Perfect Vintage: Geneva-on-the-Lake
Get lost in time at Geneva-on-the-Lake
Learn more: visitgenevaonthelake.com
Sandwiched between Lake Erie’s picturesque beaches and the lush vineyards of northeast Ohio’s Ashtabula County, Geneva-on-the-Lake retains much of the same charm that made it a vacation hotspot in the 1940s.
Its lakefront amusement parks and big-band dance halls are gone, but the colorful, roughly mile-long section of Lake Road—dubbed “the strip”—still supports family-owned wineries, hot-dog stands and cluttered beach-themed gift shops. The nostalgic Coney Island vibe draws longtime weekenders who share memories with kids and grandkids.
But fun is not lost in time here. In summer, you can play a round at the nation’s longest continuously operating mini-golf course (Allison’s Mini-Golf, putting since 1924), then grab a beer and rock show at rough-and-tumble The Cove, where James Brown, The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix once took the stage. Couples and young families play old-school videogames at arcades that open onto the sidewalk. On windy days, you’ll even see a few cars topped with surfboards heading toward the lake.
9 a.m. Work up an appetite with a morning walk through the marshy coves and winding lakefront paths of Geneva State Park (4499 Padanarum Rd., Geneva), then hit 75-year-old seasonal bakery Madsen Donuts (5426 Lake Rd. E). Locals line the block for decadent specialties like maple-glazed fried cake.
Noon In the middle of the kitschy entertainment strip, grab shamelessly greasy cheeseburgers and fries from staff in starched white uniforms at open-air, ’50s-era Eddie’s Grill (5377 Lake Rd. E). Bring change to play The Platters and Ray Charles from tableside jukeboxes.
3 p.m. When the strip and state park get packed, head a few miles east to wide, sandy Walnut Beach Park (1645 Walnut Blvd., Ashtabula). It unfolds in front of a wildlife preserve and an open-early snack stand that serves ice cream, candy and a perch-and-eggs breakfast.
6 p.m. Talkative Sicily import Alessandro Pilumeli crafts made-from-scratch specialties like black grouper in prosecco sauce at Alessandro’s (6540 Lake Rd. W, Ashtabula). Arrive early for seats in the tiny dining room, then leave with a jar of the house red sauce.
“Geneva is a historic community that’s unique, like Atlantic City or Las Vegas,” says Gene Sigel, co-owner of nearby South River Vineyard. “It’s such an old community that’s kind of lost in time.”
Once you burn through the strip’s fried food and carnival kitsch, you’ll find plenty of other places to explore within a half-hour of Lake Road. Wineries serve up local vintages and weekend entertainment, and photo-ready driving trips take visitors over the nation’s longest and shortest covered bridges.
Ashtabula County’s 20 wineries thrive under the moderate climate and extended growing season produced by Lake Erie, so take time to celebrate Ohio Wine Month in June.
Start 10 miles south of Geneva-on-the-Lake at quiet, beautiful South River Vineyard (6062 S. River Rd., Geneva), headquartered in a century-old church. Guests can sip a buttery chardonnay with floral aromas on a covered terrace that overlooks 100 acres planted with Old World varietals. (Red Eagle Distillery, a sister operation visible in the distance, recently released its first bourbon.)
Before it gets dark, head back to the strip. The Lakehouse Inn & Winery (5653 Lake Rd. E) serves up tasting flights and wood-fired pizza on a tiered waterfront patio that gets packed at happy hour. Kick off your sandals and hit the sandy beach to watch the sunset.
As lively crowds start strolling through town, hit the Old Firehouse Winery (5499 Lake Rd. E). Savor the full-bodied Firehouse Red, and hop aboard a Ferris wheel saved from a defunct amusement park for nightly rides through summer.
When to go: Vendors hawk art and jewelry made from colorful lake-worn shards during the Ashtabula Harbor Beach Glass Festival, running June 29 and 30 in the bustling marina about 9 miles east of Geneva-on-the-Lake. beachesinc.com
Where to stay: Among the Ohio park system’s most luxurious housing, the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake (4888 N. Broadway) offers lake-view rooms including a king suite with a kitchenette, waterfront trails with snuggle-up benches and shuttle service to area wineries Wednesday through Sunday. thelodgeatgeneva.com
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