Erie Pennsylvania: Gateway to the Great Lakes

On a warm fall day tall ships, their sails fluttering in the gentle breeze, glide past the sandy shores of a scenic lake. Beach-goers languidly gaze at the tranquil scene, while soaking up the sun in Erie, Pennsylvania's beautiful Presque Isle State Park. Moreover, with the addition of the city's insightful bayfront redevelopment and cultural expansion, travelers will find a wealth of alluring attractions, events, dining, history and outdoor activities.

Erie's Great Outdoors

Presque Isle State Park is Erie's spectacular, top attraction. The scenic recreational park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie; it's also an important eco-habitat for plants and wildlife. One of the park's most outstanding features is the 13.5-mile paved multiuse trail for walking, jogging or biking (also ADA accessible). The trail loops around the isle past breath-taking lake and bay views intermingled with forested areas, enchanting tree tunnels and several picturesque lighthouses. If you prefer hiking, you'll find 11-miles of trails that meander past verdant ponds and marshy areas abundant with many different species of plants and wildlife. Bird-watchers will find these trails ideal for spotting the 339 recorded bird species that live and stop to rest on the isle as they migrate.

Beach-goers will love the 13 beaches on Presque Isle, many that are sandy, that look out to Lake Erie. Summer through fall, these beaches are a great place to relax and enjoy a picnic. The park offers boat tours and excellent activities as well, such as swimming, boating, fishing, paddling and, in winter, ice skating and ice fishing. Further, lighthouse fans can visit and tour the famous Presque Isle Lighthouse (built in 1873) on the north side of the park and North Pierhead Lighthouse (built in 1857) located on the east side. Both lighthouses are situated in a photographic setting and are a must-visit when you tour the park.

Due to the six different ecological zones on Presque Isle State Park, the diverse eco-systems are important to the health of the plants and animals in the park. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is a fascinating, state-of-the-art, green-designed facility that showcases the unique history and diverse ecosystems of Presque Isle. The extensive center boasts free admission and is located at the entrance to the park and is a marvel of interactive displays and often, whimsical exhibits. Families have a blast exploring and learning about the plants, wildlife and history of the isle. One of the center's largest attractions is the Big Green Screen, an immense four story-high, 45-foot-wide large format theater that presents the best in science and entertainment films for visitors of all ages.

In addition, the Tom Ridge center has a fabulous and large gift shop that is filled with intriguing items and locally made art as well.

Another outdoor treasure located in Erie is Asbury Woods. Asbury is stunningly beautiful with lush forest and fields and five-miles of hiking trails. The woods are a wonderful place to commune with nature and visitors have the opportunity to mountain bike, fish or go bird-watching, as well as hiking. Moreover, the Asbury Woods Nature Center (free admission) is located at the entrance of woods and hosts numerous and exciting events thought out the year, such as the popular annual Honey Harvest. The festival takes place around the third week in September and draws bee keepers and enthusiasts from around the state. Honey Harvest celebrates honey bees and their crucial role in pollination, agriculture and our food chain.

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There are many fun and fascinating activities at the festival for adults and children. Adults have the opportunity to talk with local bee keepers, sit in on lectures and learn how to start their own backyard bee hive. You can even learn how to cook with raw honey, find out what plants attract bees to your garden and obtain free magazines and literature on bee keeping and hives. Kids have great fun in the Honey Harvest Discovery Zone where they play and learn in interactive stations, while making bee-relate crafts. The entire family can watch the honey extractor process demonstrations, take bee hive tours and of course, sample loads of delicious honey including Asbury Woods' own honey from their hives. The festival features several vendors that make their own splendid beeswax candles, heavenly honey soaps, honey, jams, lip balms and a plethora of honey goodies. Make sure to bring a bag for all the honey loot you purchase.

After your awesome day of visiting the Honey Harvest, take time to look around the nature center and explore their native live animal habitats and a turtle pond. If you go, make sure to plan for half a day to attend the harvest and explore Asbury Woods' forest, gardens and trails.

