When thinking about wine in all it’s grapey magnificence, you can’t help but think about legendary regions of the country like Napa Valley or Sonoma, California…maybe even all the way across the pond in Bordeaux, France. And that’s all well and good, but Ohio in it’s own right, has some really good wine, too.
The weather, mostly due to the fresh waters of Lake Erie, make this unique area of the country ideal for growing grapes. While we’ve found that the sweeter wines tend to take precedence in the Heart of it All, the range of wines available is still quite impressive. In turn, places like the Firelands Winery have been around for almost 140 years. Did you see how we snuck that old Ohio tourism slogan in there? Course you did.
Since the first cellar of this historic winery was built in 1880, Firelands Winery has been taking advantage of this unique environment and harvesting their fruit from a place that enjoys a 200 day frost-free growing season, the Isle of St. George on the western basin of Lake Erie. Our favorite? The Gewurztraminer — A sweet white with a passion fruit flavor and rose petal aroma. Wow, we remembered how to spell it and took notes. Look at us!
And it’s not just Firelands that has been benefitting from this latitude and longitude. In 1888 a man from Baden-Baden Germany (Say that three times fast), an area of that country known for it’s rich viticultural history, founded Heinemans Winery. Located in the village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, it has been producing fine wines for over 100 years.
As a bonus, especially if you go this weekend before it closes for the year, you can take a look at the Crystal Cave, the world’s largest geode. Random we know, but awesome nonetheless. I mean where else are you going to see a three foot crystal?
Tasting tip: Go for the Lake Erie Pink Catawba pictured below. It’s sweet, light pink in color as the name suggests and very easy to drink. Just be careful, a bottle between two people goes down very quickly. And by be careful, we mean order two bottles.
Since we’re focusing on wine, we’d be remiss not to mention one of our favorite island events, the Put-in-Bay Island Wine Festival. Hop on the Miller Ferry on Saturday, October 7 and for just $6 you will get into the festival with a souvenir wine glass. Combine that with a $14/RT ferry ticket and you’re looking at a meager $20 total — Budget travel day! Of course to sample the more than 200 wines that are there, you’ll have to cough up $1 per ticket…how much is completely up to you, ya boozehound.
You can tell wine connoisseurs are starting to take notice of the region as well. In the last decade newer wineries have been popping up like, well, grapes. Quarry Hill Winery sits perched 834 feet above Berlin Heights, Ohio while the Paper Moon Vineyards nests in the historic harbor town of Vermillion, Ohio.
While in Vermillion, be sure to visit the ludicrously delicious Wine Vault. With a newly renovated menu that’s focused more on a tapas style, it’s a refreshing style of nourishment. Try the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, lobster bisque and delicious cheese plates. Not sure while we’re giving you ideas of what to order, all of it is tremendous. You’ll see.
So next time you’d like to hit the wine trail, skip the expensive plane tickets and head north. France and California will always be there.
Have some other recommendations regarding wineries around Lake Erie? Let us know in the comment section or by tweeting @itsalwaysohio!
We’re just as surprised as you. If you had the chance to read our “Sandusky is Shedding the Rust and Quietly Becoming Awesome” post, you’d have seen that we technically knew it was coming, so I guess we can’t be all that surprised. It’s just that seeing it in person and talking about it are two very different things. This is the kind of stuff you see in larger, hipper towns like Austin, Texas or Cleveland, not Sandusky, Ohio. We’re not talking a Red Roof Inn right off the highway. We’re talking about a legitimate local hotel opened by legitimate locals. But then again, Sandusky really is becoming awesome. Or better yet, it IS awesome.
The Hotel Kilbourne is the product of two local visionaries by the name of Ryan Whaley and Nikki Lloyd. The couple’s ideas first came together in the form of a 1930’s themed speakeasy just down the street from the hotel dubbed Volstead Bar. Specializing in booze forward old school cocktails, the joint is definitely something usually reserved for larger cities, much like the aforementioned hotel.
So, first things first. You’re probably wondering where the name came from and the answer is quite interesting. Hector Kilbourne, a Freemason and the surveyor who created the original plat of Sandusky in 1816 back when the town was called Portland, laid out the streets to form the Masonic emblem. If you’ve ever spent much time driving around Sandusky, he’s the one to blame for all the weird angles. Thanks Hector. Onto the hotel itself.
