The Marblehead Peninsula in Ohio offers the very best of Lake Erie, including wine, s'mores and fun for everyone.

On my first visit to the village of Marblehead, Ohio, I blew through town in a rush to board the Kelleys Island ferry. It would take many more years to discover the unique charms of this peninsular outpost. But when you opt to stay on the mainland for a while, you have easy access to not only an island getaway, but the many attractions that have made the region a huge draw for visitors. 

After a year of remote schooling, my daughter and I both needed to leave behind our student/teacher relationship. We hopped in the car and headed to Marblehead, checking into a spacious two-bedroom Kelleys Island suite at the Redfern Inn at Rocky Point Winery. It’s apropos that we’d be spending the first moments of our summer break in a former 1800s schoolhouse-turned-boutique-inn and winery. I felt the stress slipping away as I sipped a glass of red next to one of the fire pits in what would have been the school yard. Kinley found her bliss drinking cream soda and roasting marshmallows.

We easily could have stayed in that one spot, but we opted to watch the sunset at the Marblehead Lighthouse, the area’s most famous landmark since 1822. Next year, the oldest continually operating lighthouse in the Great Lakes will mark its 200th year as a beacon for sailors navigating around the rocky point marking the entrance to Sandusky Bay. The Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society hopes to celebrate with several major events in the planning stages. In the meantime, visitors to the state park can climb the tower from noon to 4 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. I like to visit around sunrise or sunset any time of the year. Besides other photographers, that’s when you’ll spot fishing enthusiasts casting a line from the limestone outcropping at the water’s edge. 

After a restful sleep at the inn, we walked next door for breakfast at the Marblehead Galley. The eatery, designed to look like a row of fishing shanties, is more than just a convenient spot to grab a bite to eat: It has a solid selection of crowd-pleasing menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including homemade pies that I would have to come back later to try. I ordered the build-your-own omelet served with fresh-from-the-oven homemade bread, while Kinley wolfed down a generous pile of pancakes.

Now that we were full, we were excited to feed other animals at the African Safari Wildlife Park. An hour before the drive-thru zoo opens, guests can reserve a 30-minute private encounter with the resident giraffes, who are usually toward the end of a standard tour in your personal vehicle.

The staff escorted us on foot to the enclosure where Matata, Rudy, Poptart and Harrison were waiting eagerly to wrap their long, snake-like tongues around the tasty lettuce in our hands. One of them dropped its head until it came face to face with Kinley. Her eyes went wide as the leafy greens disappeared from her hand and into the giraffe’s mouth. This process was repeated over and over until all the food was gone. Once the park opened, we were able to see all kinds of creatures, from alpacas to zebras, as they poked their heads through the windows of our car, looking for a tasty morsel.

The perfect antidote to a dusty and slobbery animal encounter is a visit to East Harbor State Park for a dip in Lake Erie. The park has the best patch of public sand on the otherwise rocky Marblehead peninsula. The gently sloping sand and shallow water is great for kids, who happily busied themselves with sandcastle construction and splashing in the lake.

After cleaning up and getting dressed, we decided to check out the Gideon Owen Wine Co., the winery formerly known as Mon Ami. As much as I enjoyed the ambiance of its previous incarnation, new owners Quinton and Donna Smith have amped up the wow factor with a makeover of both indoor and outdoor spaces. The chalet impresses with its stonework and a fireplace lounge as its centerpiece. The space opens up to the outdoor patio, dotted with a variety of seating areas. As a musician performed from the patio stage, I caught up with a friend next to the fire pit, while Kinley and a few new compadres ran across the expansive lawn, weaving among the newly planted vines.

It was the perfect conclusion for a banner day and short stay in the Shores and Islands region.