Exploring Erie’s Bayfront District: A One-Day Guide
Thursday May 11th, 2023
Erie’s Bayfront District is a dynamic and lively waterfront area set between Downtown Erie and the southern shores of Presque Isle Bay. It is home to an array of exciting activities, attractions, restaurants, and amenities. Over the years, Erie’s Bayfront has played a vital role in the region’s economy, with industries such as shipping, fishing, and manufacturing all utilizing the area’s abundant natural resources. In the 20th century, Erie’s industrial base shifted to focus more on tourism and recreation, with the development of the Bayfront District. Today, this area is a bustling center of activity, with a wide range of things to do that cater to both residents and visitors. Add in stunning waterfront views and Erie’s Bayfront District is a must-visit destination that will leave you with unforgettable memories. (Photo by 814.Photo)
Here's a preview of what you’ll notice about the area:
- Lower State Street from the Bayfront Parkway to Dobbins Landing received a facelift in 2022 with new parking and lighting, wider walkways, and updated landscaping making it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
- Throughout the area, metered parking is available as well as a multi-level parking garage on the corner of West Bay Drive and State Street. Because of its compact nature, you only need to park once to explore this walkable area with ease.
- There are signs of growth and expansion everywhere. Some of the Bayfront future plans include a new miniature golf course adjacent to Oliver’s Beer Garden, a multi-story Bayfront Market, and pedestrian bridges connecting the Bayfront to Erie’s Downtown.
Get energized for the day with a hearty breakfast of house-made savory sweet Cajun chicken and waffles and freshly brewed coffee complete with scenic views of Presque Isle Bay at the Bayfront Grille inside the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel. The contemporary-styled hotel and restaurant complex offers inside and outside waterfront seating serving casual American fare with a creative twist on breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take your coffee to go and take a leisurely walk east to the foot of State Street where Erie’s most recognizable symbol, the Bicentennial Tower stands. Photo by Bayfront Grille.
Erie’s Bicentennial Tower was built in 1995 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the City of Erie. It stands 187’ tall with two observation platforms. The top observation deck offers unparalleled vistas of the water and Erie’s Bayfront District. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of Canada’s shores off to the northeast. The top deck is ideal for snapping selfies, using spectacular panoramic views of Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie as your backdrop. Looking down from the top to the lower observation deck, you’ll get optimal views of a public art mural titled “Flotsam”. The 12,000 square-foot abstract mural was created on the observation deck by international artist SatOne and is a colorful nod to the maritime word “flotsam” which refers to a ship’s wreckage and the debris that eventually washes ashore. The artist felt flotsam also speaks to the feelings people get at some point in their lives when they too, like debris, feel cast aside and not valued. The Bicentennial Tower is open year-round, seven days a week with varying hours. There is a small admission fee to visit the upper observation deck, however, on the first Tuesday of each month, admission is free (excluding holidays and weather permitting). Photo by Kathy L. Irwin.
The Erie Maritime Museum is a great place to get a better understanding of Erie’s rich maritime history. The museum is housed in the former PENELEC generator station on East Front Street, not far from the Bicentennial Tower. Here you can browse through a diverse collection of exhibits dedicated to telling the story of Erie’s role during the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie. Many of the museum’s exhibits refer to Oliver Hazard Perry, a naval commander who played a significant role in the War of 1812 and is known for his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie and coining the phrase “Don’t Give Up The Ship”. Examples include the Battle of Lake Erie, the Age of Fighting Sail, and the War of 1812 exhibits. Museum site administrator James Hall remarked, “In addition to showing how Oliver Hazard Perry built and sailed his fleet of wooden ships here to victory over the British during the War of 1812, exhibits in the museum also speak to our commercial fishing history, as well as the recreational importance of Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie.”
