Say the words “summer vacation,” and some people imagine reclining on a sandy beach with a frozen adult beverage. Others think of cooking the catch of the day over an open fire in a bucolic campsite, exploring picturesque historical sites, or flying down the first massive hill of a roller coaster.

All of those dreams come true on the Ohio coast of Lake Erie and the Lake Erie Islands. From Ashtabula to Toledo, vacationers will find attractions and accommodations that suit a variety of interests and budgets, all a short drive from Southwest Ohio and the Tristate.

Eric Frantz, assistant general manager of the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, describes the area’s appeal by using the words of a guest from Cincinnati.

“She said, ‘We just love coming here – it’s the closest coastline,’ ” he says.

The Lodge, located in Geneva State Park, bills itself as “the only facility of its kind on Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline east of Sandusky.” The 109-room lakefront property qualifies as a bona fide resort with a lounge and two restaurants (one a seasonal outdoor grill), indoor and outdoor pools, a “splash park” and playground for kids, spa services by appointment, volleyball net, horseshoe courts, onsite bicycle rentals, and a shuttle that offers rotating service to roughly half of the area’s approximately 20 wineries.

The park itself has biking and hiking trails, a marina and natural sand beach complete with bathhouse. Beach bums will want to check out nearby Headlands Beach State Park, home to a mile-long stretch of natural sand that Lake County Visitors Bureau executive director Bob Ulas describes as Ohio’s largest.

“It is always a surprise to tourists when they see how expansive it is,” he says.

An hour’s drive west is the city of Cleveland, where the diversions include taking in an Indians game at Progressive Field; enjoying a live theatrical production on Playhouse Square, the largest theater complex in the nation outside of New York City; dining in fine restaurants such as Lola, owned by Michael Symon, co-host of ABC’s “The Chew”; and visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s latest major exhibit, “Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction.”

One of the summer’s biggest draws, however, will be on the water: The Port of Cleveland Tall Ships Festival. The festival begins July 3 at 4 p.m. with a parade of sails viewable from Voinovich Park free of charge and continues July 4-7 at the Port of Cleveland docks, just north of First Energy Stadium (formerly Cleveland Browns Stadium). The paying public will be able to tour boats such as the Sørlandet, a Norwegian vessel built in 1927. Ed Thomas, past president of festival organizer the Rotary Club of Cleveland, calls it “the oldest full-rigged tall ship in the world still in operation.” Some ships will offer 90-minute “sail-away” cruises for an additional fee. Extended hours on July 4 will allow attendees to view the city’s annual fireworks display over the lake from the docks.

“The festival site happens to be right next to where (the city) is actually setting off the fireworks,” Thomas says. “So you’re going to be right there – the fireworks are going to go straight up above you.”

The tall ships, which are participating in Tall Ships America’s Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes race series, will be making other port appearances to commemorate the military events of the War of 1812 including a reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie in the Lake Erie Islands on Sept. 2. The reenactment is just one of several events planned to celebrate the bicentennial of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in the naval confrontation. For information and updates, go to, and

Those who can’t make the bicentennial festivities can still view the original battle site between Rattlesnake and West Sister islands from the top of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 352-foot Doric column of pink granite. The observation platform provides stunning views of the area and beyond.

“On a clear day you can see the mouth of the Detroit River,” says Maggie Beckford, executive director of the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau. “You can see all the surrounding islands. And yes, you can see Canada.”

Just steps from the monument is the heart of Put-in-Bay, a village on South Bass Island that retains its late 19th-century charm despite increased development. The shady waterside park is lined with charming shops, restaurants and bars, some housed in original Victorian buildings. Visitors will also find modern hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, home rentals and campsites. Kelley's Island, though less developed, is endowed with a range of accommodations and eateries. More solitude is provided by Middle Bass Island, which makes up for a lack of extensive dining and lodging options with abundant natural beauty. All of the aforementioned islands are accessible by ferry.

But for true scream-inducing excitement, head to Cedar Point, a 365-acre amusement park in Sandusky. Stacy Frole, corporate vice president of investor relations for parent company Cedar Fair, notes that the waterfront attraction has been voted the world’s best amusement park for 15 consecutive years in trade publication Amusement Today’s annual poll of amusement-park aficionados. Thrill-seekers come to the place just to ride its 16 roller coasters. Frole refers to the park’s newest addition, the 170-foot-high GateKeeper, as “the tallest wing coaster in the world.”

“Your seats are actually on the wing of the train, so there is no track above you and no track below you,” she says. “It really gives you the feel of flying.”

The park also owns and operates four hotels on or near the entrance to its peninsula location, including Castaway Bay indoor water-park resort, the historic Hotel Breakers beachfront resort, and a rental cottage community, camper/RV village and marina.

“You have the coasters, kids’ rides, live entertainment, the beach,” Frole says. “It’s basically all right here.”

The same can be said of Ohio’s entire Lake Erie shore.