Gems along Lake Erie
Chautauqua County is fortunate to share about 50 miles of Lake Erie shoreline and boasts some of western New York’s most beautiful landscapes. Vineyards cover the coastal plain meeting lake access points at beaches, tributary outlets and harbors. Quaint Victorian villages, farmers markets and produce stands, antique shops, wineries and restaurants stand ready to greet visitors all summer long. And, in the fall, the harvest festivals and sweet aroma of ripening Concord grapes draw food lovers from near and far. If you are visiting the region, or even just driving through, take some time to stop and explore these Lake Erie gems.
Fun on Sunset Beach
The beach at Sunset Bay off Routes 20 and 5 near Silver Creek is one of western New York’s favorites. The wide, sandy beach with shallow water and sand bars is an ideal spot for families looking for a place to go swimming and sunning, and to play in the sand. Adjacent to the beach, the Sunset Bay Beach Club offers live bands and DJ’s, and Cabana Sam’s Beach Bar & Grill provides an outside deck and inside dining. The atmosphere is similar to an ocean beach without the salty water. While in Sunset Bay, you can walk to great restaurants, fish off the break wall, watch the eagles fly overhead daily, go dancing at night and enjoy weekly entertainment at the local watering holes. According to at least one local, “if you are lucky enough to find an available cottage in June or July, you’ll keep coming back year after year, and you may be enticed to buy a vacation home.” Many couples have even chosen Sunset Bay for a romantic beachfront wedding.
Sunsets at Barcelona Harbor
Located along Route 5 in the Town of Westfield, one of the best kept secrets is Barcelona Harbor. The beach is wide with rocks and sand for walking and sunbathing and the water is good for fishing, kayaking, canoeing. There are no lifeguards here, but there are picnic tables, free parking, and a pier, along with restaurants and a boat launch. Most significantly, the sunsets are fabulous! The Barcelona Lighthouse, one of the oldest on the Great Lakes and the first to be powered by natural gas, humbly watches over it all.
During the summer season, the staff at Evergreen Outfitters puts kayaks in at Barcelona Harbor for weekly guided sunset paddling tours on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 9 pm. Conditions on the lake can range from completely flat water that mirrors the shale cliffs along the shore to four to six foot waves. At the end of each paddle, the group rafts together to watch the sun slowly melt into the lake, and if the cloud cover is just right, the spectacle of pink, orange and yellow rays spread across the sky. If you have your own gear, feel free to join the tour. If not, call to reserve a spot and Evergreen Outfitters will bring along gear for $25/person. As conditions on Lake Erie can be somewhat unpredictable, prior paddling experience is recommended. Expect the tour to be canceled in inclement weather.
History at the Dunkirk Lighthouse
First established at Point Gratiot on Lake Erie, the Dunkirk Light helped guide ships to the safety of Dunkirk Harbor. In 1857, it was retrofitted with the current 3rd-order Fresnel lens and lantern imported from Paris at a cost of $10,000. Between 1875 and 1876, a 61-foot stone tower and Victorian style residence were constructed to replace the original tower. Today, the light keeper’s house and grounds hold an extensive collection of military artifacts which can be seen May through October. Escorted tours include a climb of the lighthouse’s spiral stairs to the upper observation level, a walk through the restored 1800 light keeper’s home and grounds, and viewing of Lake Erie nautical and US Veterans displays. Visit the Dunkirk Lighthouse online to find special events including periodic Ghost Tours.
Views at Luensman Overview Park
High on the Chautauqua Ridge, off Thayer Hill Road in the Town of Portland, the Luensman Overview Park offers a tranquil respite on your Lake Erie journey. Located on 70 acres, the park affords a spectacular, panoramic view of Lake Erie, the lake plain and vineyards. On clear days, you might catch a glimpse of Canada and the Buffalo city skyline. A pavilion, tables, grill, potable water and composting toilets provide excellent resources for a picnic and a one mile interpretive trail offers an educational nature walk or recreational outlet for families with young children. According to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, “the park is named after the late John Luensman who was an enthusiastic birder with a particular interest in raptors. He used the overlook to monitor spring hawk migrations, and it continues to be an outstanding place for that purpose.” The park is open mid-May through November 1st from 8:30 am to dusk.
Flavors of America’s Grape Country
Nestled between Lake Erie’s eastern shoreline and the Allegheny Plateau lies the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt and wineries of Lake Erie Wine Country. Home to the first Welch’s grape juice production facility, the region is the oldest and largest Concord grape-growing region in the world and the first Heritage Area in New York State designated for an agricultural theme. With 20,000 vineyard acres in New York State and another 10,000 in adjacent Pennsylvania, it is also the largest grape growing region in the eastern United States.
Grape Discovery Center
In the heart of the Lake Erie Concord grape belt, the Grape Discovery Center offers a new stop along Route 20 just west of the Village of Westfield for visitor information, a gift shop, and a room for tasting wines from Lake Erie Wine Country, grape juice and sparkling grape juice, as well as wine and grape juice slushies. Visitors can sit and enjoy samples at café tables inside or take them outside and view the surrounding vineyards on the patio. Admission to the Grape Discovery Center is free as is the available Wi-Fi. While you are there, ask about maps for scenic drives and bike routes.
Lake Erie Wine Country
Sip, swirl and savor regional wines along Lake Erie and a trail comprised of over 23 wineries between Silver Creek, NY and Harborcreek, PA. Lake Erie Wine Country is unique in that it incorporates wineries from two states in a contiguous grape growing region that boasts over 30,000 acres of vineyards and a landscape sprinkled with Victorian-era villages and family owned shops and restaurants. While Concords and Labrusca grapes dominate the region, the wine selections span the taste palette from dry to sweet and include award winning dessert, ice and specialty wines. The climate is particularly conducive to Germanic varietals and hybrids. Most wineries are open for tastings year round. For a list of wineries, hours, special events and a map, visit Lake Erie Wine Country.
For more information about events and attractions in Chautauqua County and the Lake Erie Region, call 1-866-908-4569 to request a free travel packet or visit the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau online.