Things To Do In Erie
Located along the shores of Lake Erie, Erie is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania. It’s known for its natural beauty and offers plenty to do for outdoor lovers. There’s also a surprising amount of history and culture in the town as well. Read on, for the 15 best things to do in Erie.
1.Presque Isle State Park
Spending time at Presque Isle State Park is definitely one of the best things to do in Erie. There’s a reason it’s the most visited state park in Pennsylvania. The 3,200-acre peninsula juts out into Lake Erie and offers a wealth of outdoor recreation. Sunbathe and relax on one of the 11 beaches in the park.
Or go swimming, canoeing, scuba diving, fishing or boating. A series of trails are ideal for walking, running, rollerblading and biking. In the winter, the park is also popular for cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice boating and ice fishing.
Learn about the peninsula’s unique ecology at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. And enjoy sweeping views from the historic Presque Isle Lighthouse. The park is also one of the top bird watching spots in the country.
2.Port Erie Bicentennial Tower
Enjoy sweeping views of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park and Downtown Erie from the Port Erie Bicentennial Tower. It’s one of the best things to do in Erie. On a clear day, you can see across Lake Erie to Long Point in Canada, more than 25 miles away. Built to celebrate the city’s bicentennial year, in 1996, the tower stands 187 feet tall.
It features two observation decks – one at 17 feet and the other at 138 feet above ground level. It’s free to access the first deck. There is a charge to access the second deck, which you can reach by elevator. Pick up souvenirs or snacks at the gift shop on-site.
3.Waldameer Park and Water World
Waldameer Park and Water World is one of the best things to do in Erie for families and thrill seekers. Located at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, the theme park features more than 100 rides, slides and attractions. Enjoy thrilling rides, like one of the top 10 best wooden roller coasters in the world.
There are also family-friendly and kiddie rides. And plenty of ways to play in the water in the Water World. It’s free to enter Waldameer Park. You can pay for rides as you go, or pay for an all day ride pass. There are also free live entertainment, midway games, and a variety of food options as well.
4.Erie Zoo and Botanical Garden
Spend some time with animals and plants from around the world at the Erie Zoo and Botanical Garden. Located in Glenwood Park, the grounds cover 15 acres. Inside, you’ll find more than 400 animals and 600 species of plants. Visit the Kiboka Outpost and see African Wild Dogs, Warthogs and Rhinos. See exotic wildlife from Africa and Asia.
Don’t miss the many beautiful gardens throughout the grounds, including a greenhouse, rose garden, children’s garden and model railroad garden with miniature plants. There is also a carousel and safari train that visitors can ride. The zoo also offers a gift shop and several snack and concession stands on-site.
5.Erie Art Museum
Located in downtown Erie, the Erie Art Museum has a history dating back to 1898. Housed in a complex made up of five historic buildings, the museum features more than 8,000 objects and works of art. Its collection of American ceramics, Indian bronzes, Tibetan paintings, photography and comic book art is particularly strong.
Don’t miss the Everything But the Shelves gallery, which features more than 1,000 pieces of art hung salon style. The museum also features 10 to 20 visiting exhibitions throughout the year. In addition, the museum offers a wide range of special events, educational programs and performing arts shows.
6.Erie Maritime Museum
Located along the shores of Lake Erie, Erie has a rich maritime history. And the best place to learn all about it is at the Erie Maritime Museum. The main focus of the museum is on the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie in particular. See dramatic videos, historic artifacts and interactive exhibits.
There’s a reconstruction of a portion of the USS Lawrence and a former steam-powered electricity generating station. When the U.S. Brig Niagara is docked, admission to the museum also includes a guided tour of the recreated wooden warship. It’s also possible to sail on the Niagara at certain times of the year as well.
7.Presque Isle Downs and Casino
Try out your luck at Presque Isle Downs and Casino. Spanning 272 acres, it’s the premier gambling destination and racetrack in northwestern Pennsylvania. In addition to thoroughbred horse racing at their racetrack, the casino offers a 140,000-square-foot clubhouse, with more than 1,500 slot machines, with popular games such as Wheel of Fortune and Wizard of Oz.
Or get your game on at more than 50 tables, including poker, blackjack and craps. If you’re into sports, there are more than 50 sports betting kiosks. There are also options for non-gamblers, including live entertainment, shopping, casual and fine dining and several bars and lounges.
