Ohio's north central region including Sandusky offers a number of fun and interesting things to do that are free or nearly free. While visiting Cedar Point, one of America's favorite amusement parks and the self-proclaimed "Roller Coaster of the World," can get expensive, there are many additional things to do in the area.
You can go wine tasting, visit a little Civil War history, ride a carousel, and hit the beach.
These remnants of the Ice Age are the largest accessible such grooves in the world. Carved into the native limestone by receding glaciers more 18,000 years ago, the grooves, located on the north side of Kelleys Island, an island resort area, are viewable from a visitors stairs and walkway.
More than 9000 Confederate prisoners of war were once housed on Johnson's Island, a small piece of land just off the south coast of Marblehead, near the ferry docks and the Cedar Point Causeway. Between 206 and 267 of these soldiers are buried at the Johnson's Island Confederate Officers Prison Cemetery there.
Today, the site is cared for by the U.S. Veteran's Administration and visitors are welcome year-round from dusk to dawn. A causeway connects the island to the mainland and carries a $1 toll each way. No other remnants of the POW camp remain on the island.
The central Ohio Lake Erie coastline and Lake Erie Islands offer excellent soil and climate for growing wine grapes. During the summer, the lake breezes keep the temperature mild while in the winter, the lake and the snow it brings, acts as a blanket to protect crops.
Most wineries offer tastings for the state required minimum of $1 each. Many also offer free winery tours.
In addition to the beach at Cedar Point Amusement Park, central Ohio's Lake Erie coastline boasts a number of public access beaches. Among these are the 1500-foot stretch of sand at East Harbor State Park and the dog-friendly beach at Catawba Island State Park.
East Harbor State Park is a favorite and features one of the nicest beaches on Lake Erie. Facilities include a marina, picnic tables, a concession stand, camping, and hiking trails.
Ohio remains one of the few states in the country that does not charge a general admission or parking fee at its state parks. Day use facilities, including trails, beaches, picnic areas, boating, and fishing facilities are without charge.
Admission is free to the Follett House Museum, housing documents and collections illustrating Sandusky history. The Greek Revival home's museum is a place to learn about the Battle of Lake Erie and Johnson's Island Prison. There are four floors in the museum and on the top floor, you'll get a great view from the Widow's Walk.
Open 7 days a week, except for the January closure, the Merry-Go-Round Museum has a magnificent collection of carousels and carousel animals. The museum has an active program of restoring antique carousel figures and you can see carvers at work and interact with them.
It is believed that some of the items that have been donated to the museum are haunted and so visitors have experienced some paranormal activity.
A highlight is riding the Allan Herschell Carousel with the band organ playing as you go round and round.
The entry fee is reasonable with a charge of $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors, $4.00 for children ages 4-14, and kids under 4, free. The admission includes one carousel ride token.
The Veterans have their own history and it's at the Ohio Veterans Homes Museum that you can see memorabilia from the Civil War, Johnson's Island, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These collections are maintained inside the I. F. Mack Building at the Ohio Veterans Home.
You can visit an ice cream parlor run by Ohio's Oldest Dairy, Toft Dairy. From a small family dairy farm in the early 1900s to a modern 76,000 square foot facility on Venice Road, the history of Toft Dairy is an Ohio story which started back 1900.
One scoop of their famous ice cream doesn't cost all that much. The ice cream parlor is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Located at Sandusky High School, the Sandusky Cultural Center offers educational exhibits that stimulate an interest in the fine arts and culture. The displays and exhibits change frequently. The museum is closed Saturdays, holidays, and school snow days and is open only when there is a scheduled exhibit.
Other places you can enjoy free art include Sandusky’s Brick Gallery, Carrington Arts, and the Vermilion Art Guild’s exhibit at the Main Street Vermilion office.
The Erie County Historical Society offers five different walking tours including tours of downtown Sandusky, Washington Park, sites related to the Underground Railroad. You can follow the routes on your smartphone. Download the walk information online for free.
The Erie County Historical Society includes the History Center in Erie’s nationally recognized West Sixth Street Historic District. The site includes the Watson-Curtze Mansion and Museum, the Carriage House Visitor Center and the King-Martens Archive Building. While there is a charge for entry into the Hagen History Center (adults $10, seniors $7.50, and children 6 and older $5), you can walk the Historic District and enjoy the sights and historic buildings for free.