Island get-away not too far from home

Breanne George

Put-in-Bay Village is an affordable get-away for students seeking the ‘ocean experience’ without going too far

The Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial towers over Put-In Bay with views of downtown Cleveland on clear days. The lighthouse stands in honor of those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT S

Credit: John Proppe

I always assumed leaving Ohio was the first step in finding a vacation hot spot with a laid-back beach vibe and entertaining nightlife. I never opened my eyes to Put-in-Bay Village, an island getaway located on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island.

It feels a world away, with breathtaking views of rocky coastline and outdoor and aquatic activities, ranging from bike riding to parasailing. The island also features charming shops selling classic saltwater taffy and chic restaurants and nightclubs overlooking the sparkling aquamarine waterfront.

Put-in-Bay is the perfect weekend trip for college students who want to make the most of the summer while it lasts. Although an average of 1.25 million people visit Put-in-Bay each year, many college students do not consider the island as a vacation destination, said Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau.

“People who haven’t been to the island before come back with a whole different understanding of why it’s so much fun,” he said. “They find Put-in-Bay is more like an ocean experience and lifestyle.”

For a weekend trip, leave on a Friday night and follow directions to the Jackson Street Pier in downtown Sandusky, where the Jet Express departs. You can find directions at the Jet Express Web site at

The catamaran travels at a speed of 40 mph and offers breathtaking views of seven Lake Erie Islands and Cedar Point amusement park along the 12 and a half mile excursion. The cost of tickets is $32 round trip.

Although Fletcher recommends the Miller Ferry in Port Clinton at the Catawba Dock as a cheaper alternative at $11 round trip, he said the Jet Express “drops passengers off where all the action is.”

Put-in-Bay is reminiscent of popular beach destinations and offers a wide range of aquatic activities such as jet skiing, kayaking and parasailing. To save money and experience the exhilaration together, rent one jet ski for two people and switch between driver and passenger. Rentals are available at Put-in-Bay Watercraft and cost $50 per half hour.

To get around the three-mile long island, Maggie Beckford, office manager at the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce, recommends renting a golf cart or bicycle, available upon arrival at the Jet Express dock. Golf carts are $50 for the day, but a bicycle rental costs only $10 per day.

Whatever ride you choose, take it to Perry’s Cave. Not for the claustrophobic, the tour winds through narrow passages and slippery rock to an underground stream. The cave tour is $7 and offers some interesting photo opts.

Ravenna resident Craig Thomas, 33, has visited Put-in-Bay on two separate occasions. He recommends the Crystal Cave described as “the world’s largest recorded geode.” The narrated tour costs $5, but includes a tour of Heineman’s Winery where visitors can sample and purchase assorted wines.

“The cave has gorgeous white crystals,” Thomas said. “They hit the light and a million different colors reflect.”

Alyson Martin, senior criminal justice major, said she spent her visit exploring the island via golf carts, shopping and touring Perry’s Monument, a lighthouse and iconic monument of Put-in-Bay. Thomas also toured the lighthouse, which he said provides breathtaking views of the islands.

“You can even see downtown Cleveland from the top,” he said.

Dining options on the island range from amusement-park-style fare to upscale restaurants that offer an intimate dining experience. Axel & Harry’s is the premiere restaurant on the island offering fresh seafood selections and a variety of cocktails. Boathouse Bar & Grill is another signature restaurant on the water with more of a low-key menu offering items such as barbeque pork sandwiches and burgers.

Martin said a majority of the bars have live bands of virtually every music genre. The most popular nightclub, The Roundhouse, has such a large volume of people that it is standing room only on weekends. With the largest dance floor, Beer Barrel Saloon is the place to dance the night away until 2:30 a.m. when the downtown bars close.

Thomas came to the island on his first visit to experience the nightlife, which he describes as “beautiful people partying in a beautiful location.” Unlike any place in the Midwest, Thomas said Put-in-Bay feels like New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

“Put-in-Bay’s slogan for years has been ‘what goes on in the bay.stays in the bay,'” he said. “That sums up the nightlife.”

Contact features reporter Breanne George at [email protected].