Located in the center of Sandusky’s entertainment district, The Hotel Kilbourne is ideally situated just steps away from the city’s best amenities. See a show at the beautiful Sandusky State Theatre, pop into Small City Taphouse for some sushi and craft beer or slide into hearth tavern for a wood fired pizza. Or you could just walk around and take let your eyeballs feast on stuff like this…
The hotel itself is comprised of nine modern, deluxe rooms. Visitors staying the night will have their choice of a luxury city view, luxury lake view or penthouse suite. Along with boasting a spacious living area, the penthouse suite has a nifty Murphy bed that folds up into the wall, making it a unique room perfect for hosting small events as well.
This place is seriously cool and you get that sense when you walk into he lobby. Simple with clean lines everywhere, yet elegant enough to know you’re in for a luxurious stay. The cucumber infused water is a nice touch as well.
A lot of the facets built into the hotel rooms were meant not only to create a unique space, but preserve the historic integrity that’s so important to many of those who grew up around the area. Like these beams for example, which have been kept during the gutting process and repurposed inside a few of the rooms.
Now to the bathrooms, which if you’re like me, have to be solid. You’ll first notice the size, which is more than ample. Beautiful tiled floors lead into showers that are big enough to fit a party of 10. Quit snickering, we’re not insinuating anything. They’re just very spacious. The showers also come equipped with rain style shower heads, which unfortunately, is going to run you about $150 and a trip to Home Depot when you immediately realize it’s missing from your personal bathroom.
More bathroom stuff, because we like bathroom stuff — This place has Molton Brown soaps. If you’ve never heard of them, it’s pretty much body cleansing heaven. Blended in England, it’s clear these folks like smelling good and lucky for visitor’s of the Hotel Kilbourne, you’ll come out smelling like Tom Brady.
Oh yes, did we mention this place had two bars? One of them being a rooftop scenario? On the lobby floor through one set of glass doors you’ll find Moseley’s Public House. A great spot with and small patio and glass doors that supply patrons with a panoramic view of Jackson Street Pier on Sandusky Bay. We dig the vibe in there as well — Upscale enough that you feel like you’re fairly important, but just mellow enough so you watch an Indians game and not feel like you need turn up your nose. A carefully thought out selection of wines fits perfectly next to a few select cocktails and of course all of the assumed accoutrements of a nicely stocked lounge.
While the lobby bar is open seven days of a week, Moseley’s Rooftop Bar is only Friday – Sunday, weather dependent and usually closes around ten to not wake the tenants, so be swift on your fourth floor voyage. Once you’re up there however, the place offers up a spectacular view of Sandusky Bay and the surrounding Lake Erie region. Be sure to grab yourself a Modelo Especial on draught, as they’re only $3.00.
So if you need a good night’s sleep before hitting Put-in-Bay, staying for a Cedar Point weekend or just simply just in town for a drink, check this place out. You’ll see just exactly why we’re so stoked on Sandusky, Ohio.
While it’s true places like The Catskills in New York and The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee have some truly legendary fall foliage, Ohio’s certainly no slouch when it comes to proudly displaying autumn’s complexion. Whether it’s the rolling reds of Hocking Hills, the searing oranges of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park or the blazing yellows of Wooster’s tree lined streets, we Ohioans have it pretty good.
That being said, sometimes it’s nice to venture a little off-the-beaten path to a few lesser-known locales. A few spots where the tepid waters of Lake Erie provide the perfect canvas for fall’s burst of chroma. Or just maybe, if you’re feeling wild, even put an island in your life. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at some small towns on Lake Erie who’s true colors may surprise you a bit.
Huron, Ohio: Just past the edge of Sandusky in the town of Huron, Ohio, the contiguous wetlands of Sheldon’s Marsh State Nature Preserve are most frequented during the spring, due large in part to a bird migration that attracts nearly 300 species. However, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because of this…look below. A one-mile paved trail will take you to Lake Erie’s edge and hopefully, if you time it right, give you this type of photo opp.
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat and don’t mind driving an extra five minutes, try the Sand Bar. It may look like an unassuming diner, but the food is terrific and the service is excellent. Go for the pizza.
Sandusky, Ohio: The renaissance-minded town not only has Cedar Point, home of the extremely popular Halloweekends, but a downtown historic district that is seriously booming and a ton of lookout points to scope the beautiful fall colors surrounding Sandusky Bay. This particular spot, and yes we could’ve picked a better photo that actually showed leave’s color (the sunset is worth it don’t you think?), is called Shoreline Park.
