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Three Days in and Around Sandusky, Ohio

Tonya Prater, Owner

Vermilion, Milan and Sandusky Ohio each offer unique experiences, culture & history. I encourage you to visit to learn what makes this area so special.

Special thanks to Lake Erie Shores & Islands for inviting us to their area to explore the area’s cultural side. As always, all opinions are our own. This post does contain affiliate links. 

You can’t mention Sandusky and not think about roller coasters and thrill rides.

At least I can’t.

I grew up visiting the amusement park each summer and now my own children purchase season passes and visit often- especially during the fall HalloWeekends.

But before I ever stepped foot inside Cedar Point, I had been falling in love with the area one day-trip at a time.

The Shores & Islands area holds many fond memories for me. From walking along the limestone slabs behind the Marblehead Lighthouse as waves lapped against the rocks watching the boats speed by, to fishing on the lake hoping to take home a cooler full of freshly caught Lake Erie Perch, to road tripping along Ohio’s Lake Erie Coastal Trail through the small towns that dot the landscape.

As a young child, I dreamed that I would grow up to live near the Lake Erie shore.

Thankfully, I’ve settled only an hour away so when I need a water-fix, my husband and I can speed straight up State Route 13 to Sandusky so I can enjoy a few hours or a few days along the coast of my favorite great lake.

Recently, my husband and I planned a cultural getaway to Sandusky. This was only the second trip my husband has taken since his spinal injury, so I was a bit nervous about how it would go but we took it slow with plenty of breaks in-between visits to Sandusky’s historical and cultural attractions. We even managed to seek out a couple of quirky roadside stops during our visit!

I’ll share all about the things to do in Sandusky and nearby, but first I want to give you a bit of background on Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands area.

Where is Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands region?

The Shores and Islands region of Ohio stretches from just east of Toledo to Vermilion, which is a short drive from Sandusky. Encompassing miles of the Lake Erie coastline, you’ll find the area is very diverse when it comes to its offerings.

It’s known as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World®, the Warbler Capital of the World, and the Walleye Capital of the World. It’s also Ohio’s Water Park Capital and America’s Sports & Family Fun Capital®. That’s a lot of fun packed into one destination! But that’s not all. Amid the great outdoors, sports and thrills, you’ll find communities brimming with history and cultural attractions.

On this trip, my husband and I set off to explore Vermilion, Sandusky, and Milan which are three very distinct and different communities within the Shores & Islands region.

Day 1: Explore Vermilion

We began our exploration in the city of Vermilion which sits about 30 minutes east of downtown Sandusky. I’ve always loved Vermilion. Maybe because it reminds me of the cute, idyllic towns in the New England states that I see photos of, or maybe it’s simply for the water views that I adore.

One of the highlights of Vermilion is the historic downtown that features an eclectic mix of shops waiting to be explored; a women’s consignment store, yarn shop, gift shops with everything from mugs and t-shirts to Nora Fleming pieces, a Celtic store with an interesting mix of daggers, maps, and books, not to mention Brummer’s chocolate store that makes their chocolate in-house. If you time your visit right, you may catch a glimpse of them making it through the viewing window in the back of the store.

My husband and I left Brummer’s armed with some treats to satisfy our sweet tooth which we munched on at Big Ed’s Soda Grill while waiting for our food to arrive.

Big Ed’s Soda Grill is exactly the type of restaurant that I love to find in small downtowns. The former dry goods store features a soda fountain and serves up burgers, hot dogs, fries, fried bologna, and frozen treats. The interior is decorated with a mod podge of items from yesteryear making lunch a leisurely nostalgic trip back in time.

Murals in Vermilion Ohio

After consuming one too many extra calories with our chocolates and a shared Root Beer Float, we decided to take a walk towards Main Street Beach which is located at the very end of Main Street. Small, but conveniently located next to the Vermilion lighthouse, the brisk winds and chilly temperatures didn’t stop the town folk from ambling to the beach in hopes of watching the sunset.

We, on the other hand, were freezing and despite quiet protests, I could see my husband was tiring quickly and would need to sit and rest soon.

On the way back to the free public parking lot near Tiffany’s Flowers where we’d left our vehicle, we stopped at the Municipal Docks to watch a man throw feed out to the seagulls and for a closer look at the Vermilion Lagoons.

Thanks to the information gleaned from the Erie County Historical Society, we learned the Lagoons are considered to be one of the first planned residential neighborhoods on the water in the United States. But that’s not all that makes them notable, all of the houses in the Lagoons are 1 ½ story Cape Cod-style homes, and many have boat dockage at their front door.

