By Rich Beattie
September 13, 2013

Here’s a fun exercise: Tell people you’re taking an island vacation…to Ohio. Then see how quickly they start measuring you for a straightjacket.

It turns out, though, that Ohio does have islands, floating in Lake Erie just a few miles from shore. And they’re not the single-palm-tree variety; these tree-filled expanses spread over hundreds of acres and feature parks, Victorian-era B&Bs, historic sites, shopping, and wineries (yes, wineries).

So a couple weeks ago, I took a late-summer geography course, traveling to the small town of Sandusky for my Midwest midterm exam. I should have done the required reading on this area, known as Lake Erie Shores & Islands—I wasn’t prepared for the lush greens, the horizon-stretching blues, and the large number of people who are already in on the secret.

During the warm weather, boats and ferries converge on a trio of islands: Kelleys, Middle Bass, and South Bass islands, which lie within spitting distance of the Canadian border. My friends and I stopped at Put-In Bay on South Bass; here, golf carts rule the road, silently tooling around to souvenir shops, a microbrewery, and the 352-foot Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, commemorating the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. But no matter the agenda, everyone’s on island time, Ohio-style.

Back on shore there’s also plenty to do: Sandusky is home to Cedar Point Amusement Park, America’s second-oldest operating amusement park, which has a full 16 roller coasters (the new Gatekeeper is heart-stopping). You’ll also find Kalahari Water Park (one of America’s coolest indoor water parks) and a growing number of very good restaurants.

So sure, telling people about your Ohio island getaway will raise eyebrows, but don’t let it get to you. Just say “Put-In Bay” and walk away.

Rich Beattie is Travel + Leisure's Executive Digital Editor.