Frugal Foodie Mama: The 5 Best Family Friendly Things to Do in Erie, PA This Summer

Friday, June 23, 2023

The 5 Best Family Friendly Things to Do in Erie, PA This Summer

 Planning a family getaway to Erie, Pennsylvania this summer? Add these 5 kid-friendly attractions & experiences to your must-do list while you are in the area...

This post was created in partnership with Visit Erie. As always, all opinions & thoughts expressed below are 100% my own.

This is our second summer (and sadly our last) living in Erie, Pennsylvania, and summertime is when this area most comes alive. The lake glows a bluish-green. The beaches at Presque Isle State Park open for swimming. All the rooftop bars and restaurants on the bay re-open. And every weekend, visitors from all directions make the drive on 79, 80, or 90 to spend the weekend on Erie's shores. 

I have to admit that the city of Erie and its surrounding neighborhoods have surprised me in many ways. I definitely had a completely different vision of what living in this northern Pennsylvania city would look like when my fiance first approached me with the possibility of us moving to the area for a career opportunity that he was considering pursuing.

Honestly, all I could think about is how awful the winters were probably going to be here because I am not a girl who enjoys much more than one or two snow days a year. I don't like the cold, and the thought of anything "lake effect" sounded like a deal breaker to me.

And here we are about 10 months and some change later, and I am actually a little sad that we are leaving. We have grown to love the lake and the minor league sports teams here, the local breweries, and the people. 

But our next adventure is only taking us a 2 hour straight shot down I-79, so I have a feeling we will be making the drive up to visit at least a few times a year. 
Maybe just not during the winter months. ;)

That being said, I do really think summertime is when the magic happens here in Erie, Pennsylvania. The whole area gets this laidback seaside getaway kind of vibe, and there is so much to do- especially if you happen to be making the trip here with the kiddos in tow.

While Erie definitely offers families more than just the handful of attractions that I am sharing with you all in this post, I feel like these five places/experiences are definite must-do's when in the area (in no particular order)...

1. Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens 

423 West 38th Street
Open 10am-5pm daily (March-November)

While some might see it as drawback, I think that the smaller size of the Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens is actually its greatest asset. My daughter and I were able to leisurely peruse just about every open exhibit in the zoo and ride the Wildlife Carousel & the Safariland Train (which is currently closed for repairs as of June 2023) in under 3 hours. 

There is no need to rush through with over-tired, cranky kiddos to try to cram in every little habitat and attraction because you want to make sure you get your money's worth. Erie Zoo's admission rates are super affordable with adult tickets costing $10 and admission for children ages 2-12 being just $8.

In addition to the over 400 animals that currently call Erie Zoo home, the zoo also boasts 10 different botanical gardens on their grounds providing for many gram-worthy photo ops. 

Be sure to hit up their impressive interactive playground when the kids need to run off a little energy (and the parents need a little break ;) ). 

CLICK HERE to check out my Instagram Reel of our highlights from our visit to the Erie Zoo.

2. The Beaches at Presque Isle State Park

301 Peninsula Drive
Open Daily 12pm-7:30pm (Memorial Day weekend-Labor Day)

If there is one area of Erie that attracts both locals and tourists alike the most during the summer months, it has to be the well-kept beaches at Presque Isle State Park. The state park is situated on 3200 acres of a sandy peninsula that stretches into Lake Erie helping to create the Presque Isle Bay. The state park has 9 swimmable beaches- each with their own unique feel and features. (Beach #6 is pictured above.)

Beaches located on the bay side are perfect for younger children as they are practically wave-free most of the time.  Beach #11 is a longtime favorite with local families because of the calm, shallow water there.

The beaches at Presque Isle are also great for doing a little beach glass hunting depending on the time of the day and season and how crowded the beaches are at that time. Pictured above is my haul from an hour or so of hunting along the shoreline at the end of last season.

For families with older children (visitors climbing the lighthouse to the top must be at least 44 inches tall), taking a tour of the Presque Isle Lighthouse provides a nice break from the beach while also giving you amazing panoramic views of the beaches and lake from above. The lighthouse is open for tours daily from 10am to 5pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

3. Erie Food Tours

Starting locations vary by tour
Tours run seasonally from June to August

A walking food tour may not be the first thing that you think of when considering a family-friendly experience while in a new city, but hear me out for second:

The tours are conducted by teachers on their summer break, so there is a heavy emphasis not only on the food and drinks but also on the education and history behind the city of Erie and of each location.

And, the restaurants in each tour are super accommodating when it comes to providing kid-friendly options along the way.

For instance during our visit to Voodoo Brewing Co. on the downtown Happy-Appy Food Tour, they made sure my daughter had her own virgin "cocktail" to enjoy while the adults sampled draft beers and frozen margaritas. 

While an Erie Food Tour may not be the best option for younger children who may get cranky or tired during the tour, I think it would be awesome for the older kids (maybe 10 years old & up?) to experience with their parents. 

4. Scallywags Pirate Adventures

2 State Street
Open Tuesday-Saturday (tours vary by day- check site for tour times)

For an adventure on the high seas on the bay, look no further than booking a pirate adventures tour on the Scallywags pirate ship!  

The boat departs from the dock near Dobbins Landings into Presque Isle Bay on a quest to retrieve the secret treasure map from the evil Captain Skull.

Be prepared for the kiddos (and possibly you!) to get wet as the battle with Captain Skull takes you on a chase across the bay. 

CLICK HERE to see my Instagram reel of our adventure tour on the Scallywag.

All in all, I think my daughter had a lot of fun on this 90-minute boat tour although 10 years old may be on the cusp of when kids might find this kind of tour fun and cool. This is definitely something that younger children would most appreciate and remember for years to come as they will be officially sworn in as pirates before disembarking from their adventure.

For the adults, the pirate cruise not only offers some amazing views of the bay and Presque Isle State Park that you just cannot get from the shoreline, but also a cash bar. You know... just in case. ;)

5. Waldameer Park & Water World

220 Peninsula Drive
During the summer season- Waldameer is open 12pm-9pm, Water World is open 11am-7pm

While last on my list, but certainly not the least, Waldameer Park conjures up the nostalgia of summer childhood memories and a time gone by. For those of you familiar with Kennywood, I like to think of this amusement park near the shore of Lake Erie as a mini version of the Pittsburgh staple.

You won't find any gravity-defying steel coasters screaming at over 70 miles an hour here, but what you will find in this quaint park are plenty of classic rides, lots of carnival-style game booths, and old-fashioned wooden roller coasters- like their signature Ravine Flyer II (the highest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the state of Pennsylvania) and more kid-friendly wooden coasters, like the Comet and the Ravine Flyer 3.

CLICK HERE to check out a view of the park from above while riding the Sky Ride at Waldameer.

If you choose to stay at the park after the sun goes down, expect a little magic as Waldameer absolutely lights up in the dark.

Adjacent to Waldameer Park is Erie's premier outdoor water park, Water World. You can purchase individual tickets for each park or save a little money by buying the combo pass for both.

Not really into amusement park rides? No worries. You won't have to pay the ticket price to get inside with the rest of the family because admission is free! You only pay if you want to jump on the rides. Parking is also free for both Waldameer and Water World.

Have you visited Erie, Pennsylvania in the summer before?

What are your favorite things to see and do while in the area?

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