An ad campaign in the 1950s trumpeted Cleveland as “the best location in the nation,” because it was within 500 miles of half the population of the United States and Canada. While that that’s not quite true anymore, Cleveland's location along Lake Erie makes a variety of day trips feasible, from the bucolic splendor of nature to monuments commemorating American sport and American war and peace. With that in mind, here are some easy and interesting day trips from Cleveland.
Lake Erie Islands
Not far from the Ohio shoreline west of Cleveland are the Lake Erie Islands, each of which offer their own distinct flavor, from bars and nightlife at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, to the beauty of nature in the Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve on Kelley’s Island. For history buffs, the islands were of strategic value during the War of 1812, and the Battle of Lake Erie is commemorated with the Perry’s Victory International Peace Memorial, a 352-foot monument that offers expansive views of Lake Erie and its shoreline from the top.
Travel Tip: Summer is peak season for the islands, particularly on weekends. Visit in the fall, where it’s still warm enough to engage in outdoor activities but less crowded. Also, you get a chance to watch the leaves turn color and the seasons change.
Getting There: Flights to and from the islands from Port Clinton (a little more than an hour from Cleveland) are available through Griffing Flying Service, and ferries operate regularly from Port Clinton and Catawba Island through Jet Express and Miller Ferry. And you don’t need to bring your car. Golf cart rentals are widely available.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
The history of the game of football is intertwined with the state of Ohio. Heisman Trophy namesake John Heisman was a Cleveland native and coached in Northeast Ohio. Paul Brown won a national title as Ohio State coach, started both of the state’s pro football teams and practically invented the modern game. And when a site was being sought for the hall of fame, Canton was selected, a nod to the NFL’s founding in that city.
The museum underwent a renovation and addition for its 50th anniversary in 2013, followed by a renovation for the adjoining stadium, which hosts the annual Hall of Fame game. Construction is also underway for a Hall of Fame Village with retail, hotels, and residences. Familiar artifacts remain in the museum, from the busts of its inductees to the year’s Vince Lombardi Trophy, made by Tiffany & Co. and given to the Super Bowl-winning team. The museum also includes interactive exhibits, from video games to a holographic theater, as well as artifacts demonstrating how much the game has changed in its first century.
Travel Tip: The first weekend of August is typically the annual induction weekend, filled with concerts, dinners and other activities, but the centerpiece is the induction itself and the annual Hall of Fame Game. It’s all a spectacle.
Getting There: The Pro Football Hall of Fame is about 45 minutes to an hour from Cleveland, visible from Interstate 77 and easily accessible from it as well.
The amusement park in Sandusky bills itself as America's Roller Coast, and the web of tracks sprouting up from the Lake Erie shore make it easy to understand why. The park boasts 18 roller coasters, from its oldest, the Blue Streak, a wood coaster dating back to the 1960s, to its most recent, Steel Vengeance, a steel and wood hybrid that opened in 2018.
The park is also home to the Breakers Hotel, more than a century old but still sumptuous thanks to a recent renovation, and a variety of other rides for families and children as well as thrill seekers. Like all Cedar Fair parks, Cedar Point is home to Planet Snoopy, a series of Peanuts-themed rides and activities.
Travel Tip: After the traditional amusement park season, in the fall, Cedar Point hosts Halloweekends, fall-themed activities that range from family-friendly to scary.
Getting There: Cedar Point is easily accessible from Ohio Route 2 and from the Ohio Turnpike.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley, the only national park in Ohio, began as a national recreation area and includes the land formerly home to the Richfield Coliseum, a concert and professional sports venue. The site is popular with birdwatchers. Northern Ohio is literally flyover country for birds, and migrations in the spring and fall offer the opportunities to see many rare breeds.
The park also encompasses areas that were part of the old Ohio and Erie Canal, a waterway network linking the Ohio River to Lake Erie in the 19th century. There are many remnants of the canal along the park’s Towpath Trail, which, as its name indicates, follows the route of the towpath along the river. The park is also home to Hale Farm and Village, a part of the Western Reserve Historical Society offering living history.
Travel Tip: View the park from the rails, taking the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which uses vintage engines and passenger cars to tour the park. The railroad also offers excursions, from dinner trains to beer and wine tastings and a special kids’ Polar Express in the winter.
Getting There: Cuyahoga Valley National Park is accessible from the Ohio Turnpike and Interstates 77 and 271.
This little town on the Lake Erie shore has been a vacation destination for more than a century, from robber barons who made their fortunes in Cleveland industry to working-class families who rent the cabins and cottages on the lakefront.
In some respects, it’s like a trip back in time, with a strip that includes a miniature golf course, parlor games like Fascination, and the town’s old Ferris wheel from the amusement park, located at the town’s former fire station, now Firehouse Winery. But the town also has a microbrewery, GOTL Brewing (part of a brewing boom across the state over the past decade), farm-to-table dining at the Crosswinds Grille, canopy tours at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake and spa treatments at the Lakehouse Inn.
Travel Tip: The Lake Erie shore has a history of grape-growing and wine-making that stretches back nearly 200 years. The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake offers a shuttle that lets you partake of the wineries in Ashtabula County.
Getting There: Geneva-on-the-Lake is about an hour due east of downtown Cleveland on Interstate 90.
Mid-Ohio is home to a large and thriving Amish community. In fact, Holmes County bills itself as the world’s largest Amish community.
Amish country features a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as inns like the Carlisle Inn in Sugarcreek, which features the Ohio Star Theater, offering family-friendly entertainment options. You can even stay in a treehouse at Pine Cove or Berlin Woods.
Travel Tip: No trip to central Ohio is complete without a stop at Grandpa’s Cheese Barn in Ashland. In addition to the Amish meats and cheeses for which it’s famous, the cheese barn offers desserts, sauces and anything you need for a meal with an Amish feel.
Getting There: Amish Country is accessible from either Interstate 71 or Interstate 77, and tour companies offer regular excursions from Cleveland, Columbus and other cities.
The prominence of cities like Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo and Milwaukee is due in no small part to their location on the Great Lakes. The National Museum of the Great Lakes, which opened in its current location in Toledo in 2014, tells the tale of these giants, from their formation thousands of years ago when glaciers cut through the area, to their importance for transportation for a growing country to the ships that have met their unfortunate ends on the water.
Travel Tip: The James M. Schoonmaker, docked next to the museum, offers a glimpse of what life was like on the Great Lakes and the enormity of the ships used on them as well.
Getting There: The museum is right off Interstate 280, on the eastern side of Toledo.
In 1873, a group of Methodist ministers cleared a plot of land on the Lake Erie shore for tent revivals. Soon, the community of Lakeside affiliated itself with the Chautauqua movement, providing activities that were enriching spiritually, mentally and physically.
The Chautauqua legacy can still be seen every summer at Lakeside, with a variety of speakers, musical acts and other activities in a quaint lakefront setting. The season runs from the middle of June until Labor Day (during which time a modest gate fee is charged for entry), but even in the offseason there are activities, including an annual Christmas event.
Travel Tip: For overnight stays, cottages are available for rental. (In fact, many of the homes at Lakeside aren’t lived in year-round.)
Getting There: Lakeside is accessible from Ohio Route 2.
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