Nic and I just got back from the most enjoyable Ohio weekend getaway… to Lake County! This trip combined all of our necessities for a great trip: Beaches, good food, wineries, nature, and history! Located just 30 minutes east of Cleveland, Lake County is the smallest county in Ohio but packs a punch with numerous cities and villages within the county that are worth visiting, including Painesville, Mentor, Madison, Grand River, Kirtland, and more.
We visited over Memorial Day weekend and while the energy was high and the summer vibes were strong there, the crowds were manageable and life felt a bit slower by the lake. I have some recommendations of what you can do during your visit to Lake County in today’s post! While you’re at it, check out Lake County’s website – it is quite impressive and has even more ideas for you to explore.
So, here we go… these are our recommendations of what to do while in Lake County:
1.) Explore nature at Holden Arboretum.
Get lost in over 3,600 acres of arboreta, botanical gardens, trails, lakes, and meadows. Be sure to partake in the Murch Canopy Walk and climb 12 stories to rise above the canopy in the Kalberer Emergent Tower. In the springtime, you can experience the Rhododendron Garden in full bloom. Bringing the kids along? There is so much for them to explore! Holden Arboretum in Kirtland is not to be missed! You can spend HOURS here like we did.
2.) Marvel at the historic Fairport Harbor Lighthouses.
Peruse the museum at the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse, which was rebuilt in 1871, and take a tour of the sixty feet high tower that boasts a spiral staircase of 69 steps which leads to an observation platform. Next, hike out to the iconic Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse, which was built in 1925 and sits at the mouth of the Grand River on Lake Erie. This lighthouse was constructed to replace the original Fairport Harbor Lighthouse.
3.) Relax at the Wineries.
You’re in for a treat because the Grand River Valley wineries are some of the very finest in the state of Ohio! Start your evening at Stonegait Winery for some live music, delicious food and fun patio. Then venture to Cask 307 and/or Laurentia Vineyard and Winery for even more food, drinks and fun!
4.) Tour the historic James A. Garfield Home.
Book your tour of the majestic James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Fun fact: In 1880, James Garfield used his front porch as a platform to greet thousands of supporters during his presidential campaign. Before these events in 1880, it was unheard of for citizens and candidates to be face-to-face during campaigns. Also prior to 1880, it was frowned upon for anyone to actively seek the presidency. President Garfield also set up a little campaign office behind his home that you can tour while visiting.
5.) Experience Lake Erie life.
No visit to Lake County is complete without experiencing Lake Erie! Looking for a fun, family-friendly beach with lifeguards, concessions, paddle rentals, and more? Head to Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park. In the mood for hiking trails, fishing, biking, swimming, and a fantastic view of the sunset? Headlands Beach State Park is your ticket! Standouts of Headlands include a mile-long paved hike/bike trail that runs the length of the park, a 35-acre Lake Erie beach, aforementioned lighthouse photo opps, and concessions. We particularly enjoyed our hike to the lighthouse and watching the sunset on our last night there. 🙂
6.) Stay at the historic Steele Mansion.
The PERFECT place for your stay in Lake County is at the 16 room, luxurious boutique hotel, the Steele Mansion. Of of the uniquely + beautifully decorated 16 rooms, my #1 pick is Sarah Steele’s suite, complete with pink walls, chintz prints, a marble fireplace, and velvet textures… it’s a dream! A bit of history for you: Built in 1867 for George Steele, The home played host to many men and women of significance. Previous U.S. Presidents such as James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, and Howard Taft were on the guest list. Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart (just one week before her disappearance), and Carl Sandburg also stayed at the Mansion.
After decades of private ownership, Lake Erie College purchased the property in 1921 and used it first for the “President’s House” and secondly as a dormitory. Then, the Shamakian family purchased Steele Mansion in December of 2010. After a devastating fire, very little of the original structure still stood except for the brick walls and the grand walnut staircase. The front part of the Mansion survived the fire during restoration. The project was closely watched by the Ohio Historical Preservation Department to ensure accurate restoration. Upon completion, the building was placed on the National Registry for Historic Buildings. Pretty cool history, right? I find it SO special they open up the rooms when they’re not occupied for you to explore while staying there.
7.) Take in a show at the idyllic Rabbit Run Theatre.
You won’t want to miss the show at Rabbit Run Theatre in Madison. Rabbit Run is one of the few barn theaters still in operation! With open air and loads of nostalgia, Rabbit Run’s setting makes you feel like you yourself are in a storybook. Pack a picnic or stop in after a day spent at the nearby wineries. Nic + I visited after a beautiful evening at Stonegait Winery and we couldn’t believe how peaceful Rabbit Run was. We watched The Belle of Amherst, a one-woman play about the life of the famous poet, Emily Dickinson. Nancy Shimonek Brooks impressively brought Emily’s story to life. On the schedule for later this summer? Titanic, Disney’s Newsies, and The Madtown Jazz Expansion. Check out their schedule here – there is always a great show to take in at Rabbit Run!
8.) Dine well.
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants in Lake County. They have something for every budget and appetite! Looking for seafood in a quintessential coastal spot? Brennan’s Fish House in Grand River is your place! Open since 1973, this casual spot is perfect for lunch or dinner. On your way back from Headlands Beach? Be sure to stop by Scooter’s World Famous Dawg House – a popular Girl About Ohio readers’ pick! In the mood for small plates and tasty cocktails? The Pompadour is located two blocks from the beach in historic downtown Fairport Harbor. Italian is your absolute fave? Don’t leave without dining at Pastina in Mentor. We can personally attest to the deliciousness factor, here!
9.) Grab some ice cream from the Fairport Harbor Creamery.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Fairport Harbor Creamery, the most delightful lil’ shop across the street from the lighthouse. I loved their red velvet ice cream but they also have a ton of other flavors, boozy milkshakes, pastries, iced coffee and more!
10.) Tour Historic Kirtland.
Start your tour at the stunningly beautiful Kirtland Temple, a National Historic Landmark where visitors still come to pray and worship, as well as learn about the history of the first Latter Day Saint Temple. Next, check out the Historic Kirtland visitors’ center and the six historic structures important to the early Latter Day Saint movement: a schoolhouse, a sawmill, an ashery, the Newel K. Whitney and Company store, Newel and Ann Whitney’s home, and the Johnson Inn.
Trust me when I say there’s even more to do there than what I listed. We could’ve easily stayed another night and explored even more!
If you’re familiar with Lake County, what else did I leave off the list? Leave a comment, below!
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