When my daughter and I decided to go to the Great Lakes Beach Glass Festival at Erie, Pa.’s Bayfront Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed looking at lovely beach glass jewelry and other items.
However, we also discovered a beautiful city waterfront that’s definitely worth the two-hour trip from Buffalo. I had never really visited Erie, other than driving past it on the Thruway when heading to points west and once briefly visiting Erie’s Presque Isle State Park.
We found a world-class convention facility, with breathtaking views of the waterfront and Presque Isle State Park across the bay. The building itself is boatlike in appearance; its design has been described as resembling a ship that’s heading out into Presque Isle Bay. This design reflects Erie’s maritime heritage and is a symbol of the rebirth of Erie’s downtown waterfront area.
The building’s 28,000-square-foot great hall is the site of conventions and shows (like the festival we attended), as well as theatrical performances, commencement exercises and private events. Outside the great hall, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the entire waterfront area.
After browsing through the many vendors at the festival and buying much more beach glass jewelry than we should have, we decided to check out what else was on Erie’s waterfront. We headed across the 170-foot-long, all-glass skybridge, 65 feet above the water, which connects the convention center with the adjacent Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel. We took a peek into the hotel lobby and determined that it looked like a nice place to stay, as it is centrally located and offers great waterfront views.
The high point – literally and figuratively – of our visit to Erie’s waterfront was the Bicentennial Tower, located at the end of Dobbins Landing, a public dock adjacent to the hotel. This 187-foot-tall tower, built as part of the city’s waterfront development in the mid-1990s, commemorates the City of Erie Bicentennial, which was celebrated in 1995. For $3 per person, you can ride the elevator to the top and take in the view from a windy, open-air observation deck. We enjoyed a spectacular view of Presque Isle State Park and Presque Isle Bay, as well as downtown Erie. Since I am a history buff, I especially enjoyed the 16 informational plaques that are located along the edges of the observation deck. Take the time to read them to get an overview of waterfront and local history. For an even closer view of the area, there are a number of coin-operated telescopes on the deck.
There are several other waterfront attractions located just a short drive from the Bayfront Convention Center, including Presque Isle State Park, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and the Erie Maritime Museum.
Presque Isle State Park, a 7-mile long, 3,200-acre peninsula, is a popular summertime destination, which is understandable, considering it has 11 beaches on Lake Erie. Presque Isle also has 11 miles of hiking trails, as well as a 13.5-mile multipurpose trail for bicycling, in-line skating, hiking and jogging.
Discover Presque Isle Days, an annual festival that includes a variety of activities, musical entertainment and beach volleyball, which takes place July 26-28. (www.discoverpi.com)
If you enjoy looking at lighthouses, you’ll want to check out the two lighthouses within Presque Isle State Park, as well as a third lighthouse on shore near downtown Erie. The circa 1872 Presque Isle Lighthouse features a 57-foot tower that overlooks Lake Erie. While the interior is not open to the public, you can view this lighthouse from the beach.
On the Erie Harbor side of Presque Isle, the North Pier Light has been guiding ships into the Erie Harbor Channel since 1858. Visitors can walk along the pier out to the light. The Erie Land Lighthouse can be seen on the opposite side of the channel.
Another Presque Isle landmark is the Perry Monument, built in 1926 to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. This battle actually was fought on the west end of Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. However, Perry and his men returned to their home port on Presque Isle Bay to repair their ships and to get medical treatment.
Located at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park (about four miles west of downtown Erie), is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. A 65,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, it features exhibits about area history, ecosystems, wildlife and bird migration. When we visited a few years ago, my family especially liked climbing to the top of the 75-foot glass-enclosed observation tower, which overlooks Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park.