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The Best Things to Do on Put-In-Bay with Teens

Tonya Prater, Owner

Some of our favorite summer destinations in Ohio are the islands of Lake Erie. If you’re looking for a unique family getaway, you’ll find tons of fun things to do on Put-in-Bay with teens.

First image shows a family of four looking out a window towards a large monument. The second image shows a quaint downtown street with a Jeep pulling a yellow trailer of people down the road.

Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island has a reputation as a party island, which kept my family away from visiting for many years. But once we finally decided to see what it was like for ourselves, we found a really cool family vacation destination. One that has drawn us back time and again.

So if you’re looking for things to do in Ohio with teens, check out some of these Put-In-Bay attractions and activities! Even getting to Put-In-Bay is a fun adventure; choose from the Miller Ferry or the Jet Express from Port Clinton or Catawba Island, and start your trip with a beautiful boat ride on Lake Erie.

View of monument across the water.

How to Get to Put-in-Bay

Before we get to the good stuff, let’s share some of the logistics of getting to the island. There’s no toll road with a tunnel to Put-in-Bay. To reach the island you can fly to South Bass Island/Put-in-Bay, take your private boat, and dock at the marina, or most popular, hop a ride on one of the two ferry services I mentioned above.

Put in Bay is on a relatively small island, but you will need to know a few things to help you get around. While you are able to take a vehicle to the island via Miller Ferry, you’ll find that parking for a full-size vehicle is at a premium during the busy times of the year. The most popular mode of transportation is golf carts and you’ll find plenty of rentals.

The island is also pretty flat so it’s easy to navigate on a bicycle as well. You’ll find bike rentals on the island or you can purchase a bike pass from Miller Ferry and bring your own from home.

Ferry in the water.

What many people don’t realize is that there is more to the island than Put-in-Bay. While this article focuses on things to do on Put-in-Bay, we are actually recommending things to do on the entire South Bass Island. Put-in-Bay is only the small downtown part of the island.

You’ll find some shopping, restaurants, and Perry’s Victory Monument all located downtown. If you’re simply planning to visit the downtown area only, you may opt to skip the golf cart (though it truly is a highlight when visiting the island) and grab the bus to take a short ride from the Miller Ferry Dock to Put-in-Bay or purchase a ride on the Jet Express that can be picked up in downtown Sandusky or Port Clinton.

Visiting South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay during the warm summer months truly feels like you have escaped the midwest and are relaxing somewhere tropical, if only for the day.

Put-In-Bay Tour Train

154 Delaware Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

When you arrive downtown, head straight to the Put in Bay Tour Train to take a one-hour narrated tour of the island. This is a great way to orient yourself to all the things to see and do on South Bass Island. You’ll see 80% of the island, and you can also hop on and hop off at your leisure. Trains pass through every 30 minutes, so you can always catch the next one if something piques your interest.

Tour train on the street.

Many of the Put in Bay attractions below are stopping points of the train. Once you’ve taken the full loop, you’ll be ready to set off and explore the island on your own!

You can read all about my family’s experience on the Put-in-Bay Tour Train

Things to do on Put in Bay with Teens

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

979 Catawba Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

One of the best places to kick off a visit to Put-In-Bay is Perry’s Cave. This family fun center has awesome activities for the entire family. Less than a mile from downtown Put In Bay, Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has eight unique attractions, which you can see individually or together with combo tickets that can save you money.

Perry’s Cave was discovered in 1813 by Commodore Perry, and quickly became a popular attraction of the island. This natural limestone cave is also home to a rare underground lake. A cave tour is the main attraction of the fun center, but there are also several other great things to see while you’re here:

  • Butterfly House at Put-In-Bay
  • War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf Course
  • Gemstone Mining
  • Fort aMaze’n
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Antique Car Museum
  • DanDee’s Snack Shack
Girl wearing butterfly cape.

Crystal Cave at Heineman’s Winery

978 Catawba Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

South Bass Island is also home to the world’s largest geode. The cave was discovered by a German vintner, Gustav Heineman, who was digging a well for the winery he built on South Bass Island.

Today, the winery and the cave are open to the public, and Heineman’s is the oldest Put-In-Bay winery, having survived even the Prohibition. You can tour the cave, the winery, or both! Visitors under 21 will receive a grape juice sample rather than a sample of wine. The wine garden and gift shop are lovely places to spend a warm summer afternoon. 

You can read about our experience in the cave at Step Inside Crystal Cave, the World’s Largest Geode.

Learn about the Island’s History

If you purchase tickets for the Put-in-Bay Tour Train as we suggest, you’ll get a taste of the history of the island and you’re sure to hear about the battle that was fought in the now-quiet harbor.

If you opt to skip the tour, make sure you stop in at the Perry’s Victory Visitor Center to learn why this battle was significant in the War of 1812 and to understand many of the references you’ll see around the island to Commander Perry.

Visitor center with monument behind it.

Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial

93 Delaware Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

This United States National Park Service site is a great place to begin your trip to Put-In-Bay. Learn about the Battle of Lake Erie and Oliver Hazard Perry, who defeated the British here in the War of 1812.

Perry’s Monument looms 350 feet over Put-In-Bay. Start at the visitor center before climbing up to the Observation Deck for amazing views of the surrounding islands. Special events include historic weekends, and live music during the Put-In-Bay Music Festival. 

Two men looking out over the lake.

