Eastern Home & Travel May/June 2017 - Page 60

Full disclosure: Despite living in Maryland for the last 28 years, I call Erie my hometown. It’s where I grew up. Erie is where my parents and extended family still live, and where I love to visit each summer. The sunsets are unreal. Presque Isle State Park’s 13-plus miles of paved walking and biking paths could not be more peaceful and filled with Mother Nature's Beauty, and there's beaches. Yes. Eleven goregeous guarded beaches where you can swim, play in the sand, watch those unreal sunsets and attend a sunset concert (BYOC: Bring Your Own Chair—of course). Not to mention the chocolate in Erie. Let me say it’s amongst the best this world traveler has tasted. More on that later. Erie sits along its namesake, Lake Erie, in good company with Cleveland, Ohio, Buffalo, N.Y., and Monroe, Mich. For those readers who have yet to visit any of the Great Lakes, they are exactly that. They’re “great,” as in humongous. You can't wave to the family picknicking on the other side of the lake, they are not surrounded by grass; they are massive and, often, surprising for a first-time visitor. Presque Isle State Park is where much of the summer action takes place in Erie. As you drive down Peninsula Drive, headed toward the entrance of Presque Isle, you’ll first notice Waldameer Amusement Park & Water World. It’s the 10th- oldest amusement park in the country and 60 EASTERN HOME & TRAVEL although they have 75 rides, slides and attractions do not make it anywhere near the largest in the country, it’s the perfect scale for a fun afternoon with the family. An added bonus is free admission, you only pay when you want to ride or play. Before you hit the beaches, an absolute must-stop is Sara’s, an Erie favorite for fun, casual food and treats. Make sure to order an orange sherbet cooler and if you're a fan of hot dogs, only eat Smith's while you're in Erie. They proudly serve lots of them at Sara’s. Once on the Peninsula, roll down your windows, drive slowly and take in the view. You’ll have the bay to your right and the beaches on your left. If you prefer to park and walk, run or rollerblade your way around the Peninsula the 13.5 miles of paved multipurpose trail is for you. Bikes and surreys can also be rented at Yellow Bike Rental Co. at the Waterworks Pumphouse. To explore the lake and her lagoons, rent a kayak, rowboat or canoe at the Canoe & Boat Livery. Segway tours are also offered through Yellow Bike Rental Co. Once you reach the tip of the peninsula at Perry Monument, named after Oliver Hazard Perry, the Commodore of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, you begin to see the beaches on your right. Hunt for beach glass, relish in the site of the kites flying at Sunset Point, and watch the turtles bask in the sun at Graveyard Pond. The recently restored Presque Isle Lighthouse, near Beach 8, is another must explore and is open for tours daily in season. There are endless possibilities for those who want to be on the water, too: boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing and paddle boarding. The best resource to discover all that Presque Isle State Park has to offer is the Presque Isle Partnership. They make it their business to ensure that you enjoy your experience at the park and raise funds to enhance visitor’s experience while maintaining the park’s natural beauty. The partnership sponsors year-round events at the peninsula including a full and half marathon, a triathlon, the bay swim, poker paddle (gathering a poker hand as you kayak through the various designated stops), a spectacular sunset concert series every Wednesday night during June and July and their big, full-out, too-many- awesome-events-to-list-here-weekend in July, Discover Presque Isle. They are also responsible for the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and gift shop at the entrance to the park. While you could spend days exploring Presque Isle State Park, Erie has plenty more to offer. Let’s start with one of the most important claims to Erie fame in this writer’s eyes, the chocolate. Three famous chocolatiers reside in Erie: Romolo, Stefanelli’s and Pulakos. Each has Erie chocolate roots dating back to the early 1900s. Although their products span the spectrum of deliciousness (I can attest from 40- plus years of market research), if you want to try a unique chocolate specialty, you must try sponge candy, an Erie specialty. My parents never come to visit us without bringing Romolo’s chocolate and a bag of sponge candy. To balance out the chocolate, a favorite of mine is the new Juice Jar in the Colony Plaza, five minutes from the entrance to the Peninsula. I tried nearly every green juice and their hummus is delic ̸))Qձ䁙ȁɥɕ̰ͥѡѕ͔͹)ݥѕ́奕Ѽͽѕ䁝ɥ́յ̰)յȁɥ́ݡЁ'eɔѡѼ)̸͍յ