Imagine visiting a city that’s on the shore of the fourth-largest American Great Lake and the 11th biggest lake on the planet. That’s what you’ll get if you stop off at Erie, Pennsylvania, set on the south shore of Lake Erie. Named after the 241-mile body of water and the Native American Erie people who lived there until the 17th history, Erie city is a place steeped in history and nature alike. One thing’s for sure when you visit; you won’t be short of things to do and places to see.
The city’s easy to walk around. It’ll only take you roughly 15-20 minutes to wander from downtown Erie to the lakeshore.
So, with that in mind, here’s our Erie PA destination guide. It doesn’t matter whether you’re passing through for a day, or unpacking your rucksack and staying a little while longer; we’re sure you’ll find this article helpful.
Let’s dive in!
The great outdoors
If you’re the outdoorsy type, listen up…
Get on the water
Here’s a lake whose coastline borders with four U.S. states: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. Not to mention, the Canadian Province of Ontario.
That’s how big it is.
With 872 miles of shoreline, measuring 57 miles north to south, there’s plenty to do and see on this freshwater lake.
When the weather’s good, there are miles of sandy beaches to picnic on and explore. Alternatively, there are tons of boat trips to take and fish to catch. If you’re an angler, you’ll be pleased to hear the lake’s rife with bass, perch, trout, and salmon. There are plenty of registered fishing charters you can book that offer the complete fishing experience. In fact, even when the lake freezes over, the fishermen still go onto the ice, cut a hole, and continue fishing. But we don’t recommend doing that!
The lake’s beautiful. Catching a sunrise or sunset here can be the perfect start or end to a day. However, its waters can be deceptive. Because it’s a shallow lake, the water can change from calm to choppy in a flash. So, it’s hardly surprising there’s been a high number of unfortunate shipwrecks along these shores. Our advice is to check the weather first before going out on the lake, and hire a reputable and recommended boat company!
If you’re into beaches, then head for Presque Isle State Park. Here you’ll find plenty of beautiful sandy banks; there’s any number of boating companies willing to take you out for a fantastic day on the water.
Presque Isle State Park
Here’s a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula packed with things to do. It’s a great place to get in touch with nature. Arching into Lake Erie, it’s Pennsylvania’s only “seashore” and conveniently, a short drive away from the city. Whether it’s beachcombing its 11-mile coastline, boating, swimming, biking or hiking some one of its many trails, it’s easy to spend more than just a day here.
Presque Isle Park is a National Natural Landmark. Home to 300 different species of bird, it’s a haven for avid bird watchers. Bring your camera and binoculars with you. You never know, you could spot a migrating bird.
If you’re visiting during the winter, you can cross country ski or snowshoe your way around.
Sounds pretty fun, right?
If you’re a surfer, fear not, because there’s a couple of beaches you can surf on and pitch your tent for the night. But, remember you have to book ahead to camp here.
Grab your hiking boots and head to Presque Isle Park where there are 15 trails to choose from. It doesn’t matter what skill level you’re at; there’s a hike to suit you.
Or, if you prefer something more remote, head 12 miles west of Erie to the 587-acre Erie Bluffs State Park. The views here are amazing, and it’s way less populated than Presque Isle Park.
Perhaps the woods are calling you? Then try Asbury Woods and explore its streams and scenic forests. Here you’ll find around 4.5 miles of trails ranging from easy, to more demanding routes. Best of all, there are different tracks for hikers, mountain bikers, runners and cross country skiers, oh, and dog walkers too. There’s truly something for everybody!
If you’re a history buff, these attractions might be more the ticket…
Erie Land Lighthouse
One of three lighthouses on Lake Erie, the Erie Land is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and found right on the lakeshore. Its last keeper George Miller closed the lighthouse door for the final time in 1899.
Soak up some history
Erie’s just steeped in history. As we’ve already alluded to, indigenous people occupied the shoreline for centuries. Erie County was formed in the 1800s and was named after both the lake and the Eriez Native American Indian Tribe.
The French were the first European settlers, and they built Fort Presque Isle back in 1753. The Fort was abandoned to the English, who were then defeated in 1813 in the Battle of Lake Erie. It’s an important date to remember, as it’s often referred to as Erie’s proudest historical moment.
Historical places to visit
Where to start? For a quick overview, why not download the FREE Hello Erie App and check out their two GPS walking tours. This is an excellent way to take in some of the sights.
There’s a walking tour called the ‘Gems of The City.’ This focuses on historic lower Erie and includes Dickson House, Hamot House, Captain John Richard’s House, St Patrick’s Church and much, much, more.
Or, how about a wander around the Bicentennial Tower, Dobbins Landing and West Canal Basin, on the West Bayfront Walking Tour.
If you want to delve deeper into Erie’s history, then check out the Erie Maritime Museum on Presque Isle Bay. If you’re lucky, the main attraction (the U.S. Brig Niagara), an updated 19th-century ship, will be in port and docked right outside the museum.
Inside you can walk through Erie’s role in the Great Lakes history, learn about the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, and see historical artifacts, interactive exhibits and exciting videos that bring the battle to life. You can also get more info about Erie’s three lighthouses, fishing, and other maritime industries here.
Beer, food and wine tours
Foodies love Erie. Period. Here’s why…
No visit to Erie’s complete without sampling the local food scene. And what better way to experience downtown Erie then by eating your way around the city? The easiest way to do this is by joining a guided walking tour called ‘Erie Food Tour.’
