Island Adventure: Kelleys Island
Find a lakeside respite on Kelleys Island
Learn more: kelleysisland.com
Look north from the windswept deck of the Marblehead ferry, and you’ll get a first glimpse of this small, northern port town’s storybook calm: a rocky, tree-lined coast emerging beneath a blue Lake Erie sky. Colorful sailboats slowly tacking in front of stately waterfront homes.
Most visitors to Kelleys Island leave cars and cares on the mainland, about 4 watery miles behind, then rent golf carts near the dock to motor a few blocks west to a downtown nestled above a busy marina at Division Street and Lakeshore Drive. It’s populated by restaurants including waterfront seafood spot Dockers and dive bars like maritime-kitschy Bag the Moon, known for $1 Busch and 30-cent shrimp at happy hour. Even when things slow down on weekdays, you’ll find families playing mini-golf at touristy-but-cute Caddy Shack Square or noshing on mint-chocolate squares from the Original Island Fudge Shoppe.
11 a.m. The Kelleys Island Ferry (510 W. Main St. Marblehead), almost due north of Columbus, shoves off regularly during summer. Arrive early to grab strawberry sundaes a few blocks west at Brown’s Dairy Dock.
3 p.m. Rent comfy cruiser bikes from Portside Marina (114 W. Lakeshore Dr.), then head to the island’s eastern edge, where sunlight dapples through dense canopy and private beaches outnumber cars.
6 p.m. Enjoy Kobe tenderloin or seafood lo mein at The Island House Martini Bar and Restaurant (131 Division St.). After dinner, sip a specialty martini on a patio with sleek modern touches like tables with flaming centerpieces.
10 p.m. Lively locals convene at The Village Pump (103 W. Lakeshore Dr.) to down boozy, blended brandy Alexanders and ogle a robust collection of historic island photos.
Kelleys has a quieter, more romantic vibe than the pirate-party atmosphere of nearby Put-in-Bay. Year-round residents and summer employees are quick with tips on good fishing charters and the island’s peculiar history, like how it once supported more than 23 wineries. (The shaded porch at Unc’l Dik’s, near the state park, is great for local gossip.)
“People come up here and think all that there is to do is go out to the bars,” says Laura Thompson, a seasonal bartender at Kelleys Island Wine Co. “There’s so much to do if you go out exploring.”
With a golf cart or bike, it’s easy to crisscross the island’s 4.4 square miles during a weekend. Nature fans will find secluded coastlines and forests with nesting songbirds, while the eat-and-drink set can grab flights and small plates at the winery or tip back artisan ales at Kelleys Island Brewery.
Island-hoppers might come for the nightlife, but they stay for the nature and beaches with some of Lake Erie’s whitest sand.
“Cocktails taste about the same anywhere you go,” says Pat Hayes, longtime Inn on Kelleys Island proprietor. “We have things outside here you can’t find anywhere else.”
Start in the island’s northwest corner on the woody North Shore Loop Trail, which ventures to rocky shorelines called alvars and panoramic lake views beyond the trees. Farther inland, off Ward Road, lies the East Quarry Trail, where hikers search the desert-like mining remnant for fossils and wildflowers.
At day’s end, cool down with a secluded swim at North Pond State Nature Preserve’s quiet, sandy beach. The trail starts from Ward Road near the quarry entrance.
When to go: Celebrate Oliver Hazard Perry’s heroic rout of the British navy during the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial. Vintage ships dock at Kelleys Island from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. theperrygroup.com
Where to stay: Rough it in style at Kelleys Island State Park (920 Division St.). Visitors can reserve one of two six-person yurts—tent-like structures with a kitchen, bathroom and TV—or bring a tent and fall asleep to lapping waves at campsite 91. If indoors are more your speed, The Cricket Lodge (111 E. Lakeshore Dr.) offers cozy bedrooms and landscaped paths to a lakeside patio.
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