From Presque Isle to Put-in-Bay, we take a look at the very best Lake Erie has to offer, including food, drink, beaches, shops and more. 

2021 Best of Lake Erie

Best Breakfast — Wake Up and Waffle
Who knew waffles could be so versatile? Sisters Lauren Krueger and Kristie Ward take top prize for building hearty breakfast and lunch dishes around their rich, Liége-style Belgian waffles at Wake Up and Waffle, a brunch-style eatery in downtown Sandusky, Ohio. “Liege waffles are made with a rich, yeast dough rather than the batter used in a typical American version,” Krueger explains. “The dough is then studded with thick sugar crystals that caramelize in the waffle iron as it bakes.” In addition to the classic sweet waffle that can be eaten alone or used as base for an ice cream sundae, the brunchery makes garlic and chive waffles for more savory options, such as the classic eggs benedict or turkey Florentine benny, smothered in homemade hollandaise sauce. Sandwiches get an upgrade when served between two waffles. The Cuban, made with pulled pork, honey-cured ham, swiss and Dijon mustard, is a customer favorite. 419-502-1030,

Best Candles — Meg’s Makeshop
Meg’s Makeshop owner Megan Pucek will never forget what happened the day a man walked into her store on Ohio’s Kelleys Island and smelled her Buttermilk Pancakes candles. “His eyes started tearing up,” she says, “because the scent reminded him of eating pancakes with his father.” Pucek creates more than 50 kinds of soy-and-paraffin candles, and most have the clever finishing touches — like cobalt-colored berries atop Blueberry Muffin candles or shells and starfish on Sun and Sand candles — that are her trademark. Because they celebrate Kelleys Island’s signature drink, Pucek’s Brandy Alexander candles are popular for gifts or souvenirs, but her best-seller is Fruity Loops, a candle adorned with colorful little circles that smells just like the cereal that inspired it. 419-504-1562,

Best Teamwork — Lil the Goose Dog and the Lorain Port Authority
The Port Authority in Lorain, Ohio, had a problem: Unsightly, unsanitary and ubiquitous goose poop was ruining the visitor experience at recreation and entertainment facilities like Black River Landing. Its solution was employing Lil, a specially trained border collie who uses her herding skills to prevent Canada geese from making, well, a nuisance of themselves. “Lil has made it possible for people to go to an outdoor concert and put a blanket on the grass,” says Tiffany McClelland, the Port Authority’s assistant director and Lil’s handler. Black River Landing visitors love watching Lil humanely hound geese without hurting them and doggedly follow her social media posts. “Lil is a star in our office,” says McClelland, “and people are always welcome to stop in and meet her.”  

Best New Hot Spot — 3 Taps and The A Truck
The Chautauqua Institute’s new lakeside casual 3 Taps and The A Truck are bringing a new cool factor to the Chautauqua Institution. Order from the Asian fusion-inspired menu from the food truck and eat at one of the patio tables or picnic at the nearby beach or playground. Looking to lounge longer? Take a break and order a drink at 3 Taps to enjoy in the Adirondack chairs by the fire pit. Summer on Chautauqua Lake doesn’t get much better.

Best New Digs — Jolly Roger’s Seafood House
Jolly Roger’s Seafood House has been the place to go in Port Clinton, Ohio, for more than 40 years. But this year, they moved to a new site in a renovated building just down the road a bit. The menu remains unchanged — including perch, walleye and onion rings breaded in front of you — but the newer, bigger site is right on the lake with sweeping views of the water. “We made a lot of effort to renovate,” says co-owner Edmond Hoty, “and if you can tell what it was before, we’ll be disappointed.” 419-732-3382,

Best Wings — Huggy’s Social House
For more than 20 years, Vermilion residents have been coming to Huggy’s for one thing or another. But what began as a coffee shop is now Huggy’s Social House — and a favorite of hungry locals. Tom Hug oversees an eclectic variety of drinks, while his wife Jackie created the menu. It’s bar food fare, but a cut above, with burgers, huge pretzels and more than 60 variety of wings, including a popular garlic rosemary dry rub. “Our wings are baked, not fried,” Tom says. “It makes them more tender. It takes a lot to make them, but they’re much better.” 440-714-1992, 

Best New Marina — Oasis Marinas at Port Lorain
Oasis Marinas took over operation of Lorain’s marina in 2020. Last year was a transitional period in more ways than one, but the marina managed to make repairs, increase WiFi service and renovate the bathrooms in the offseason. As a result, this summer, the marina could see 70 percent occupancy. The Lorain marina was Oasis’ first on the Great Lakes, but it’s since assumed operation of Battery Park Marina in Sandusky, Ohio, and North Coast Harbor in downtown Cleveland. 440-822-3160,

Best Local Pizza — Windsor, Ontario
In the 1950s, residents of Windsor developed a taste for a very distinct pizza featuring canned mushrooms and shaved pepperoni. The city now bills itself as the pizza capital of Canada.
Last year, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island launched a pizza trail for people to sample the dish at a variety of restaurants — each with its own devoted fans. And some restaurants are offering take-home pizza kits too. “It’s been a huge success, even in the pandemic,” says Jason Toner, spokesman for Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.