8.Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort
Enjoy summer fun all year long at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park. It’s always a balmy 84 degrees inside Pennsylvania’s only indoor water park, and the largest indoor water park on the East Coast. Float down lazy rivers, or splash around in various pools. Slide down water slides, or try your hand surfing.
There are water slides, body coasters, tube coasters, 80,000-gallon activity pool and three hot tubs, including an adult-only option. Splash Lagoon also offers several land-based attractions, including a tree-top ropes course, arcade and VR experience. Food and drinks are available, as are locker and cabana rentals.
9.ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum
For families with kids between toddler age and 8 years old, the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is the perfect place for a few hours of educational play. Located in downtown Erie, the three-story museum offers more than 50 exhibits that encourage hands-on and interactive learning. Topics include science, math, art, culture, health and literacy.
Learn about the water environment, or explore a cave, on the Explore Floor. on the Imagination Floor, kids can try on different adult roles in Our Town. The museum also provides outdoor learning experiences in the Discovery Corner. For kids aged 3 and under, there’s a special Tots Spot space.
The Lake Erie Wine Country is one of the largest wine growing regions in the United States. Stretching across New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, there are thousands of acres of vineyards, making a wide variety of common varietals, as well as more unusual fruit wines and ice wines.
A great way to experience the flavors is to drive along Route 5 and the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. A National Scenic Byway, it passes by more than 20 wineries and vineyards, such as Courtyard Winery, Penn Shore Vineyards and Presque Isle Wine Cellars. Guided winery tours are available if you want to fully enjoy your day and leave the driving to someone else.
11.Asbury Woods Nature Center
Enjoy nature and learn about the environment at the Asbury Woods Nature Center. Spanning more than 200 acres, the award-winning center consists of historic properties and a variety of habitats, such as forests, fields, streams and wetlands. Go hiking, running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing on miles of trails.
There’s also a state-of-the-art nature center with animal exhibits, native plant gardens, workshops, amphitheaters and picnic pavilions. The center also offers numerous programs, festivals, special events and nature camps, including several wonderful programs geared towards kids.
12.Go to the Theater
Erie is considered one of the top ten theater communities in a mid-size city in the country. And there are several great options in town. The historic Warner Theatre was commissioned by Warner Brothers in the 1930s, and features gorgeous art deco interior, gilded grand lobby and crystal chandeliers.
It’s home to the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Ballet and routinely hosts Broadway productions, musicians and movie screenings. For a more local flavor, check out productions at the All an Act Theatre, Erie Playhouse, Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture. In addition to putting on a variety of plays, musicals and other theatrical productions, they also offer acting and theater classes for kids and the community.
For one of the tastiest attractions in Erie, head to Pulakos Chocolates. Founded in 1889 in Philadelphia, Pulakos has been an Erie institution since 1903. They still make specially blended chocolates using a recipe handed down for four generations. They use the freshest ingredients, including fruits and nuts, and produce nearly everything in Erie.
Take a factory tour if you can, and learn all about their chocolate making process. The best part of course is tasting the samples afterwards. Highlights include their popular chocolate-coated sponge taffy and chocolate-coated strawberries. Don’t forget to pick up a few boxes of your favorites to take home with you!
With easy access to Lake Erie, and plenty of gamefish, it’s not surprising that fishing is one of the best things to do in Erie. Every year, anglers catch around 1.5 million fish in Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay and their tributaries. Common fish include steelhead, walleye, salmon, bluegill, crappie, perch, smelt and lake trout.
Numerous fishing charters make it easy to have a great day out on the lake. Most charter boats operate from May to October. Shore fishing along Presque Isle Bay is also popular. Ice fishing in Presque Isle Bay in the winter time is also an option. Common fish during the winter include perch and pike. In the spring, night fishing for walleye is a unique experience.
15.Schaefer’s Auto Art
For something different and unusual, check out Schaefer’s Auto Art. A hidden gem of a roadside attraction, Schaefer’s Auto Art is an unusual outdoors sculpture garden. The large scale sculptures are made from automobile parts, and include a Bumble Bee made from a SAAB car and parts of a cement truck, and a Spider made from an entire VW Beetle.
There’s also a 40-foot Rocket, a Two-Headed Dinosaur, “Automan” and more. Some of the sculptures have been around since the 1980s. New sculptures are added from time to time. Expect extra decorations around Halloween and Christmas. It’s a fun and free visit.
Looking for things to do nearby? Check out our guide to the 15 best things to do in Cleveland, Ohio.