When you think of Pennsylvania, things to do in Erie PA don’t come to mind first. But this smaller Pennsylvania city is anything but eerie. Instead, it’s a fun, magical place for you and your family to explore.
Whether you’re looking for an action-packed trip or a relaxing one, you can have a successful vacation in Erie. It might not be as well-known as Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but you shouldn’t overlook it. Here are 14 great things to do in Erie PA that you are your family might want to try.
#1 – Presque Isle State Park
Erie is most well-known for the Presque Isle State Park, which is the most visited state park in Pennsylvania. It’s 3,200 acres, which is located on a peninsula that lies in Lake Erie. The park has a wide variety of activities, including hiking trails, a beach, volleyball courts, biking trails, and inline skating areas. If you’d love to spend the day on the water, you can also go boating, fishing, canoeing, and water skiing. The park stays alive even in the winter, with plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing and ice skating. It’s the perfect Pennsylvania attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.
#2 – Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens
The Erie Zoo is not your ordinary zoo, and it’s one of the best PA things to do for animal lovers. At this zoo, you can get up-close experiences with over 400 different animals. Some of the resident animals include rhinos, cheetahs, orangutans, tigers, and warthogs. Plus, it has kid-friendly activities like a train ride and carousel. Then, when you’re done looking at animals, you can head over to the attached botanical gardens, which are free. The gardens are filled with over 400 colorful plant species.
#3 – Erie Maritime Museum
This museum takes visitors on a trip through time, from the war of 1812 all the way until the present day. Guests can learn about the people and events from the areas surrounding Lake Erie. One of the most important events in the museum is the Battle of Lake Erie, which occurred on September 10th, 1813. The inside and outside of the building is full of many artifacts and replicas, including a recreation of the USS Lawrence and the Flagship Niagara. Interactive exhibits and videos will help bring history to life and make this attraction exciting.
#4 – Port Erie Bicentennial Tower
The Bicentennial Tower is located near the Maritime Museum, and it has some of the most beautiful and relaxing views in the state. At the top of the tower, you will find panoramic views of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park, and downtown Erie. On a clear day, you might even be able to see into Ontario, Canada. The tower was built to mark Erie’s bicentennial year, which was 1996. The tower is 187 feet tall, making it one of Pennsylvania’s tallest structures. Every day, the tower is open for tours, and you can even buy souvenirs from the structure’s gift shop.
#5 – Erie Art Museum
The Erie Art Museum was built in 1898, and since then it has been one of the favorite things to do among art lovers. The structure has changed locations in the past, but it continues to hold an impressive collection of art. It’s home to over 8,000 works of art and artifacts. Inside, you’ll find paintings, ceramics, bronzes, baskets, and many other unique pieces. It has a large permanent collection, but it also hosts about 20 different traveling exhibits each year. So, it’s an excellent attraction for those wanting to learn some history and those who just want to casually look at beautiful art.
#6 – Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park
The Lake Erie Arboretum exists to educate visitors and show off the beauty of nature. It was founded in 1998, and it gives you a chance to explore the outdoors and learn about over 250 species of trees. You’ll see many unique trees, including Russian Olive, Hawthorn, Ginkgo, Dogwood, Alder, and Scarlet Oak. In addition to an educational experience, this venue also has a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, sledding, and labyrinths. So, it’s worth a visit no matter the time of year.
#7 – Waldameer Park & Water World
The Waldameer Amusement Park and Water World started out as just a popular picnic spot. But this family-friendly attraction has grown so much since then. Today, it’s a fun-filled adventure with over 100 attractions, including rides and slides. It has thrill rides like roller coasters and big drops, but it also has some more relaxing rides like a carousel and Ferris wheel. For those looking for some fun in the sun, the water area is full of pools and water slides. So, not matter what type of rides you prefer, Waldameer park has a little something for everyone. It can be a great break from educational stops and nature walks.
#8 – ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum
If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Erie PA with kids, the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is an excellent option. It’s a museum geared toward kids from toddlers to 10 years old. The museum has three floors with over 50 interactive exhibits. Some of the exhibits include topics like careers, boats, and plays. It also helps them learn about broader topics like math, health, culture, science, and art. It’s the perfect opportunity to inspire kids and help them feel creative.
#9 – Presque Isle Downs and Casino
Now this is an activity that you’ll want to leave the kids behind for. The Presque Isle Downs and Casino is a hot location for gambling. There are over 1,700 games to try out, including Wheel of Fortune, Bally Quick Hits, and Wizard of Oz. You can also check out the poker room or blackjack table. In addition to being a casino, it’s also a horse racing track, where many people bet as well. But if gambling isn’t your thing, there’s no need to fear. This attraction also has dining, shopping, and live entertainment, along with a hotel on-site. If you feel like luck is on your side, then this is a great attraction to check out.
#10 – Erie Bluffs State Park
Erie Bluffs is a much smaller state park that’s located west of the city, but it still has many great sights and places to explore. A lot of the park is underdeveloped, but there are still lots of trails found throughout. The trails lead to the Lake Erie shoreline, where you can see impressive bluffs. It’s 587 acres, making it the largest undeveloped land along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. If you’re looking for some peaceful time away from crowds, this is the place to be.
#11 – Tom Ridge Environmental Center
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is the place to go if you want to learn about the history and geology of Presque Isle. Admission is free, but it still has plenty of detailed exhibits that both kids and adults can enjoy. It has about 7,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, including attractions related to plant life, flying saucers, and origami. It even has an IMAX theater, which has a variety of films that you can watch for free. The only thing better than learning new things is being able to do it at no additional cost.
#12 – Lake Shore Railway Museum
The Lake Shore Railway Museum is a must-see for train lovers. It’s funded by donations, and it holds a wide variety of train equipment and artifacts. You’ll see large engines, passenger cars, and even a full locomotive. If you adore this museum, you can check out the gift shop too, which holds plenty of train merchandise that helps keep this museum in business. This museum was founded in 1956, and it has been considered one of the best things to do in Erie PA ever since.
#13 – Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark
During winter months, you’ll need to fill your itinerary with indoor attractions to stay warm. The Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark is a great stop for all ages. It’s an 80,000-square-foot park located at a resort. It has slides, hot tubs, and even a 200,000-gallon wave pool that releases waves up to 6 feet. When you’re done swimming, the park also has other attractions that don’t require a swimsuit. It has an arcade, ropes course, and lasertag facility. Plus, it has a restaurant and lounge to hang out at when it’s time for a lunch break or for when parents need time to relax.
#14 – Schaefer’s Auto Art
Schaefer’s Auto Art is an attraction that’s certainly unique to Pennsylvania. It’s an outdoor sculpture garden that’s located in the Schaefer family’s yard. Yet, visitors are still allowed to drive up to it and walk near the exhibits. This quirky attraction has various sculptures made out of car parts, each with its own name. The parts are welded together to create whimsical creatures that you’re sure to fall in love with. It might be a little out of the way from the bigger attractions, but it’s well worth a visit.
It might not be Pennsylvania’s biggest city, but there are still tons of fun things to do in Erie PA. Even if you have kids, there are plenty of fun adventures you can take, especially if you love exploring the outdoors. You might not be able to hit all these great attractions during one trip, but be sure to catch as many as you can!