Best Roller Rink — Monroe Street Midway
Unusual times call for unusual spaces. This winter, into spring, downtown Detroit was transformed into a drive-in theater. And this summer, the space is now the Monroe Street Midway, including basketball courts, food trucks and the only outdoor roller rink in Michigan, if not the entire Midwest. Run by Kyle Black, owner of Detroit’s historic RollerCade, the rink has brought a wide swath of visitors, as well as people who already live and work downtown. “Monroe Street Midway is definitely the must-see destination of the summer,” Black says.

Best Dog Food Delivery— Lake Erie Pet Food
Eric Huber started Lake Erie Pet Food as a way for local pet owners to get quality, locally produced food. (He started reading pet food labels after one of his own dogs developed digestive issues.) The company started out as e-commerce, and still delivers to pet owners in the Cleveland area and will ship its food to other locales, but, in 2019, it opened a storefront location on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. 216-505-1738,

Best Arcade Upgrade — Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort
This isn’t your dad’s arcade. Erie’s Splash Lagoon just spent $1 million upgrading its already impressive Treasure Island Arcade. You’ll be wowed by the multi-sensory 3D gaming theater virtual reality ride and the Hologate Virtual Reality game. Plus, there’s 125 fun arcade options ranging from Connect 4 to Pac-Man (Dad will like that old school touch!). “There really is no other arcade in our region offering such exciting, high-tech new games and experiences,” says Nick Scott Sr., president of Scott Enterprises, which owns and operates the Erie water park. “We are very proud of Treasure Island Arcade.”

Best Flowers — Sweet Pea Flower Truck
Sarah Gilbert thinks flowers have a story to tell — and she loves to create custom arrangements to convey the thoughts and feelings when words fail. But, instead of a conventional brick-and-mortar florist’s shop, Gilbert’s Sweet Pea Flower Truck travels Ohio’s coastline from Port Clinton to Cleveland with custom flower bars that bring something fresh and beautiful — like build-you-own bouquets or flower-packed teacups — to events ranging from bridal and baby showers to children’s parties. Gilbert’s arrangements also can be found at a handful of local festivals, as well at her Bloom Cooler in Huron’s River + Road Marketplace. 440-554-7984,

Best Lighthouse Renovation — Marblehead Lighthouse
How iconic is the Marblehead Lighthouse? It’s the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes (its first whale oil-burning beacon was lighted in 1822); the anchor of one of Ohio’s most popular state parks; and a phenomenally photogenic landmark that appears on a U.S. postage stamp as well as Ohio’s license plates. But years of harsh weather had taken their toll, leading to a complete facelift that included extensive masonry repairs, patching up 1,600 square feet of exterior stucco; tuck-and-point work on the brick window surrounds; and a fresh coat of paint. The materials for the project were similar to those used when it was originally constructed, and now the Marblehead Lighthouse is looking like her glorious old self again. See for yourself at the Annual Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival, held Oct. 9, which features tours of both the lighthouse and adjacent Keeper’s House. Next year, an even bigger celebration is in the works to celebrate the landmark’s 200th anniversary.

Best Wine Country Getaway — Northeast Ohio’s Grand River Valley
Thanks to a long growing season coaxed by the vast waters of Lake Erie and sunny ridges sculpted by ancient glaciers, the Grand River Valley viticultural area produces a wide range of cool-climate grapes and wines. Clustered within 2 miles of the Grand River, some 30 wineries distinguish this gently rolling, eminently road trip-worthy terroir, and they deliver experiences as varied as their rieslings, chardonnays, chambourcins and vidal blancs. While traditional estate wineries have been operated by generations of the same families (think Ferrante and Debonné whose ice wines have won major national awards), trendy new wineries offer vibrant and fun experiences (think Rosabella’s four-topping cheesecake flights and wine floats featuring vanilla ice cream with blackberry or peach wine). A great way to experience it all is through the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, a lakefront resort that caters to wine aficionados with vintner dinners, wine country packages and immersion tours led by a wine expert.

Best Community Art Project — Glass City River Wall
This summer, a team of artists began work on the nation’s largest mural at the ADM grain facility in Toledo, Ohio. The Glass City River Wall extends 170,000 feet across 28 silos and is visible from downtown Toledo, Interstate 75 and the Maumee River. Designed by California artist Gabe Gault, the mural pays homage to the indigenous people who originally farmed the area. The team worked in boom man lifts to transform the 130-foot-tall silos into a spectacular canvas covered with golden sunflowers, brilliant blue skies and portraits of Native Americans. Toledoan Dean Davis was the first artist to reach the summit of a silo. “When I got there,” he recalls, “I kissed the top and made sure I signed it too.” Taking his art to new heights gave Davis an entirely different perspective on his hometown, and he thinks the monumental mural will elevate the world’s view of Toledo too. “It a bigger opportunity for the city than anybody can imagine,” says Davis. “Painting this mural shows what we’re capable of.”

