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Erie, PA – fresh air and great food to spare

Presque Isle State Park - North Light
Presque Isle State Park - North Light
by Doug Bardwell - http://DougBardwell.com

Quick – where is Pennsylvania’s seashore? Trying to imagine Philadelphia with some waterfront property? Nope – that’s just the Delaware River. As big as Pennsylvania is, the only seashore is right here in Erie, Pa.

Presque Isle State Park

In actuality, the longest strand makes up Presque Isle State Park in Erie. There’s over 3,200 acres on this sandy peninsula and it’s used for all types of recreation. Open year round, more than four million visitors used the park last year. That’s more than visited Yellowstone.

Riding the entire roadway loop around the peninsula means a trip of 13 miles, but there are a number of cut-through trails. Don’t be surprised to find dozens of bikers or runners, as there are innumerable races here each year.

Wandering the entire park, you’ll find a number of photo worthy stopping points, including the lighthouse, which has been shining its beacon for over 140 years. Actually there are two of them. There’s also the tall Perry Monument, paying respect to the heroic man and his crew who were the first to ever defeat and capture an entire English war ship convoy.

While it’s not a tourist attraction, there’s a fascinating houseboat community here, protected by Presque Isle’s peninsula.

Bring your running shoes, your bike, your volleyball, your fishing rod, your picnic basket, your bird-watching binoculars, your bathing suit and/or your boat. There’s lots to do in this wonderfully protected bay created by this constantly changing peninsula.

ADA accessible restrooms, fishing areas, picnic tables and pavilions as well as parking areas can be found in numerous locations throughout the park. Beach 7 also provides handicap access to the water’s edge.

Campers, there is no camping in Presque Isle State Park, but immediately outside the park area, you’ll find Sara’s Campground with over 100 sites, many right on the beach. Waldameer Amusement Park and Water World are located adjacent to the campground. There’s no lack of things to do in Erie.

Tom Ridge Environmental Center

Located just up the hill from the state park is the new Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC), a LEED certified, 65,000 square foot facility that will help you understand the topography, geology, flora and fauna of the area. Wonderful exhibits cover a wealth of topics and are designed to be interactive.

As soon as you enter, check the movie schedule – they’ve got a number of good ones and you can arrange your stay around the show times. The 15 minute presentation in the Erie Insurance Orientation Theater is great for a quick overview of Presque Isle State Park.

Be sure to go up the elevator to the lookout tower with amazing views of the shoreline and the peninsula. Feeling energetic? Walk down the 143 steps.

If possible, sign up for a guided tour, and you’ll be able to go into the private research labs where they study some of the strangest creatures found in the area.

While I’m not a big gift shop person, I’ve got to give kudos to the gift shop here. Lots of nice things you’ll want to view and probably take home.

[see more photos from this story]

Getting hungry

On my last trip to Erie, I tried a couple new places that were definitely worth a repeat trip back. For lunch we stopped at U Pick 6 Tap House in downtown Erie. This cozy bar serves a great selection of beers on tap as well as a full menu of food items. They offer 22 different beers on tap as well as a beer engine.

I had an Italian ‘boli that was delicious. Also check out their sandwiches, flatbreads and specialty pizzas. Dine inside or out, depending on the weather.

U Pick 6 Tap House, 333 State Street at the corner of 4th, suite 110 | (814)520-5419

For dinner, we pulled up out front of one of the historic downtown firehouses, built in 1908, which now houses The Pufferbelly. When the firehouse was decommissioned in 1979, it sat vacant some time before the present owners lovingly restored it. It now bears testament to the brave bunch of men who protected this neighborhood for years. Mementos and photos from years gone by cover the walls for a very interesting atmosphere.

But the food is the real star here. You know you’ve come to the right place with your first mouthful of their heavenly appetizers. Big enough to share, we tried a couple different ones and they were all outstanding.

My main course was a honey-dill glazed salmon steak over a bed of fresh spinach, lightly tossed with a zesty dill dressing and accented with green apple and toasted almonds.

As good as the food is, you might want to save room for dessert – their dessert selections all sound amazing. You’ll love everything about this place. The staff and the food are as good as you’ll find anywhere.

The Pufferbelly; 414 French Street; Erie, PA 16511 | (814) 454-1557

If sweets are your thing, there’s a family owned chocolatier that you’ll want to add to your itinerary. Pulako’s Chocolates. They’ve got three locations, one actually next door to The Pufferbelly and then their manufacturing facility and store is on Parade Street.

Founder George Pulakos started making chocolates in his home and pushed a cart around Philadelphia back in 1889. In 1903 he packed up and moved family and business to Erie, where eventually he opened his first store at 926 State Street.

Since then, four generations have continued making his specialty chocolates and have come up with some amazing new creations of their own.

Tours of the facility are available for groups. Each lasts about 25 minutes and ends with some sampling and time available for shopping. It doesn’t get much sweeter than this. Definitely worth a stop.

Pulakos Chocolates; 2530 Parade Street; Erie, PA 16503 | (814) 452-4026

Want more reasons to come to Erie, read about their great wineries.

For more information on the Erie, PA region