During warmer weather, you can take a 55- minute tour of the historic Vermilion Harbor which includes a ride through the Lagoons on Captain Don Parson’s Mystic Belle. The tour is engaging and relaxing and provides ample opportunities to see some of the waterfowl along the river and lake.

The public square contains several monuments and memorials that caught my eye and is one of the only downtowns in the country to have a free public restroom.

Murals inspired by vintage postcards

The day before our arrival (and actually the reason for our current visit), the first in what will be a series of murals based on vintage postcards was unveiled. The first can be seen on the side of Tiffany’s Flowers. The remaining murals are expected to be completed by June and will be scattered throughout Vermilion. Of course, you know that means I’ll be planning another trip to see the entire collection.

On the way to our hotel, I spotted a historical marker by the road. Since one of my goals is to see as many historical markers as possible when traveling, I stopped for a closer look.

I discovered the marker that overlooked Cuddeback Cemetery honored a man by the name of Lester Allan Pelton who is recognized as “the Father of Hydroelectric Power.” In true spontaneous fashion, this led us a few minutes away to Maple Grove Cemetery to find the resting place of Lestor Pelton.

We were in for a nice surprise as the older section of the cemetery is very ornate and intriguing. I was excited to find a selection of zinc monuments.

Since many cemeteries did not allow this inexpensive option to the more costly, granite markers, finding so many in one spot was remarkable for this cemetery-loving-gal.

I may have gotten a little bit sidetracked to what our mission was at the moment. My husband reminded me that he’d rather get to the hotel sooner than later, so I made a last-ditch effort to find the grave of Lestor Allan Pelton before calling it a day.

We spotted it as we drove out of the cemetery and made our way to the hotel so my husband could rest.

Tip: Late fall to winter is the off-season for Vermilion. Please call ahead and double-check hours before planning your trip.

  • Brummer’s Homemade Chocolates
    Address: 672 Main St. Vermilion, Ohio 44089
    Phone Number: 440-967-2329
    Read Reviews of Brummer’s Homemade Chocolates Here
  • Big Ed’s Soda Grill
    Address: 5502 Liberty Ave. Vermilion, Ohio 44089
    Phone Number: 440-967-4002
    Read Reviews of Big Ed’s Soda Grill Here
  • Main Street Beach & the Vermilion Lighthouse
    Address: 480 Main St, Vermilion, OH 44089
  • Tiffany’s Flowers
    Address: 686 Main St, Vermilion, OH 44089
    Phone Number: 440-967-9996
  • Don Parsons Mystic Belle
    Address: 636 Sandusky St, Vermilion, OH 44089
    Phone Number: 440-967-7910
  • Historical Marker
    Address: The Corner of Risden & State Route 6 Vermilion Township, OH 44089
  • Maple Grove Cemetery
    Address: 8303 Cemetery Rd, Vermilion, OH 44089

Day 2: Explore Sandusky

After an amazing night’s rest, we woke early to visit our first stop in Sandusky. Not far from Marblehead, we made our way to the Liberty Aviation Museum. If I’m honest here, this is the attraction I was the least interested in visiting. My ulterior motive was simply to have lunch at the attached Tin Goose Diner but after meeting Todd, our tour guide, we quickly realized we were in for a treat.

The museum is part regional history, part Ohio history, and part military history with an emphasis on WWII. Todd was knowledgeable and passionate about it all of which rubbed off.

Perhaps the star of the museum is the Ford Tri-Motor which was the first plane to be mass-produced for commercial use until it was deemed unsafe by not adhering to the government safety standards. In 1930, the Tri-Motor began to carry passengers to and from the islands with the formation of Islands Airlines.

Over the years, the planes have served as a school bus, the grocery wagon, mail service, and ambulance. The islanders still count on planes today to get them off the island during the winter months so they can get necessities and visit friends and family.

The museum has many planes, Jeeps and other WWII vehicles and planes on display that include Georgie’s Gal, a B-52 Mitchell Bomber like those used during the Doolittle Raid.

In addition to aviation history, the museum holds more than a few surprises.

Hogan's Heroes collectible dolls in a museum

  • Hogan’s Heroes movie memorabilia including the leather jacket that belonged to Colonel Hogan and the bathrobe belonging to Colonel Klink
  • A Goodyear Flxible Bus built-in Loudonville, Ohio that was used for mooring the Goodyear Blimp
  • A Replica of the 1961 Shasta Camper with a Station Wagon to pull it
  • A robe is worn in M.A.S.H. by Alan Alda
  • Restoration of a PT Boat like that manned by JFK and local hero, the late Leonard Thom

The museum sits directly across from the Ottawa-Erie International Airport and provides plane parking for the small crafts that fly in. Guests who dine in the Tin Goose Diner have a front-row seat to the landing strip.

