Lake Erie

But if you only have one weekend in Ohio, which aspect of the state should you focus on? The Northeast, where you can hang out in Cleveland and visit the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? The Southwest, where you can watch a Cincinnati Reds game and take a riverboat ride on the Ohio River? Or how about the center, where you can explore the state capital?

All of these are good options for Ohio weekends. But my suggestion would be a bit different — I'd tell you to head up to Lake Erie, where Sandusky and the surrounding Northwest area have a lot on offer.

Here's my ideal Ohio itinerary for a summer weekend:

A summer weekend in and around Sandusky, Ohio

Friday

Afternoon: Sandusky

Drive to Sandusky, a city of about 26,000 that sits right on the edge of Lake Erie. Sandusky has been around since before the United States was the United States (having been settled in 1744), and has served many purposes over the years, including being a key stop on the Underground Railroad prior to the abolition of slavery.

Sandusky, Ohio
Sandusky, Ohio

If you get in before 5 p.m., consider a visit to the Merry-Go-Round Museum. This museum is a unique one, and a $6 tour will introduce you to the different styles of carousel animals. You'll see about three dozen rare carousel carvings, and may even have the chance to see some carvers at work. If you’ve brought the kids along (or if you're just a big kid yourself), they’ll get to have a go on a speedy carousel (built in 1939) at the end of the tour.

Evening: Food and drink

For dinner, check out the French-inspired Zinc Brasserie on Water Street in downtown Sandusky, which also serves up delicious wood-fired pizza. Or, grab a table at the New Sandusky Fish Company to try the perch or walleye the area is famous for. Afterwards, head over to Volstead Bar, Sandusky's only speakeasy, for some craft cocktails. (If all their seats are full, Crush Wine Bar on Columbus Ave. is also quite good.)

Volstead Bar in Sandusky
Volstead Bar

Saturday

All day: Cedar Point

Even though it will undoubtedly be crowded on a Saturday in the summer months, you cannot visit northern Ohio without spending at least one day at Cedar Point. This 364-acre amusement park is why people come to Northwest Ohio — it holds the largest collection of roller coasters in the world (there are 17 of them), as well as many former and current record holders.

Often voted the best amusement park on the planet, Cedar Point has something to offer the entire family — whether it's thrill rides, children's rides, live shows, or water activities you're after, it's all here.

Cedar Point

You'll probably have to pick and choose the rides you tackle, but I highly recommend the Top Thrill Dragster (the world’s first “strata coaster,” which shoots riders 420 feet up into the air at 120 mph), Millennium Force (the 310-foot steel giant that broke 10 world records when it opened in 2000), the Raptor (where your feet dangle as you flip upside down 6 times), and the Maverick (with a first hill that dips down at more than 90 degrees).

Be sure to get a map of the park and have a plan of attack when it comes to the rides you want to experience. The park is large, and you'll want to make the most of your time there! (Cedar Point also sells Fast Lane passes, which will help you skip long lines and get more rides in.)

Sunday

Morning: Marblehead

Even though I know you’ll be nursing sore feet, get up bright and early and make the 20-minute drive to Marblehead, which sits on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie, separating the lake from Sandusky Bay. Here there's a very pretty lighthouse that's great for photos.

Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie
Marblehead Lighthouse

Late morning: Kelleys Island

Continue on to the boat docks near the Marblehead lighthouse, where you can hop a ferry over to Kelleys Island, the largest island on Lake Erie. With a permanent population hovering around only 400, this island is primarily a vacation destination and sees thousands of visitors each summer.

While the popular Put-in-Bay is also nearby, Kelleys Island is a less-well-known alternative that is more family-friendly. The Kelleys Island Ferry runs from Marblehead every half hour in the summer, and costs $20 for adults and $12.50 for kids for a roundtrip ticket. Parking near the docks is $10.

Kelleys Island

Once on the island, rent a bike or golf cart to explore — it’s much more fun than driving your car around. The island is small (only about 5 miles wide), so don't worry about rushing to see everything. You can also sign up for a fishing charter, or rent a kayak to explore the island’s 17 miles of shoreline if you’re looking for alternate ways to enjoy the area.

Afternoon: Kelleys Island

If you’re planning to stick to dry land, check out Kelleys Island State Park, where you can spend some time swimming at Sandy Beach. Or you can (and should) visit the Glacial Grooves on the north side of the island. The Glacial Grooves are the footprint a glacier carved out 18,000 years ago as it moved its way across North America. The grooves on Kelleys Island are the largest and most easily accessible such grooves in the whole world.

