Best things to do in Put-In-Bay

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Our family took an epic road trip through Ohio not too long ago. My husband and I grew up in Ohio, and we wanted to share our favorite spots with them. It was part adventure vacation, part memory lane, and lots of fun! The kids knew nothing of Put-In-Bay before we went, and weren’t sure an island in Ohio could be worth a vacation stop. We took them to all the best things to do in Put-In-Bay, and they had a great time!

If you’re planning your first Erie Islands trip, this review of the best things to do in Put-In-Bay is sure to help! We’ve got the best attractions, great travel tips and some fun photos, just to prove it’s great!

Miller Ferry to South Bass Island

Before we talk about the best things to do in Put-In-Bay, it helps to get to the island!

The easiest way to get to South Bass Island, where Put-In-Bay is located, is with Miller Ferry. They launch from Catawba Island in Port Clinton, Ohio from March to November, weather permitting. While you can take your car to the island (it’s $20 each way), we think it’s a lot more fun to explore the island by golf cart.

Pedestrian ferry crossing is $9 for adults, $1.50 for kids ages 6-11 and free for kids under 3. You pay the people fare even if you take your car. Put-in-Bay weather can delay or cancel the ferry, which happens a few times a year at most.

Purchase pedestrian ferry tickets in advance to ensure access during crowded weekends and holidays. But, cars are first-come, first-served and tickets cannot be purchased in advance. You just line up once you get there and take the next ferry that has space for your vehicle.

We stayed on the island overnight and opted to take our car across. If you’re staying on the island and plan to cook some of your own meals, taking your car is probably easier.  But, if you’re going just for the day, leave the car on the “mainland” in the free parking lot.

To be honest, driving a car on the island is a bit tough. It’s a lot easier, and way more fun, to use a golf cart!

Explore Put-In-Bay by golf cart

One of my husband’s best memories was a golf cart outing with his brothers, that may or may not have ended with a toppled cart. I’ll never tell! Not surprisingly, when we told our kids we were renting a golf cart for the week, they were enthusiastic. We did not tip our golf cart! But, the kids agree this is one of the best ways to explore Put-In-Bay.

There are several golf cart rental places near the ferry. It’s best to rent online in advance, because most offer online rental discounts and because they can sell out on busy days, especially weekends. If you’re staying in a vacation rental on the island, check for even greater savings (sometimes).

We got our golf cart at E’s Put-in-Bay Golf Carts because I won a free golf cart rental. YAY! As we walked up to the rental counter, my son spotted the Archie Griffin golf cart and offered me “bonus points” if I got that one.

At the counter, I filled out the rental contract, presented my driver’s license and provided a credit card in case we damaged the golf cart. I explained that I got major mom points if I could have the Archie Griffin cart, and they handed over the keys. Score one for Mom!

Rules for Golf Cart Rentals:

  • You have to be 18 with a valid driver’s license to rent a golf cart on the island.
  • Golf carts are “street legal,” and must obey all traffic laws just like a car.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Be courteous. Drive closer to the edge of the road when possible so that cars can pass.

Once we had our golf cart, we set off to explore all the best things to do in Put-In-Bay. The kids had no idea a small island in Ohio could be so much fun. Seriously, it’s all about vacation here, making planning super easy!

Play like a kid again at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

Family panning for gold at Perry's Cave at Put-In-Bay Ohio.

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center  has a number of activities the whole family can enjoy. We had combo tickets that let us choose from three of five paid activities: The cave tour, the rock wall, miniature golf, Fort aMaze’n (like a corn maze without the corn) and the Butterfly House. There’s also an antique car museum (always free), gemstone mining (prices vary) and a snack shack.

We ruled out the rock wall, in part because we had a climb scheduled for another day and in part because the rock wall looked geared more toward kids ages 6-12. If you haven’t climbed before, it’s a good option for adult beginners.

Climbing wall at Perry's Cave at Put In Bay Ohio.

We have been to many butterfly houses before, so we decided to skip that one, too. Though, the staff let me in long enough to take a photo for this post (thanks!).

Butterfly on a purple flower at the butterfly house at Perry's Cave Family Fun Center in Ohio.

Our first stop was Miniature Golf. No surprise, really, because we play putt-putt just about everywhere we go. This course is among the best we’ve ever played. Each hole is challenging, though doable. The landscaping, cave, waterfalls and “river” provide a beautiful backdrop. They also weave a bit of War of 1812 history into the course.

PRO TIP: Get there early to avoid the crowds and midday heat.

Our son being a goofball at the miniature golf course at Perry's Cave Family Fun Center while the family looks on.
Miniature golf with a 20-something… real life!
Family fun as a mom pretends to bop her son while he lines up his putt.
Do what you’ve got to do to win. Right?
When your short game stinks, try billiards

After our game, we headed to Perry’s Cave, a natural limestone cave which is an Ohio Natural Landmark for its role in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Our guide was fun, balancing the cheesy jokes with real history to entertain guests of all ages.

The staircase down to the cave is a bit treacherous. I don’t recommend this tour for people who need assistance walking. And, if you’ve got kids along, please make sure they hold the rails and take their time going into the cave. A little girl (about 7) ran ahead of her family on our tour, slipped on one of the steps and crashed into my son. His athletic skills saved them both from falling.

Steep stairs into Perry Cave at Put-In-Bay, Ohio.
Descending into the cave. Be careful.
Underground lake at Perry's Cave.
Perry’s Cave Lake. Pristine looking, but not safe to drink.

