Best of Lake Erie, featuring Chautauqua Lake

Relax with lake breezes and a cocktail or strike a yoga pose as the mighty Niagara Falls rushes before you. Enjoy dinner in an old grain silo in Buffalo or world-class cheesecake on the streets of Detroit. Zipline in Geneva-on-the-Lake or stop by a speakeasy in Erie. Whatever your idea of a good time, you’ll find it around Lake Erie.
Best Chautauqua Lake Getaway

Chautauqua Lake offers year-round nourishment for the mind, body and soul, even beyond the gates of the Chautauqua Institution. Along its 41 miles of shoreline, you’ll find small villages, each with its own distinctive charm. Listen to moving music in Mayville, fill your belly in Bemus Point, laugh in Jamestown or head south to Celoron, where a new destination hotel is making waves.

At first light, strands of sunshine mingle with swirling mist hovering just above Chautauqua Lake on a crisp morning. The water is calm until a skein of honking geese come in for a landing, skidding across the surface and sending a wave of ripples in front of the resort-like Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron, New York.

The 135-room hotel opened last year on the grounds of the famed Celoron Park, a popular theme park that opened in 1894 and shuttered in 1962. It’s a great spot for a getaway — anytime of the year —and makes an ideal launching spot for exploring the rest of the lake.

But before you head out, make sure to enjoy what the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel has to offer. The Lakehouse Tap & Grille overlooks the expansive lakeside patio, where people lounge next to the saltwater pool or gather at three fire pits, a putting green or the Carousel Bar, which is connected by a short footbridge to Sunset Island, once the location of a popular swing ride at Celoron Park.

“The park may be long gone, but the magic is still here,” says concierge Dottie Maitland, who vividly remembers the sights and sounds. “I can still hear the click, click, clack, clack of the roller coaster when I take a walk along the boardwalk to enjoy the view.”

You can certainly stay put in Celeron and enjoy the amenities and tranquility, but those who choose to venture out will find all kinds of activities and attractions waiting to be explored. 
Best of Jamestown

Laughter takes center stage in the nearby city of Jamestown, home to the year-old National Comedy Center, a high-tech museum ( that caters to each person’s own brand of humor.

At the entrance of the museum, visitors select their favorite stand-up comics, movies, television and YouTube shows. The resulting comedy profile is stored on a chip-enhanced wristband that creates a personalized experience when waved in front of the interactive exhibits. The center is also a treasure trove of amusing artifacts, ranging from rubber chickens to set props from shows like “Seinfeld,” “The Office” and “Saturday Night Live.” 

Throughout the year, the Comedy Center hosts stand-up comedians at venues throughout the city, including the Tropicana Room, a faithful re-creation of a set from the “I Love Lucy” television show that’s housed within the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum ( 

When you’ve worked up an appetite, there are a few stand-out places to eat and drink in the city. At Labyrinth Press ( — locally known as “The Lab” — the food is so good, you won’t notice the menu is completely vegetarian. Enjoy the burritos, salads and soups at the downstairs espresso bar or upstairs at the Brazil Craft Beer and Wine Lounge.

Alternatively, head to Forte (, where Jamestown’s favorite bartender, Nick Dean, stirs things up with expertly crafted cocktails with international appeal. Try the Lychee Sake-tini, which combines unfiltered sake with the fruity flavor of Thailand.

Best of Bemus Point

The town of Bemus Point feels frozen in time with its Victorian-era Hotel Lenhart (; the Village Casino that still serves up food and nighttime entertainment (; and Skillmans, a general store turned fashion and home furnishings boutique (
Much of the old-time ambiance of the village endures because families have remained generation after generation while newer business owners have committed to keeping longstanding traditions alive. 

Bemus Point Inn (, for example, opens at 7 a.m., serving up coffee and legendary gut-busting cinnamon rolls. The super-sized pastries are advertised as “the sweetest buns in town,” and they do not disappoint when they arrive dripping with freshly poured white-glaze icing.

The Fish (, meanwhile, is one of the town’s newest restaurants, serving up signature cocktails and all-you-can-eat snow crab legs on the lively waterfront deck. 