Stepping inside the Tin Goose Diner, I was almost giddy. A recent lover of old-time diners, I was excited to see this one so lovingly restored. The dining car was custom built by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company of New Jersey in 1950 and originally opened in Pennsylvania before it was moved and restored for the museum.

If you’re visiting the museum, the diner is a must!  I would allow 2-3 hours to explore fully and to grab a bite to eat.

The great news is we loved the museum- the bad news is we enjoyed it so much that we stayed a bit longer than we should have and the husband’s back pain got pretty bad so we headed back to the hotel so he could rest up for a bit.

Other Museums in Sandusky Ohio

After resting for a bit, we ventured back out to do a walking tour of downtown Sandusky.

The Erie County Historical Society offers self-guided walking tours on their website that include:

  • Underground Railroad
  • Washington Park
  • Downtown Sandusky; Sandusky Architecture; Virtual Downtown
  • Kelleys Island
  • Downtown Vermilion

We opted to do the Washington Park tour since much of the tour is focused on the park which I could easily drive to since Rod still didn’t feel up to walking much.

The guided tour was very helpful and informative. I noticed things I hadn’t paid attention to before. One day I’d love to do the tour again and call ahead so I can plan to tour the various churches that are on the route too. They are gorgeous!

If you’d like to tour downtown Sandusky but aren’t interested in hoofing it, check out the Sandusky Segwave and tour the area with Jim. He’s personable, patient, and a wealth of information. You’re sure to learn a lot about the area while being entertained. Plus, it’s really fun to zip around on those Segways once you get the hang of it.

By this time, our bellies were grumbling, and we wanted to grab a bite to eat before it was time for the event my husband had been waiting for- the comedy show at the Sandusky State Theater. But first, let’s talk about dinner.

We opted to dine at the Hearth Tavern inside ZINC Brasserie. We ordered Truffle fries which are delicious and a wood-fired pizza. We may visit a nice restaurant but those habits of trying pizza wherever we go are hard to break.

I did pair my pizza with a yummy Moscato to class it up a bit. Hearth Tavern is comfortable in a more laid back atmosphere than ZINC which is more fine dining.

After dinner, it was time to make our way to the Sandusky State Theater for what my husband anticipated as the highlight of the weekend- The State of Comedy Show. My husband has probably watched every single comedian on Comedy Central since he’s been off work so I knew he would enjoy the night out.

Seating was around round tables in the State Room. Parties of 6-8 are able to reserve a table otherwise you sit wherever there’s an empty seat. We arrived early enough to have a pick of the tables and opted for one near the back in case we wanted to make a hasty exit. Hey, this isn’t our first time at a comedy show. You never know what to expect.

We grabbed drinks and munched on the popcorn provided at the table until another couple joined us.

Featured comedians for the evening we were in town were Shawn Boyd and headliner Gretchen Hess. I admit that my husband laughed, while I cringed. The venue was great, the seating was comfortable, and I would happily return in the future to watch a different pair of comedians. The State of Comedy Show is held on the 2nd Friday of each month. If comedy isn’t your thing, you’ll be happy to know the theater also hosts the symphony, jazz, movies, and ballets. There’s something for everyone.

Tip: Allow plenty of time to find parking when heading downtown on the weekend. The place was hopping.

The next morning, we woke up to have breakfast at the hotel (which my husband loved since he wakes up STARVING). We had planned to take a walk at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve but as I’ve mentioned, walking for any length is a bit hard for him right now.

Instead, we opted to check out some of the roadside attractions. We made our way to Ghostly Manor so I could pose with the dragon. My big kids would really enjoy this attraction. With an escape room, roller skating, mini-golf, VR gaming, and an XD 4D Theater, it’s easy to see why it’s voted Sandusky’s #1 Indoor Attraction.

Myself? I was simply there to grab a pic with the dragon outside but I’m planning to head back up to see the free Christmas Light Display that takes place outside every evening from 9 p.m. until 12 a.m. through the end of December.

We still had a bit of time to explore so we opted to visit another graveyard, this time Oakland Cemetery in Sandusky. After looking at some of the different gravestones, we headed towards Vine & Olive, a specialty food and drink store that specializes in Mediterranean cuisine.

