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The 20 Best Things to Do in Erie, PA, for First Timers

Erie Maritime Museum

Sitting on the banks of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania is the city of Erie. This is a popular tourist destination in the state due to its lakeside location and because there are so many things to see and do during a visit. There are activities and attractions for all ages and to suit all tastes, from cultural attractions to outdoor activities. So, you should plan your trip carefully to make sure you are not missing out on the things that will interest you the most when you are visiting this amazing city. Here are the 20 best things to do in Erie, PA, for first-timers.

Jr’s Last Laugh Comedy Club

20. Have a Laugh at Jr’s Last Laugh Comedy Club

Busy Tourist says that one of the top venues for evening entertainment in Erie is Jr’s Last Laugh Comedy Club. This adults-only venue offers light meals, a full bar, and nightly entertainment guaranteed to get you laughing.

Trains at Lake Shore Railway Museum

19. See the Trains at Lake Shore Railway Museum

You will find this attraction in the old New York Railroad Passenger Depot. There are some steam locomotives on display, along with some interesting artifacts relating to these vehicles. Visitors to this museum, which was founded in 1956, can learn about the history of railroads and trains in Pennsylvania. In collaboration with the Historical Society, there are events held throughout the year at the Lake Shore Railway Museum.

Great Lakes Seaway Trail

18. Walk the Great Lakes Seaway Trail

If you are a wine enthusiast or you simply enjoy the outdoors, then an excellent activity is walking the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. There are more than 25 vineyards and wineries you can visit on this trail, and you can take a tour at each of your choices before sampling the good. In addition to learning about wine production and tasting some excellent local produce, you can also admire the stunning landscape.

Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park

17. Have Family Fun at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park

When you are looking for a family-friendly indoor activity for a rainy day, a great choice is the Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park. It is also a fantastic place to cool off in the water on a hot day. There is a huge wave pool, multiple water slides, and several other forms of entertainment for people of all ages. The water park has its own eatery, so you can grab a bite to eat during your visit.

Firefighters Historical Museum

16. Go to the Firefighters Historical Museum

Although there are several interesting museums in Erie, one of the most unusual and intriguing is the Firefighters Historical Museum. This museum was inaugurated in 1976, and it is on the site of Erie’s first fire station. Visitors can explore the work of firefighters and look at the tools they have used throughout history. Some of the exhibits include a steam fire engine, an ancient four-wheel horse cart, and the hand-pulled equipment firefighters once used. Other items on display include uniforms, helmets, safety gear, and medals.

Historical Society of Erie County

15. Visit the Historical Society of Erie County

History buffs should go to the Historical Society of Erie County. There are three historic, landmark properties; the Hagen History Center, the Yellow House, and the White House. The latter is also known as the Battles Estate Museum. Across these properties, there are multiple exhibitions, including 809 separate collections. These include 321,775 photographs, 4,880 architectural drawings. 5,529 rare books, and 3,750 historic maps. You can view the collections yourself, or book a guided tour where an experienced guide will take you around the three properties and teach you about the exhibitions.

Erie Insurance Arena

14. Watch a Game or Show at Erie Insurance Arena

One of the best entertainment venues in Erie is the Erie Insurance Arena. There is a jam-packed schedule of things going on throughout the year, including shows, concerts, and sports events. The sports facility can seat up to nine thousand people. It is home to several sports teams, including the NBA-D League Erie BayHawks, OHL Erie Otters, and SIFL Erie Explosion. Check what is on before you visit Erie as you may need to book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

Warner Theater

13. See a Show at Warner Theater

While you are in Erie, you may wish to catch a live performance. One of the best places to see a show is at Warner Theater. You should check what is on before visiting Erie and book your tickets in advance. Performances on the theater's schedule may include ballets, music, comedy, and plays. It is also worth visiting the theater if you are interested in history, architecture, or interior design. This theater has been open since 1931, and it was commissioned by Warner Bros. Inside, there is a grand lobby that is gold-gilded, ornate mirrors, crystal chandeliers, a bronze ticket booth, and rich tapestries.

Millcreek Mall

12. Enjoy Some Retail Therapy at Millcreek Mall

The top shopping destination in Erie is Millcreek mall, and this is the best place to enjoy some retail therapy during your trip to Erie. There are more than 175 stores, stalls, and kiosks at this shopping mall. You can buy tax-free clothing, and this is one of the main reasons that this mall is so popular. It is also a fantastic place to dine out as there is a vast array of restaurants within the mall that serve a wide range of cuisines. Some of the restaurants include Aoyama Japanese Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill, Arby’s, and the Outback Steakhouse.

Presque Isle Downs and Casino

11. Take a Bet at Presque Isle Downs and Casino

There is lots of different types of fun you can have at this attraction as it combines a casino and a racetrack. If you want to enjoy horse racing, you will need to check what is on before your visit. The casino element of this attraction is open every day, so you can go and play the slots, try your hand at poker, or place a bet on the roulette wheel. There is also entertainment and a bar in the casino. This is an adults-only attraction.