Work off all those calories at nearby Long Point State Park (, where you’ll find swimming, hiking and mountain biking. Loud Performance Products (, located near the park, rents all the gear you’ll need for a trail ride, including fat bikes for winter recreation.

Best of Mayville

While the town is best known for being the gateway to the Chautauqua Institution, it also stands on its own as a getaway destination. You can shop for antiques, handmade art and artisanal food; cruise the lake on a sternwheeler, rent a boat or kayak; and listen to world-class music on a floating stage. 

After a year-long hiatus, the newly christened Chautauqua Lake Pops (, formerly known as the Bemus Bay Pops, has just concluded its first season at a new location behind the Mayville Depot Museum at Lakeside Park. The floating stage hosts world-class musicians, local and regional bands, special events and free movie nights in the summer season. 

Lakeside Park is also the homeport to the Chautauqua Belle (, one of the few operating sternwheelers left in the United States. During the summer season, it steams out into Chautauqua Lake, making a stop at Chautauqua Institution along the way. In the spring and fall, it makes weekend trips from the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel and McCrea Point Park in Jamestown. 

If you’d rather get out on the water on your own, Chautauqua Marina ( rents an assortment of watercrafts, including power boats, pontoons, fishing boats, pedal boats, kayaks and canoes. Add water skis or towable tubes to amp up the family fun.

There’s even more to explore on the shore, whether seeking out unique gifts or gourmet treats. Get a taste of the town by stocking up on handmade chocolates at Webb’s Candies (, which is well known for its goat’s milk fudge and other sweets. 

Meanwhile, Riko Chandra pours his passion into the art of cheesemaking at Reverie Creamery (, which he opened with partner Jim Howard in 2015. In addition to offering a variety of gourmet items, Reverie produces its own aged hard and soft cheeses, made with milk from Western New York dairy farms. The Gitane on Weck is infused with caraway seeds — an homage to the region’s Beef on Weck sandwiches.

Best of Chautauqua Institution in the Off Season

More than 100,000 people visit the grounds of Chautauqua Institution ( to participate in its various summer programs centered around the arts, religion, recreation and education. But there’s still plenty to do even after the nine-week season ends in August. 

1. Have a drink on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel. Open from late April to October each year, the historic Athenaeum Hotel proudly overlooks the lake in all her Victorian glory. Sit in one of the rocking chairs on the lake-facing veranda and sip a classic cocktail from the lobby bar. 

2. Get in a round of golf. Golf has been an integral part of the Chautauqua experience since the first nine holes opened in 1914. The Chautauqua Golf Club now has two four-star, 18-hole courses to challenge even the most experienced golfers.

3. Browse for books and gifts at the Chautauqua Bookstore. The bookstore is a hub for staying up to date on the works of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry that are selected each season by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle — one of the nation’s longest-running continuous book discussion groups. 

4. Warm up with coffee and a light meal at Afterwords Café.
Located above the Chautauqua Bookstore, the cafe is a chill place to page through a book or get some work done. The coffee comes from Crown Street Roasting Co., located in nearby Jamestown, and pairs perfectly with the fresh pastries. Swing by at lunch time for the café’s famous lobster bisque.

5. Enjoy a Farm-to-Table Culinary Getaway 
Spend the weekend of Sept. 13-15 at the Athenaeum Hotel to participate in hands-on culinary workshops and eat farm-fresh meals. Make a reservation by calling the Athenaeum Hotel front desk at 716-357-4444.

6. Take in the Winter Village 
On select weekends between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, 
the Chautauqua Institution comes alive with holiday festivities, including horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides to holiday concerts and Breakfast with Santa.

The Best of the Rest of Lake Erie

Best Stretch of Shops — Marblehead, Ohio
Marblehead, Ohio, is known for its lighthouse, ferry to Kelleys Island and general vacation-mode vibe, but it’s also gaining notice for its one-of-a-kind shops. Check out The Pink Perch ( for a curated selection of gifts and apparel, Marblehead Soap Co. ( for handmade soaps and scrubs, Martha & Molly’s ( for the biggest selection of sandals around and Embellish on Main Street for lake-inspired gifts, décor and clothing.

