This is part 2 in my #LakeErieLove series. Catch up on part 1 here.
In my mind, Sandusky, Ohio has always been synonymous with Cedar Point.
That’s not to say I didn’t know there’s more to Sandusky than the “World’s Best Amusement Park” (a title I fully agree with). When I’m waiting in line for Millennium Force or taking the Cedar Point train through the park, I would catch a glimpse of downtown Sandusky across the water.
However, until a recent trip to downtown Sandusky, my relationship with the city has always been from afar — looks of longing and curiosity.
It may be difficult to tear yourself from the rollercoasters; however, my advice for your next trip to Cedar Point is to make some time for Sandusky. You’ll find there’s much more to love about the city.
When I arrived in Sandusky on this last trip, I was a hot mess. Only a few hours earlier, I had rushed out of the house from work. And, even after checking into my hotel, I could feel the stress radiating from my shoulders.
However, as we strolled down the tree and flower-lined streets of downtown Sandusky, that tension evaporated.
Although it felt like I had been transported to a sleepy seaport town, I discovered that Sandusky is anything but as we explored its restaurants, bars, and attractions.
Much like Cleveland, Sandusky is undergoing a revitalization. Formerly empty storefronts are now being filled and the downtown is flourishing with many options for a nice night out.
Take ZINC brasserie, for example. Located along the waterfront, the building that houses ZINC was beautifully restored by husband-and-wife team Cesare and Andrea Avallone. Filled with warm touches of brick, wood, and pressed tin ceilings, the French-inspired restaurant would rival many in Cleveland.
ZINC’s menu offered so many delicious options that I struggled with what to get. Lobster Bisque En Croute (which got rave reviews from my tablemates), Duck Wellington, Steak Tartar, Escargot, and Lump Crab Stuffed Salmon are only a few of the choices.
After a long debate between my eyes and my appetite, I settled on an order of ZINC’s House Pickles snack, a nice selection of sweet, spicy, and sour pickled vegetables, and their Farmstead wood-fired pizza. Loaded with pork belly. a very juicy egg, and balanced with arugula and crisped crust, it was as good as Bar Cento’s breakfast pizza (a favorite of mine).
Adjoined to ZINC is Hearth Tavern, which offers a number of ZINC’s starters, pizza options, and a Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese that has my name all over it.
In addition to ZINC, the Avallone Restaurant Group has also opened CRUSH winebar and Dockside Cafe in Sandusky.
Another restaurateur helping to transform downtown Sandusky is Kha Bui, who followed the opening of Perkins Township’s Mekong a couple years ago with Small City Taphouse this summer.
During our walk around Sandusky, we made an impromptu stop at Small City for a quick drink and small bite to eat. Their menu features 45 beers on tap, hundreds of bottles to choose from, and a selection of sushi and Asian dishes. I loved the spring roll I sampled and the dichotomy between the olde-town exterior and modern interior design. It’s definitely worth a return visit to explore further.
Wherever you decide to eat, work it off with a stroll down to the Volstead Bar on E Water Street. As is fitting for a speakeasy, Volstead looks very unsuspecting from outside. However, the Green Door building has a colorful history having formerly hosted the Dorn Winery and a brothel under its roof.
Between its storied past and the curtains that cover the windows, it feels like you’re being let in on a really juicy secret when you enter the Volstead.
Like Small City, the decor strikes a perfect balance – modern with a few nostalgic touches that hearken to the Prohibition era. I got a big kick out of the old file folders – something you’d see in a Prohibition agent’s office – that hold their impressive cocktail menu.
The space is very intimate, perfect for an after-drink libation; however, it doesn’t get cramped because the owners have incorporated an inventive way to signal how much availability they have.
On the window facing the street, a row of lights signals whether Volstead is open and how many seats (be that 5+, 4, 3, 2, or 1) are open. The lights are linked to their website’s Seating tab , which updates automatically as the lights are changed.
The food and drinks we experienced in Sandusky were impressive, but the highlight of our visit was Sandusky’s Merry-Go-Round Museum. Opened in 1990, the Merry-Go-Round Museum got its start thanks to a simple stamp.
In 1988, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of four stamps commemorating carousel figures from around the country. One of those featured was the King Armored horse at Cedar Point’s Kiddieland carousel.
To celebrate the first-day issue of the stamps, a group of residents decided to throw a party. They put together a carousel display, hoping a few hundred people would attend. Instead, more than 2,000 showed up.
Now, the Merry-Go-Round Museum is filled with a menagerie of carousel animals including the traditional “painted ponies”, ostriches, giraffes, and a “sealobster.”
Their extensive collection includes all three styles of carousel horse – Coney Island, Philadelphia and County Fair, along with guides for visitors like me who didn’t even know there were specific carousel styles.
It’s one thing to marvel at these whimsical creatures; the Museum also gives you the opportunity to see one being made. Each year, the museum’s Master Carver Kate Adam and carving crew bring a carousel horse to life. The horse is then raffled off at their Toast to the Town fundraiser on New Year’s Eve.
This year’s raffle horse is Halloween-themed. When you visit the museum, don’t forget to stop by their workshop and check out its beautiful detailing.
Admission to the museum is only $6 for adults, $4 for children (4-14), and free for children under 4. Every ticket includes one ride on the museum’s 1939 Allan Herschell carousel, filled with horses from the museum’s own collection and private collectors.
The evening we spent in Sandusky showed off the perfect balance their downtown has achieved – combining olde town charm with the dining, drinking, and other amenities you’d expect in a larger city.
The next chapter in my Lake Erie Love Story: Cedar Point, a destination not just for coaster fanatics, but families and history lovers alike!
Disclosure: I was invited on a 3-night/4 day blogger tour of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands, in exchange for writing about my experience. Opinions in this and other related posts are 100% my own.