25 Best Things to Do in Erie (PA)

Source: Wikimedia / AndreCarrotflower | CC BY-SA 3.0

The picturesque port city of Erie features Pennsylvania’s only harbor on the Great Lakes.  Summers draw tourists for water sports and recreation along its seven miles of lakeside beaches.  Winters turn this corner of the Snowbelt into a frosty wonderland, with skiing and indoor adventures on offer.  With a rich maritime history and natural attractions in spades, Erie welcomes travelers with ample opportunities for an exciting Great Lakes experience.

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Erie (PA)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park
Source: Flickr / Ken Lund | CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated on a distinctive peninsula that protects the natural harbor of Erie, Presque Isle State Park invites travelers to soak in a lovely coastline and a wealth of outdoor activities. Its nearly 3200 acres of protected land include sandy beaches and plenty of local wildlife. Birdwatchers can keep an eye out for the many migrating bird species that stop over on the island.

A National Natural Landmark, the peninsula creates the 5.8 square mile Presque Isle Bay. The bay is perfect for water sports, including kayaking, scuba diving, and even surfing. Two fishing zones are available to anglers, and duck and goose hunting is permitted on a limited basis.

2. Bicentennial Tower at Dobbins Landing

Bicentennial Tower at Dobbins Landing-1
Source: Flickr / U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada | Public Domain

Constructed for Erie’s 200th birthday in 1996, the Bicentennial Tower presents tourists with the perfect vantage point for panoramic views of Presque Isle Bay and Erie’s downtown and port. The 187-foot talk tower has two observation decks and sits right at the heart of the Erie waterfront. This Dobbins Landing location is named for a local navy captain and renowned prankster who helped construct Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet.

Restaurants, hotels, and charter services line the bustling wharf, which is also home to Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center. A water taxi shuttles visitors from the landing to Presque Isle State Park.

3. Erie Land Lighthouse

Erie Land Lighthouse
Source: Flickr / Doug Butchy | CC BY 2.0

First constructed in 1818 as one of the first two American lighthouses to be built on the Great Lakes, the Erie Land Lighthouse proudly marks the eastern entrance to Presque Isle Bay. Visitors are now treated to tours by actors from the Erie Playhouse, who dress in period costume and share historical context and local lore.

The current structure is the third iteration after two rebuilds finally eliminated the danger of settling soil underneath the original and second foundations. Set on a bluff, the site is great for picnics and offers excellent views of the shoreline.

4. Erie Maritime Museum

Erie Maritime Museum
Source: Wikimedia / Pnoble805 | GNU Free Documentation License

Open to the public since 1998, the Erie Maritime Museum provides an excellent introduction to the Erie region’s maritime heritage. The museum is home to the U.S. Brig Niagara, a detailed replica of Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous flagship. It was from the decks of the original Niagara that Commodore Perry ordered his “Don’t Give Up the Ship” battle flag to be raised in defiance of a British request for surrender during the War of 1812.

Visitors to the museum can immerse themselves in the Niagara’s storied career at the museum. A second major exhibit highlights the USS Michigan/Wolverine, the first iron-hulled warship in the U.S. Navy.

5. Presque Isle Downs & Casino

Presque Isle Downs and Casino-1
Source: Flickr / Eddie~S | CC BY 2.0

Travelers from outside the region may be surprised to learn that Erie is home to a full-scale casino complete with horse racing, slots, and table games. Opened in 2007, Presque Isle Downs and Casino boasts over 1,500 slot machines, and table games including craps, blackjack, and roulette. Recently installed FUSION terminals allow a range of stadium style table games from one seat.

In 2019 the Casino received a sports betting license to add another dimension to its gambling options. Live horse racing stakes are offered regularly at the onsite track.

6. expERIEnce Children’s Museum

expERIEnce Childrens Museum-1
Source: Flickr / Dennis Jarvis | CC BY-SA 2.0

Families with younger kids will appreciate expERIEnce Children’s Museum’s attention to detail. Complete with kid-sized grocery store and interactive town bank, expERIEnce enables children to investigate life skills in a safe, encouraging environment. Young explorers can venture into a rock cave to uncover signs of the ancient world, including cave drawings and artifacts.

