Along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast, an unlikely pair of islands beckon and surprise visitors with island breezes and a carefree feeling that only come from being detached from the mainland. Both Kelleys and South Bass Island (home to the Village of Put-in-Bay) provide myriad opportunities for fun with family and friends. The first step to planning an adventure to Ohio’s islands is to do some research using the expertise of Lake Erie Shores and Islands whose staff knows the islands intimately.
Like siblings, there are similarities, but each of the islands has its own personality. Kelleys is the quieter and more laid back of the two islands, while Put-in-Bay exudes an energetic vibe. Both islands have regular ferry service from the mainland, and the excitement definitely begins with the wind in your hair (or a comfy air-conditioned seat inside) and sun reflecting off the water as the ferries deliver you to another world.
The Jet Express arrives in downtown Put-in-Bay just 25 minutes after departing Port Clinton or 45 minutes from the Sandusky dock. To get oriented, stop at the Chamber of Commerce which offers plenty of information and maps for navigation, including the Foodie trail. Bicycles and golf carts are recommended for exploring beyond the main commercial area that is easily explored on foot.
Waterside venues for dining provide expansive views of the harbor and nearby islands. The main park in town is sprinkled with picnic tables and green space. The island is dominated by Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorating Oliver Hazzard Perry’s triumph in the War of 1812 and the longstanding peace between Canada and the U.S. Going to the top of the Memorial by elevator gives a birds-eye view of the area with vistas of Canada on a clear day.
While Put-in-Bay is known for its lively atmosphere and longest bar at the Beer Barrel Saloon, there are also other venues like a brewery and a speakeasy. Families are not left out here. Beyond the downtown area, there are Crystal Caves, family recreation parks and a very relaxing StoryWalk™ that children will enjoy.
The Kelleys Island ferry (http://kelleysislandferry.com/ ) from Marblehead (don’t miss the lighthouse) can accommodate cars, a good alternative for exploring this larger island. First stop for insider info is the Kellys Island Chamber, right near the dock. ( https://www.kelleysislandchamber.com/ ) Not as developed as PIB, Kelleys has several natural areas. Glacial Grooves (http://kelleysislandferry.com/ )illustrates the geological aspect of this much quarried island and shows the power of water over the ages. Several walking trails showcase that same power of water and glaciers or the remains of once active quarries. The State Park, like that on PIB, offers camping. The beach and boat launch at the State Park are popular with families.
Can you imagine a sculpture garden with great lake views and pieces using local rock? The sculpture garden and gallery at the north end of the island illustrates the beauty of the local specimens and the talent of sculptor Charles Herndon.(https://www.kelleysislandchamber.com/place/charles-herndon-galleries/ ) Scattered throughout the island, there are nature reserves, wineries and restaurants. Back downtown, there is a grocery store and a variety of restaurants, each with a specialty.
You can’t go wrong visiting either island and visiting both is highly recommended. Although the islands do contrast in character, one thing they share is their charm. Kelleys is on the National Historic Register and PIB showcases many Victorian-style buildings. Be sure to check the ferry schedules as the frequency changes during the day and during the seasons. Consider visiting on a weekday to avoid the crowds who flock to these Lake Erie treasures.