Make your escape to Put-in-Bay

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It’s time to plan your escape to Put-in-Bay. Here is your official, unofficial travel guide. (Photography by Benjamin Margalit/Margalit Studio)

By Laura Briedis & Patricia Nugent

Looking for a summer getaway?

While the Cayman Islands in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, Mallorca off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea or Bora Bora in the South Pacific may come to mind, there’s a place to escape here in Ohio that doesn’t require a passport, travel agent or airplane.

Located about an hour drive from most Cleveland suburbs, Put-in-Bay has all the ingredients for the perfect destination vacation. 

Al fresco dining? Check.

Exotic cocktails? Double check.

Pools skirted by palm trees? Yes, you’ll find those, too.

Boating? Sure, that’s part of the fun of traveling to the island and switching to vacation mode.

Golf? There may not be a world-class golf course, but there are plenty of golf carts. Plus, there are other recreational pursuits the whole family can enjoy together, including mini golf.

Consider this your personal, unofficial Put-in-Bay travel guide.

Your Journey Begins Here
Whether it’s a European river cruise or steamship down the Mississippi River, slower travel on boutique-sized vessels is one of the hottest trends in the vacation industry. 

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For an enchanting journey across Lake Erie from Catawba to Put-in-Bay, the Miller Ferry is known as the transportation mode of choice for locals who know how to sit back and enjoy the panoramic views from the wide-open ship’s decks.

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Since the ferries were constructed for use on Lake Erie, riders barely feel the waters beneath and are free to walk about the vessel unrestricted during the 18-minute ride, which is actually the shortest trek over to the island short of an airplane. 

With seating on the top deck, passengers enjoy prime views of the lake and islands during the three-mile journey. Each ferry can carry up to 500 people and 26 cars.

Says Katrina Reed, who is communications director for the Miller Boat Line and herself a local, the convenience of more frequent trips (half hour service, as late as 9 p.m., during the summer) and selling point of lower fare expense ($7 for adults, $1.50 for kids six to 11 years old, and free for kids age 5 and under), along with family- and pet-friendliness, have made the ferries the most popular choice since 1905. 

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“People also appreciate free day and overnight parking on any of the five lots we own at Catawba and the ability to bring their cars, trailers, motorcycles, bikes and even kayaks over to the island,” she says.

As a symbolic ambassador to the island, the ferry has added an information packed, interactive map on their website, MillerFerry.com, featuring points of interest.

Choosing Your Just-Right Wheels
On Put-in-Bay, cars may be allowed, but golf carts outnumber them by a landslide. And, you’re allowed to drive them on the streets of PIB. 

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“We started out with 500 bicycles and 10 golf carts,” says DeeDee Duggan, who co-owns Island Bike & Cart Rental.

“Now we have 100 bikes and more than 200 electric golf carts, with rental locations downtown and by Miller’s Ferry. It’s just the ideal way to experience the island. All of the carts are covered, and windshields can roll back depending on how much open road you want to feel.”

Bikes are another recommended mode of transportation and the family rents single-speed coaster brake bikes, including tandem bikes for daring duos.

“I also suggest people take the Tour Train, which leaves the downtown depot every half hour,” she adds. 

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During the narrated 50 minute ride, you’ll learn all about island history, fun facts and even make stops at local hot spots such as the Heineman Winery & Crystal Cave, the Lighthouse and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial and the Nature and Wildlife Museum.

Golfing and Mazing and Caving, Oh My!
One of the island’s top attractions is Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, which DeeDee’s family also owns.

Diverse attractions are the order of the day, starting with the island’s one and only putt-putt course, The War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf.

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In addition to the challenging greens, the center’s main attraction is Perry’s Cave. A tour guide takes you deep below ground to explore the cavernous space and explain its significant role in history.

Also as part of the attractions, kids of any age can lose themselves and find their way through the giant outdoor Fort aMaze’n, or visit the Butterfly House, an interactive museum featuring more than 1,000 exotic live butterflies from around the world.

Between touring the attractions, DeeDee says people can enjoy a meal at Dandee’s Snack Shack or visit the Antique Car Museum.

A Place for Food Lovers
The best way to get the pulse of your vacation spot is to stop in at the local diner. Housed in what was once a U.S. Customs office, barbershop and ice cream parlor, Pasquales has been home to a family-friendly cafe for the past 20 years.

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Open at 7 a.m. daily for breakfast during the summer, there is often a line wrapping around the building of visitors and locals eager to get a start on the day. 

“We are honored that with all the places to eat on the island customers wait in line for our breakfast,” says Ty Winchester, Pasquales’ general manager, who graduated from Put-in-Bay High School and returned to the island after college to run the restaurant. 

Known for its breakfast served all day, there is plenty to choose from on the menu, including omelets, pancakes and waffles.

For those looking for a hearty breakfast, the Hot Mess has it all—hash browns, eggs, cheese, sausage and bacon all piled high in a bowl and topped with gravy.