Further hands on learning experiences can be found in the Discovery Corner outdoor classroom, where natural materials provide educational structure to open air spaces connected by a series of pathways. The museum is geared toward kids eight and younger.

7. Erie Zoo

Erie Zoo-1
Source: Flickr / uniquelycat (Cathy) Smith | CC BY 2.0

Just a few blocks south of the heart of the city, the Erie Zoo is home to some 400 animals from around the world. Check out the Mouflan Sheep and Pere David’s Deer in Safariland or hang with Bornean Orangutans and Red Panda in the Wild Asia section.

The zoo’s Kiboka Outpost houses the Amur tiger, Grant’s Zebra, and Southern White Rhino, among other exotic creatures, while the main building houses a host of wildlife including lions, lemurs, spider monkeys, jaguars, and meerkats. Visitors report that the zoo provides an excellent experience for its cozy size, and two hours should be enough to make your way through the site.

8. Erie Art Museum

Erie Art Museum
Source: Flickr / Jason Mientkiewicz | CC BY-SA 2.0

Erie is home to an award-winning art museum, with a permanent collection containing more than 8,000 pieces ranging from American Ceramics to Tibetan paintings. A complete guide to the collection is available online, so prospective visitors can plan their visit in detail.

The facility is situated in an integrated facility that links the early nineteenth century Greek Revival Custom House, Cashiers House, and Bonnell Block with a modern 2010 expansion. The museum hosts lectures, paint-nights, and exhibitions throughout the year, and offers regular art classes to the community. Discounts are available for seniors and active-duty military personnel.

9. Warner Theater

Warner Theater
Source: Flickr / uniquelycat (Cathy) Smith | CC BY 2.0

As Erie’s premier venue for cultural events, the Warner Theater takes its name from the Warner Brothers of circus fame. The elaborately furnished art deco building served primarily as a movie theater from its opening in 1931, until it was repurposed as a performing arts center in the 1980s.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the opulent setting offers a classy night out for Erie visitors. It is now home to the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lake Erie Ballet, and the Erie Broadway Series. With more than 150 events each year, the Warner can seat over 2,250 guests at a time.

10. Splash Lagoon

Splash Lagoon-1
Source: Flickr / devorama | CC BY-SA 2.0

Erie’s 80,000 square foot Splash Lagoon Resort is ideally situated indoors for year-round fun. Kids of all ages can enjoy the site’s seven water slides, lazy river, and wave pool. The Flowrider, an indoor surf machine, forms part of a recent $3.5 million expansion to the park.

Enter the Hologate for a virtual reality lazer tag experience, or enjoy the 6,000 square feet of arcade games on offer. The Monkey Shines Island Children’s Area will keep the youngest in the family enthralled for hours. It is “always 84 degrees” at Splash Lagoon!

11. Waldameer Park and Water World

Waldameer Park and Water World-1
Source: Flickr / daveynin | CC BY 2.0

Erie’s Waldameer Park stands out as an unconventional amusement park with a distinctive regional appeal.  With over 100 rides and a connected water park, Waldameer has a lot to offer families with kids.  Surprisingly, parking admission to the park is free, and visitors are permitted to bring their own food and drink. 

The Ravine Flyer II lays claim to being the 7th best wooden roller coaster in the world and offers panoramic views of the shoreline from the peak of its 120-foot, 60mph drop.  Note that Waldameer’s many water attractions are best enjoyed in the summer months.

12. Tom Ridge Environmental Center

Tom Ridge Environmental Center-1
Source: Flickr / Mary Bliss | CC BY 2.0

As the entry point for visitors to Presque Isle, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) is worth a visit for its own sake.  Built in 2002, TREC is both a showcase of environmental practice and an exemplar of forward-thinking design.  The LEED certified facility serves as a research center for conservation and promotes environmental awareness. 

It is open year-round, and visitors will enjoy the opportunity to explore its 7000 square feet of exhibits, Nature Shop, and observation tower.  A high-tech “Big Green Screen” theater places viewers into an immersive visual experience of nature-themed video.

