Island Life in Ohio
Tropical Drinks, Live Music and Lobster Bisque to Die For
If you live in Ohio, Michigan or Indiana you don’t have to go far to experience island life. Live music, tropical drinks and a vibrant party scene happen to be thriving on a cluster of Lake Erie Islands just off the northern coast of Ohio. Easily accessible via ferry, if these islands aren’t on your summer Bucket List they should be!
Comprising of South Bass, Middle Bass and Kelleys Islands, this island group offers an attainable summer escape from mainland life for those of us who don’t happen to live within close proximity to saltwater.
South Bass Island:
Home of Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island is known for its energetic party scene of which I am no stranger. Bachelor and Bachelorette parties abound as live music filters out of nearly every bar in the downtown district. Grab a bucket of beer and half a grilled chicken at The Roundhouse or sip a tropical drink from a coconut while sitting on a swing with your feet in the sand at Mojito Bay. Did you bring all your friends? I’m sure you can find space to sit together at the World’s Longest Bar in the Beer Barrel Saloon.
Whatever you do, DO NOT MISS out on a bowl of Lobster Bisque from The Boardwalk at Put-in-Bay or you will regret it forever. Their Lobster Bisque is the stuff dreams are made of and is so epic there are copycat recipes circulating around the internet but none of them live up to the real thing.
Outside of the downtown party district there are many activities to keep you active and entertained on South Bass Island. Rent a golf cart when you arrive and you can hit up attractions like the Butterfly House, Perry’s Cave, the South Bass Island Lighthouse and the Chocolate Museum. You can even chill on the beach at South Bass Island State Park, go parasailing or rent a jet ski and take to the open water.
I once spent a day exploring Kelleys Island with my close friend Ryan, in search of the best Bloody Mary the island has to offer. Because of our noble mission we visited almost every drinking establishment and restaurant on the island, met a ton of new friends, ate and drank way too much, got ourselves kidnapped by a friendly tour company that took us to see the glacial grooves against our will and ended up watching a beautiful sunset before hitchhiking back to the dock via golf cart just in time to slip onto the final ferry of the night. Due to this epic adventure I like to consider myself an expert on what to see and do for a day on Kelleys Island, because boy do I know how to pack everything in.
Tip number one would be to get there early or reserve a golf cart ahead of time because you will need one in order to avoid hitchhiking as things are pretty spread out on Kelleys Island. If you don’t manage to secure a golf cart, never fear. Don’t be a jerk and people may let you ride on the back of theirs. If you arrive hungry there are a few places a short walk from the ferry dock with marina views to relax and have a bite to eat. I recommend trying fresh Lake Erie Walleye at some point as it is usually a hit at any Erie Island restaurant. We ate at Dockers, and I would highly recommend it for the food and view.
Be sure to check out the Petroglyphs, which are also near the ferry dock and the 30,000 year-old Glacial Grooves which are on the other side of the island – hence the convenience of that golf cart. On your way you can stop by the Kelleys Island Wine Co., which is a large winery that has a laidback atmosphere, horseshoes, a goat named Ryan you can pet, and a pavilion for live music.
It is important to plan your day in order to see the epic sunset from the West Bay Inn Restaurant and Tiki Bar. They have plenty of outdoor games to keep you busy and live music to entertain your ears while you sip on your favorite beverage and take in the ah-mazing sunset views. After the sun sets there is a mass exodus of people on golf carts leaving to catch the last ferry off the island. If you aren’t staying on the island overnight, this should be your cue to leave as well lest you find yourself sleeping on a park bench covered in may flies
Middle Bass Island:
It is pricey to bring a car to any of the islands by ferry. Luckily there is no need, especially on Middle Bass Island where there is an eclectic repainted school bus that drives ferry passengers from the dock to St. Hazards Resort which happens to be one of the only two places to hang out on Middle Bass Island. There is literally no need for a car or golf cart on this island, as everything is within walking distance of St. Hazards or the ferry dock and there is a bus that runs between them on a regular basis.
With St. Hazards being the “it” place to be on Middle Bass, it is recommended to check out their menu, live music, large drink selection and refreshing outdoor swimming pool and hot tub that welcome any visitor. With outgoing local regulars, super cute and cozy sitting areas and a large outdoor tiki bar and stage, it is worth a day trip to Middle Bass to experience the laidback island attitude of St. Hazards Resort.
Middle Bass Island also has a General Store where you can find your basic provisions, a State Park, the Lonz Winery Museum and a bar/restaurant called JF Walleyes that is within walking distance of the ferry dock and that has seriously good, super cheesy pizza as well as a large patio with a shallow swimming pool available to the public and an oversized chair perfect for a photo op.
During the summer season, ferries are available on a regular basis to shuttle passengers to all three of these islands. There are also ferries that bounce between the islands so if you are staying on one you can easily skip to the others for the day. It is expensive to take a car so unless you are visiting for more than a few days it is recommended to walk onto the ferry and rent a golf cart or bicycle when you arrive. Walk-on ferry tickets range from $12 – $40 depending on where you are going and what dock you depart from. Full ferry schedules and fares can be viewed here:
Jet Express, walk-on service to Put-in-Bay and Kelley’s Island
Miller Boat Line, walk-on passenger and car ferry to Middle Bass and Put-in-Bay
Kelleys Island Ferry, walk-on passenger and car ferry to Kelleys Island
Sonny-S Ferry, passenger service to and from Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island
Where to stay:
I would recommend staying on Put-in-Bay as it has so many places to go and things to do, then utilizing the ferry system to island-hop and explore Middle Bass and Kelleys Islands on separate day trips. Since it is such a popular weekend getaway, accommodations on Put-in-Bay need to be made well in advance. There are a few hotels and many unique bed and breakfasts to choose from. We love the Yellow Tree Bed and Breakfast where you can rent the entire second floor for groups of up to 7, and guests have access to the second floor social room, breakfast café, main floor living room, back deck, the entire yard and the Jane Coats Wildflower Trail.
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