When was the last time you felt truly rejuvenated and energized? What made you feel that way?
In late August, the AMPLIFY project took us to Erie County for the weekend – we were there to celebrate Erie Pridefest and enjoy a mini-break of sorts. I had never actually been to Erie proper, just driven through on 79 over the years. Ledcat had not been there for years. We went up several days before Pride so we could kick around and relax.
It was just the thing to get a bit of R&R in a low-key environment. Really just one of the best getaways we’ve ever had. Relaxing, fun, good food, and a chance to meet new people.
We stayed in a Hilton Homewood Suites near the Millcreek Mall. I picked it because of the AAA rating, but it was a great choice – very convenient to every place we wanted to go, comfortable, reasonably priced and had some decent features. We didn’t really need a suite, but hotels are expensive in Erie. I was a little shocked at how hard it was to find a deal that didn’t involve a major compromise on features. When we return to Erie, we’ll definitely return to this Hilton.
We tried a handful of restaurants. Our favorite was Pineapple Eddie’s Southern Bistro, a Southern/Island food fusion space that I found via Yelp. Great service, delicious food and fair prices. We also really liked The Brewerie at Union Station which had pub food, steaks and so forth. Great atmosphere in a historic space and good service. It was a bit odd that they started closing up before 10 PM on a Saturday, but no one bothered us in general. I got my official Erie souvener here – a Mason jar that held my dessert. Cute idea. We also tried Smuggler’s Wharf at the suggestion of a few friends but it was disappointing. The food was just okay, the service was a bit awkward and the bathrooms were HORRIBLE. The view was great even on a rain evening, but it is far too expensive to suggest you try. You are better off enjoying the view on your own and then finding something decent to eat.
Overall, Erie does not have an extensive selection of restaurants. Lots of chains and plenty of bar food, but if you plan a trip you should plan restaurants ahead of time. We ended up eating hot dogs and hamburgers more than we like. And the hotel’s “free breakfast” left a lot to be desired.
We also enjoyed the sites. We visited the pier, the bicentennial tower and the Erie Maritime Museum. We didn’t have a chance to visit the top of the tower, unfortunately. But we saw a monument crafted by someone that we know. And the museum was pretty interesting with more of an emphasis on the sailing end of things than glorifying the War of 1812 for which Lake Erie became famous. The museum was disappointing in that it did not adequately explore racial justice and/or women’s experiences. There was one panel featuring black sailors but it was shoved into a corner and obviously a lesser quality display than the rest. There was one reference to women sewing a banner.
We also took a sunset cruise on Lake Erie courtesy of the Lady Kate and her crew. This 90 minute trip is well worth the $16 fee. We learned a lot more about the history of Misery Bay and the Lake as well as the industrial and socioeconomic history of Erie. And the view of the sunset is just breathtaking. Note – this is a tough one for young children because they are never permitted to stand up to see for safety reasons, no standing on your lap or on the bench and you can’t pick them up near the edge. And walking around options are limited, too. There’s a kid friendly cruise on a pirates ship by the same company that might be a better fit for kids.
Then we went to Waldameer Park, an amusement park that reminds me of what Kennywood used to be. They still offer per ride fees so you can walk around and not pay admission. We spent $30 on rides and used almost exactly all of the points. Lots of medium-thrill rides that we both enjoyed. It is a very clean and well-maintained park. The food prices were reasonable. And because school was in session, the park was almost empty. There’s a giant Water Slide park next door which we did not try. I highly recommend this park, especially if you have a family with different types of tastes in rides. They have some high speed things and roller coasters for sure. Fair warning – the park is filled with images of Native American men in headdresses in ‘honor’ of the local high school mascot, the Natives. We stayed for about four hours and it was a good deal as well as a fun adventure.
After the park, we drove over to Presque Isle and stopped at the beach for awhile. Terrific, just terrific. We sat on our chairs and dug our toes into the sand. Close your eyes and it is like being at the ocean. The water was chilly as was the air temperature a bit, but we waded into Lake Erie a bit and watched the kids playing along the edge. It was just wonderful. Very relaxing and soothing. Hunger finally drove us away (the concession stands had closed for the season so all we had with us was bottled water.)
Our final outing was Erie Pride in a downtown park. It was also really nice. Vendors set up in the park, lots of friendly people stopping by the table and a chance to learn about the local LGBTQ community. It reminded me a lot of when Pride was on the North Shore – in a park, but still very visible. It is small, of course, but very nice and well organized. The glaring omission is the lack of a food vendor.
So our trip to Erie was a great success. Once we drove past 279 onto 79, I felt like we were really on vacation. There’s something about being far enough away to clear your mind. For me, having in-home pet sitting made all the difference. Raylene sent us photos every few hours which greatly eased my mind, especially about the elder pets. And our return was nice as well. We slept in, ate that so-so breakfast and headed out around 11:30 AM. So we were home in plenty of time to do our usual Sunday routine and ease back into the work week.
We also met random people who were very cool. Obviously, lots of folks at Pride, but more than that. At Starbucks (yes, don’t judge) we met a man from Cleveland who immediately told us about his son’s employment at Eat-n-Park. He is a big fan of the company as an employer. We educated him about Primanti Brothers and he set off across the parking lot to try it. We met a Jamaican family in the hotel with three lovely young sons who were sweet as can be. We met a man born in Pittsburgh who moved to California at age 2 months – he and his wife were in Erie as part of some caravan of backpackers or something. I met another Cleveland native at Waldameer while Laura was on a ride by herself. She told me they come to Erie once a month for a little getaway. And we also ran into a high school friend of Laura’s!
AMPLIFY will take us back to Erie in 2016 and I’m looking forward to it. I could easily spend several days on the beach alone. If you like wine, there are dozens of wineries. If you like water stuff, there’s fishing and so forth. If you like water parks, they have two. There’s also the Tom Ridge Environmental Center which we didn’t get to visit and a lighthouse tour. Plenty to pack into a weekend.
I don’t get the sense that Erie is a terrible place to be LGBTQ, but it also didn’t seem to have much beyond some social services and programming for white gay cis gender men. I didn’t feel unsafe at all, but I never saw a single rainbow anything outside of Pridefest. There’s one gay bar which we did not try. Check out the AMPLIFY responses from Erie residents.
I highly recommend the mini-break to give yourself a mental break.