Midway between Toledo and Cleveland, a fine natural harbor has enabled Sandusky (pop. 24,714) to remain a busy port, albeit now more for recreational ferries to the offshore islands than for the coal and iron ore it once handled. The waterfront is good for a short stroll, and the town is rich in elaborate mid-1800s houses like the Follett House Museum (404 Wayne St., 419/625-3834, Apr.-Dec., free), a well-preserved 1827 Greek Revival house filled with period artifacts and a few displays on the area’s history. Sandusky also offers a magical old-fashioned ice-cream parlor: Toft Dairy (3717 Venice Rd., 419/625-5490). Five scoops for $6!
The Lake Erie Islands
On South Bass Island in Lake Erie, 22 miles from Sandusky, the 352-foot Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (419/285-2184) commemorates the victory of Admiral Oliver Perry, who defeated a British fleet here on September 10, 1813, announcing his success with the laconic words, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The second biggest thing on the island, which is a popular vacation spot, may well be the “World’s Longest Bar,” a 405-footer running inside the Beer Barrel Saloon (324 Delaware Ave., 419/285-2337) in the town of Put-in-Bay.
If the weather’s too bad to brave a boat trip or a ride on the roller coasters of Cedar Point, families may want to head to the Great Wolf Lodge (4600 Milan Rd., 800/641-9653 or 419/609-6000, family suites $170 and up), a kid-friendly hotel and massive indoor water park (open to guests only) south of Sandusky.
Northern Ohio’s number-one summer attraction is the wonderful old-time amusement park of Cedar Point (419/627-2350, hours vary, $75 adults, $49 children under four feet tall), just north of Sandusky. Open since 1892, Cedar Point has the country’s biggest and best collection of roller coasters, 17 in all, ranging from fragile-looking old wooden ones to high-speed modern monsters like the Magnum XL-200, a 15-story colossus; the terrifying Raptor, in which riders swing on benches hanging from the track; the 90-plus-mph Millennium Force, which features a stomach-levitating 300-foot drop; and the 42-story Top Thrill Dragster, which accelerates from 0 to 120 mph in four seconds. Cedar Point is definitely one of the most popular destinations in the Midwest (and is regularly voted “Best Amusement Park in the World” by its many fans), so expect crowds if you come on summer weekends. The 364-acre park sits on a peninsula across the water from downtown Sandusky and has animal shows, a Lake Erie beach, and a water park, as well as restaurants, on-site camping, and comfortable accommodations in the retro Gilded Age Hotel Breakers.
One of the more attractive resorts on Ohio’s Lake Erie frontage, Vermilion (pop. 10,437) took its name from the rich red clay that colors the soil. Along with a fine beach backed by dozens of attractive summer homes, the town also holds a great old-fashioned ice cream and sandwich parlor, Granny Joe’s Ice Creamatorium (5598 Liberty Ave., 440/967-3663), which stands at the center of town. For a more complete meal, try the comfortable Old Prague Restaurant (440/967-7182) next door.