Make your Put-in-Bay escape

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Leave your cares at the dock and get back into vacation mode, with a one-tank-trip to Put-in-Bay.

By Laura Briedis & Patricia Nugent

When it comes to carefree family getaways, let’s face it, last summer was a bust. Now that we are all itching for a little do-over and 2020 is in the rearview mirror, why not put getaway plans back on top of your to-do list?

According to travel experts, this is the summer of the old-fashioned road trip. People are longing for wide-open spaces with plenty of sunshine and adventure.

It’s time to rediscover the rejuvenating magic of Put-in-Bay. Just hop on I-90 and head west for about an hour, then hang a right at the Thomas Edison Bridge.

Leave your cares at the dock and let the breathtaking Lake Erie views from the Miller Ferry transport you. Once there, you’ll rekindle the joyful spirit of hopping on a golf cart and zipping around the island. Reconnect with your inner child for some past-due playtime.

From wining and dining to exploring natural wonders and a host of other recreational pursuits, the island offers the ideal getaway.

Consider this your personal guide to all the best things to see and do on Put-in-Bay. Go ahead, reset your clock to island time.

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center
Island Bike & Cart Rental
Heineman’s Winery
Pasquales Cafe
Leave your cares at the dock and let the breathtaking Lake Erie views from the Miller Ferry transport you. Once there, you’ll rekindle the joyful spirit of hopping on a golf cart and zipping around the island.

Miller Ferry
By far the family-friendliest way to get to the island, Miller Ferry is convenient and affordable, offering trips as often as every half hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., all summer long.

The expansive ferry was always set up for social distancing (long before it was a thing), as you can sit on open air benches on the upper deck, stand on the lower deck or walk around—all while enjoying the warm sun, cool lake breeze and breathtaking views of the Lake Erie horizon.

And since it’s the only service that transports both passengers and vehicles, you can take the distancing even further and not even leave your car for the ride over.

Owned and operated by the Market family, the ferry provides the shortest route to the island, at just 18 minutes over a three-mile route from Catawba Point to PIB’s South Bass Island and just 40 minutes to Middle Bass Island. Fares are low, children five and under ride for free, and day and overnight parking is free at any of their five parking lots.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of weekday visitors, as well as passengers bringing their bikes aboard, as a way to explore the island. The flat roads, Lake Erie views and light traffic make Put-in-Bay perfect to explore by bicycle. Families love to visit all of the Nature Preserves and parks,” says Katrina Reed, who is the communications manager for Miller Ferry. “Not to mention, all restaurants offer outdoor dining or patios. Many people will grab takeout and hang out at DeRivera Park. Put-in-Bay is already a natural fit for those who are looking for an intimate, outdoor getaway. Don’t forget that pets ride aboard Miller Ferry for free, so bring your beloved family dog along for your family adventure.”

New this year, the family has commissioned a ferry named after the late matriarch, Mary Ann Market. This fifth boat in the fleet is the largest at 140 feet long and 38 feet wide. It will accommodate up to 600 passengers or approximately 28 vehicles. The lower deck features ADA-guided facilities, and the upper deck’s seating faces forward, affording passengers gorgeous vistas—the perfect backdrop for selfies.

The new ferry is making the 679-mile journey from where she was built in Wisconsin by way of Lakes Superior and Huron into the Detroit River, then into Lake Erie toward her new home port of Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

“Miller Ferry is still operating with the same mission it had when it was founded in 1905, to make traveling to the islands the best possible experience for our customers,” says Katrina. “We love to see families with their children take a ride and tell us how they fondly remember the ferry ride when they were children.”

For more information, visit

Island Bike & Cart Rental
Getting around the island is half the fun. Whether putting around in a golf cart or taking a leisurely bike ride, you can explore the island on your own.

“It’s the best way to see all the sights on the island at your own pace,” says DeeDee Duggan, whose family has owned Island Bike & Cart Rental since 1968. “In addition to the popular spots around town, you can explore some of the less traveled roads.”

“Our fleet of 220 golf carts actually outnumbers the automobiles on the island,” she says. “Carts have the right of way on the island’s streets. And we don’t even have a stop light, so it’s nice to see all of the island without dealing with traffic.”

Conveniently located on top of the hill when you disembark from Miller Ferry and a second location downtown, Island Bike & Cart Rental is ready to embrace families wanting to enjoy all the island amenities again this summer.

In addition to two-, four- and six-seaters, this year there also are a few eight-seat golf carts available for larger families. All of the carts have a roof covering and the windshields can roll back if you want to feel the fresh air on your face.

If two wheels are more your speed, you can also hop on one of the single-speed coasters or tandem bikes.

And for a guided tour of the island, take a ride on the open-air Tour Train, which leaves the downtown depot every half hour. Sit back and learn about island history and fun facts along the tour, and you can hop on and off at highlighted attractions. You can also rent out the train just for your group. “It’s nice to see that we are starting to once again book some family reunions, corporate outings and other group events,” says DeeDee.

For more information, visit

One of the must-haves on the Pasquales Cafe menu is the Lobster Benedict.

Pasquales Cafe
The best way to get the pulse of your vacation spot is to eat at the local diner. And on Put-in-Bay island that place is Pasquales Cafe. One of the oldest established restaurants in town, serving food for more than 50 years, the cafe is housed in what was once a U.S. Customs Office.

“We are the friendly, familiar face on the island where visitors and locals keep coming back,” says Ty Winchester, Pasquales’ general manager. “We are so excited to see everyone again this summer.”

In tune with the island’s carefree atmosphere—where island time means there is no set schedule, including time for eating meals—Pasquales serves breakfast all day. In fact, many of its breakfast items blend into the lunch menu. Most notable is the cherry wood smoked bacon. Served alongside eggs and toast, or on top of a burger, or in a salad, the thick-cut bacon takes center stage.