“And if you want, we can throw in the kitchen sink, which is two sausage patties on top of it all,” adds Ty.

In addition to its famous breakfast items like Lobster Benedict, the restaurant also has an appreciable lunch and dinner menu. An all-American dining experience, some Italian flavors also make an appearance on the menu.

“Our Baked Lobster Macaroni & Cheese is one of our most popular entrees,” comments Ty. “Plus our double decker burgers and fresh salads provide more dining options.”

For a lighter option, Gloria’s Summer Salad fits the bill, with spinach, red onions, strawberries, oranges and poppy seed dressing.

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“We truly are a family-friendly restaurant where the locals like to eat, too,” says Ty.

A Slice of Island Life
Although its restaurant logo depicts a chilled beer mug, Frosty Bar is also known as a family hot spot where you can feed a family affordably.

As a testament to the pizza recipe passed down from generation to generation, Frosty’s has been serving the same oh-so-cheesy pizza for nearly seven decades in a casual, fun atmosphere.

“We have not added anything new to our pizza menu—why mess with perfection?” jokes Kim Morrisson, who, along with her brother, Ryan Stoiber, are the third-generation owners.

“Our signature crust is topped with mozzarella cheese, homemade sauce, top-quality meats and fresh toppings.”

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To cater to families, they offer a family meal, which includes a 12-inch one topping pizza, four breadsticks, salad and four sodas, for $30.

“This meal is enough to feed four and it won’t break the bank,” says Kim.

While the name Frosty’s is synonymous with pizza, the restaurant also serves breakfast and, more recently, burritos and tacos. Overlooking the back patio, the Big Man’s Burrito Stand serves entrees to spice up any afternoon or evening.

“We roast all of our own meats, pull our own pork and make salsas from scratch,” says Kim. “The burrito stand offers something different on the island, where diners can choose from garlic and lime marinated chicken and steak, Corona-braised pork, spicy chorizo sausage and lots of toppings.”

Staying true to its name, Frosty’s serves beer in its famous frosted mugs and offers 28 beers on tap. It also touts the best Bloody Mary on the island, served with the signature Frosty pickle.

Round Them Up for a Good Time
Not only is Put-in-Bay a family-friendly island, but it is also a perfect place to bring your furry friends.

At the Chicken Patio next to the Round House Bar and Park Hotel, you will see dogs—and sometimes a parrot or two—roaming around. In fact, Lilly, a basset hound, is dubbed the official greeter.

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With a casual, backyard vibe, the Chicken Patio is lined with picnic tables and crowded with diners and dogs alike. And that’s just how owners Anita and Mike McCann like it. 

“We encourage people to bring their pets along,” says Anita. “Our patio is the perfect place to have a picnic with the family.”

The Chicken Patio has been serving the same wine-basted chicken with the same classic sides—corn on the cob, potato salad and roll—since the 1950s. The massive 21-foot outdoor grill is always fired up for lunch, dinner and late into the wee morning hours. Plus, an outside bar encourages you to linger.

“We serve freshly squeezed oranges, grapefruits, limes and lemons mixed with liquor for a refreshing cocktail,” says Anita. “And our famous Bushwacker ice cream drink is a summer favorite.”

Next door at the Round House Bar there is live music.

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Just like Jimmy Buffett is to Key West, Mike “Mad Dog” Adams is to Put-in-Bay. His legendary afternoon performances at the Round House show, as he likes to say, “Every day above ground is a good day.”

In addition to his weekend shows, there is music seven days a week featuring classic rock and top 40 hits.

The musicians perform on a round stage wrapped around by the bar, where beer is famously served in red buckets. 

Paradise Found 
For the most secluded and exclusive resort experience, Adventure Bay features the largest freeform pool (splashing in at 6,200 square feet of crystal clear water), skirted by hundreds of swaying palm trees and dominated by a 60-foot swim-up bar and water volleyball. 

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For additional privacy, rent one of the four VIP cabanas, for up to 16 people each, and enjoy concierge service all day.  

Adjacent to the pool area is a gaming arcade mecca with everything from video games to virtual bowling to riding a mechanical bull. New this year are the Tokyo Drift motorcycle simulators, which provide a fast and furious virtual road experience. Just outside the arcade are new Ping-Pong tables and spikeball games, but the beach volleyball remains the most popular pursuit.

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Owners Miyo and Maria Hristovski appreciate that live music is part of the PIB vibe, and they schedule DJs and bands to add to the tropical getaway feeling.

From the thatched roof rotunda bar, you can sip on handcrafted tropical drinks. New this year is the Twisted Sister, which features a tantalizing blend of raspberry vodka, Captain Morgan Rum, Cuervo Silver Tequila, gin, triple sec and a splash of sprite.

Diners enjoy light, delicious fare, including signature boneless chicken wings in a variety of flavors, and desserts such as Key Lime Cheesecake with low calories, no trans fat, no gluten and no high fructose corn syrup. Says Maria, “After all, we know you still want to look great in your bikini.”