Until this past weekend, Erie, Pennsylvania was one of those places I heard great things about but never did more than drive by it. After our weekend getaway to Erie, however, there’s no doubt that our first trip to this lakefront city won’t be the last. From Waldameer & Water World to the Erie Zoo to boat rides, the activities in Erie for kids are endless. And if you’re looking for more of a laid back beach trip, Erie also boasts the beautiful Presque Isle State Park. This combination of fun activities and relaxation by the water makes a weekend trip to to Erie with kids a great, easy option for families.
Disclaimer: Our trip was sponsored by VisitErie. As always, all opinions are our own. Toddling Traveler also participates in affiliate programs, which means items purchased through our links may earn us commission at no charge to you.
Where to Stay in Erie with Kids
When we’re going away for the weekend with our toddler, we typically look for a hotel room with extra space and amenities we have at home. (Plus, it’s so much easier to stay in hotels for a weekend trip!) The Towneplace Suites by Marriott was perfect for our family weekend trip to Erie. The all-suite hotel was recently renovated, and the rooms include a kitchenette, living space and a bathroom with a tub. (Perfect if you’re visiting Erie with little kids who need a bath!)
The TownePlace Suites in Erie includes free breakfast, a 24-hour fitness center and an indoor pool. (Indoor pools are definitely a must have if you’re visiting Erie in the winter and can’t go to the beach!) The hotel also has many amenities you’d want from a home away from home. It includes a laundry room and a great outdoor space complete with ample seating and grills to cook out.
The TownePlace Suites in Erie is also perfectly situated right next to Millcreek Mall and within a few minutes driving distance to Waldameer, Presque Isle and the Erie Bayfront. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly restaurant at Millcreek Mall, we love Mad Mex! (And if you read our post on kid-friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh, you know why!)
- Address: 2090 Interchange Road, Erie, PA 16565
- Website: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/erike-towneplace-suites-erie/
Things to Do in Erie with Kids
While Erie has access to nearby skiing and winter sports, the best time to visit Erie is in the summer when you can really experience all that Lake Erie has to offer. There are so many fun things to do with kids in Erie that it can be hard to know what to focus on. Below are a few of our favorites from our weekend trip to Erie with a toddler.
Waldameer & Water World
If you’re looking for an amusement park full nostalgia and charm, Waldameer is perfect for your family’s visit to Erie. It feels a little like an amusement park mixed in with a carnival in the best way possible. Waldameer has 35 rides, with everything ranging from kiddie rides for the little ones to roller coasters for the big kids (and kids at heart.) Our 2 year old LOVED the kiddie rides, which kids over 30″ can ride by themselves. The assortment of rides for toddlers at Waldameer included airplanes, boats, the frog hopper, truck train and horse and carriage.
Waldameer is a little different from many amusement parks in that not only is the parking free, but it’s free to get in as well. You have the choice of either getting wristbands for all the rides and water park, or you can pay as you go. The pay as you go option is perfect if you’re visiting Erie with a toddler like us and just want to do a few rides. (Or if you’re visiting with older kids and just want to observe versus doing the rides yourself!)
Water World is also connected to the amusement park area of Waldameer. While we didn’t have time to get to it on this trip, Waldameer’s water park has a wave pool, several water slides and an awesome looking kids area.
Keep in mind that Waldameer is a cashless theme park. So you have to either use a credit card or load up your Waldameer card for food, rides and games. For information on ticket fees and park hours at Waldameer, check out the website below.
- Address: 220 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA 16505
- Website: https://waldameer.com
Scallywags Pirate Adventure
Scallywags Pirate Adventure is perfect if you’re looking for unique and fun things to do with kids in Erie. This interactive adventure takes families on a boat tour of the Erie Bay, using the kids help to find the treasure and fight off a pirate. Throughout the boat ride, there are activities for the kids, including face painting, dance parties and other games. One of the highlights for kids is using the cannons to attack (i.e. spray water) at the Capitan Skull, who tries to steal the hidden treasure. Our 2 year old also loved getting to steer the ship for a bit while we sat up top. Kids also get a few treasures of their own at the end, after defeating Captain Skull and finding the buried treasure.
It doesn’t hurt either that the Presque Isle Bay in Erie is beautiful during the summer. The views are worth it alone! Tickets are currently $20 for adults and kids 3 and up, and kids 2 and under are $10. Scallywags Pirate Adventures in Erie also offers a booze cruise called the “Wobbly Pirate” if you’re looking for something fun to do for the 21+ crowd.
- Address: West Bay Rd. & State St. near Dobbin’s Landing in Erie, PA.
- Website: https://scallywagspirateadventures.com
Presque Isle State Park
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a lake beach, but we loved Presque Isle and were pleasantly surprised. We went there after an early dinner at Sara’s and it was such a pretty evening just before sunset. There were only a few people there and the hot sun had gone away, which was perfect for our 2 year old who just wanted to play in the sand. If you’re like us and don’t have time for a full beach day in Erie, I highly recommend making at least an hour or two for Presque Isle State Park.
The entire state park of Presque Isle is huge, with multiple beach areas throughout. We stopped at Presque Isle 1, and the free parking was easy along with bathrooms right next to the parking lot. There are also picnic benches, which is something we don’t always see right on the beach.
- Address: 301 Peninsula Dr #1, Erie PA
- Website: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PresqueIsleStatePark
Related Post: Beach with a Baby: Tips to Help You Prepare
The Erie Zoo is located right by downtown Erie and contains a number of different animals and habitats. There are a number of well known animals at the Erie Zoo as well as some lessor known species. The Erie Zoo has everything from unique farm animals to Asian animals including the red panda and orangoutang to the African lion and leopard and a giraffe.