This does what it says on the tin.
But, you should know, there’s a choice of three tours, and each one takes in a compilation of local history and landmarks while sampling local foods. There’s also a chance to chat to restaurant owners and chefs too, which we think is a nice touch.
Erie Ale Trail
What could be more satisfying after a long day’s hiking, than checking out Erie’s craft beer scene? In recent years, craft beer’s popularity has exploded in the U.S. But, here in Erie, it’s been around a little longer! 200 years to precise.
Before prohibition, there were more than 90 breweries in the city. Now 14 craft breweries are working to reshape the beer scene in town. The Lake Erie Ale Trail is a fabulous way for visitors to check out the best microbreweries in the city, meet the brewers, taste, and buy some beer. If you’re around during Erie Craft Beer Week in November, even better!
Erie Wine Country
Sideways may be set in California, but to recreate some of the wine tasting magic without the crazy antics in the movie, then try some of the wine produced here.
Pennsylvania has a rolling terrain and a climate that’s moderate enough for 14,000 acres of grapes to grow here. There are 23 wineries to choose from over a 50-mile stretch. Needless to say, you’re spoiled for choice.
Arts and culture
Erie has a proud and lively art scene, from modern art to more historical creations, whatever floats your boat, there’s plenty to choose from:
Erie Art Museum
If you consider yourself a culture vulture, head to Erie’s art museum and check out the city’s 20th-century art collection.
They also run some exceptional events, like Gallery Night. This is like a pub crawl only with art. You can eat, drink and shop all while visiting some of the city’s most-renown galleries.
You should note: The museum opens late on both Thursdays and Fridays. They also do a $2 grab a beer promotion, where you can listen to music, make art, or just hang out.
If you fancy a night out at the theatre, don’t leave without visiting the 12th oldest theater in the U.S., the Erie Playhouse, founded more than 100 years ago.
Or if amateur drama’s more your thing, check out All An Act Theatre or ‘A3’ as they like to call themselves. These guys put on comedies, dramas, farces and loads more to boot. If you’re sticking around town longer than a few weeks, both theaters welcome budding amateurs to take part in productions, so flex that acting talent.
If you’re bringing the kids to Erie, here are a few places to go and spend that all-important family time together.
If you’ve had your fill of culture, art and history then hit the Splash Lagoon. This is Erie’s Indoor Water Park Resort where the temperature’s firmly set at 84 degrees!
Voted by USA Today as the 4th best water park in the USA, it’s certainly worth a look. These places aren’t to everyone’s taste, but if you’re into slides, water, wave pools, hot tubs, and noise, this is the place for you.
Waldameer & WaterWorld
There it sits, right on the lakeshore, so it’s kind of hard to ignore! There are more than 100 rides, including rollercoasters, Ravine Flyer II, Steel Dragon, and Chaos. Some of these look pretty scary to us, but if you’re an adrenalin junkie, this is the place to come.
There’s a lively music scene that caters for all tastes, whether you’re into jazz, indie, metal or rap, you’re bound to find a bar to suit your vibe.
If you want to explore what’s new in Erie, try Basement Transmissions. They’re into supporting budding local talent.
The Warner Theater and Erie Insurance Arena host bigger fish such as Z.Z. Top, Ted Nugent, and Kansas. Or catch an outdoor party with live music at Coconut Joe’s and check out their communal fire tables and Tiki Bar.
Shopping, eating, and drinking
The city is working hard to rejuvenate its surroundings, and downtown is an excellent example of that. Here’s where it’s at for independent stores. The vast majority of Downtown Erie stores are locally owned, and there’s a really relaxed and easy feel to this part of town.
Check out the Oasis Project Farmers’ Market. Here you’ll find farm-fresh produce, baked goods, food, wine, art, and crafts all locally produced and sourced. While you’re exploring, stop for a coffee at Downtown Cafe and hang out with the locals.
There are tons of smaller boutiques selling well-crafted and original clothes and jewelry. Downtown is also home to different startups and a fair few breweries, so once the sun starts to set, you know what to do! Take your pick from The Bourbon Barrel, The Plymouth Tavern, Calamari’s Squid Row, just to name a few!
If coffee’s more your thing, find Ember and Forge for expertly brewed coffee and a friendly community feel.
If you’re hungry, the restaurants downtown have Mediterranean, Italian, and American food on the menu. Get a taste of the Mediterranean at Alkeme, or savor a fine dining experience at Erie Club. Or perhaps oysters and tapas are more your thing? If, so check out Cloud9. Whatever your tastes and budget, there’s a place for you at the table.
Ready to plan your visit?
It’s effortless to wander around Downtown Erie. Or, if you don’t fancy walking, catch a trolley. There’s even a walking map to ensure you don’t miss out on anything.
Whatever you’re into, indoor or outdoor, there’s so much to do in Erie. It’s a proud city that’s working hard to attract new and exciting people, businesses, and ideas. Best of all, it’s doing so without forgetting its fascinating history and incredible natural surroundings.
Give it a shot!
Rosie Greaves is a professional freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in all things lifestyle and business. You can also find here work on Reader's Digest, Cake and Lace, and Love You Tomorrow. Budapest is hands down the favorite place she's traveled to.