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As Pennsylvania’s main gateway to the Great Lakes, it’s fitting that Erie bears the name of the lake it hugs. The popular Presque Isle State Park shows off seven miles of sandy shores in Lake Erie with 11 public beaches. But the area also has plenty of trails to hike, mountains to ski, and courses to golf, drawing outdoor lovers of every kind. The museum scene is just as lively, including the Erie Art Museum, the Erie Maritime Museum, the expERIEnce Children’s Museum, and the Hagen History Center. The Erie African American Heritage Trail traces key events in Black history, and the Erie Mural Arts Tour follows more than 80 works of street art. The growing food scene is well represented at the Flagship City Food Hall.
Flight options are fairly limited at Erie International Airport (ERI), so you might want to try Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) in New York, about an hour and 40 minutes northeast along the lake or Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) in Ohio, about the same distance the opposite way. Alternatively, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) in Pennsylvania is just over two hours to the south. Train service runs into Erie’s Union Station. To get around town, there are rideshare options and a bus system, nicknamed the “E,” which also runs a Bayliner Trolley in the downtown area, while car rentals and private transportation are also available.
With its lakefront location, the weather in Erie is often determined by the lake effect conditions. Generally, late spring to early fall is the sweet spot for pleasant temperatures, making it the busiest time of year for travelers. In the spring and fall, the temperature can swing from perfectly pleasant to near-freezing cold within a day. Winters are so chilly that the lake tends to freeze over, and snow can fall up to 11 times a month. Festivals are a way of life here, with the Erie Microbrew Fest in April; Pridefest, Bikefest, and Cyclefest in June and July; Celebrate Erie and Erie County Fair in August; Honey Harvest Festival in September; and Downtown D’Lights in December. All through the summer months, there are fireworks after the minor league baseball games at the stadium.
This 3,200-acre peninsula curving into Lake Erie is considered the state’s only real seashore — and it sure does lake life right. Besides water activities such as swimming, surfing, scuba diving, boating, and fishing, and land-based ones such as hiking and inline skating, it’s also a popular stop for migrating birds, including many that are endangered.
On Millionaires Row in Erie, the restored Watson-Curtze Mansion, built in 1892, is itself a sight, with stained glass, mosaic tiles, and intricate wood carvings. But it’s also now part of the Hagen History Center, dedicated to preserving the area’s legacy. Also on site are the Wood-Morrison House and Carriage House Gift Shop.
Simply put, LEAF is a tree museum. With more than 1,000 trees in the arboretum that sits inside the city’s Frontier Park, the free park has sections of pine, beech, oak, dogwood, and elm trees, as well as a wetlands area and Cascade Creek running throughout. There’s also a labyrinth, for walking meditations, and a winter garden that showcases plants that peak when others aren’t in season.