Local’s Tip: Sandusky’s restaurant and bar scene has exploded over the last 5-7 years, which is great news for anyone visiting for the night. Try the Volstead Bar for a 30’s style speakeasy cocktail or Small City Taphouse for authentic Vietnamese Cuisine, sushi and 50+ beers on tap. Looking to stay overnight? Hotel Kilbourne, a 9-room luxury boutique hotel, just opened and features Sandusky’s first-ever rooftop bar, Moseley’s Public House.
Vermilion, Ohio: This quaint harbor town sits directly on Lake Erie and the Vermilion River, making it ideal for boaters and almost feels New Englandly. Don’t bother looking that up, it’s not a word. Vermilion’s waterborne location also makes it an awesome spot for scoping fall colors — Everything downtown is also within walking distance. So park your car, pop down to Main St. Beach and start snapping photos.
Local’s Tip: Woodstock Cafe, a colorful spot focused on local sustainability, is a great place to grab a coffee and gourmet sandwich — Great selection of craft beer as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. We are.
Put-in-Bay, Ohio: Yes, this legendary island is home to a bevy of taverns and pubs, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Put-in-Bay has a sneaky good outdoorsy side and is absolutely beautiful pretty much any time of the year, especially in the fall. Combine this unique location on the western basin of Lake Erie with events like the Island Wine Festival and Put-in-Bay Oktoberfest and boom, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go.
Travel Tip: The Miller Ferry, the easiest and most affordable transportation to the islands, is just $14 RT per person. You should probably take your dog too, since they ride for free. You’re welcome Fido.
Marblehead, Ohio: On your way to the Miller Ferry, you should probably stop off to see one of Lake Erie’s most iconic landmarks. Marblehead Lighthouse is not only the region’s most photographed spots, but is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the United States side of the Great Lakes. From the rocky headlands of Marblehead Peninsula you can look out and see Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay and the rollercoaster-laden skyline of Cedar Point. And while the Lighthouse gets a lot of the attention, the town of Marblehead itself is gorgeous.
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking to spend the night or even just visit a unique winery, the Redfern Inn at Rocky Point Winery is the perfect spot. Guests here have access to bicycles, a private lounge on the grounds of the winery and several fires pits with gorgeous views of the lake.
Have another Lake Erie town you’d like to add? We know there’s more, these just happen to be the one’s we frequented last year.
Perhaps you may already know what usually comes up first when someone starts talking about Sandusky, Ohio — Cedar Point! Exclamation points normally aren’t my thing, but roller coaster enthusiasts seem to always broach the subject with such fervor. And while the best amusement park in the world is certainly full of high-speed thrills and worthy of such high praise, the conversation in this port town is starting to change a bit.
Once chock full of manufacturing jobs and assembly lines like so many midwest towns, Sandusky has had to evolve with the times to stand on its own two feet without falling over. I’m very happy to report that not only is this unique town standing up, but starting to run.
It’s hard to not talk about the great location because this coastal Ohio town has it in spades. Sandusky Bay provides a nice, neat natural harbor perfect for pleasure boaters looking to spend a weekend or kayakers looking to paddle around exploring. If you’re lucky enough to be or know a knowledgable mariner with a boat, make sure to head to the Sand Bar — A natural pier-like beach only accessible by floatable transportation.
Oh yes, and there are sunsets like these all the time.
Hanging around such natural beauty is bound to stir up some hunger, which luckily is very easy to take care of here. Let’s start with a few old staples. The New Sandusky Fish Company as the name would imply, is all about fresh fish, particularly perch and walleye which are the two most prominent Lake Erie species. With little to no seating in the establishment itself, diners are relegated to the bayside benches outside which is quite perfect for this hole-in-wall fish joint. Make sure to try a perch sandwich with tartar and I promise it’ll be the best perch sandwich you’ve ever had, hands down. One other suggestion: fried okra.
Then there’s Daly’s Irish Pub. A quirky tavern that’s been around since the early days of Sandusky’s rebuilding process and sneakily boasts incredible comfort food. Fantastic homemade soups are offered everyday and if you’re lucky to be around on a Thursday, the pot roast is melt-in-your-mouth good.
Can you have a great town without great pizza? Well, no. That’s where Cameo Pizza comes in. Albeit a little further walk from downtown, it’s very much worth the stroll. This old school pizza joint has been around since 1936, which means they’ve had plenty of time to hone their craft and that’s evident as soon as you take a bite. A new, outdoor patio has recently been added for those looking to munch in nature.
