Presque Isle State Park on the outskirts of
Erie, Pennsylvania is a nature lover's paradise, a 1,295 hectare (3,200- acre) sandy peninsula attached to the mainland four miles west of downtown Erie that arches out into Lake Erie. It's free to enter the park and there's a road system within the park that forms a loop of about 20 kilometres (13 miles) in length. Pick up a guide map at the handy Ranger's Station in the park. Maps are hard to find anywhere else.
This wildly beautiful peninsula is a National Natural Landmark for about four million visitors each year. Along the way, we learned that the park offered a spectacular coastline (Pennsylvanian's call it their "seashore") with sandy beaches to enjoy. We spent most of one afternoon at one of the 11 beaches, swimming and relaxing and we stayed to watch one of the prettiest sunsets in the world. You can also enjoy windsurfing (or watching), boating, kayaking, and fishing. On a multi-purpose trail, you can walk, bicycle or in-line skate. When we stopped to rent a yellow surrey along the trail, I met Stephen McDermott, the Executive Director of Presque Isle Partnership. McDermott with a large smile, said, "This is a little bit of heaven that all members of the family can enjoy." Other items to zero in on are the free pontoon boat rides or take a 90-minute, $16 boat ride into Lake Erie.
Near the park entrance, set amongst beautifully landscaped grounds and picnic groves, is Waldameer Park and Water World,
one of America's oldest amusement parks,
and admittance and parking are free. To use the rides and water park, the fee for two consecutive days is $40 for those
over 48 inches tall and less than 48 inches, it's $28.50. Seniors over 65 years of age are considered to be less than 48 inches! The park is closed on Mondays.
If you want to shop,
Mill Creek Mall is a ten-minute drive away. There are no taxes in Pennsylvania on the purchase of new clothing and shoes.
The Inn at Presque Isle is located near the entrance to the park at 2930 West 6th Street. It's modest, clean and reasonably priced from $80-$115.00 dollars per night. Most of the rooms are equipped with kitchenettes. It has one of the largest and nicest outdoor pools in all of PA.
We ate breakfasts both mornings at
Taki's Restaurant, a ten-minute walk from our room. This is an Erie landmark and hang-out since 1954. 82-year old Taki (his nickname) still makes it into his restaurant on most days. Our meals were served by two different ladies with lots of class, both in their 70's, who fussed over us like we were their kids.
For lunch or dinner, check out the quirky (in a nice sense)
Sara's Ice Cream Pub near where the roadway into the park begins and ends. This restaurant is reminiscent of the 50's, open daily from 10:30 -10:00 pm. Place your order at the counter for mouth-watering burgers, fries, hotdogs, and milkshakes, quickly delivered by young servers with lots of pizzazz. Try Sarah's orange vanilla twist frozen sherbet cone. Deadly! You and your children won't go hungry, and it will not break the bank. Have your picture taken outside with Betty Boop or Frank Furter or stand in front of an original 1957 Diner called, "Sally's." The diner handles over-flow crowds which happen frequently.
To get there from the Buffalo/Niagara border, drive to Highway I-90 west towards Erie, PA. Take 79 North off I-90.When you reach 12th Street, turn left and follow the trail blazers to Presque Isle State Park. Allowing for breaks, it's about a two-hour drive.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.