Nestled on the scenic shores of Lake Erie and flanked by the City of Erie, Presque Isle State Park is a year-round outdoor oasis and a national natural landmark that welcomes more than four million visitors annually, and with good reason. The park’s natural setting of pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and a wealth of recreational opportunities, makes it a perfect destination for a range of outdoor experiences. As an added benefit, the surrounding area is filled with enticing waterfront activities, live local music, fantastic food, and hidden gems making it easy to enhance your overall Presque Isle experience. Whether you want a relaxing beach escape or a thrilling adventure, the following ideas are meant to inspire you to maximize your summer visit to Presque Isle.
If you find joy in kayaking, prepare to be immersed in a world of peace and serenity throughout Presque Isle’s tranquil lagoon system. The best place to glide your kayak into the water is Graveyard Pond. According to local folklore, this area and the neighboring Misery Bay are said to be the final resting places for numerous soldiers under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the harsh winter of 1813-14 during the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie. You can bring your own equipment or rent it from Presque Isle Canoe & Boat Livery located at the edge of Graveyard Pond next to the boat launch. The lagoons are suitable for beginners due to their calm waters. Meanwhile, more experienced kayakers can embark on a journey that winds under a bridge to the more open waters of Misery Bay and Presque Isle Bay. Along the way, you’re surrounded by lush vegetation, vibrant flora, and wildlife. While paddling, you’re sure to encounter lagoon wildlife including turtles sunning themselves on protruding “turtle trees”. Anne DeSarro, environmental education specialist supervisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks, and an avid kayaker herself shares her passion for exploring the lagoons. “You feel like you are one with the environment because you are paddling low in the water among the water lilies and wildlife. Paddling silently allows for frequent wildlife and bird sightings, as the absence of noise piques their curiosity. It is a calm and meditative way to explore the still waters.”
Presque Isle State Park features seven miles of pristine sandy beaches and is the only surf swimming within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Presque Isle beaches boast distinctive qualities that set them apart from other beach destinations. All eleven beaches possess unique attributes that make them truly special. Beach 6 is known for its sand volleyball courts and social scene. Budny Beach (Beach 10) is a more laid-back beach with a peaceful vibe, suitable for sunbathing or reading a good book. A complete list of Presque Isle beaches and their individual amenities is here. Swimming is permitted on guarded beaches from noon until 7:15 p.m. daily, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day.
Pedal your way along Presque Isle’s paved 13-mile Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose Trail and experience picturesque views of Presque Isle Bay, Lake Erie, and its unique natural beauty. Coastal Living Magazine recently ranked the multi-purpose trail fourth on its list of the 18 best bike rides at beaches. During your journey, look closely near the tree lines and you may spot some of the park’s animal inhabitants. Presque Isle Yellow Bike Rental at Waterworks Beach (Beach 7) has a variety of bicycles including tandem, fat tire, youth-sized, and surreys (four-wheeled, covered quadricycles) so you can tour the park in style.
Fuel up Your Body and Soul
There are several places near Presque Isle for you to pick up a refreshing beverage, light snack, or delicious food and transform your Presque Isle experience into the ultimate picnic paradise. Pressed Books, Coffee, and Gifts is a locally owned book and gift store with a full-service coffee shop serving expertly crafted coffee and tea beverages. Pressed has an extensive selection of coffee, tea, and espresso, with many of their flavors made in-house by their baristas. Throughout the spring and summer, Pressed offers seasonal specials including The Beach 6, a playful nod to Presque Isle’s beaches. Served hot or as an iced latte, it’s a creamy blend of velvety white chocolate, salted caramel, and hints of coconut topped with raw sugar, lending a visually captivating sand-like texture to this delectable concoction. Pressed’s extensive book collection also features a special section showcasing works by local authors. Before or after you enter Presque Isle, swing by Sara’s, a 50s-inspired diner complete with a bright red and white striped roof, fun photo cutouts, and whimsical cartoon figures. Conveniently located near the entrance to Presque Isle, Sara’s is a popular summertime tradition best known for its foot-long Smith’s hot dogs, orange/vanilla twist soft serve, and thick milkshakes. Smith brand hot dogs are made in Erie and are known for its natural-casing snap when you bite into them. Sara’s serves them up expertly grilled with your choice of toppings. If you’re looking for something a little lighter to pack in your beach bag, The Original Popcorn House has an endless selection of gourmet popcorn flavors ranging from the decadently sweet, no milk-required Cookies and Cream, to the savory Big Dill pickle, and Spicy Buffalo with Blue Cheese.
Lively Music and Chill Vibes
Erie’s dynamic and diverse music scene resonates in local establishments and spills onto the beaches of and the shores of Presque Isle Bay filling the air with spirited rhythms. Immerse yourself in the harmonious tunes, craft cocktails, pop-up restaurants, and food trucks at Altered State Distillery, a locally-owned craft distillery conveniently located two miles east of Presque Isle. Altered State boasts inviting indoor and outdoor spaces set in a casual and friendly environment so you can enjoy the company of fellow spirit enthusiasts, learn the art of distilling, and appreciate creative handcrafted spirits while you sit back and soak in the sounds of live music. Owner/distiller Gavin Maus describes his business as a musically infused craft distillery. “We host music inside and outside all summer along with our craft cocktails made from scratch. We have cocktails to-go such as Peanut Butter Whiskey Cream, all-natural adult slushies, craft in-house syrups, and infusions for our cocktails, bottles for sale, and merchandise. Our ‘Spirits for the Free Spirit’ motto is exactly what we make and who we are.” Not far from Presque Isle is Oliver’s Beer Garden, a popular open-air restaurant and bar attraction on Erie’s Bayfront featuring beautiful waterfront views, its own on-site food truck, performance stage, and the new 18-hole Oliver’s Mini Golf. There’s ample picnic-style seating throughout plus a large dance area. The Beer Garden is a cool destination where refreshing libations, great food, energetic conversations, live music, dancing, and sunset-watching unite for unforgettable fun. Both Altered State and Oliver’s Beer Garden are also pet-friendly, so you can bring your four-legged friend along with you. Wednesday evenings from June 21 to July 26, Presque Isle’s Beach 11 comes alive with the UPMC Sunset Music Series. The combination of music and the gentle lapping of waves creates a tranquil ambiance that soothes the senses. Each Tuesday from July 11 to August 29, 8 Great Tuesdays entertain crowds on the grassy slope of the Highmark Amphitheater at Liberty Park along the picturesque shores of Presque Isle Bay. From the beach or the shores, both venues create the perfect backdrop for witnessing Erie’s remarkable, world-class sunsets.
Indulge in stylish vacation rentals that capture the essence of Erie’s beachy charm with a memorable and carefree overnight stay at Kelso Beach Rentals or Swanson’s Cottages. Each business offers a selection of rentals along Erie’s lakeshore and includes amenities such as picnic tables, charcoal grills, fire pits, and lots of elbow room for outside yard play in case you want to pack your portable cornhole board.