“We also put a sweet habanero candied bacon garnish in our Bloody Mary drinks,” says Ty, who graduated from Put-in-Bay High School and returned to the island after earning a marketing degree from the University of Cincinnati.

One of the must-haves on the menu is the Lobster Benedict, which comes with two poached eggs, tomatoes, spinach and hollandaise sauce on an English muffin, topped with fresh lobster. Also popular are the handcrafted burgers and chicken sandwiches.

“We serve the same menu all day, so if you want a burger at 8 a.m. we can grill one for you, or if you want pancakes for lunch, we can do that, too,” says Ty.

The floor-to-ceiling front window affords some of the best views of downtown and the park, with the bay as the backdrop, where you can people watch while sipping on a Bloody Mary or Mimosa.

“Put-in-Bay is great place to visit right now because there are so many outdoor activities on our island,” says Ty. “We are looking forward to welcoming you back.”

For more information, visit

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center offers 10 acres of family-friendly entertainment.
Known as the largest Celestite geode in the world, Crystal Cave is located on the Heineman’s Winery property and is open for tours.

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center
As its name implies, Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center is centered around a limestone cave steeped in history, where you can venture down 42 steps below the surface of South Bass Island to explore stalactites and cave pearls created by encrusted calcium carbonate deposits from centuries of water dripping from the ceiling.

But that is only one adventure awaiting you at this sprawling 10-acre entertainment center. When the Duggan family—two generations of island residents—purchased the cave in 1999, they had a vision to add more family-friendly activities on the island. So, with a family-centric, nature-based focus, they’ve been adding more fun over the past two decades.

One of the most unique is the Butterfly House. It’s a place you can stroll around and see more than 50 different types of exotic butterflies from around the world. “We just welcomed new species from Costa Rica and Malaysia for this year,” says DeeDee Duggan.

Don’t be surprised when meandering through the 4,000-square-foot aviary if one of the butterflies gracefully flits by you and lands on your shoulder.

For those looking for different adventures, there is an 18-hole miniature golf course, a rock wall and a giant maze challenge—all surrounded by a canopy of trees that provides welcome shade on a hot summer day.

For that something different, you can crack your own geode at the gemstone mining station and be the first to peek into the inner grandeur of a crystal gemstone. You can also pan for real gemstones and fossils by purchasing a bag of rough mix and then letting water wash over it while you search for shinny gems, just like they did back in the Gold Rush.

“We also have a car museum where you can come to check out classic cars,” says DeeDee. “And you can spend an entire day here. We have DanDee’s Snack Shack, serving everything from breakfast sandwiches to hamburgers, corn dogs and ice cream.”

For more information, visit

Heineman’s Crystal Cave and Winery
When it comes to superior winemaking, the process hasn’t changed much over time.

Just ask Ed and Dustin Heineman, who represent the fourth and fifth generation wine growers, respectively, of Heineman’s Winery. Ed’s great-grandfather Gustav came to Put-in-Bay in 1888 from a wine-growing region in Germany. Upon landing here, he recognized that the limestone-based clay soil and unique microclimate of the island would constitute excellent growing conditions for grapes.

Today the winery serves more than 25,000 gallons of its award-winning wines annually, shipping to 38 states. The gentlemen are proud to remain the oldest family-owned winery in the state.

To meet growing demand, Ed reports they have recently acquired 40 acres of vineyards on Isle Saint George (North Bass Island).

“There are 12 varieties of grapes on this land. By the end of this summer, we should see at least two wines come from here,” says Ed.

A top pick this year is the Sweet Ives red wine. It’s available as a sample when you take a tour of the winery. And if you like it, you can buy it by the bottle, or case, or have it shipped to your home.

After seeing how the wine is produced, bottled and labeled, you can meander out to the Wine Garden adjacent to the winery, a serene oasis to savor a glass or two paired with scrumptious local cheeses.

Gustav is also credited with discovering Crystal Cave, when drilling for a well on his property. Now open for tours, it’s known as the largest Celestite geode in the world.

The cave is a marvel to behold. The walls and ceiling are completely covered in stunning bluish-white crystals. Kids of all ages will enjoy learning about its fascinating formation.

To cap off your visit, save some time for shopping at the well-stocked gift shop. You’ll find everything from agate slices and fossils to rock specimens and whimsical wine-related items.

For more information, visit

PIB Points of Interest: Hop in your golf cart and explore the island

  1. Jane Coates Wildflower Trail – Explore this half-mile loop and bask in the breathtaking rainbow of flowers and migratory birds.
  2. StoryWalk Trail - An 852-foot loop through a former vineyard featuring 17 storyboards dotting the mulched trail that illustrate beloved pages from children’s books, fun for all ages.
  3. The original Put-in-Bay School House BuildingMake a quick stop to this piece of island history for a fantastic outdoor only photo op.You can even clang the original bell to “call class” to session.
  4. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial Discover fascinating tales about the historic Battle of Lake Erie and the War of 1812 and transport back to the 1800s while watching carronade weapons demonstrations. The memorial opens for tours and reenactments starting Saturday, May 22.
  5. An undiscovered gem, the beach at Scheef East Pointe is a great place to take in the island breezes while treasure-hunting for a blue-green-gray bevy of beach glass.
  6. For years, tourists have attached padlocks with their names engraved on them to the railing side of the Love Lock Bridge in Pont des Arts, France. Now you can visit this taste of Paris here in Ohio. Bring your own lock and words of love to add to the Locks of Love gate.
  7. The sun sets...even in paradise. Finish your island tour at dusk and take in the best sweeping views of sunset that Lake Erie has to offer at Stone Cove Beach.