Duration: Two days and two nights
There’s nothing quite as charmy as a Pennsylvania small town, with its main street shoppes, shady town squares, and all-around homegrown ways. A few days in the Great Lakes Region, in all its summertime splendor, is all you need to get a taste of the small towns that make PA famous. Erie anchors the roadtrip, with its waterfront views of the Presque Isle Bay, a natural wonder that Conde Nast Traveler magazine calls one of the “top 100 swimming holes” in the world. You’ll also discover this is Pennsylvania wine country, just as much as it’s country market and arts boutique country. True enough, the pace is a little slower out here, but that’s only so we can savor it all just a little more.
Coffee cup in hand, a morning walk around Erie is the finest way to understand why they call it the ‘Gem City’ – it really does sparkle by the lake. Take your time and feel the lake breeze as you walk up State Street to your first stop, the Erie Art Museum. It’s the home of interesting folk and traditional works, itself an elegant example of Greek Revival architecture. Make sure you see The Avalon Restaurant, an amazingly detailed soft-sculpture installation of a day in the life at the now-past-its-time local diner – wool-haired, marble-eyed, plastic-fingernailed miniaturized waitresses pouring tiny cereal flakes. Then stop by the ClaySpace where you can use the pottery wheels and pay-as-you-go firing to cook up your own souvenir. Clean the clay off your hands and head north a few short blocks to one of the grandest structures in town, or any small town for that matter.Read More >
By now it’s later in the morning, and the light is just about perfect on the Warner Theater, the home of the Erie Philharmonic, the Lake Erie Ballet and Broadway performances. While the 10-ton marquee, in all its Art Deco majesty with 8,000 lights, is a photo-op alone, step inside this one-time Warner Brothers movie palace and witness the grand proscenium stage – it’s huge, it’s gold-leafed, it’s ornate … think Fred and Ginger. In 1931, Warner Brothers (hence the name) spent $1.5 million Depression-era dollars to make this the deluxe downtown picture palace. Today its gold-backed mirrors still reflect the ornate beauty and heart of the Warner. It’s worth planning ahead to find some tickets for a performance later in the evening.Read More >
Known as one of the oldest and largest community theaters in the nation, the Erie Playhouse remains at the forefront of the arts in Erie. While you’re there, make sure you get to see one of the YouTheatre programs, especially if you have littler ones along. It’s been ranked one of the ten best community theatres in the country (and the busiest in the state), and everything from its on-again/off-again history to its musicals has that small-town can-do spirit written all over it.Read More >
Take a few hours later in the day to relax on a park bench and live the small life. Poke around the mom-and-pops, admire the Queen Anne-style homes, ask a local where to get a scone, and at around 4:00, “Meet us under the clock.” It’s the popular Erie phrase of yesteryear, when friends would gather downtown under the large bronze clock in The Boston Store. It was once Erie’s premier department store, but couldn’t survive the suburban shopping mall boom. The Art Deco-inspired giant is still worth a visit, and a symbol of Erie’s opulent past.
Now that you’re a regular local, go to the heart of downtown Erie (hence the spelling of Brewerie) in Union Station. This rail-inspired gastropub on 14th Street treats you under soaring station ceilings – it’s airy yet intimate beneath the grand rotunda. Enjoy beer-infused dishes, (the house muffins are baked daily from the already-brewed beer grain), then take your pint outside to the Trackside Beer Garden and watch the trains whiz by.
Rise and shine! It’s time to hit the road for a scenic drive South to the small town of Meadville, just about 45 minutes from Erie. Small town or not, Meadville is about halfway between New York City and Chicago, which made it the ideal stopping point for travelers in the old days. Today, this area is still the perfect stop because of the Market House, the oldest continuous market in Pennsylvania. To experience it like a local, go early on a Wednesday or a Saturday, and head directly to the back to get your fix in the Market Grill, the in-house country restaurant. Loosen the old belt if necessary, then wander through the stands of fresh strawberries, still-hot scones, and glass-bottled milk straight off the trucks (from the dairy farms just up the road). Maybe even do a picnic’s worth of shopping for later. In operation since 1870, you’d swear it still was a colonial meeting house, with a nice low and shady wraparound porch, neighbors square-dancing out front and customers who know all the vendors by their nicknames.Read More >
After lunch, head back north to Cambridge Springs, home to the Campbell Pottery Store. This rehabbed dairy barn – a favorite of film scouts – holds three floors full of handmade porcelain pottery, glass and fine wood crafts and is just down the pike from where Master Potter Bill Campbell coaxes his unique shapes right out of the clay. You can just feel the love poured into every hand-hewn beam and restored fieldstone … the perfect backdrop for local handmade art. And don’t miss the nine-acre daylily meadow out back, in full glory in July.Read More >
Continue north for about an hour to the small town of North East. You wouldn’t guess it, but Lake Erie produces the kind of weather that makes for great vineyards. Follow the signs for Mazza Vineyards. Its broad, breezy porches and rolling hills full of Lake Erie spray just beg for a blanket, a bit of cheese (something from the Meadville Market House?) and some slow, sweet quality time. But first, tour the beautiful Spanish-style estate, taste what the house is pouring that day and treat yourself to a bottle of their perfect German Riesling right there on the lawn. In the late day light, it doesn’t get much more charmy than this.Read More >
The Freeport Landing Restaurant was established thirty years ago and continues to provide the local community the best in home cooked meals.Read More >
Penn Shore Vineyards
Along the shores of Lake Erie, you'll find this 40-year old winery. Stop by the tasting bar to sample their goods, and then take a stroll through rows of French hybrid and American vines. You’ll see first hand where their award-winning wines come from.
Tom Ridge Environmental Center
Watch movies on a 4-story high big screen or learn about the wildlife in the surrounding Presque Isle habitat. Indoors or outdoors, you have 3,200-acres of land to explore.