Best French Cuisine — Maison St. Aubin
Sarnia, Ontario, may seem like an unlikely spot for French cuisine, but, for nearly two decades, residents and visitors to the lakefront town have indulged at Maison St. Aubin. A well-traveled couple, Marcel and Eva St. Aubin saw a vacant restaurant in town and turned it into an intimate restaurant that’s atmospheric without being overly formal (the walls are lined with stained-glass and paintings by Eva, an artist). The French menu features items like mussels, rack of lamb and filet mignon, including their filet Neptune, a steak with crab meat, asparagus and hollandaise sauce. The restaurant also cures its own salmon and, for dessert, they’re particularly proud of their crème brulee.

Best New Wine Experience ¬— The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake
The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake has shared Ashtabula County’s grape-growing and wine-making heritage as part of its regular wine shuttle, but they’ve taken the experience to another level this year with the Signature Immersion Tour. The Saturday tours, limited to 10 people, offer a more intimate experience. Wine specialist Lauren Fiala leads the excursion, which usually includes stops at Hundley Cellars, featuring a wine sampling and small plates; South River Vineyards, including a cellar tour not typically available to the general public, and its neighbor across the street, M. Cellars. Cost is $75, including a swag bag, and the tour isn’t limited to lodge guests. Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio,

Best Chalk Artist — David Zinn
David Zinn grew up on a dirt road outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. When he arrived at the college town, he saw miles of sidewalks — and a creative opportunity. Zinn’s anamorphosis work gives a three-dimensional appearance to his sidewalk chalk drawings, which can be found in Ann Arbor and as far away as Europe and Asia, as long as the weather holds up. But the idea his work might be washed away is liberating. “You can focus on making the art without thinking of the future,” he says. “Drawing something that can’t be preserved frees you up. Holding on to things is more anxiety than joy.”

Best New Fishing Charter — Churchville Outfitters
Ben and Mick Schnekenburger grew up on a tobacco farm in a vanished Port Glasgow village called Churchville. They’d always spent a lot of time outdoors and on the water, be it at work — Ben worked as an environmentalist, while Mick fished all around North America — or recreation, taking friends out on the water. This year, they combined business and pleasure and started offering charters with their new company, Churchville Outfitters, in search of walleye and rainbow trout. “We finally decided it was time to make the plunge, do it full time and try to make a living doing it,” Ben says. Port Glasgow, Ontario,

Best Yoga — Namaste Niagara Yoga
Things are always more peaceful near water, even if it’s the Horseshoe Falls with a flow rate of more than 600,000 gallons per second. Since 2016, the Journey Behind the Falls experience allows for relaxing yoga on the lower observation deck, allowing you to center yourself while appreciating the breathtaking views — and white noise — of the falls. It is advised that you bring a change of clothes, just in case, because the session ends with brunch at Queenston Heights above the falls. Niagara Falls, Ontario,

Best Underwater Thrill — Greater Cleveland Aquarium Shark Dive
Nothing says “I love you” like a dive in a shark tank at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. “I’ve always been intrigued by sharks," says Clevelander Erin Huber Rosen, who gifted her husband with the experience for their anniversary. “It’s a great way to get our feet wet in a controlled environment before encountering sharks in the wild.” For $250, any SCUBA-certified diver can take the plunge with sandtiger, sandbar and nurse sharks, while accompanied by staff divers, who provide all the equipment and training needed. “You can keep any teeth you find,” says GCA diver Greg Diamond, “as long as they’re not in a shark’s mouth.”

Best Guacamole — El Amigo Mexican Grill 
There’s something special about seeing guacamole made right before your eyes, but it’s even more magical when you order the enticing appetizer at El Amigo Mexican Grill in Erie, Pennsylvania. Server Michael Alvarez has earned a reputation for turning the dish into an unforgettable dining experience. Alvarez, better known as “Magic Mike,” sings and dances for customers while scooping tree-ripened avocados into a large molcajete and blending them with garlic powder, fresh pico de gallo, salt, lime juice and the house-made tomatillo salsa. The tableside guacamole costs just $7.99, but the entertainment is worthy of an even bigger gratuity.