Vine & Olive has become one of my favorite stores in the area. It may be that they have excellent cannoli’s, or it may be because I’m drawn to one particular wine- a Moscato Rose. I don’t think you could really go wrong with either.

Italian sub from Vine & Olive

On this particular day, my husband and I also ordered some hot food to go. He got the Chicken Gyro and I grabbed the Italian Sub- both were excellent choices.

In addition to hot foods, you’ll find a bakery with delectable pastries and cheesecake, a selection of cheeses, meats, and olive oils, and unique specialty and aejew2qa gift ideas for the cook in your life.

Day 3: Explore Milan

After picking up our food and doing a bit of shopping at Vine & Olive, we headed towards Milan which is about 20 minutes southeast of Sandusky and on our way home to Mansfield.

We had two more stops to make. But first, we stopped at the park in Milan to eat our food, followed by a quick drive through the cemetery.

Our first stop was at the Milan Museum Complex. I knew my husband really wasn’t up for too much walking at this point, so we opted to only tour the Galpin Gallery which I knew would be of particular interest to him.

The Galpin Gallery is a collection of glassware housed in the former Galpin home. Dr. Galpin delivered Thomas Edison whose parents lived just a few houses down the road.

The Galpin Gallery’s focus is on glass with an impressive display that is considered to be one of the finest collections in the U.S. You’ll find names like Tiffany, Handel Company, Labino, and most recently, Chihuly.

You’ll also see pieces that you’ve likely not heard of before like Tartan glass, Mosaic, and Nailsea. There were even a few pieces of milk glass for me to covet, I mean admire, for my own collection.  You can read more about the Milan Museum Complex in this post.

After touring the glass museum, I made my way to the Birthplace of Thomas Edison while my husband stayed behind in the van to rest, which was actually for the best.

Thomas Edison’s birthplace is a historic structure and therefore not handicap accessible. My husband is not handicapped but does have a hard time right now going up and down steep steps and standing for any length of time. I toured it alone so he could rest in the car. My tour guide, Eve, did a great job showing me the highlights while abbreviating my tour so I could get the fella home to rest.

The home was built during the years of 1841 to 1843. The youngest of seven children, Thomas Edison was born in the home and spent his early years in Milan before moving to Port Huron, Michigan at the age of seven.

The home had nearly a dozen owners over the years before it was purchased by his sister Madeline in 1894. By that time, Thomas had already made a name for himself and perhaps she felt it important to share his legacy.

The home opened for tours on February 11, 1947, celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday.

Having been carefully restored, you’ll find the wooden floors are original to the home, as are the bricks used in the construction. Very little of the furniture survived seven children, but you will see some pieces that the family had owned, including a cradle bench that his mother, Nancy, owned.

While touring the home, you’ll learn more about Thomas’s life, his inventions (you’ll see several), and learn about Milan’s importance as a bustling canal town and what happened that caused it to decline from being the 2nd largest inland port in the world to the quaint, quiet community it is today.

  • Milan Museum Complex
    Address: 10 North Edison Drive Milan, Ohio 44846
    Phone Number: 419-499-2968
  • Thomas A. Edison Birthplace Museum
    Address: 9 N. Edison Dr. Milan, Ohio 44846
    Phone Number: 419-499-2135

The hotel lobby is decorated for fall.

Where to Stay in Sandusky

On this visit, my husband and I were staying at the Holiday Inn Express which turned out to be the perfect property for us. We were given the Executive Suite and found chocolates and a bottle of Sortino wine waiting for us.

Wine from the hotel.

The large suite was incredible and featured a large bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchenette with a balcony with a harbor view. Located on Cedar Point Drive and less than 10 minutes from Downtown Sandusky, this is a great hotel for a winter getaway.

Living room in hotel suite

The property has an indoor pool and exercise room with a complimentary hot breakfast that my husband loved. Our room was clean, and the staff was all very friendly and welcoming.

I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. In fact, when combined with his spinal pillow, the bed was so comfortable for my husband that Holiday Inn Express may become our new go-to hotel chain.

Bedroom in a hotel

Vermilion, Milan, and Sandusky Ohio each offer unique experiences, culture & history. I encourage you to visit to learn what makes this area so special. Lake Eries Shores & Islands is able to assist by providing their comprehensive travel guide which is available for instant download or request to have one mailed to you. The guides are also available throughout the Shores & Islands region and at their Visitor Centers.

Have you visited these areas? What did you enjoy most? 

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