Fairport Harbor & Grand River, Ohio
I pass just south of the small Villages of Fairport Harbor (www.fairportharbor.org) and Grand River (www.grandriverohio.net) nearly every day on my way to work. Small communities situated on either side of the Grand River, with northern borders ending where the mouth of the river empties into Lake Erie. For most of us who grew up in this area, the village names are frequently interchanged (much to the annoyance of the residents of each), as we headed to the beautiful beaches on the great Lake Erie. “Going to Fairport Harbor” always referred to the actual lake harbor, and meant somewhere along the beach, harbor or river in the villages of Grand River or Fairport Harbor. A day in Fairport Harbor (or Grand River) might include swimming, sailing, canoeing, or jet skis, and nearly always ended with ice cream at Kurlee Kone. Taking the vintage sidecar rig through the area still left me uncertain of actual boundaries without looking at a map, but it took me back to much simpler times of my youth.
Once a bustling industrial port largely covered by the Diamond Shamrock Corporation, most heavy industries have since left the villages to settle into a much quieter existence. The Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park Beach (in Fairport Harbor) is one of the nicest beaches on Lake Erie, and passing through Grand River takes you to Headlands Beach State Park (in Mentor/ Painesville Twp), considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the US. From the beaches, you can see lake freighters begin their short trip up the Grand River. A quick walk gets you close enough to watch as they unload materials in giant piles on the banks for asphalt and concrete firms, or load materials from the Morton Salt mines- a fascinating way to spend time. The original Fairport Harbor lighthouse still stands watch up the hill from the beach, though now it’s a maritime museum offering a slice of Great Lakes shipping history. Walking the breakwall north of the old lighthouse leads to the active Fairport Harbor West lighthouse, now privately owned (though the automated light an foghorn are still maintained by the US Coast Guard) and under restoration as a vacation retreat. Back on land, a visit to the gazebo in Fairport Harbor square is a step back in time, complete with red brick cobblestone streets through part of the square- a jostling ride on an old bike!
If you’d rather do more than wander or swim, there are kayaks for rent at the Fairport beach, dune trails to hike at Headlands, and plenty of great fishing or birdwatching in the area. Seasonally, there’s the Fairport Mardi Gras, the Tall Ship Festival, and many other events through the year. When you’re famished on your visit, both villages have great places to eat. A few of our faves include the pier at Sunset Harbor Bar and Grill, Pickle Bill’s on the Grand River, and Brennan’s Fish House. You can even sail or motor into both Pickle Bill’s and Sunset Harbor’s docks. Of course, there’s always Kurlee Kone for ice cream, if you’d rather have dessert as dinner!
The Fairport Harbor/ Grand River area is another of those places, literally in my backyard, that I’ve overlook as a terrific, inexpensive destination. Close to Cleveland, the quaint and quiet villages are easy to reach and filled with friendly, welcoming residents. The area is rich in geological history that created the freshwater playground, and there’s plenty to do for a day or two, most of it free or reasonably priced. Once you’ve spent the afternoon here, just try to convince yourself you haven’t been visiting an oceanfront vacation destination- in the summer, at least!
Thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to dream at home, and travel as globally as budget and imagination allow!