Best Parking Spot: Conneaut Sandbar  
Two-mile-long break walls jut out into Lake Erie to protect Conneaut’s harbor from wind and wave action that constantly batters the shoreline. But over the years, a 50-foot gap in the west breakwater inadvertently created a sandbar that has become a popular tourist destination for birders and beachgoers. In recent years, the local port authority has added picnic tables and an observation tower. Better yet, the Conneaut Sandbar is the only spot in Ohio — and one of the few in the country — that allows vehicles to drive directly onto the packed sand and up to the water’s edge, all for a $5 fee.

Best New Children’s Museum: Explore and More
Buffalo’s children’s museum, Explore and More, recently moved into a brand-new building on the edge of the historic Erie Canal and features new exhibits that weave Western New York’s history, geography, culture, agriculture and industry into fun, interactive play-based exhibits and activities. The location lends itself to the Moving Water zone, where kids can load and unload canal boats or engineer locks around the base of a two-story waterfall, which can be used to power lights for the historic Pan-American Exposition. Kids can wear many other hats —and boots, lab coats and more — when they explore other zones that delve into construction, medicine, culinary professions and farming.

Best Sandwich in a Silo — Haystack
The waterfront Silo Restaurant in Lewiston, New York, has a long history as a refueling station. It started life as a storage facility holding coal for the many steamships carrying passengers up and down the Niagara River. After sitting idle for 60 years, the round silo came back to life as a place to fill up hungry bellies with burgers, sandwiches and salads. The signature sandwich, called The Haystack, was already well known in Western New York before Adam Richman called it the “holy trinity for dude food” on his show Man vs. Food in 2010. He featured the foot-long hoagie bun, stuffed with a pound of seasoned rib-eye steak, melted mozzarella and crispy hash browns. If you want to save room for ice cream in the adjacent caboose, the 6-inch version may suffice.

Best on-lake Lodging — The Caribbean Soul
When you spend the night aboard The Caribbean Soul, you can drift off to sleep while being gently rocked by Lake Erie’s waves. The large catamaran spent 10 years as a charter vessel in the Southern seas before making its way to Spitzer Lakeside Marina in Lorain for summer sojourns in the Great Lakes. By night, the vessel can accommodate up to five overnight guests. By day, the Caribbean Soul can be chartered for sailing excursions with the captain and crew. A four-day stay includes a complimentary sail to Vermilion for lunch or dinner. 

Best Place to Uncork — Cork 1794
The restaurant, which relocated in Pennsylvania from North East to Erie last November, is located in Erie’s up-and-coming West Erie Plaza and cost more than $2 million to open. While large, it’s broken into intimate seating areas, including a sizable outdoor patio and bar. The outdoor bar is the perfect spot to pull up a stool, order some handcrafted cocktails and share a few appetizers after a day at nearby Presque Isle State Park. Want a more celebratory experience? Make a reservation for the chef’s table that overlooks the kitchen, where you can watch chefs Kristian Young and Joe Perino in their joyful work.

 Best Speakeasy — Room 33 Speakeasy and Cafe
Shhh … don’t tell, but you can this speakeasy behind a bookshelf in downtown Erie. Located just two blocks from Erie’s historic Warner Theatre, Room 33 has the feel of a 1930s speakeasy, complete with Charlie Chaplin movies playing on one wall, comfortable couches for talking or listening to live music, and handcrafted Prohibition-era cocktails. The food here also is great; order some small plates to share. We’ll try the Sleeps with the Fishes Tacos and Baby Shanks, please.

Best Brews
Catawba Island Brewing
You can occasionally find cans of its products throughout Ohio, but nothing beats a stop at its tap room, a relaxed place (like most of the areas along the Lake Erie shore in Northwest Ohio) that features games and live entertainment.

The Brewerie at Union Station
The train station in Erie, Pennsylvania, has been repurposed as a retail and meeting space, as well as a brewpub. Located in the station’s ground floor and including its rotunda, the microbrewery features a full menu while incorporating elements of the building’s original purpose into the décor.

Bayside Brewing
From its perch on the lakefront in Erieau, Ontario, Bayside offers crisp summer beers (and a list of cocktails using them as ingredients) and a standard bar-food menu, including wood-fired pizza. The brewery is located in a place locally famous as a music venue, and as a nod to those roots features live entertainment on weekends.

