Best of Lake Erie, featuring Sandusky, Ohio

The tide is turning for downtown Sandusky, which continues to ride a wave of revitalization in its bicentennial year. Head out and discover the new (and, dare we say, hip) restaurants, shops, cultural attractions and recreational activities.
Sandusky has always had a strategic location on Lake Erie. The Ohio city was one of the first major shipping ports on the lake, a railroad hub and the ice capital of the Great Lakes in the early 19th century. Cedar Point Amusement Park — with its beautiful beach — has become one of the most popular summer destinations in the region.
And now, in its bicentennial year, the city is celebrating the comeback of its downtown core, which is undergoing explosive growth as key investors and creative entrepreneurs are writing the city’s next chapter, transforming it into a place people want to live, work, play and visit.

First, I check into the chic, but not stuffy, Hotel Kilbourne, downtown Sandusky’s only hotel, operated by developing duo Nikki Lloyd and Ryan Whaley. Oozing with urban appeal, the loft-like room — one of nine in the boutique property — features exposed brick, high ceilings and an oversized bathroom with a spacious walk-in shower. 

To soak up the atmosphere of the Sandusky Bay and the city’s burgeoning waterfront district, all I have to do is walk out the hotel door. In the not-so-distant past, downtown was practically a ghost town, but now teenagers are playing Battle of Lake Erie (a giant-sized game of Battleship) in Shade-Mylander Park, a few friends are paddling kayaks rented from Paddle and Climb, and families stroll along the Jackson Street Pier as the Jet Express ferry pulls into port, unloading passengers coming from the Lake Erie islands.

While nearby Port Clinton is still the ferry’s main hub, Jet Express has experienced steady growth in ridership since it started operating out of downtown Sandusky in 2005.

“We were at the ground floor of the revitalization,” says Lance Woodworth, the director of operations for Jet Express. “We have seen Sandusky come alive with restaurants and recreational activities, and people want to be where the action is. The momentum is rolling, and it’s fun to be part of it.” 

Speaking of rolling, I duck into Sandusky Segwave at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Water Street to inquire about a tour. Owner Jim Ervin, along with his partner, Dick Ries, relocated from Columbus’s hip Short North neighborhood in 2017 at the urging of a friend who clued them into to the positive changes happening in Sandusky.

“It’s feeling like home,” says Ervin. “This is our community, and this is a venture in which I can help bring life to downtown.”

Cruising along at eight miles per hour, Ervin enthusiastically shares tidbits about the city’s history and future through a discreet earpiece each rider wears during the two-hour tour. The group zips around town, making a few stops at places like the City Greenhouse, the Merry-Go-Round Museum and Washington Park, where the Boy with the Boot statue hoists his leaky footwear over his head at the center of a fountain in front of the Erie County Courthouse. The unofficial mascot of Sandusky got a fresh coat of paint for the city’s 200th birthday, and even has his own Twitter handle and Instagram account (@BoyWithTheBoot), where he generates buzz about the goings on around town.

There’s a lot to share as more businesses fill up the once-empty downtown buildings. In the next year, City Hall will be moving into a new space on Columbus Avenue that will also include residential space and new retail storefronts. Furthermore, Lake Erie Shores and Islands will occupy a building on Water Street and dole out advice to travelers visiting the city.

In the meantime, I have a hard time deciding where to eat dinner. There are not enough meals in the day to really get a taste of the amazing restaurants that have transformed Sandusky into a culinary destination — and not just for walleye and perch dinners. My favorite standbys include Vietnamese specialties at Kha Bui's Small City Taphouse and wood-fired pizza from Zinc Brasserie, one of Cesar Avellone’s many successful ventures.

But there are more new places to try. I end up where my day began — at the Hotel Kilbourne and its ground-floor taquería called OH Taco. Although it’s a Tuesday night, a healthy contingent of locals and hotel guests fill out the small eatery for Taco Tuesday. I opt to try some of the restaurant’s specialty items, and before long I’m devouring a tostada layered with guacamole and black beans, then topped with grilled tilapia, citrus slaw and pineapple. It pairs nicely with a cranberry orange margarita. 

As daylight begins to wane, a group of people gathered around the hotel bar make their way upstairs to Moseley’s Rooftop, a smaller open-air bar on the hotel’s top floor overlooking the Sandusky Harbor. I ride the wave and soon I’m having one more drink, while watching boats slipping back into the marina as the sun sinks over the horizon. The conditions are just right for a classic Lake Erie sunset in which the light lingers long enough to cast hues of orange, pink and red on the underside of puffy clouds. It’s a delightful end to a great day in a Great Lake city.


Best Sandusky Ritual: The seasonal Dockside Café is another favorite sunset spot, where you can get drink specials from 8 to 9 p.m. and snack on the tastiest walleye tacos around. Spot a freighter in the Sandusky Bay and get a 32-ounce rum punch for $5. 419-503-2296,

Best Progressive Party: For the ultimate pub-crawl adventure, hop aboard the 15-passenger SanBrew Bike and let Blake Harris guide you to some of Sandusky’s best watering holes. The new bike tour is BYOB, so you can party while you pedal. 419-239-3074,

Best Coffee on Tap: Wake up to Boomtown Coffee’s nitrogen-infused cold-brewed coffee. Like beer, it’s served on tap and has a smooth and frothy head. Proponents of the drink say it’s healthier because the resulting sweetness requires no cream or sugar. 419-502-2005,

Best Place to Get Active: Those looking for active adventures both inside and out should head to Paddle and Climb. Get a grip on the retail shop’s 32-foot-high indoor rock wall or rent kayaks and SUPs to take out on the Sandusky Bay. 419-502-1044,

Best Historic Theater: The 90-year-old Sandusky State Theater looks and sounds better than ever, thanks to a grant from the State of Ohio. The most notable changes include upgrades to its technology and enhanced lighting and sound systems that will support more touring shows, not to mention local staples like the Firelands Symphony Orchestra and the Lake Erie Arts and Film Festival (Sept. 17-20). 419-626-1950,