Looking for a unique area that can not only host first-rate sports tournaments and events, but also provide athletes, families and fans with an unmatched experience, both inside and outside of the competition venues? Shores & Islands Ohio checks all the boxes.
On the southern shore of Lake Erie, an hour’s drive from both Cleveland to the east and Toledo to the west, Shores & Islands Ohio includes about two dozen towns and islands on the northwest coast of the state, including Huron, Sandusky, Oak Harbor, Cedar Point, Port Clinton, Catawba Island and Kelleys Island.
With its indoor and outdoor sports venues, Shores & Islands Ohio hosts a variety of sports events throughout the year, says Marketing and Sales Director Chris Lewis. “All year round, we welcome volleyball, basketball, futsal, gymnastics, dance, cheer, wrestling, bowling and billiards competitions, while our beautiful outdoor green spaces draw seasonal sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse, football, soccer and more.”
Lake Erie and its tributaries offer natural venues for fishing tournaments, sailing regattas and other water sports. “We get a lot of national fishing tournaments,” says Lewis. “Walleye and bass fishing is terrific here.”
In addition, he notes, “Our miles of coastline are the perfect backdrop for everything from 5Ks, to marathons, to triathlons, to obstacle challenge races. Our destination is so unique, with a lot of great downtowns incorporated into the events.” This past summer, Shores & Islands hosted an IRONMAN event, which will now take place annually through 2024.
Sports venues are situated throughout the area, including many excellent public parks with baseball/softball diamonds and rectangular fields to accommodate many different sports and events, especially soccer and lacrosse. Among the larger venues is Sports Force Parks at the Cedar Point Sports Center in Sandusky, a world-class tournament facility. Sports Force Parks features 10 synthetic turf fields for a wide variety of events, including baseball/softball, football, soccer, lacrosse, rugby and more. When not competing, the whole family can enjoy the park’s amenities, including a ropes course, miniature golf and two playgrounds.
Indoors, and right next door to Sports Force Parks, is the Cedar Point Sports Center, which opened in 2020. It offers hardwood courts that can accommodate 10 basketball courts or 20 volleyball courts. The Championship Arena has retractable seating for fans, and there’s an on-site café and concessions. In addition, the Sports Center includes a 9,500-square-foot entertainment center. Upcoming events include major cheer, wrestling, basketball and volleyball tournaments, along with the US Futsal Ohio State Championships.
Shores & Islands Ohio works with tournament owners and rights holders to help plan all types of sports events, year-round. The CVB (shoresandislands.com) also can help find lodging; there are hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs and rentals to suit all budgets and tastes. Grants are available, too, to help businesses and organizations grow quality events in the area that can generate overnight stays, create media exposure and more.
Athletes, coaches and families traveling to the area can take advantage of the Shores & Islands Ohio Sports Discount Card, too. Local restaurants and businesses offer special discounts throughout the year designed specifically for those traveling to the area and taking part in sports events. Participating businesses and offerings, which are added to and updated throughout the year, are featured at sports.shoresandislands.com. (For more information about the program, contact Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For sports, Shores & Islands Ohio is a year-round destination, which means when not competing, athletes and families have plenty of activities, attractions and places to visit. The area is divided into five regions: North Shores, Central Shores, East Shores, West Shores and Islands. Here’s a closer look at what each has to offer.
North Shores includes the communities of Port Clinton, Catawba, Lakeside and Marblehead. One of the biggest attractions is the iconic Marblehead Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Situated on the grounds of a state park, the lighthouse turned 200 years old this year.
For nearly 150 years, Lakeside Chautauqua has welcomed families to the Lake Erie shore to nurture mind, body and spirit. The historic community, founded in 1873, is rich in arts, education, recreation and spiritual opportunities. While a gated community with admission fees, Lakeside offers a variety of complimentary passes for shopping, dining and worship opportunities.
The North Shores also offers a drive-through safari adventure, world-class fishing, wineries and breweries, and great downtown areas.
One of the biggest attractions is the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, which has been drawing families to the area for more than 150 years. Cedar Point is home to 70 rides, including exhilarating roller coasters, and features events, festivals, live shows and more. The Cedar Point Shores Waterpark is an 18-acre paradise with attractions for all ages.
In addition to the sports venue at the Cedar Point Sports Center Adventure & Arcade, the facility is a top entertainment center with 23 climbing structures of varying difficulty, a ninja course, climbing walls, an arcade and much more.
Downtown Sandusky, which has been revitalized over the last few years, is rich in history, arts and culture. There are numerous attractions throughout the area, including the Jackson Street Pier. Other Central Shores places to stay and play include Great Wolf Lodge Resort and Kalahari Resorts & Conventions.
East Shores includes the city of Huron, a coastal town with an active downtown, including waterfront dining, shopping, the Huron Lighthouse, parks, beaches and marinas. The community of Vermilion offers a charming small-town atmosphere with beaches, shopping, restaurants, boating, art galleries and more.
Sci-fi and Star Trek fans will enjoy the Federation World Headquarters in Huron, which opened a year ago. But it’s not all about celebrating the Star Trek franchise; many visit the Federation because of the focus on helping those in need and creating a better society.
Located on 200 acres along the Lake Erie shore is Sawmill Creek Resort, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation. The resort features 35,000 square feet of meeting space with stunning outdoor venues, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, two pools and numerous restaurants. It’s also adjacent to Sheldon Marsh, a 472-acre nature preserve that attracts more than 300 bird species.
Among other things, West Shores is a birdwatcher’s paradise. In April, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), located at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Oak Harbor, organizes “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” when about 90,000 bird watchers come to the area to catch a glimpse of migrating birds.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Beach is for wildlife viewing and beachcombing only; no swimming. The half-mile Crane Creek Estuary Trail along the lake shore hosts various shorebirds during migration.
The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor encompasses 9,700 acres of marshes, uplands and forested wetlands and offers over 10 miles of hiking trails through a variety of habitats. (Leashed pets are allowed.)
Exploring the Islands region includes Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island, with more than 100 different lodging options. Kelleys Island is the largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands and is dominated by natural areas, appealing to nature and bird lovers and those looking for a relaxing getaway. There are popular wineries and breweries, historic homes and a downtown area with all sorts of attractions, shopping and restaurants.
Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) has been a top Lake Erie destination since the early days of steamship travel. By 1864, wine-making established the island as a visitor destination, and today, visitors enjoy the quaintness of small-town life, with Victorian-era buildings, resort community amenities, and a wide variety of activities for the entire family.
Neighboring both Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass Island is a secluded getaway that blends nature and serenity with beautiful lake views, beaches, marinas, a historic district, a wildlife refuge, and a state park, along with the historic Lonz Winery.
From sports to history to culture to nature, “Shores & Islands Ohio is a year-round destination,” says Lewis. “It’s constantly happening here, with tons of sports, activities and attractions. Families come for the tournaments but stay for the vacation.” SDM