Presque Isle Beach, Erie, Pa. (Photo: courtesy of VisitErie) Presque Isle Beach
Presque Isle Beach, Erie, Pa. (Photo: courtesy of VisitErie)

Though mostly known for Lake Erie, you should make time to explore the countryside surrounding Erie, which has ample recreation opportunities, antique shops, wineries, breweries, and more.

The number one reason to visit Erie can be found in the name of the city. Erie shares its name with the smallest (by volume), shallowest, and warmest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie.

When visiting Erie, you’ll likely want to plan your trip around visiting the lake, so the warmer months are your best bet for optimum sun and sand.

Sand? That’s right, Lake Erie has beaches—in fact, it has miles of beaches. The Great Lakes are so large that swimming in Lake Erie, or lounging on its shores, feels more like a beach day at the ocean than at a lake.

Your other activities may mostly revolve around the lake—it is, after all, Pennsylvania’s only “seashore.” However, you can also make some time to explore the countryside surrounding Erie, which has ample recreation opportunities, antique shops, wineries, breweries, and more.

This itinerary assumes you’ll arrive in Erie late Friday afternoon and leave Sunday after breakfast.

Friday

When you first arrive in Erie, you may want to get your bearings and take a leisurely stroll around the city’s bayfront area, taking in historic sites and watching boats on the water. Be sure to make a stop at Bicentennial Tower, an observation tower that affords you panoramic views of Lake Erie. As you take in your surroundings 138 feet above Presque Isle Bay, you’ll understand why Erie chose to commemorate its 200th anniversary with the building of the tower in 1996. 

The bayfront area of Erie is home to numerous restaurants where you can grab dinner before resting up to prepare yourself for a long day of fun. Let’s be completely honest: at least one of your meals in Erie doesn’t need to be exceptional, it just needs to be on the water. But there are certainly restaurants where you can enjoy outstanding food with a view of the lake. Both the Shoreline Bar and Grill and the Sloppy Duck Saloon are two dining destinations where you can enjoy seafood and other food inspired by the Great Lakes right on the water.

Bicentennial Tower
Bicentennial Tower, Erie, Pa. (Photo: courtesy of VisitErie)

Saturday

It’s your full day in Erie, so of course you’ll be spending it on the beach! Grab a quick bite to eat at your hotel or at an Erie café because you’re heading to Presque Isle State Park for a long and leisurely day. This park makes up a peninsula that juts into Lake Erie and creates the Presque Isle Bay.

There are more than a dozen beaches at the state park, so take your pick. Then, set up your beach chairs and apply your sunscreen. You might technically be at a lake, but this is your Beach Day. 

For lunch, you’ll be pleased to know that some of the beaches in the state park offer concessions where you can order simple meals. You might also want to head into town and get takeout from a restaurant, such as soup and salad from Franco’s Cafe, to bring back for a picnic lunch. 

After you’ve finished your meal, you can either continue swimming or sunbathing, or go explore. The park itself is home to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where you can learn about the ecosystems that make up Presque Isle State Park. The center offers interactive exhibits as well as an observation tower that allows visitors a 360-degree view of the state park and Lake Erie.

If you’d like to leave the park entirely, you can learn about Erie’s strong maritime history—including the War of 1812’s Battle of Lake Erie—at the Erie Maritime Museum. If you’re more in the mood for libations than learning, you could also head east from Erie to enjoy the Lake Erie Wine Trail, a collection of wineries that run along the shores of Lake Erie.

In fact, you could plan to get dinner along the wine trail. Both Yori Wine Cellars and Arundel Cellars & Brewing Co., about half an hour from Erie, feature restaurants, so that you can expertly pair your local wine with a Northwestern PA feast.

Perry Monument
Perry Monument, Presque Isle Peninsula, Lake Erie (Photo courtesy of VisitErie)

Sunday

Wake up early in order to get all that you can out of your weekend in Erie. Start your Sunday morning with a short, easy walk around Graveyard Pond, which is in Presque Isle State Park near Perry’s Monument. If you arrive early enough, you might find you have the trail to yourself—save for the numerous birds and beavers that make the pond their home. If the season is right and the tours are being offered, you could also take a free pontoon boat tour of the pond, nearby Misery Bay (what is it with these depressing names?), and other inner lagoons. These parts of Presque Isle State Park are less traveled since most visitors tend to favor the lakeshore—that means you can experience a more hidden part of natural Erie—all before breakfast.

Did you sleep in? That’s quite all right. Just head straight toward your next stop, breakfast at the Lawrence Park Dinor just outside of Erie in Lawrence Park Township. This breakfast spot doesn’t only serve up hearty breakfast meals and tasty pies—it’s also on the National Register of Historic Places, having been in operation since 1948. Also, “dinor” is not a typo on our end—that’s the regional spelling of these breakfast spots in Northwestern PA.

If you have time before you depart, perhaps you can take a final dip in the lake or one more walk on the beach. If you don’t have time, no worries—Erie and its beaches will be waiting for you for the next time you visit.