Waldameer Park & Water World

10. Have Fun at Waldameer Park & Water World

A fantastic day out for all the family is Waldameer Park & Water World, says Uncovering PA. This attraction is located close to the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, and admission is free. You can then choose to pay for the rides as you go or to purchase an all-day pass. There are rollercoasters, traditional fairground rides, children’s rides, shows, and a water park. In total, there are more than 100 slides and attractions to enjoy at this water park. This is a family-owned and run attraction, so the focus is always on family fun. You can spend two days at this park so that you can enjoy the two different elements of the attraction separately.

ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum

9. Take the Kids to ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum

Those who are visiting Erie with younger children should visit the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum, which is an attraction aimed at children aged up to 10 years. This non-profit organization is located in the historic cultural district of downtown Erie, and children can get creative and let their imaginations run wild. Some of the topics that children can explore in this safe learning environment include art, culture, science, math, literacy, and health. This is the ideal place to take the kids on a rainy day to keep them entertained.

Erie Art Museum

8. See the Art at Erie Art Museum

For art enthusiasts, one of the top attractions in Erie is the Erie Art Museum. This small museum has been an attraction in Erie since 1898, although it was originally the Art Club of Erie. Since it first opened, it has moved location several times. Now, the museum is part of the Discovery Square Corporation. At the Erie Art Museum, there are more than eight thousand objects on display. These include American ceramics, Indian bronzes, contemporary baskets, and Tibetan paintings. There are also around 20 temporary exhibitions hosted at the museum throughout the year.

Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier

7. Stroll Around Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier

If you enjoy nature, then a beautiful place to visit is Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier. This arboretum was established in 1998, and it is home to more than 250 types of trees. Some of the species include Corkscrew Willow, Gingko, Hawthorn, Russian Olive, Scarlet Oak Alder, Honey Locust Maple, Douglas Fir, and Dogwood. Visitors can also enjoy activities such as sled riding hills, a labyrinth, and hiking and biking trails.

Port Erie Bicentennial Tower

6. Enjoy the Views from Port Erie Bicentennial Tower

This structure was built in 1996 to celebrate the bicentennial year of the city. It stands at 187 feet tall, and there are two observation decks. Visitors can go to the observation decks to enjoy spectacular views across Erie Lake, Presque Isle State Park, and downtown Erie. There is also a gift shop at the tower where you can pick up souvenirs. When you visit the Port Erie Bicentennial Tower, you should take along your camera to capture the views.

Tom Ridge Environmental Center

5. Have an Educational Experience at Tom Ridge Environmental Center

An interesting and educational activity to enjoy during a trip to Erie is a visit to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. There is something for everyone to enjoy at this attraction, and the focus is on teaching people about the different life forms that inhabit Presque Isle. It is free to enter this center and wander around enjoying the interactive exhibits. Visitors will also learn more about environmental awareness.

Asbury Woods Nature Center

4. Enjoy the Outdoors at Asbury Woods Nature Center

A pretty outdoor space is the Asbury Woods Nature Center. There, you will find 205 acres of forests, fields, wetlands, and streams. The land is also dotted with historic properties. People visit these woods to enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, fishing, cross-country skiing, and running. In the structures on the land, visitors can enjoy an amphitheater, a picnic pavilion, the sugar shack, and a craft workshop. Furthermore, there is a nature play area and pretty gardens.

Erie Maritime Museum

3. Visit Erie Maritime Museum

Visitors to the Erie Maritime Museum are taken on a journey from the war of 1812 to the present day. Although the main focus is the Battle of Lake Erie, they will also learn about prominent people from the area and events that have taken place around the lake. There are many interesting exhibits, including an original GE steam-powered electricity generating station and a reconstruction of the mid-ship section of the Lawrence. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of interesting interactive exhibits, videos, artwork, and a variety of unusual artifacts.

Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens

2. Spend a Day at Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens

There are more than 400 animals from around the world at Erie Zoo, although it differs from other zoos as there are far more opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals. Some of the animals you will see include cheetahs, rhinos, and warthogs. In addition to the animals, there are plenty of other things to see and do at this zoo. There are train rides, carousels, and the beautiful botanical gardens. Both children and adults alike can enjoy a fun and educational day out at Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

Presque Isle State Park

1. Go to Presque Isle State Park

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Erie, PA, for first-timers is to visit Presque Isle State Park. This park covers 3,200-acres of a sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. There are multiple beaches where people can enjoy a variety of recreational activities, such as swimming, boating, kayaking, boat tours, canoeing, water skiing, or fishing. The park also boasts multiple hiking and cycling trails for you to appreciate the beauty of the area. During the winter months, the activities you can enjoy include ice skating, ice boating, ice fishing, and cross country skiing.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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