Museums

Erie's downtown by the bayfront is walkable and a great place to see the town's wonderful architecture, including the beautiful stone-turret designed Saint Patrick Church, from 1897, and the old entrance to the Erie Art Museum from 1898. Moreover, with the addition of the city's insightful bayfront redevelopment and cultural expansion, travelers will find a wealth of alluring attractions, events, dining, history and outdoor activities. Today, the Erie Art Museum is located on E. 5th Street with over 8000 art pieces in the museum's permanent collection; the museum changes out their captivating exhibits several times a year. One of the best features of the art museum is that many exhibits are hands-on. Seriously, visitors are afforded the opportunity to handle some of the exhibits best objects in the museum's collection, from comic book art to works by Picasso, Matisse, Whistler, Warhol and Lichtenstein to name a few. Moreover, the museum features classes, programs and events - Art Talk, Bingo and Gallery Night participation. If you go, plan on several hours to peruse the fabulous exhibits and permanent collections in this impressive and forward-thinking art museum.

The Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara draws visitors of all ages with the story of Erie's role focusing on climatic events of the Battle Of Lake Erie on 1813. With artifacts, exhibits and theatrical videos, the museum brings the story of Commodore Perry and his crew of the U.S. Brig Niagara to life with their victory over the British Squadron. If you want real excitement, take a tour of the reconstructed U.S. Brig Niagara when she's in port. This tall ship is utterly amazing and is a certified Sailing School Vessel that offers educational day sails and longer live-aboard sail trainee programs. It is exciting to see this magnificent tall ship under full-sail on the bay.

The Maritime Museum has another wooden tall ship that the public is able to tour, the Letty G Howard. This two-masted sailing vessel, built in 1893, is the last of her class. The Letty was originally used for dangerous dory and gig fishing in Cape Cod. Today, the Letty is a certified training vessel with a mesmerizing history. Take a tour and find out where expressions such as, between the devil and the deep blue sea derived and how a crew of seven lived and worked on this incredible ship.

For additional information on Erie, Pennsylvania, go to VisitErie

If You Go

For accommodations that offer stellar views and an excellent location, book a stay at the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel. This fabulous boutique hotel is located right on the bay with a gorgeous marina situated in front of the hotel. The room decor presents great character and the beds are divinely comfortable. And, the staff at the Sheraton are truly exceptional in their guest relation interactions and service.

Erie's restaurants are fantastic and diverse and draw eager diners from afar. If you want some good fun, great food and like '50s themed diners, you'll love Sara's Diner. Located close to Presque Isle State Park, Sara's is an indulgence in true American '50s classic foods, such as foot-long hot dogs and juicy hamburgers and fries. While you're waiting for your food, you'll get a kick out of the cool memorabilia and Americana decor that takes you back in time.

Sneaky Pete's is our top recommendation for excellent cuisine and the most intriguing restaurant in Erie. The restaurant was built in 1908 as a residence and turned into a speakeasy during prohibition. Darrell Knopfel purchased the restaurant three years ago and the cuisine is absolutely delicious, with every dish made from scratch using as much locally sourced ingredients as possible. Try the gourmet version of Waffles and Chicken that is baked and laid over creamy garlic mashed potatoes with a light glaze of maple syrup.

Knopfel has kept original fixtures, the bar hutch, some furniture and artwork from the speakeasy. The restaurant appears right out of the '20s for an impressive atmospheric experience. Up for a cocktail -- feast your eyes on a menu that features 177 different cocktails. If Knopfel is around when you visit, sit down and have a palaver about the captivating history of the speakeasy. You'll be amazed at the history of this intimate restaurant and once you taste the divine cuisine, you'll understand why people come from around the U.S. to dine here. Read more about Travel Around the USA

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Patrice RapleePatrice Raplee is an accomplished travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for award-winning travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in national magazines and newspapers such as Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, Beyond and the Seattle Times. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.



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