South Bass Island Lighthouse

2368 Langram Rd, Put-In-Bay, OH

One of Lake Erie’s many lighthouses, this one is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Ohio State University. The lighthouse is set in one corner of a 19th century Queen Anne brick home and private tours are offered in the summer months. The grounds are open as well and offer nice views of Lake Erie. 

Explore the Outdoors

South Bass Island State Park

1523 Catawba Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

Along the western coast of the island, South Bass Island State Park is a beautiful destination for nature lovers and water sports. From the Miller Ferry dock, the state park is just minutes away from the golf cart rentals.

For day trips, the park offers a swimming beach, powerboat and kayak rentals, a fishing pier, and hiking to glacial grooves. You can also stay overnight at the campground, which also has camping cabins for rent. This is the best place on the island to watch the sunset.

Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center

255 Meechen Rd, Put-In-Bay, OH

For teens who are into nature, this island attraction will be one of their favorite things to do in Put-In-Bay. Although small, there are quite a few exhibits to explore here, including a turtle pond and a live beehive you can watch. There are also tons of taxidermied animals set in educational displays, and a fun calendar of special events held throughout the summer season.

The nature trail at the center is a great way to put your new learnings to use as you can look for flora and fauna to identify on your hike. 

Aquatic Visitor Center

360 W Shore Blvd, Put-In-Bay, OH

This spot once served as a State Fish Hatchery, and today visitors can learn about the ecosystem surrounding these islands. You can see live fish at the hatchery, or borrow some fishing gear and throw in a line off the pier.

Children 16 and younger can fish for free at the Aquatic Visitor Center. For older students, this is a great place to learn about things like invasive species, fish biology and the Lake Erie water snake that was once endangered and is now prevalent on the island.

Man holding a snake.

Kayak the Bay

760 Bayview Avenue, Put-in-Bay, OH 

Rent kayaks and paddle around the bay or around the island depending on your comfort level. This business is located across from Ohio’s smallest state park where you’re welcome to change in the bathroom if you’re worried about getting wet (which you probably will). If you’re taking your cell phone along, make sure you have it secured in one of these waterproof cases

You can read about our experience kayaking on Lake Erie in this post. 

Eat Your Way Around the Island

Many people may not realize that Put-in-Bay is an amazing place to eat. My kids love going to the island simply for the golf carts and food.

Yes, it is that good.

A few of our favorite places include:

  • The Forge serves sweet and savory crepes in the old blacksmith shop
  • The Keys, like its name, has a colorful, laid-back, Key West vibe
  • The Reel Bar has amazing burgers
  • The Boathouse serves up Cajun-inspired meals
  • The Boardwalk is famous for their Lobster Bisque
Boardwalk sign above restaurant.

You can check out these, and more, along the Put-in-Bay Foodie Trail and never eat at the same restaurant twice over the course of a few days or weekend.

Chocolate Cafe

820 Catawba Ave, Put-In-Bay, OH

If your teens have a sweet tooth, don’t miss this chocolate museum and cafe in Put-in-Bay. Learn how chocolate is made before sinking into some sweet samples.

This is a great place to buy locally produced souvenirs, and they have a nice little cafe menu with pastries and hot and cold beverages. Start your day here with breakfast, or a cold ice cream cone after a day of exploring. Note the ice cream is from Toft’s, the oldest dairy in Ohio.

Great Lakes Island Hopping

If you are staying a few days in Put-In-Bay, you might want to go island hopping around the Lake Erie Shores & Islands region. The frequent ferry schedule and small size of each island mean you can let older teens choose their own adventure and go off for the day on their own. 

  • Middle Bass Island is the closest island to South Bass Island and there’s a ferry every hour on the half-hour. You could also rent a boat or jet skis for the day and make the short trip over, although the ferry is the best way for those looking to kick back and relax.
  • Kelleys Island is another easy day trip from Put-in-Bay and is home to Kelley’s Island State Park, Glacial Grooves, and Inscription Rock. 
  • Gibraltar Island sits just offshore of Put-In-Bay and is home to The Ohio State University Stone Laboratory
  • To make this an international trip, head to Pelee Island, which is part of Canada!

Besides all of these attractions and things to do, one of the best things about Put-in-Bay is the downtown area. Bayview Avenue and Delaware Avenue are lined with gift shops, bars with live music, restaurants, and resorts.

Grab some ice cream or homemade fudge, catch a ride on Kimberly’s Carousel, and snag one of the picnic tables at DeRivera Park for some prime people-watching.

Teen girl sitting at a restaurant table.

Tips for Visiting Put-in-Bay with Teens

  1. For a more family-friendly atmosphere, plan to visit during the week. It’s quieter, you’ll find fewer crowds and less of a party atmosphere.
  2. Cell phone coverage may be spotty. Determine a meeting place and time if you decide to allow older teens an opportunity to explore a bit downtown on their own.
  3. The Miller Ferry is our preferred ferry because they offer free parking at the ferry terminal as well as the lowest ferry prices making a trip to PIB more affordable for families. They also offer discounts on their website.
  4. It can be breezy on the upper decks of the ferry so I’d advise against short dresses or loose-fitting tops if you don’t want them to blow up. 
  5. Wear comfortable shoes as the island is very walkable. 
  6. Pack a jacket or sweatshirt, even if you’re traveling during the summer because the island can cool down after dark and you’ll feel a definite breeze on the ferry. 
  7. Save a bit of money by packing a bag with a water bottle or two as well as some sunscreen and chapstick. 

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