Written for Calgary Buzz by Rod Charles of Vacay.ca
If you’re like me the only time you’re probably going to stop in Erie, Pennsylvania is when you need gas or a great place to shop on Black Friday. That’s a mistake.
From great restaurants and hotels to world-class parks and museums, Erie Pennsylvania has a lot to offer. There is another reason to check out Erie, especially during this time of year – Halloween. Restaurants and parks aside, if you’re one of those people who enjoys having their blood curled once in a while, you’ll find out why some like to refer to Erie Pennsylvania as Eerie Transylvania.
A decade ago, I stood at Dobbins Landing on the shores of Presque Isle Bay and the only thing there was the famous Bicentennial Tower Station. That’s all changed. The entire area is under development now and the biggest standout is the Sheraton Hotel complete with lake and city views, a 24-hour fitness centre, indoor heated pool and whirlpool. Outside on the shores of Presque Isle Bay, boaters can tie up their boats in the marina. If you’re so inclined, cruises are available and for those who enjoy fishing, there are fishermen who will take you out.
I chose to have lunch at the hotel. Bayfront Grille is a nice place to chill out by the water and enjoy your favourite sport on television. The Crab Cakes ($29) were a nice choice but there are also many nice appetizers if you’re not in the mood to eat heavy.
My first stop of the day is the Erie Maritime Museum, just a 10 minute walk from the hotel. Everything you have ever wanted to know about the region is on display, including fishing history and the War of 1812. Many wonderful artifacts are here, but the main draw is the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of the relief flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
That night we head for dinner and live thoroughbred horse racing at Presque Isle Downs & Casino. The Backstreet Buffet ($26.99) was excellent, featuring several choices for all culinary tastes. Meat lovers, vegetarians, people who enjoy fish and outstanding desserts.
The food was fine, which more than compensated for the fact the three stellar horses I bet on, appropriately named “The View Is Amazing Back Here”, “Has Anyone Seen The Finish Line?” and “I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up” all came in dead last. Oh well, as I’ve already stated the buffet was very good and made up for those talentless horses. How spooky your trip is will depend entirely on how good you are at picking horses. Hopefully, you will have better luck than I.
A short drive from Presque Isle State Park you can find Avanti’s Restaurant. Avanti’s has been around since 1975 and are known not only for their classic diner food, but their outstanding breakfasts. Build your own omelette for less than $7 – a great choice is the traditional cheese omelette with bacon. I hear they are known for their biscuits and gravy ($4.99) but I didn’t try it, so you’ll have to see for yourself.
A trip to Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center is something you must make time for during your visit. One interesting thing I learn is how much the park has changed over the years and the amount of effort – and sand – it takes to keep the Presque Isle from disappearing. In fact, during our tour we drive by a giant mound of imported sand that has to be at least three stories tall. If you have time, take a trip to the top of the TREC Tower for a breathtaking view of the area, including the roller coaster next door at Waldameer Park & Water World that crosses over a road. Great stop for kids.
After a long walk I’m ready to eat. Brewerie is known for their beer breaded deep fried pickles ($5.99), three onion ale soup ($3.99) and train wreck sandwich ($9.99) which has a little bit of everything on it.
Take the downtown Trolley, a free ride that runs up and down State Street – Erie’s main drag – from 14th and State to the foot of State which is Dobbins landing and Presque Isle Bay. Here you can get on and get off to explore the many museums and shops that line the street including the maritime museum, art museum, children’s museum, the historic Warner Theatre and more.
Chef Dan Kern uses the freshest (and usually local) ingredients at 1201 Kitchen to create his magnificent contemporary Latin Asian cuisine. Their menu changes seasonally though 1201 Kitchen is known for their incredible sushi and ramen dishes. Try the shortrib ramen with soft egg, roasted tomato-pork bone broth and mâyu black garlic oil ($22) or the grilled swordfish with carrot velvet, basil oil and crispy sweet potato hash ($26).
After lunch at our hotel, we’re off to begin our day at Relish Beach Glass Studio and Gallery. This business is an awesome counter-argument for all those silly environmentalists. Sea glass, or beach glass is the product of man’s unstoppable desire to pollute everything. Over several years, bottles, jars and glass carelessly discarded into the lake are recycled by the ocean to form colourful gems. Relish Beach Glass Studio and Gallery is owned by sisters Terri and Jennifer. Growing up near the beaches of Lake Erie, as children, they collected everything including beach glass on daily walks on the beach and today they have turned that hobby into a successful business. This is a wonderful store to pick up unique, signature gifts that are difficult to find anywhere else.
If you love crepes, then Bertrand’s Bistro is your stop. This restaurant has a phenomenal brunch on Sundays that is a community favourite. A word of advice – book ahead. This restaurant boasts nine different types of Crepes, a carving station, in house made pâtés and crème brûlée. Prices range from $22 per person, 6-12 years old $12.00.
This zoo has some great activities for kids. As you might expect, several animals call the zoo home, including an African Black-Footed Penguin, an African Lion, a red panda and a Sand Cat. Admission is $8.50 for adults.
Another suggestion for dinner is Latino’s Restaurant & Bar. Open Tuesday to Saturday, Latino’s menu is pretty expansive, featuring their hand-made tostadas and enchiladas which are spiced to your preference; so if you’re feeling courageous and think you can take the heat the people at Latino’s are happy to oblige.
Off To the Market to grab some treats. One of the best October stops you can make in Erie is Fuhrman’s Cider Mill, Bakery & General Store. You will find several tasty treats, including gluten free items, sponge candy, fresh apple cider, Pulakos Chocolates and chocolate covered bacon. Fresh fruits, cookies, gifts, candies and drinks are available for your ride home or to the hotel. This is also a great place for kids because there is a petting zoo and a maze (certain times of the year).
Hooch & Blotto’s offers a Tater Top Mountain appetizer ($6.99) and also their Oh My Cod Tacos ($9.99). You’ll also love the chicken wings – tossed in your choice of sauce and served with celery, carrots and a side of ranch or bleu cheese. Order Size: single (8 wings) $9.99 double (16) $17.99. Sauce flavours include Kentucky Bourbon, Honey Mustard, Chipotle Lime BBQ, Mango Habanero, BBQ, Garlic Parmesan, Hot & Spicy, Buffalo, or Teriyaki.
After lunch, Hooch and Blotto’s offers boutique bowling which is a hoot! Great if the weather is bad because you don’t have to go outside after you’ve had lunch.
Leaving from Canada? Remember to pack your passport and bring US cash – Canadian dollars are not accepted here. Interstate 90 is a toll road, so be sure to bring cash. The journey from Buffalo to Erie cost $3.15 US Dollars, but prices may vary depending on where you are driving from.