Put in Bay

Out in the middle of Lake Erie lie the Bass Islands. North Bass has a year-round population of about 25 and is taken up mostly by Vineyards. Middle Bass has a somewhat larger population, but exists primarily as a destination for people already on South Bass looking for something else to do. Why are they on South Bass in the first place?

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Put in Bay is a tourist mecca that was also the site of a famous naval battle during the War of 1812. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used Put in Bay’s enclosed harbor to shield his fleet from the British, on their way to invade Ohio from Canada. As the British approached South Bass Island, Perry moved out and captured the fleet. Hence, his famous line, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

Today, Put in Bay is one of Ohio’s best kept secrets. A summer destination, it largely gets ignored in favor of nearby amusement park Cedar Point on the mainland. It’s a quiet getaway with bars surrounding downtown, including the Boardwalk, which houses three restaurants, and two wineries. Being in the middle of one of the Great Lakes, Put in Bay has all the attractions of a tropical island (except the topless beaches), but without the heat or the huge waves.

Nita and I stayed in Put in Bay last summer for our anniversary. We stayed at the Put in Bay Resort, a recent addition to this tiny village. Open only between April and October (Do you really want to stay on Lake Erie in the winter?) We had to get around on golf carts as the island is not very car friendly. We were able to see the state park on the northern tip of the island and visit the Perry Monument, the 500-foot granite column commemorating Perry’s victory over the British. As the village is very much a summer village, a lot of bars are open air and have live music every night.

But if you’re looking for Starbucks and McDonald’s and Applebee’s, forget it. There’s a Subway and a Dairy Queen, and that’s it for franchise food. All the restaurants are local mom-and-pop places. Most are quite good. A couple left Nita and I a little flat.

The ideal vacation for me and Nita would be a week-long jaunt arriving Monday evening and leaving on Friday. Resort rates and condo and home rentals are cheaper during the week. Day two would be spent over on nearby Middle Bass bar hopping and sampling the local wine. There is the Motz Winery visible from the Jet Port Express Ferry that brings you into Put in Bay from the mainland, but part of the building collapsed. Motz now operates in Sandusky. Still, Middle Bass is a bit more wild than South Bass. There’s something about being someplace that’s on the very edge of civilization. The next island up, North Bass, has a village, St. George’s, that has only 25 permanent residents. Any children there or on Middle Bass are flown or ferried to Put in Bay for school.

The third day would be spent over on Kelley’s Island, which has multiple parks, a beach, and a number of bars downtown. Kelley’s is more like a mainland town than Put in Bay, which could double as Haven from Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid.  There’s also a winery. Kelley’s is where you go to live. Put in Bay is where you go to vacation. Which is where we would spend the final day.

If you’re going to go, leave your car in Sandusky or Port Clinton. The Jet Port Express will carry you from the mainland to Put in Bay for about $30 a person. While there, you can rent a golf cart to get around.

It’s not the hippest place to vacation, but it’s a great getaway.

Places I Want To Be

Yesterday, I talked about the travel budget being shot to hell for the foreseeable future.  Nita and I, though, have talked about places we’d like to go next year.  Jamaica has been discussed, as has been Florida, Savannah, and the Tennessee or West Virginia mountains.  One place I talk about a lot, though, is the Lake Erie Islands.

Last year, I got to go to historic Put in Bay for the first time.  Both as a place to waste time in bars and a tourist trap, I loved Put in Bay.  Out in the middle of a large inland sea, it stays cool from breezes off the water.  You get around South Bass Island – where the village of Put in Bay sits – mainly by golf cart.  They have a winery, the Perry Monument, where you can see clear to Canada or back to the Ohio mainland and Cedar Point Amusement Park.  Most of the island is a state park, and the island is a place to party.  Plus, Put in Bay has one of the largest marinas in the state.  It’s a great place to dock the boat while you go out to eat or just chill on the beach.

Kelley’s Island, closer to the mainland, is more “suburban” than Put in Bay.  While Put In Bay shows signs everywhere that hardly anyone lives full time on the island, Kelley’s looks more like a small town out in the middle of the sea.  It, too, has a terrific state park, great for hiking, and a winery that fully admits all Lake Erie wines (and Ohio wines for that matter) are sweet because you can’t age the grapes there more than a year.  (A certain nameless winery on the afforementioned island suggested they’re bullshitting you in California.  Kelley’s Island suggests you try Napa Valley for the dryer wines.)  The odd thing about the Kelley’s Island WInery is that it’s more like a bar.  I sat having wine and cheese at the Kelley’s while watching the Nationwide NASCAR Series.

Kelley’s is a fully functioning town with its own school and a working rock quarry.  While tourists pack the island from April through October, there are 367 people who call this place home.  Like South Bass, golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation for visitors.  However, most of the bars are clustered near the marina on the eastern side of the island.

My one visit to Kelley’s involved bar hopping.  After spending the morning exploring the island, I started out at one bar at the beginning of an Ohio State football game and worked may way over to the island’s sole brew pub and back to The Caddyshack for the end of the game.  It was late fall, and the tourists were fewer in number.  All in all, a cheap weekend away while the ex enjoyed Cedar Point on the mainland.

Ziggins and I talk about having a boys weekend out on the lake, starting in Sandusky and boating over to Kelley’s Island, then Put-in-Bay, before heading back to the mainland.  There’s something these tiny, isolated villages in the middle of the water that’s irresistable.