(UPDATED APRIL 25, 2020) You may think that Pennsylvania only has a history, sports, and city life, but have I got news for you. Pennsylvania has some fantastic cities that are not only affordable but also have great attractions and scenery. Erie, Pennsylvania, provided an enticing spot for a weekend getaway, which I enjoyed with three other travel writers.
Located on Lake Erie, the city of Erie has exceptional scenery, decadent wines, and tasty eats. Presque Isle, the most popular place to see, really bowled me over with its vast offering of outdoor fun and activities.
Here are 9 things I recommend that you see and do in Erie, Pennsylvania.
1. Experience Presque Isle
Presque Isle (PI), a 13-mile stretch of natural beauty, may be Pennsylvania’s most beloved state park. It offers hiking, biking, boating, scuba diving, fishing (bass, trout, walleye), history, a marina, and abundant wildlife in over 320-acres. Presque Ise also boasts swimming and relaxing on its salt and shark-free beaches. You can also rent houseboats, Segways, kayaks, and water trikes for your enjoyment.
In 2016, USA Today Reader’s Choice named PI the Best Freshwater Beach in the Country. Beach 9 is great for picnicking, while families prefer the fun and frolic at Beach 10, between Gull and Sunset Points. Come to Presque Isle for world-class bird watching at one of the USA’s top spots.
2. Sink Your Teeth Into Savory Eats
Cloud 9, a chic downtown Erie gem, has a farm-to-table menu full of sophisticated eats and drinks, purchased locally when available. Don’t even look at Cloud 9’s menu for appetizers; immediately order the Loaded Deviled Eggs (crispy bacon, provolone, mozzarella, and scallions) and the Walnut Crusted Brie. Oh, my!
The deviled eggs are over-the-top delicious and so creamy while the golden brown brie is drizzled with a sweet berry compote and served with warm, billowy baguette slices. Cloud 9’s Lobster Risotto is a little slice of heaven. It pairs beautifully as a side dish with the Burger Sliders (you can mix and match!). Don’t forget a glass of artisanal wine to wash it all down with!
3. Play at Waldameer Park and Water World
A collection of all things water and amusement-related can be found at this favorite family park. Waldameer Park and Water World have been entertaining families for 118-years with a relaxing pool, free-fall slide, 11 thrill rides, coasters, and kiddie rides. The list of classic rides include dodgem cars, flying swings, paratrooper, scrambler, and a Ferris wheel.
Don’t worry; there are plenty of thrilling rides (coasters and water rides) for the bigger kids and adults. The water slide collection at Waldameer Park and Water World has 19 slides, an endless river, and a wave pool. Waldameer, the 10th oldest amusement park in the country, is located at the base of Presque Isle.
4. Throwback to the 50s
Sara’s Restaurant is an adorable retro diner. Inspired by carhops, jukebox tunes, and the 1950s, this lively eatery will quickly become one of your favorite eateries. Sara’s serves yummy American fare, including burgers, heavenly char-grilled hot dogs, fries, and thick, crispy homemade onion rings. I recommend the fried zucchini fries, tasty and topped with Parmesan. I dipped them in one of Sara’s signature sauces from the honkin’ big condiments bar, which also has everything you need for your entrees.
Thick shakes and orange sherbet/vanilla soft serve are also famous. Sara’s build-your-own-sundae bar will satisfy your sweet tooth. Not that hungry? Grab a cookie sample from the Betty Boop display near the counter.
5. Try Ice Wine at Mazza Vineyards
The family-owned Mazza Vineyards has been in business for a little less than 50-years with wineries in both Pennsylvania and New York (Westfield). Mazza’s Vineyards are the real deal; New York’s first combination winery, brewery, and distillery.
My trip to Erie introduced me to ice wine, a rare and distinct dessert-style wine that results from pressing grapes while they are still frozen. The grapes are harvested by hand when the temperature reaches 17°. The result is this rich, incredibly desirable ice wine, one that Mazza Vineyards excels in and has won many awards for.
The distillery makes craft distilled spirits such as apple brandy and vodka under the brand name Five and 20. Mazza Vineyards touts being a “grain to grass” production facility, growing and handling grains from their own or local farms.
6. Learn Something New
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is a 6,500-square feet impressive educational center at the Presque Isle park entrance. It houses creative things, such as three towers of 75 whimsical hand-carved wooden vignette whirligigs, an ecosystems exhibit, educational programs, and a nature shop.
Opened in 2006, Tom Ridge also offers a 45-minute IMAX movie (Big Green River), onsite cafe, origami birds, and a nature shop. Did I mention that this is a National Landmark? Research is continual at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. They work hard at promoting conservation efforts and environmental awareness. Be sure to climb the 75-feet glass-enclosed tower for aerial views of the scenic area.
7. Photograph the Erie Harbor North Pier LIght
Erie’s gorgeous beacon, the North Pier Light, is located at the end of the Erie Harbor Channel. It is one of three lighthouses near Erie, Pennsylvania.
This stunning 34-foot high black and white metal pierhead light opened in 1858. It is best viewed at sunset, where it glistens in the water under the moonlight. North Pier Light’s red light aided in navigation at the opening of the channel connecting Lake Erie to Presque Isle Bay.
8. Indulge in a Delicious Meal
Located in the West Side neighborhood of Erie, Pineapple Eddie’s Southern Bistro serves up incredible eats and drinks inspired by the South and Caribbean. What should you try? The Crabmeat Hushpuppies and Cajun Herb Dip with pita chips are excellent sharing dishes for the table.
The Poul Sautée, a new food item for me, is a chicken breast topped with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach, and creamy Havarti cheese. It is fantastic! Mashed potatoes and veggies accompany the meal. Another tasty dish at Pineapple Eddie’s Southern Bistro is the Penne Pasta with grilled chicken, andouille, and a kick-ass roasted tomato cream sauce. Nom! Just enough spice to awaken the taste buds. Save room for the homemade desserts.
9. Find Your Way Through Escape Game Erie
Test your wits and math skills (a little spoiler!) to try and solve a puzzle within a locked room, along with a team of friends, to escape within a specific time frame. Escape rooms range from beginner to expert level, and the clues get harder and more sophisticated with each one.
While our novice group tried our hand and wits at the Niagara room at The Escape Game Erie, we were no match for the skill level needed. Still, we had great fun, a lot of laughs, and were glad to experience the phenomenon that is sweeping the country. I can see why it is such a team-building activity and a thrill for mystery lovers.
Gear up for an Erie Visit
There are certainly more than nine things to do in Erie, Pennsylvania, but unfortunately, that was all time permitted for me to discover.
I think that a glass of that smooth ice wine made the trip worth the great distance I traveled. Don’t you? Cheers!
Need a Room in Erie?
The Courtyard by Marriott Erie Bayfront is in the most desirable location in Erie: on the waterfront at Sassafras Pier. It is within walking distance to downtown attractions and Erie’s tall ships. Courtyard’s casual eatery, Shoreline Bar and Grille, is lively and serves tasty cocktails and eats, attracting big crowds. Breakfast is served at the Courtyard Erie Bayfront while flavorful Starbucks coffees are at The Bistro, also in the lobby.
The Courtyard’s contemporary rooms are spacious and offer the comforts of home: a fabulous bed, couch with ottoman to kick back and unwind, flat-panel TV, and complimentary Wi-Fi. Wow-factor items include the colorfully painted wall mural, quality linens, and beautiful furniture fabrics. Bonus, the rooms are full of natural light, and mine afforded breathtaking views of Lake Erie.
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