Glacial Grooves on Kelleys Island
Glacial Grooves

You can also stop in to the Kelleys Island Wine Company, which was at one time one of the largest wineries in the United States. Established in 1872, the original winery shut down after two major fires destroyed its facility during prohibition. But the winery was re-established in 1982, and it operates today as a winery and tourist attraction.

Evening: Back to Marblehead

Catch the ferry back to Marblehead. If you're lucky, you might get to spot one a stunning summer sunset over Lake Erie, like the ones pictured earlier in this post!

Pretty house on Kelleys Island
Pretty house on Kelleys Island

Where to stay in Sandusky

For this trip, I would make your base Sandusky. Yes, there are cheap motels around Cedar Point to stay in, but why choose one of those when you can stay at a cool boutique hotel in downtown Sandusky?

Check out Hotel Kilbourne, a new boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and lake views of Lake Erie. The rooms here are modern and comfortable, and the hotel is within walking distance of lots of cool restaurants and bars. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

READ NEXT: Put-in-Bay: Wait, This Place is in Ohio?!?

Have you ever been to this part of Ohio?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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20 Comments on “Ohio Adventure: A Long Weekend in and Around Sandusky, Ohio

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  1. yea ohio! I love your itinerary by the way. Kelley’s Island has been a part of my life since I was born. My aunt and uncle own craft’s marina on the south side of the island as well as uncle dik’s, the general store across from the state park. I spent a summer scooping ice cream there :). My grandma also lives on the island and runs a bed and breakfast called morning glory inn. Great post!!

      It seems like a lot of people have some great memories of Kelleys Island! It’s a pretty special place. So cool that you have family who live and run businesses there! I imagine it would be a nice place to run a B&B.

    We have friends in the Sandusky area, and travel there about once a month. It’s a great part of the country, and of course, for the theme park lover it’s hard to beat Cedar Point. We actually had dinner at Zinc last summer also, and I can attest it’s great…

      Sandusky is a cool little town. And you’re right – if you love theme parks, you really can’t beat Cedar Point! That reminds me that I really need to start planning my annual trip there…

    I live just to your North in Michigan. We have a lot to offer, too!

      I admit that I haven’t traveled in Michigan very much… but I have no doubt that it has a lot to offer, too! Most states do, as long as you’re willing to dig a bit deeper than surface-deep.

    Cedar Point is my favorite amusement park anywhere. I’m already planning a trip for later this summer!

      Cedar Point is beyond amazing! There’s a reason it’s consistently voted one of the best amusement parks in the world – because it is!

    Great refresher about Ohio including some places I’d never even heard of. I went to high school in Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland. I was one of these goofy kids asking people to sign the petition to get the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. One day I’ll have to take my kids back there to see where Mama grew up. Gosh I forgot how big Cedar Point is. Thanks for the reminder about the joys of traveling in your own backyard.

    Cheers!
    J.

      Thanks for reading, J! And yes, Ohio can definitely surprise you sometimes with all it has to offer. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

      You should definitely take the kids to Cleveland someday (and be sure to stop in at the Rock Hall while you’re at it!).

    Great piece on Ohio. I’m there a lot living in lower Michigan and it has a lot to offer. Everything along Lake Erie is amazing, love the Lake Erie Circle Tour. I think I got to get to Cedar Point again soon! Working on exploring Michigan more, going to the touristy things and looking for diamonds in the rough. The summer is the perfect time to be around the Great Lakes.

      Thanks, Aaron! You’re totally right about Lake Erie (and all the great lakes) – it’s a great place to be in the summer!

      And good for you planning to explore Michigan a bit more. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at some of the things you find.

    Funny that I am from Ohio and have lived there most of my life but out of all the places you listed, I’ve only been to Cedar Point… and that was when I lived in Michigan 🙂

    Columbus is my stomping grounds, and I love it!

      Well it looks like maybe you need to make a trip to Northwest Ohio!! 😉

    When the family and I drove across the US in the mid 90’s, besides seeing the sights, we tasted milkshakes whenever we saw them on the menu. Our favorite one was from a stand in Youngstown were we got the chocolate, extra large and extra thick! Can not for the life of any of us remember the name, but that is still our greatest memory of Ohio:-).

      Whoo, Youngstown! That’s where I’m from. 🙂 Perhaps it was from a Handel’s ice cream shop? It’s probably the best ice cream in the state, and was started right in my hometown.

    I used to vacation in Sandusky, it is a great place for family with young children

      Totally agree! There’s a little bit of something for everyone.

    Kelley’s Island is another place we’d really like to go. We saw some glacial grooves on Gibraltar Island, but they were not nearly as evident as the grooves on Kelley!

      Yes, I’m hoping to make it back to Kelley’s later this summer!

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