Friday, July 17, 2015

Erie, PA with Toddlers

We once again headed north to visit Oma and Opa in Erie, PA.

Last time I blogged about our Erie trip it was winter. Erie is known for its cold winters and record snows. You can read about our winter visit here, where we flew into Pittsburgh, did a few things and then drove to Erie. A summer visit means lots of outside time enjoying the lake and green, green grass.

This trip we flew into Buffalo, NY. We made a quick stop to visit with my 96-year-old great aunt. As we were leaving her place, we made the decision to take the kids to Niagara Falls before driving to Erie. I realize it is in the wrong direction, but we wanted the kids to see it before we left the country. (This is basically our mantra this summer.)

A summer Saturday is probably the worst time to make the spur of the moment decision to visit the falls. Parking in Niagara was $30 in most of the lots. We saw a few for $15. If your just making a quick stop, like us, there is a plethora of 2 hour free street parking.

Once we parked the car we asked at an information station how far to walk to the falls. The lady told us we were 30 min walking from the falls. Turns out we were only about 5 min. There is so much you can do here, so if you have the time check out all your options on the state park webpage. With the little ones and family so close, we knew we would be back.

We chose to simply walk along the Niagara River to the falls on the New York side. We did not venture out onto Goat Island, although it does provide my favorite view. We resisted the urge to make a quick visit to Canada and instead made the 1.5 hour drive to Erie.

Our focus for the trip was on seeing family. We spent most of our visit watching the kids play with their cousins in the yard. Opa let them sample currents from a bush. They picked cucumbers from the garden They had a wing and pizza picnic in the backyard. They played water balloons, trains and cooked in the kitchen. We only ventured out to give Oma and Opa some quiet time!

We had a huge list of things to do in Erie, but only checked off a few of them.

The Erie Zoo is a strange mix of old buildings and brand new exhibits. We went on their "frozen treats" day, so the zoo was crowded but still enjoyable. Every animal was out and about playing when we visited. (Even the sloth was working his way across the top of his exhibit.) The train is not to be missed as it takes you into an area that is only reachable by the train. The kids loved how the train goes over the creek. They have a wonderful kids area where you can pet the wallaby and feed birds. There is also a huge playground in the kids area. We packed a lunch and found a table right next to the penguin exhibit. We could have stayed all day, but it was hot and the kids were getting tired.

A visit to Erie is not complete unless you head out to Presque Isle State Park. In summer the beaches are the place to be. We set up our little camp on one of the beaches and the kids played all afternoon. There are lifeguards on duty that keep everyone in the shallows. We did not let the kids get in too deep, but they loved playing at the waters edge and digging in the sand. There was ample parking and we did not have to walk terribly far to our car.

We grabbed dinner at Sara's, which is a family tradition. We all sat at one long table with all the kids enjoying hotdogs, fries, milkshakes and cream sickle ice cream. When my little one was on a milk protest, this is where Opa took him to get a milk shake and he has been a milk drinker ever since.

Also on Presque Isle is Waldameer and Water World, an amusement and water park. We did not get to it this visit, but it will be top of our list when we return for older kids. There are lots of ticket options, including a pass that is perfect for little ones looking to just spend an hour or two there. You are able to purchase a set amount of points such that you can just do a few kiddie rides and head to the beach, if you want. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is also located here. We have been here on a previous trip. The center itself is free, but there are IMAX shows for a fee. This is a great 30min indoor option to learn about the ecosystem of the lake.

We love to head down to the waterfront in Erie and walk around. H really wanted to head up the Bicentennial Tower, so we paid our admission and headed up. (We may have been the only visitors all day.)  The tower is not quite tall enough to see the lake, but you do get a great view of the bay and the entire city.  The tower offers free admission the first Sunday of every month. Down on the pier we watched some fishermen catch fish and crawled around on the statues.

The Erie Naval Museum is just next door. We had plans to visit, since it is part of the Blue Star Museum program, but our toddler had other plans. The Brig Niagara is sometimes in port and available for tours. Call first as she is often late and the webpage is not accurate. A few other attractions down on the waterfront (that we did not have time for) include: Harbor View Mini Golf, Scalawag's Pirate Cruise, and Liberty Park and the water taxi.

We made a return visit to the ExpERIEnce Children's Museum in downtown Erie. They have made a few large changes since our last visit. The top floor is a bit more organized and features an amazing play grocery store sponsored by Wegmans. In the basement a play area for little ones has been added. They have foam blocks for climbing over and a sensory wall. I had to shoo some big kids out of the way but then our teeny's had plenty of room to play without being knocked over. There is also an outdoor play garden. We only spent a few moments out there before the torrential rain started.

You know we found a railway museum to visit! We combined a visit to the Lakshore Railway Museum in Northeast, PA with a visit to Gravel Pit Park, where Jeff completed his Eagle Scout project many years ago. Gravel Pit Park has old playground equipment that the kids enjoyed, plus a bunch of snowplow blades they enjoyed looking at. The Railway Museum never actually opened the day we were there - the volunteer was late or something of the sort - but we still spent nearly an hour checking out all the cars. They have the best collection of working train switches we have ever seen at a museum. H loved switching them all and seeing how they worked.

Here are a few other things we had on the list but did not get to:
- Pick Your Own Fruit. There are a variety of places but Finnell Farms in Harborcreek is where my in laws get the grapes for their Jam. Rahal Farms in Northeast, PA also looked to have a good selection.
- The Asbury Woods Nature Center 
- Splash Lagoon Water Park which we have been to in the past and I tend to save for winter visits, but boy is it fun.

The one mishap of the trip happened when we mistakenly left the I-Pad at Oma & Opa's house. We were an hour into the drive back to Buffalo when we realized our mistake. Luckily I had a whole bag of Usborn Books that we barely used on the trip, so the boys were plenty entertained on the trip.

We did make one last stop at Ted's in Buffalo, another family tradition, to make sure the kids gave it a try before we leave the country! Ted's conveniently has a location right by the airport.

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