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?
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.