13. Asbury Woods

Asbury Woods-1
Source: Pat Noble | CC BY-SA 3.0

Tucked away just minutes west of downtown Erie, Asbury Woods Nature Preserve invites travelers to breathe in the fresh air of an old-growth forest. The peaceful hiking paths and landscaped gardens complement an interpretive Nature Center with animal exhibits and classroom space. 

Asbury Woods’ 205 acres also connects to a Greenway Trail to set out on bike or foot or for longer excursions.  A ropes course is available for the adventuresome, and self-guided science and nature activities are available for visitors to enjoy at their own pace.  Seasonal events take place at Asbury Woods throughout the year, so check their website for up-to-date details.

14. Hagen History Center and Watson-Curtze Mansion

Hagen History Center and Watson-Curtze Mansion
Source: Flickr / Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Situated in the late nineteenth century Watson-Curtze Mansion, the Hagen History Center offers an elegant setting for exploring local history.  As the home of the Erie County Historical Society, the center promotes education and research about the history of Northwestern Pennsylvania through exhibits and public programs. 

Among the many artifacts on site are Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s sword and one of the flags that draped President Lincoln’s coffin.  The mansions multiple galleries cover the Native America, the Civil War, manufacturing, recreation, and military history.  The site offers both guided and self-guided tours.

15. Baseball at UPMC Park

Baseball at UPMC Park
Source: Flickr / Eli Christma | CC BY 2.0

Baseball fans will enjoy the opportunity to take in a game at Erie’s University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Ballpark.  Home of the minor league Erie SeaWolves, the ballpark’s distinctive grandstands back up to the city skyline. 

A nautical-themed scoreboard emphasizes Erie’s maritime focus, and the typical array of ballpark food in the concessions area is complemented by local fare such as ox roast sandwiches and a variety of sausages.  Advertised as “the crown jewel of the Erie sports scene,” UPMC Park is the go-to place for an afternoon of baseball in the Erie area.

16. Perry Monument

Perry Monument
Source: Flickr / Patrick Kinney | CC BY 2.0

Standing 101 feet tall at the eastern end of Crystal Point on Presque Isle, Erie’s Perry Monument commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry for his role in the War of 1812. Perry used the Presque Isle peninsula for strategic protection as he constructed a fleet for the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813.  The State of Pennsylvania erected the monument in 1925.  The peaceful park setting around the monument makes a great picnic site. Visitors might be treated to passing geese or swan as they gaze across the bay to the Erie docks. 

17. Erie Bluffs State Park

Erie Bluffs State Park
Source: Wikimedia / CommonsHelper2 Bot | GNU Free Documentation License

Set along a mile of undeveloped Lake Erie shoreline twelve miles west of the city, Erie Bluffs is one of the newest state parks in Pennsylvania.  Established in 2004, the park offers excellent fishing for rainbow trout in the Elk Creek steelhead fishery.  Hunters can also use the park for training dogs. 

White-tailed deer, gray foxes, bats, and over 80 species of birds inhabit the parks 587 acres.  Well-marked trails are available for hiking, with plenty of spots to look out over Lake Erie.  The park is designated for day use only and is open year-round.  Admission is free.

18. Firefighters Historical Museum

Firefighters Historical Museum
Source: Unsplash / Matt Chesin | CC BY 2.0

Set in Erie’s former Station #4, an historic firehouse dating back to 1903, Erie’s Firefighters Historical Museum is well worth a visit for anyone interested in firefighting or local history. The informative tour takes visitors back to the early days of the profession, with access to a wide range of artifacts including personal equipment and fire suits.

Historic fire engines are also on display. An assortment of firefighting badges, alarms, and small-scale firetrucks round out the collection. Visitors recommend it highly for children and adults alike. It is the only museum in northeastern Pennsylvania that focuses exclusively on firefighting.

19. Victorian Princess Paddle Boat Cruise

Victorian Princess Paddle Boat Cruise
Source: Unsplash / Cesira Alvarado | CC BY 2.0

Visitors can take lakeside dining to another level on the Victorian Princess.  As Erie’s only paddle wheeler, the Princess serves as a combination tour bus, restaurant, and event venue.  Visitors comment on the relaxing nature of these cruises and enjoy the buffet dinners. Menus are designed by The Colony Pub, and a full-service cash bar is on offer. 