My favorite part was the amazing children’s area, making the Erie Zoo perfect if you’re visiting with a toddler or kids of any age. Some of the highlights of the Erie Zoo Children’s Adventure include:
- A wildlife carousel for kids of all ages
- An indoor Activity Center for kids to pretend to be zoo keepers, “make” healthy food and learn fun facts about the Erie Zoo
- A Children’s Nature Garden with fun, interactive features
- An outdoor play area that includes various musical instruments, an outdoor play kitchen and a huge climbing structure
- Several animal viewing areas with penguins, kangaroos, llamas and more
There’s also a train ride at the Erie Zoo for $3 per person. (Babies under 1 are free.) The train takes you around the zoo and shares interesting facts. Our 2 year old loved it the train ride and getting to see some animals and other parts of the Zoo up close.
Erie Zoo is open daily from 10am- 5pm from March 1 through November 30. The Erie Zoo is closed for the winter. Adults and children 13+ are $10, Children 2-12 are $6 and Children Under 2 are Free. You can also get discounted entry through reciprocal zoo memberships. We used our Pittsburgh Zoo membership to get in at the Erie Zoo for 50% off.
- Address: 423 West 38th Street, Erie, PA 16508
- Website: https://www.eriezoo.org
Frontier Park in Erie
Frontier Park is one of the biggest parks in Erie and serves as a community hub for the Greater Erie area. We always try to find a great playground when we’re traveling with our toddler son, and Frontier Playground didn’t disappoint. The playground at Frontier Park is huge, with different play areas for toddlers and older kids. The park itself is also beautiful, with several trails for walking, running or biking.
The Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park (LEAF) also offers several activities for families. This includes the Little Leaves program for kids 5 and under, which is full of art, movement and stories. While the programs weren’t available at the time of our visit to Frontier Park, we’d love to spend more time at LEAF on a future visit to Erie!
- Address: 1501 West 6th St., Erie, PA
- Website: https://erietrails.org/frontier-park/
Kid-Friendly Places to Eat in Erie, PA
One of my favorite things about Erie is being able to eat near the water almost every where you go. We opted for super casual and convenient restaurants on our Erie weekend trip. As part of that, we had a chance to check out a few of the best family-friendly restaurants in Erie.
Sara’s Restaurant in Erie
If you’re going to try just one restaurant in Erie, Sara’s should be it. Sara’s first opened in 1980 as an ice cream shop. Sara’s has counter service with a limited menu of casual fast options. It’s known for the original Smith hot dogs, and the curly fries were our family’s favorite. In addition to traditional burgers and fries, Sara’s also offers salads and turkey burgers. (I had the turkey burger and it was yummy!)
No trip to Sara’s Restaurant in Erie is complete without either a milkshake or some of their yummy soft serve ice cream. We had the orange and vanilla swirl and the peanut butter frozen yogurt. You can’t go wrong with either! While you’re at Sara’s, be sure to take advantage of all the fun photo opportunities. There are several postcard-like photo ops in front of Sara’s and then between Sara’s Restaurant and Sally’s Diner.
Sara’s has primarily outdoor seating and is only open seasonally from May to September.
- Address: 25 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA (100 Yards from Presque Isle)
- Website: http://www.saraserie.com
Woody’s Backwater BARge & Grill
We went to Woody’s for lunch after our Erie pirate adventure at Scallywag’s. We wanted to enjoy the beautiful day by eating outside, and Woody’s is perfect for that. Woody’s Backwater BARge is a unique concept in that the main bar and seating area is on a floating barge on the water. The restaurant has ample seating on land as well- if you’re not interested in having a floating meal! Woody’s is known for its Bloody Mary and it also has an extensive list of beers and a drink menu.
While Woody’s has a kids menu and is kid-friendly, they didn’t have high chairs at the time of our visit. (Something to keep in mind if you’re visiting with younger toddlers or babies.) They also have (clean) port-a-potties versus true restrooms. I could see it being a bit tricky if you had to change a diaper, but I definitely recommend checking it out whether you’re with kids or not.
- Address: 110 East Dobbin’s Landing, Erie, PA
- Website: https://woodysbackwaterbargeandgrill.com
We were all about the nostalgia on this Erie weekend trip, and Dave’s Diner is an awesome spot for breakfast in Erie. Dave’s is located in downtown Erie and feels like a 50s style diner when you walk in the door. Dave’s has a large menu for breakfast and lunch, with tons of sweet and savory breakfast items to choose from. I had yummy eggs benecdict while my husband had the breakfast scramble. Everything was yummy, including the coffee. The service at Dave’s was also friendly and fast. (Perfect for breakfast!)
- Address: 26 North Park Row, Erie, Pa
- Website: https://www.davesdiners.com
While you’re at Dave’s Diner, I definitely recommend taking some time to walk around Downtown Erie. There’s a large fountain and splash pad a block away, as well as a pretty garden area. We saw a bunch of butterflies when we were there, and much of the garden is sponsored by the Erie Children’s Museum. (A place we hope to visit next time we’re in Erie!) The city has done a lot to revitalize Downtown Erie, and it’s only made me more excited for the next trip!
How to Get to Erie PA
With Erie being 2 hours or less from Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland, the easiest way to access it is by car. The closest major airports are found in each of those cities, with Cleveland being the closest and Buffalo and Pittsburgh just a few miles further. Erie does have a small international airport that offers a few nonstop flights to larger cities with connections around the world. Wherever you’re coming from, a weekend trip to Erie with kids (or without) is something you won’t regret.
Thanks again to VisitErie for hosting us and helping us plan the perfect trip! If you’re visiting Erie and looking for additional planning inspiration, be sure to check out VisitErie.com and request an Adventure Guide here. VisitErie also recently launched the ‘Hello, Erie’ app that makes planning your a trip to Erie a breeze.
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