Getting there: Located on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island, Put-in-Bay village is a short ferry ride from Port Clinton, Ohio. From Pittsburgh, the 195-mile drive via the Ohio Turnpike takes about 3 hours.
From the dock, it’s a short trip across Lake Erie via two ferries: Jet Express (jet-express.com, 1-800-245-1538) costs $17.50 one way (or $19.75 from Sandusky) and $4.50 per bike. Parking is $12/day to park in the main lot or $10 (one time in/out) in a lot one block away. Miller Ferry from Catawba Island (millerferry.com) costs $7 one way, $2 per bike and $15 for cars. Limited free parking; if it’s full, an auxiliary lot costs $5/day. If you’re really in a hurry, flights also are available from airports in Sandusky and Port Clinton; if you absolutely must bring your car (while permitted, it’s highly discouraged because parking is limited), you can use the Miller Ferry for an extra $15.
Once on island, golf carts are the preferred method of transportation. Prices range from $11-$17/hour for a 2-, 4- or 6-passenger cart, or $70-$90 per day. An overnight, weekend or holiday rental adds $10 to the bill. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends. You also can rent bikes ($5/hour or $15/day) and mopeds ($15/hour or $60/day). For those not in a hurry, buses run all over the island late into the evening ($2.50 per ride), and there are also taxis, which charge a flat rate of $3 per person.
Accommodations: Do you want to be smack in the middle of the action or somewhere quiet? Relaxing in luxury or happy just with the basics? Put-in-Bay has everything from economy hotels and full-service resorts to charming B&Bs and rustic state campgrounds. During the season (April through late October), there also are more than 100 homes available to rent. Note: Rooms can be nearly impossible to find on weekends without a reservation, so plan accordingly.
Eat/Drink: The lobster bisque, served in a giant bread bowl, is legendary at The Boardwalk on Bayview Avenue (www.the-boardwalk.com). So is the chicken at Chicken Patio next to the Roundhouse (a bar with excellent live bands). The chicken is grilled over a 21-foot open pit and slathered with wine-based barbecue sauce. We also very much enjoyed the homemade soup and walleye tacos at Goat Soup & Whiskey and had a fine breakfast at Blue Luna Ristorante. The Frosty Bar is a traditional beer/pizza joint on the water.
Wanna drink while you swim? Mist at The Commodore Resort and Splash! at the Islander Inn have huge swim-up bars, while the Flaming Skull serves drinks from the deck of a fighting galleon replica. More reserved are the island’s two wineries: the posh waterfront Put-in-Bay Winery on Bayview Avenue and the laid-back Heineman Winery, founded in 1888 and home to Crystal Cave, billed as the world’s largest geode. Tastings there come in plastic cups.
What to do: Waterbugs can rent kayaks, wave runners, power boats or go parasailing. There’s also a 9-hole par-3 golf course ($10 or $20 with clubs), boutiques and souvenir shopping and the limestone Perry’s Cave to explore ($8) — two caves, actually, if you count the tiny Crystal Cave at Heineman Winery ($7, including a tour of the winery and a glass of wine). For history lovers, there’s an antique car museum, a historical museum and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, built in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry, who defeated the British in a naval battle on Lake Erie in the War of 1812. From the top, there’s a spectacular view of Put-in-Bay 317 feet below and over the water of the Lake Erie islands ($3). Kids will have fun on the 1917 Herschel antique carousel ($1.50) and Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center.