Midway across Pennsylvania’s short Lake Erie shoreline, the biggest city in these parts, Erie (pop. 98,593), is a heavy industrial powerhouse that seems to have escaped the downward spiraling fate of many other Rust Belt cities. Home to the heaviest of heavy industry, the factory where General Electric produces the world’s most powerful locomotives, Erie is recreating itself around a nice new downtown ballpark, with a replica of Commodore Perry’s flagship Niagara moored along the Lake Erie waterfront, where the 10-story Bicentennial Tower offers an impressive panorama.
A mile south of the waterfront, along the still-busy train tracks, the art deco Union Pacific depot is now home to a popular brewpub and restaurant, The Brewerie (123 W. 14th St., 814/454-2200). The opulent Warner Theater (811 State St.) is a picture palace par excellence, its 2,250-seat auditorium still in regular use.
For a taste of old-fashioned, blue-collar, working-class Erie, take a trip four miles east of downtown, past the massive GE locomotive works, to a classic All-American diner. Recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, the Lawrence Park Dinor (4019 Main St., 814/899-4390, Tues.-Sun.) is an elegantly streamlined 1940s Silk City, serving high-quality locally sourced breakfast and lunch meals at fair prices.
One more reason to spend time here, especially in the depths of winter, is Splash Lagoon (8091 Peach St., 814/217-1111 or 866/377-5274, around $45), an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park, just south of the I-90 Erie exit. Package deals at the trio of attached chain hotels (around $110 and up) include admission to the slides.