Put-in-Bay is one of the best weekend trips from Cleveland, Ohio. The town on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island is a popular summer getaway for many Ohioans, and it often is called “Key West of the North” due to its varied entertainment and nightlife options, historic sites, and water views.
This guide covers everything you need to know about visiting Put-in-Bay for a weekend trip, including how to get there, the best things to do, and where to stay.
When to visit Put-in-Bay
Put-in-Bay is really a summer getaway. There are less than 200 people who live in Put-in-Bay year-round – though in the summer that number swells considerably!
The best months to visit are June-August (generally Memorial Day through Labor Day) for warm weather and the most ferry crossings. (While ferries run during the spring and fall too, you’ll find the highest frequency of ferries during the summer months.)
Summer is also when you’ll experience the best weather. June, July, and August are the warmest months in northern Ohio, with temperatures usually in the high seventies and low eighties along the lake.
The summer months are also the liveliest time to visit Put-in-Bay for dining, nightlife, and entertainment.
How to get to Put-in-Bay
Since Put-in-Bay is located on an island, it requires a ferry ride to get there. You can catch the ferry from Sandusky, Port Clinton, or Catawba Island.
From Cleveland, here’s the driving distance to each town:
- Cleveland to Sandusky: 1 hour and 5 minutes
- Cleveland to Port Clinton: 1 hour and 15 minutes
- Cleveland to Catawba Island: 1 hour and 20 minutes
There are two ferry companies that will take you to Put-in-Bay: Miller Ferry and Jet Express.
From Catawba Island, Miller Ferry operates a ferry that takes about 20 minutes to reach Put-in-Bay. The cost each way is $9 for adults, $1.50 for children aged 11 and younger, and $20 to bring your vehicle. (More info here.)
From Port Clinton, Jet Express operates a ferry that takes about 25 minutes to reach Put-in-Bay. For this ferry, round-trip tickets are cheaper than one-way tickets, and the round-trip price is $37.99 for adults, $15.50 for youths aged 12 to 16, and $6.50 for children aged 11 and younger.
From Sandusky, the Jet Express ferry takes about 45 minutes to reach Put-in-Bay and the round-trip cost is $45.50 for adults, $15.50 for youths aged 12 to 16, and $6.50 for children aged 11 and younger. (More info here.)
Getting around in Put-in-Bay
If you want to bring a vehicle with you, you can only do that on the Miller Ferry from Catawba Island. If you take the ferry from Port Clinton or Sandusky, you will need to park at the ferry dock for the weekend.
(Though once in Put-in-Bay, you don’t actually need a car. Golf-carts and bicycles are the most popular mode of transportation, and you can rent both of these on the island.)
There are a number of golf cart rental agencies in Put-in-Bay, and rates for a standard 4-person golf cart range from $60 to $80 a day, while 6-person and 8-person golf carts can be $100 to $120 a day.
You must be 18 or older to rent a golf cart. and you must have a valid driver’s license.
You can also bring a bicycle with you on both ferry lines ($2.50 on Miller Ferry and $10.50 on Jet Express), or rent one once you get there.
Top things to do in Put-in-Bay
Put-in-Bay is well-known for being a fun-loving party destination, but it can also be a family-friendly place to visit. It all comes down to what you do and when you visit. (Summer and holiday weekends draw more of the partying crowds.)
Here are the top things to do in Put-in-Bay:
1. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
You can’t miss this 352-foot tower – it’s one of the first things you’ll see as you approach South Bass Island from the mainland, and can be seen from various points around the island.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie, one of the most significant naval battles to occur in the War of 1812.
The monument is dedicated to those who fought in the battle, and also celebrates the long-lasting peace among Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. (who were all involved in the War of 1812).
The monument is managed by the National Park Service, and the visitor center does a great job of explaining the Battle of Lake Erie. But the real highlight is taking the elevator to the top of the tower, which gives fantastic views out over Put-in-Bay and Lake Erie. On a clear day, you can see Canada.
2. Visit The Boardwalk
If you’re looking for a lunch spot overlooking Lake Erie, head to The Boardwalk. You can find good seafood dishes here (Lake Erie is known for its perch and walleye!), as well as great views of the marina.
3. Enjoy a winery
Put-in-Bay is known for its bars, but did you know that it also has wineries? It has two, in fact: Put-in-Bay Winery and Heineman’s.
Put-in-Bay Winery has a lovely tasting room inside the Doller House Estate, an ornate Victorian home that’s also now open for tours.
The other winery is Heineman’s, which dates all the way back to 1888 when German immigrant Gustav Heineman discovered that Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island actually has a perfect climate for growing grapes.
Along with wine tasting at Heineman’s, you can also visit the Crystal Cave, which is home to the world’s largest geode.
4. Visit Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center
Perry’s Cave is exactly what it sounds like – a cave! You can go on underground tours of this limestone cave, or enjoy some of the other things the family fun center has to offer, including mini golf, gem mining, a rock wall, and a butterfly house.
5. Rent a bike
One of my favorite ways to explore the Lake Erie Islands is by bike! Several places in Put-in-Bay rent out bicycles by the hour/day, or you can bring your own over from the mainland.
The roads around the island are paved and very flat, making for very easy riding.
You can head out to Scheeff East Point Nature Preserve at the eastern tip of the island, or ride over to South Bass Island State Park.
6. Eat good food
A weekend getaway is nothing without some good food. And. afew of my go-to spots in Put-in-Bay for good meals include:
- The Forge – Looking for a breakfast or brunch spot? This is it! Their crepes are amazing.
- The Boardwalk – I already mentioned this spot, but it’s great for seafood served up from several different restaurants under one roof. Lake Erie Perch and lobster bisque are both worth trying here.
- Put-in-Bay Brewery and Distillery – Brand new in 2023, the first brewery on South Bass Island also serves up food including specialty pizzas.
- Goat Soup & Whiskey – I will forever go to The Goat for their perch tacos! They also have lots of other tasty dishes and a good drink menu.
7. Enjoy bars and nightlife
We can’t really talk about Put-in-Bay without mentioning the thing it’s most famous (or, at times infamous) for: its bar scene. During the summer months, there’s no shortage of places to drink in this tiny town.
A few spots people love include:
- The Keys – Bringing Key West vibes and flavors to Ohio. They serve food and drinks.
- The Roundhouse Bar – This iconic round bar dates back to 1873.
- Beer Barrel Saloon – Famous for “the world’s longest bar,” this spot also often has live music.
- Mojito Bay – The quintessential thatched-roof tiki bar.
- Topsy Turvey’s Bar & Grill – A laid-back joint with dollar bills plastering the bar walls.
Where to stay in Put-in-Bay
For such a small island, there are plenty of choices for where to stay in Put-in-Bay.
The Anchor Inn Boutique Hotel is one of the most stylish places to stay on the island and one of the top-rated accommodations in Put-in-Bay.
Another top choice is Put-in-Bay Condos. These rentals offer direct waterfront views and great amenities.
And if you want more of a B&B vibe? Then the Getaway Inn at Cooper’s Woods is the spot for you.
And now you’re all set to plan your own ideal weekend getaway to Put-in-Bay!
Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of her home state. Now, she’ sharing her love of the Cleveland area with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE. She’s been running Cleveland Traveler since January 2019.