Ellicottville Brewing
For nearly a quarter-century, people living along Lake Erie in New York have had the opportunity to drink Ellicottville’s products. And now, with four locations — including one that opened this year on Lake Chautauqua — you’re never far from its food and beer, including heavy stouts and winter warmers for people who visit the area for skiing.

Best Regional Foods
Frenchy’s Poutine
It doesn’t look like much from Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, Ontario, and it’s strictly utilitarian on the inside, but the restaurant, open since 2010, offers its own twist on the traditional Canadian dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, with choices of additional veggies or meat. (It’s also open late on weekends, in case you need something light but greasy to, uh, take the edge off an evening out.) 

Sokolowski’s Pierogis
Cleveland cuisine is heavily influenced by Eastern European immigrants, and, for closing in on a century, Sokolowski’s University Inn in the city’s Tremont neighborhood has been slinging comfort food like chicken paprikash, wienerschnitzel and pierogis. The recipe’s simple (fluffy dough filled with potato and cheese), but the classics never go out of style.

Schwabl’s Beef on Weck
Buffalo is celebrated as the birthplace of the chicken wing, but it’s also home to a slightly less well-known (but just as delicious) dish: Beef on weck. It’s sliced roast beef and horseradish on kimmelweck, a bun topped with salt and caraway seeds. Celebrity chef Alton Brown says the best can be found at Schwabl’s, which dates back to shortly after the city of Buffalo was founded, and that’s good enough for us.

Stanganelli’s Pepperoni Balls
No dish is synonymous with Erie, Pennsylvania, like pepperoni balls. In fact, the local G-League basketball team, the BayHawks, rebranded itself as the Pepperoni Balls for a night. The dish is simple, and, like a lot of Italian-American cuisine, born of frugality: Someone took leftover dough, folded a couple slices of pepperoni in and threw them in a deep fryer. The result is deliciousness. Find them at Stanganelli’s, who also makes them for sale as fundraisers.

Best Sweet Treats
Brewnuts in Cleveland
Beer and doughnuts might not seem like a natural fit, but they have more in common than you might think (after all, both do involve yeast). Stout beers lend flavor to chocolate, and Brewnuts even works with nearby Platform Beer Co. on limited-edition beverages.

Sweet Jesus ice cream in Niagara Falls
For some people, ice cream can be a religious experience. If you’re not one of those people, Sweet Jesus will try to convert you. The chain, well-known throughout Toronto with an outpost in the Niagara Fall Sheraton, uses soft-serve ice cream as a base for a litany of toppings, from cake bits to hazelnuts to cotton candy.

Lucki’s Cheesecake in Detroit
As a teen, Lucki Word started selling cheesecakes from a recipe she learned from her grandfather. Since then, she’s taken Detroit by storm, selling ice cream, cookies and cakes in addition to cheesecakes. She even makes a Superman cheesecake, based on the traditional Michigan ice cream treat.

Ye Ole Sweet Shoppe in Erie
For 30 years, Erie, Pennsylvania, denizens have been satisfying their sweet tooth at Ye Ole Sweet Shoppe, with everything from cookies and brownies to pizzelles and biscotti (there’s that Italian influence again). They’re also a good neighbor, offering fundraising opportunities for local groups and classes to decorate cakes and cupcakes.

Five Best Meals in Vermilion
Chez Francois
For 30 years, it’s been the site of some of the best French food in Northern Ohio. (reservations required; dress code)

Quaker Steak & Lube
Tall beers, bar food and some of the best wings you’ll find.

Blind Perch
Burgers, steak and seafood along with craft cocktails in a speakeasy vibe.

Old Prague
Eastern European specialties and live music in the heart of downtown Vermilion.

The Wine Vault
Small plates and seafood, paired with wine, as well as beer and mixed drinks.

Five Best Ways to Experience the Lake Erie Islands in the Fall
Kelleys Island Harvest Fest
The family-friendly event features kids’ games, food and activities for kids and kids at heart. This year’s theme is “Summer of Love,” so wear your bell-bottoms.

Miller Boat Line 5K at Put-in-Bay
Billed as the largest race in North Central Ohio, hundreds of people run the route to see the sights the island town has to offer.