Best Pink Latte — The 27 Club Coffee
From his guitar to his stage garb, actor and rapper Machine Gun Kelly embraces pink. So, it’s no surprise that Pink Latte is the signature drink at The 27 Club Coffee, a popular coffee-food-and-cocktails destination that MGK opened inside a former warehouse in Cleveland’s edgy and eclectic Flats district. Available with various types of milk and flavorings, the espresso-based Pink Latte comes in a cup rimmed with pink sugar, but what’s really delicious is the experience of sipping it inside one of the cool, pink-and-black leather alcoves that epitomize the shop’s incomparable punk-pop rock vibe. While The 27 Club’s name and pink skull logo give a macabre nod to the many musicians — including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain — who died at age 27, the place also features a hot pink mural with a lyric-worthy message for appreciating life as well as latte: “Enjoy Where You are Right Now.” 216-727-0027,

Best Retro Boat Ride — 1927 Dodge Watercar at Moes Marine Service
When Tom Moes bought the Weir Wind at a wooden boat auction, he thought there might be a niche market for people wanting rides in a classic speedboat that was designed to be as easy to own and operate as a Dodge automobile. Turns out, Moes was right. Named for its original owner, a Major Weir who raced it on Lake Champlain, the Weir Wind is a rare, Model 826 Watercar that the Horace E. Dodge Boat Works built in Detroit in 1927. Moes, whose family operates one of Vermilion, Ohio’s oldest boatyards, restored the 26-foot, triple cockpit Watercar, and he now uses the handsome, mahogany-hulled runabout to give 45-minute tours of the Vermilion River that include, weather permitting, a quick spin on Lake Erie. “When you ride in the Dodge Watercar, there’s an aura that surrounds you,” says Moes. “It’s like being back in the 1920s with the Great Gatsby.” 440-967-4221,

Best Family Adventure — Lake Erie Adventure Co.
Lisa and Justin Brady and their daughters always vacation in national parks, and their love of nature shows at Lake Erie Adventure Co., the one-stop shop for outdoor recreation that they just launched near the lakefront in downtown Huron, Ohio. “We offer a wide variety of experiences that are accessible to people of all ages and all skill levels,” says Lisa. Stocked with top-quality equipment, clothing and accessories, Lake Erie Adventure Co. can outfit customers with anything and everything they need for paddleboarding on the scenic Huron River, kayaking its Mud Brook tributary, bicycling through downtown Huron or hiking the shores of Lake Erie. The shop has a casual, log cabin-in-the-woods ambiance and boasts a large, inviting porch where people gather for special events and activities that include a Sunset Paddle, Eco Tour and stand-up paddleboard yoga. 419-366-3830,

Best Fishing Spots — Windsor, Ontario
Lake Erie is known for its walleye and perch fishing, and that’s true whether you’re on the American or Canadian side. And nowhere is that more evident than along the 3-mile waterfront in Windsor, Ontario. Nearby Lake St. Clair freezes quickly, offering ample opportunities for ice fishing in the winter, but the shoreline is packed with thousands of anglers in the spring looking for walleye, perch or pickerel. “Fishing was particularly big this year,” says Jason Toner of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, “because it was one of the few ways people could get outside.”

Best Perry Portrait — Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry 
Oliver Hazard Perry, aka the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie, posed for renowned portrait painter Gilbert Stuart in 1818, shortly before sailing for the West Indies, where he died from yellow fever the following year. Stuart left his oil painting of Perry unfinished, but, in 1828, his talented daughter and protege Jane Stuart completed the bust-length portrait that now hangs in Gallery 29 at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. During the War of 1812, Perry’s trouncing of a British squadron secured U.S. control of Lake Erie and made him both a national figure and fitting subject for the Stuarts, whose portraits — including one of George Washington that appears on the dollar bill — constitute a who’s-who of early America. Perry’s decisive naval victory, of course, still resonates in ways as subtle as the profuse Perry Streets in lakeside towns and as obvious as Perry’s Memorial. the towering landmark that punctuates Ohio’s South Bass Island like an exclamation point. 419-255-8000,

Best Beach Glass — Conneaut Township Park
One of northeast Ohio’s largest beaches is a premier place for finding beach glass, a unique kind of glass that is shaped, polished and deposited on the shoreline by the natural forces of Lake Erie’s stones, sands, winds and waves. Though prized by artisans, hobbyists and jewelry makers, beach glass typically originates from dumped garbage or shipwrecks, and the bounty of white, brown and green beach glass at Conneaut Township Park likely came from old beverage and medicine bottles. Why does so much beach glass collect there? Park superintendent Kevin Lemmo attributes it to the area’s prevailing northwest winds and a breakwater east of the beach.  “That combination,” he says, “seems to catch a lot of things.”