Driven by two 14-paddled wheels, the boat cruises the lake at a leisurely speed.  Its three decks allow lake travel in all weather.  Erie has been home to the Victorian Princess since 1998. 

20. Saint Peter Cathedral

Saint Peter Cathedral
Source: Wikimedia / Codera23 | CC BY-SA 4.0

Fans of distinctive architecture will appreciate Saint Peter Cathedral, Erie’s most prominent church building.  Constructed from 1874 to 1893 using stone from the disassembled Erie Extension Canal, Saint Peter’s arose from the vision of Roman Catholic Bishop Tobias Mullen, who pounded the pavement personally to raise funds to the project. 

A mix of English, French Second Empire, and Victorian Gothic styles, the notable Erie landmark underwent a major restoration in 2018.  Its pipe organ was originally constructed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition of Chicago.  Visitors highlight the beautiful stained glass windows, stations of the cross, and special holiday services.

21. Wintergreen Gorge

Wintergreen Gorge-1
Source: Flickr / AdamCookMedia | CC BY 2.0

In the southeastern corner of Erie travelers will discover the glacial Wintergreen Gorge.  This nearly 4000 feet long and 250 feet deep canyon invites exploration. 

Hikers and trail runners can trek in and out along the Wintergreen Gorge Trail, for a distance of 1.2 miles each way. The pathway frequently runs alongside the scenic Four Mile Creek, an ancient stream that carved the glacier from the local shale.  Hikers who keep a steady pace can complete the trail in under an hour.  Those who make it to the end are treated to an overlook of the gorge.

22. Escape Game Erie

Escape Game Erie
Source: Unsplash / Cristina Gottardi | CC BY 2.0

For an exciting team-building adventure with friends, family, or co-workers, check out Escape Game Erie.  The immersive experience puts visitors to the test in a custom-designed escape room.  Plan an hour and a half for these experiences, which range in difficult for both beginners and experienced escape artists. 

Game themes include the locally themed “Escape the Niagara,” option, where participants play the role of spies trapped in the flagship Niagara.  Other themes include an axe murder scenario, a prison escape from the Erie State Penitentiary, and several other options.  Travelers report Escape Game Erie to be challenging and great fun, with a concept that promotes teamwork.

23. Schaefer’s Auto Art

Schaefer’s Auto Art
Source: Schaefer’s Auto Art

Curious travelers often seek out distinctive local experiences that cannot be found elsewhere.  That description certainly applies to Richard (Dick) Schaefer’s Auto Art. Surprises abound, from a U.S. flag constructed with used license plates to a massive spider made out of the body of a VW Beetle.  Other automobile-derived pieces include a rocket, a bumblebee, and a two-headed dinosaur. 

Having been featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: “Unlock the Weird” encyclopedia of strange things, Schaefer’s art has reached the status of a local icon, and is not to be missed by those visitors looking to soak up Erie’s homegrown culture.

24. Shades Beach Park

Shades Beach Park
Source: Flickr / Doug Kerr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Located just to the northeast of Erie at the mouth of Eight Mile Creek, Shades Beach Park presents visitors with a quiet lakeshore.  Boaters and jet-skiers can set out from the park’s well-designed launch.  Kids will enjoy the colorful playground. 

Other onsite activities include fishing and horseshoes.  Its two picnic facilities come complete with kitchens, and a large, covered pavilion is also available for larger or more formal occasions.  A recent renovation has the park looking great.  Swimming is not recommended here because of the sharp shale shoreline.  Visitors report a relatively peaceful atmosphere.

25. Port of Erie

Port of Erie
Source: Pexels / Martin Damboldt | CC BY 2.0

As a working port on the Great Lakes, Erie sees significant shipping traffic.  The port’s 471 acres along the bay stay busy, presenting plenty of sightseeing opportunity for travelers who enjoy watching the big ships come into dock.  With a 29-foot deep entrance channel to the harbor, the port receives some vary large vessels.  It is also home to Donjon Shipbuilding, one of the largest ship construction and repair facilities in the nation

The Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority also operates the nearby Lampe Marina.  Boaters can make use of one of its public launch ramps or 252 boat slips.