Simple vacations have always been my favorites. Give me a week by the water with a good book and I’m content.
As a kid, that meant camping at Pymatuning Lake or renting a cottage in Ashtabula or Geneva on the Lake, where we’d splash in the waves and build mammoth sand creations on the beach, then hang out by a fire or in town at night.
Breakfasts were big, but plans for the day were minimal at best. Amenities included a lake breeze, a sleeper sofa and a strong shower to wash away the sand.
So even though last summer’s cottage near Catawba Island’s Gem Beach was a small side-by-side without frills or even much room in the kitchen to open the refrigerator door, it had the appeal of a Jimmy Buffett tune.
The wooden door on the screened-in porch clapped shut, the sound of kids off to the beach. The porch swing was the perfect spot to watch the lightning and listen to the rain as a strong summer thunderstorm rolled in.
The front yard was big enough to toss the football around and for the kids to ride their bikes. At night, the sky unfolded the stars as silent guides for a stroll along the shore.
And though Buffett probably wouldn’t approve, the picnic table outside was close enough to some expensive condos that you could pick up a wireless signal to check email or get a quick weather report.
It was our little “Cheeseburger in Paradise”— the perfect spot to enjoy the best of Lake Erie’s islands. We were 100 yards from a private beach, a quick walk to the much larger, public Gem Beach and its playground, and a short drive from the ferry to Put-in-Bay, the charm of Port Clinton and the excitement of Cedar Point.
And our trip was made so much better by little tips and hidden secrets revealed by longtime island-goers that I felt we needed to share them with everyone else. Whether you’re looking for your personal “Margaritaville” or just a “License to Chill,” we’ve got you covered with our ultimate guide to the islands, starting on page 82.
There is so much to explore, enjoy and escape to that it was tough to cram everything in. Here’s some extra advice from a week on Catawba Island (Tip No. 1: It’s not really an island).:
It’s likely not too late. We booked our cottage in mid- to late June after a simple Internet search.
Pack light. Bringing food from home keeps the cost down, but packing is a pain. Bring staples and stop at the grocery to buy everything else. (The 24-hour Wal-Mart in Port Clinton should have everything you need, including fishing gear and bait.)
Take a break from the beach. The Gem Beach Club overlooks the public beach and offers live music, good food and whatever you’re looking for to quench your thirst. There’s even a sandy area to keep the kids busy while you’re enjoying the atmosphere.
Don’t be afraid of a little rain. Our mid-week day at Cedar Point had a few delays caused by some summer showers. But the lines were much shorter, so we rode more rides in less time, including an amazing run on the Top Thrill Dragster at the park’s closing time.
Don’t wait. Grab your golf cart right off the Miller Ferry dock on Put-In-Bay from Island Bike Rentals. It’ll save you the cost of a shuttle ride into town, where the rentals aren’t any cheaper.
Make your trip extra sweet. Swing by the Chocolate Cafe & Museum (820 Catawba St.) on Put-in-Bay. The museum isn’t much, but who cares when there’s so much chocolatey goodness to enjoy? They serve South Bend Chocolate Co. sweets and 32 flavors of Toft’s ice cream.
Relax and enjoy. Lake Erie’s islands come with their own soundtrack, from Buffett to Pat Dailey to Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” And like any good one-hit wonder, once you give it a listen, it’s hard to stop singing along.