The museum’s star attraction is a replica of Perry’s relief flagship during the Battle of Lake Erie, the U.S. Brig Niagara, docked outside behind the museum. As the official flagship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, this majestic tall ship is a floating museum that demonstrates the ancient art of square-rigged sailing. During the warmer months, both the Niagara and the Schooner Lettie G. Howard, another museum sailing vessel, are available for deck tours and day sails. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the museum gift shop or online.
Next door is the Hampton Inn & Suites Erie Bayfront Hotel, where delicious meals and stunning views await at Oliver’s Rooftop Restaurant. Named after Erie’s famous commodore, Oliver’s is on the top floor of the Hampton Inn and is designed to reflect Erie’s nautical heritage with dark woods, navy accents, water/wave-themed artwork, soft lighting, and a custom-built wood feature with a mesmerizing color changing vapor-based flame representing water and waves. In addition, the restaurant’s expansive floor-to-ceiling windows provide patrons with awe-inspiring views of Presque Isle, Lake Erie, and the Bayfront District. Oliver’s entrees, sandwiches, and salads are available for lunch or dinner and will have your taste buds singing with favorites such as Oliver’s gourmet burger, and Chef Rick’s rich and creamy lobster pasta. Pair your meal with the signature Commodore’s Manhattan craft cocktail, a refreshing blend of bourbon and sweet vermouth, with a cherry garnish.
Beside the Hampton Inn is Oliver’s Beer Garden, a popular spring and summertime open-air restaurant and bar attraction. It’s a place where people gather together with family and friends to enjoy live music, refreshing craft beverages, and delicious food from Oliver’s on-site food truck. Oliver’s Beer Garden is also pet-friendly, so you can bring your four-legged friend along with you. The beer garden, Oliver’s Rooftop, and the Hampton Inn are owned by Scott Enterprises, a local family-run business. Chris N. Scott, vice president of Scott Enterprises, remarked, “We take pride in our efforts to provide our guests with high-quality dining, lodging, and entertainment experiences. The Bayfront District appeals to residents and visitors and as it continues to grow and thrive, we are fortunate to be able to expand our amenities, giving our guests a well-rounded experience.” Scott added that Oliver’s Bayfront Mini Golf, their newest feature, is scheduled to open Memorial Day Weekend next to Oliver’s Beer Garden. Photo by R. Frank.
After lunch, get ready to set sail on the waters of Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie with a relaxing two-hour voyage aboard the Lettie G. Howard, one of the last surviving wooden Fredonia-style schooners. Built in 1893, Lettie G. was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and was restored to its original appearance in the early 1990s. The ship boards at the edge of State Street. Fleet Captain and executive director of the Flagship Niagara League, William Sabatini, explains what passengers can expect. “Sailing on Lettie G. Howard allows you to step back in time and experience what it was like when tall ships sailed in and out of Presque Isle Bay regularly. It allows you to see and experience the city from a different perspective. You can sit back and relax listening to the history of the ship and the area or you can get involved in setting sails with the crew. You can even take a turn at the wheel and steer the ship yourself. Very few people get the chance to sail a tall ship. It’s truly a memorable experience.”
Return to shore and end your day on the spacious outside patio at Rum Runners Bayside Bar & Grill. With thatched umbrella tables, comfortable seating, beautiful waterfront views, and a friendly, casual vibe, Rum Runners has been one of Erie’s top waterfront hangouts for more than three decades. There’s room to spread out and watch sailboats glide by and witness an amazing Erie sunset while sipping on “The Rum Runner”, the restaurant’s infamous signature drink. This frozen concoction of light, dark, and spiced rums, blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, and tropical juices topped with Wray & Nephew overproof rum really packs a punch. Rum Runners’ menu is filled with a variety of tasty burgers, salads, and finger foods. The Debbie’s Bermuda Shorts burger is a ½ pound delight of juicy Angus-reserved beef, topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and melty American cheese. The fries that accompany it are perfectly salted and have just the right amount of crisp. On weekends, Rum Runners’ atmosphere is permeated with the lively sounds of local music. It’s the perfect ending to a memorable day in Erie’s Bayfront.