Put-in-Bay Oktoberfest
There are plenty of places to drink beer, eat German food and listen to oompah bands. So why not on an island in Lake Erie?

Halloween Boo Bash at the Bay
Between this, Cedar Point’s Halloweekends and the Haunted Hydro in Fremont, there’s plenty to get your scare on in October.

Pelee Island Fall Flight and Harvest Weekend
Because of its location, Pelee Island is an optimal place for birdwatching, and the annual fall migration is celebrated with talks, walks and other events.

Best Steak — Rennick’s Meat Market
For 73 years, ending in 1962, Bridge Street on the harbor in Ashtabula was home to Rennick’s Meat Market, and, even after that, its identity as a butcher shop has never entirely gone away. So when Ohio native Jennifer Pociask and her partner Alex Asteinza opened their own restaurant in 2013, they took the classic name and used flourishes that hearkened back to the building’s roots. But atmosphere only gets you so far. The menu is laden with dry-aged cuts of beef and locally sourced pork chops from nearby Na*Kyrsie Meats in Geneva.

Best Artist’s Tool — Robbin Wenzoski
Robbin Wenzoski didn’t set out to be a chain saw artist. An electromechanical technician by trade, the Ontario resident had some experience cutting wood and working with chainsaws, but it wasn’t until he turned to handcarving for fun in the early 2000s that he was asked: “Have you considered using a chainsaw?” He’s been carving everything from small mantelpiece statues to large 20-foot installations of whales, dragons, eagles and a nativity scene. He also teaches at the Halliburton School of the Arts and provides lessons, and every other year sponsors a Carvapalooza, drawing artists from around the world. “I’ve got as much passion to teach it as I have to do the art itself,” he says.

Best Pizza Flavor — Sloopy’s Pizza
Anyone who’s visited Ottawa County has probably heard of Sloopy’s Pizza in Lakeside and Port Clinton. Known far and wide for its award-winning pizza (we’ve written about its Perfetto sauce before), the owners like to think outside the box. In 2012, the restaurant came up with its hibachi pizza for a Columbus contest. After winning the contest — and then several others — the pizza was added to the restaurant’s menu. Its ingredients are non-traditional, including Yum-Yum sauce, shrimp, broccoli and fried rice, but it’s a flavor that keeps people coming back.

Best Picnic — 21 Brix Winery
The slogan of 21 Brix Winery is “Life (and wine) is sweeter shared,” and the Portland, New York, winery (noticeable from the street with the big pink elephant at the driveway) encourages people not just to buy their wine, but have experiences at the facility. The winery offers a menu of small-plate items and occasionally food trucks visit as well, but guests are encouraged to bring their own food. Picnics can be set up on the winery’s wraparound porch or at tables near the vineyards, where they can enjoy social games like ladder golf and cornhole.

Best Island to Yourself — North Bass 
Each of the Lake Erie islands has its own unique character. North Bass, with a year-round population in single digits and no ferry service, is the place to get away from it all, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources offers the chance to do so with all the comforts of home. The Lake House at Isle St. George, which dates back to 1868, opened last fall after a $260,000 renovation, and is available for rental year-round. The 3,065-square-foot house sleeps 12 in four bedrooms, with creature comforts including big-screen televisions, Wi-Fi and a pool table. The island itself offers opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking.

Best Muffin — Gitta’s 
A century ago, the building at the corner of Lake and Fay roads in Avon Lake, Ohio, was a roadside stop on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Today, it’s home to Gitta’s, a small wine and beer store that offers regular tastings. In keeping with its convenience-store roots, it features a menu of sandwiches (for breakfast and lunch), soups and baked goods, including delectable cookies and mouthwatering muffins. It’s known for the best cranberry muffin in town, but get there early: They go fast.

Best Modern Fusion — Lago at Lakeside
This brand-new restaurant in Lakeside, Ohio, is as casual as they come, but also as delicious. Grab a seat on the patio (dogs allowed) and watch the action on the tennis courts across the street. Lakesiders are talking about the California chicken sliders topped with avocado, bacon crumbles and pesto, but we also recommend the nachos with fresh queso fresco, the burritos or any of the loaded salads.