Finally, we headed to Fort aMaze’n. It’s a lot like a corn maze, except it’s a permanent structure. We opted to race through the maze, kids vs. parents. I expected us parents to win, but the kids beat us by three full minutes. Fort aMaze’n took us only ten minutes total, but it was so much fun. If you complete the maze in five minutes or less, you get free ice cream! Even though the kids beat us and we didn’t finish in time to win free ice cream, this was definitely one of the best things to do in Put-In-Bay. It felt good to play like a kid again!

Since we didn’t win ice cream, we left Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center and headed to lunch.

Enjoy lunch at the lake

The waterfront downtown area at Put-In-Bay has a number of restaurants, from casual burger joints to waterfront fine dining. With so many options, probably the toughest decision is agreeing on where to eat! Check out the restaurant guide to pick a few spots for your trip!

Go kayaking on the Bay

Head over to Put-in-Bay Watercraft Rentals at 1523 Catawba Avenue for a fun family adventure on the water. They rent kayaks and stand up paddle boards, jet skis, and power boats. All guests must use life jackets.

To rent jet skis and boats, bring your driver’s license and boater safety certificate (if you have it). If you don’t have a boater safety certificate and were born after January 1, 1982, you have to complete a safety test before you can rent them.

We took a boater safety course when we bought our boat, and I highly recommend that all people who use motorized watercraft do the same. Those safety rules aren’t just for you, but for everyone who shares the water.

Colorful kayaks lined up on the shore at Put In Bay, Ohio.

First, the staff fits each person to a lifejacket and assists in both the kayak launching and return. They ask that boaters stay within view of the rental hut. Since we kayak a lot, I would honestly have liked to venture further, though we had fun exploring the sheltered bay. If you’re new to kayaking and paddle boarding, this is a great place to learn.

And, on a hot day, a relaxing paddle in the bay is a great way to beat the heat!

Explore the Waterfront

Boardwalk at Put-In-Bay in Ohio.

Put-in-Bay is an adorable town that takes advantage of its place on Lake Erie to full advantage. Along Bayview Avenue, DeRivera Park offers lots of green space, picnic tables, fountains, playgrounds and public restrooms where families can enjoy a relaxed afternoon while enjoying expansive lake views.

The waterside of Bayview Avenue has restaurants like The Boardwalk, several bars, the marina and adorable shops. We stopped in to listen to live music and checked out the boats docked in the marina. On weekends, this is an adult space, not for people under age 21!

We found a relaxing stroll along the waterfront to be relaxing after a busy morning.

Visit Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial

There’s a ton of space to park golf carts along Perry Park. And, you can get some great views of Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial. While there’s a fee to go up in the Memorial tower, the views are incredible. There’s also a visitor’s center museum that explains the role Put-In-Bay and Perry played in the War of 1812. Festivals and concerts are offered on the grounds throughout the summer.

This is one of the top things to do in Put-In-Bay, for the views and the history. It really provides a great perspective of Lake Erie’s role in the War of 1812.

The best part about this trip were the memories made. There were so many fun things to do in Put-In-Bay that our kids never got bored. They did unplug from their phones. We played, laughed and talked. And then, we returned our golf cart and took a ferry ride back to the mainland, full of happy memories and ready for the next adventure.

Plan your own vacation at Put-in-Bay

We think we found the best things to do in Put-in-Bay, but if you need more ideas for your family, there are tons of other options! Check out this itinerary, shared by my intern, for more ideas.

To plan your perfect trip, visit Lake Erie Shores & Islands for more ideas on what to do in Put-in-Bay.

There are so many Put-in-Bay attractions and other things to do on South Bass Island, like:

  • Visit a cemetery (not creepy — there’s lots of history to learn).

Be sure to check the Put-in-Bay calendar of events before you plan your trip. Some events are not as family friendly as others. Or, you might find an event you don’t want to miss.

Want to spend the night at Put-In-Bay?

We drove from Kings Island in the Cincinnati area to Put-in-Bay (about 4.5 hours) and spent the night on the island before exploring the island. If you want to spend the night, make sure you get to the ferry early enough. If you’re taking your car, that’s really important as the wait can be long.

Our daughter posing in the giant adirondack chair at Put In Bay Condos.

Lodging options at Put-In-Bay include the Bay Lodging Resort, the only hotel on the island, as well as rental houses and condos. The island is quite popular, so book early for the best options!

There are several hotels in Port Clinton, Ohio if you prefer a chain hotel and day visits to Put-In-Bay.

For our visit, we stayed at Put-in-Bay Waterfront Condos, one of the properties managed by Island Club Rentals. The condo, which is located near the airport — a few miles from downtown Put-in-Bay, has four large bedrooms (sleeps 12) and three bathrooms. The living room and kitchen provide space to prepare meals and relax, but they aren’t really big enough to hang out. The only indoor dining is 4 bar stools at the kitchen counter, and there is a huge table on the balcony that comfortably seats 8 and a BBQ grill area that has tons of picnic tables.

Grilling area at the condos at Put In Bay.

The units come with basic kitchen appliances and dishes, bath towels and washcloths and sheets and blankets. Everything else you need, you provide.

A note to home cooks: At this time, they don’t provide hot mitts or kitchen towels. If you plan to cook your own meals, plan ahead!

We found the furniture to be quite comfortable and slept soundly on the comfy beds. The property also has a huge resort pool, a beach and amazing views of Lake Erie from private decks.

Sunset from our balcony at Put In Bay.

Island Club Rentals regularly offer specials, especially for midweek stays, so check those out before you book. While the units are pricey, when families share the cost, they are quite reasonable.

My son asked me to tell you that families should visit Put-in-Bay Sunday-Thursday nights, not on weekends. He’s not sure the island is the best place for little kids on weekends. (Isn’t he sweet?)