Maybe you’ll need a coffee before exploring the streets and bayshore of Sandusky and for that there’s Mr. Smiths Coffee House. Laid-back, cozy and perfect for what ales you in the morning, this local beanery offers up great breakfast snacks and brews all their coffee in-house. If you’re visiting in the summer, try one of the cafe-style street side seats. Act fast though, there’s only four and seagulls aren’t the only ones up early in the morning.
Of course coffee is usually best in the morning, but what about nighttime libations? Enter the new crowd: Volstead Bar. Their cocktail game, along with the strength of most of the drinks here, is strong. It’s unusual to find an old-school speakeasy like this in a town smaller than the size of Cleveland, but lucky for residents of Sandusky it’s indeed here. Like bourbon? Try the Sazerac. Like Gin? Try the French 75. Knowledgeable bar staff coupled with a simply downright cool atmosphere — Al Capone would be proud.
Just down the street you’ll find ZINC Brasserie and hearth tavern conveniently under the same roof. While ZINC focuses on French-inspired cuisine in a classic atmosphere, hearth creates delicious wood-fired pizzas in a more casual tavern setting. Though everything here is fantastic, ZINC has a tremendous greek beet salad and filet trio and if you’re in the mood for a pizza at hearth, try the Farmstead. Grilled pork belly topped off with a hen egg…don’t let the egg scare you, it’s wonderful.
Next, hang a left off of Water St. onto Columbus Ave. and you’ll soon find Small City Tap House, a craft beer lover’s paradise. Boasting 44 brews on tap, Small City regularly brings in ‘Tap Takeovers,’ in which breweries from around the country bring in a huge variety of their best beer for a day. However it’s not just about the hops and barley. Specializing in Vietnamese food, this unique establishment also combos that with beautifully crafted sushi rolls and sashimi. That being said, if you have a question about beer make sure to ask Kha, the proprietor of said restaurant. His answer will not only be informative, but most likely hilarious.
Walk out of the door at Small City and you’ll be staring down Market St. towards another Sandusky culinary gem, J Bistro. Chilean Sea Bass, that’s all I’m going to say. Seriously though, Chef Jessie Harris self describes his style as “old school meets new school.” Not entirely sure what that means because I’m not skilled in the culinary arts, but one thing’s for certain, he’s doing it right.
Resembling more of a snack stand, Dockside Cafe sits perched on the pier end of the Paper District Marina and located entirely outside under the sun . Serving up house specialties that include walleye tacos, perch tacos and quesadillas, it’s quickly become a fan favorite. Those in the know look for freighters passing by in Sandusky Bay, as this signifies an impromptu happy hour that features $5 rum punch buckets.
Sandusky really is reinventing itself and there’s more coming. Vogontz Bike Share, something that’s usually reserved for larger cities is slated to debut in the spring of 2016, as is Amusement Ales, a production brewery with plans for a brew pub. There’s also the Leaking Boot coming to town, a public house and gastropub. And perhaps the largest and most ambitious upcoming project shows exactly where this renaissance-minded town is headed. Hotel Kilbourne, a 9-room boutique hotel, has plans to open spring of 2016 and will be the first of its kind in downtown Sandusky since the 1970’s.
Though not in the immediate downtown region of Sandusky, there’s a few other must-stops that are easily worth driving a few minutes too. Berardi’s Family Kitchen has long been an iconic Sandusky dining establishment and is responsible for creating the legendary Cedar Point french fries. Make sure to also save room for dessert, as all their tasty baked good are made in-house. Mekong specializes in authentic Vietnamese cuisine, like pho and clay pot dishes, right alongside an impressive array of craft brews. For you craft beer junkies, Chucky is the man see to here — His extensive knowledge of craft beers knows no bounds and has a memory that’s just as good as the food.
In the warmer months there’s also access to the gorgeous Lake Erie islands. The Jet Express departs from Jackson Street Pier en route to Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay, however if you’re looking to take a vehicle over you can take the short trip across the Edison Bridge to the Miller Ferry (Put-in-Bay) in Catawba or the Kelleys Island Ferry (Kelleys Island) in Marblehead.
There’s no doubt it would take a much longer article to cover everything Sandusky has to offer and I must admit, all of this positivity is coming from a native who left for a long time and came back. But I think that says it all right there, I came back. People are starting to come back and for good reason. Something is happening in Sandusky. Something good.
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