Erie's most popular historical site is Commodore Perry's ship, the USS Niagara, a brig reconstructed for the centennial of the battle that took place in 1813 which was restored in 1990. In 1998, the Niagara 's berth moved a few hundred yards to the new Erie Maritime Museum, where it is on display when in port. The Shipwright Gift Shop is located there as well. The Bicentennial Tower offers an aerial view of Erie's Harbor, and a tour is available from 16 stations at the observation level of the tower.
The city's most notable buildings—the Old Custom House, now the Erie Art Museum; and Cashiers House, home to the collection of the Erie County Historical Society—stand side-by-side on State Street. Several other historical sites and turn-of-the-century mansions are located throughout the area. The Erie History Center presents changing exhibits on industry, architecture, and local history. The Battles Museums of Rural Life allows visitors to explore 130 acres of farmlands and woodlands, two houses, and a bank. Walking tours are sponsored by The Erie County Historical Society.
The 3,200-acre Presque Isle State Park attracts more than four million visitors annually. The park offers spectacular views of the sun setting over Lake Erie in addition to the usual park amenities. Near the entrance to the park is Waldameer Park and Water World, open mid-May until Labor Day.
The 15-acre Erie Zoological Park and Botanical Garden of Northwest Pennsylvania welcomes some 400,000 visitors each year. The main building transports visitors to Africa, as all the animals are from Africa or Madagascar. Visits to wineries in the outlying areas are also popular with visitors to Erie. The Experience Children's Museum provides hands-on fun for children and adults at its Gallery of Science and Gallery of the Human Experience. Visitors might also consider a trip to historic Chautauqua, located just east of Erie, which offers a summer program of concerts and educational and spiritual pursuits in a 750-acre park-like setting. The new Splash Lagoon is a $21-million indoor water park that is open year-round.
Several cultural organizations make up the Erie Arts Council. Among these are the Erie Philharmonic, which conducts symphonic and pops programs, and the Erie Civic Music Association, which presents concerts at the elegant Warner Theatre in the Civic Center complex. The Warner Theatre is a major cultural arts center in the region. The 2,500-seat facility is undergoing renovation in 2005 to upgrade and preserve the historic building. The Roadhouse Theatre presents "dark, intense drama and outrageous comedy." The Erie Playhouse presents local talent in a variety of theatrical works at its renovated downtown theater; it has been cited as one of the top ten community theaters in the country. The Erie Chamber Orchestra provides free Friday concerts at bayfront churches and cathedrals. The Lake Erie Ballet Company's annual presentation of "The Nutcracker" is considered a community classic.
The 800-seat Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center at Mercyhurst College offers outstanding acoustics and a schedule of world-class entertainers using state-of-the-art computerized sound and lighting systems and a performance stage of 3,400 square feet.
The Erie Art Museum, which offers exhibits, classes, concerts, children's activities and tours, is located in the historic Old Customs House. The Anthony Wayne Memorial Blockhouse Museum is a replica of the blockhouse where the general died in 1796. The museum is located on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Soldiers' and Sailors' Home. Other popular sights in Erie include the Erie Historical Museum and Planetarium, housed in a restored Victorian residence; Lake Shore Railway Museum; and the Firefighters Historical Museum.
Among Erie's major annual celebrations is the Erie Summer Festival of the Arts, which offers free performances and art exhibits at the Liberty Park and Pepsi Amphitheater. July brings Harborfest at Harborcreek Community Park. The Wattsburg (Erie County) Fair takes place in August and the Wine Country Harvest Festival is held in September. Erie's winter festival features holiday events including a Festival of Trees, ZooLumination at the Erie Zoo, and "The Nut-cracker" ballet performance. First Night is an alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration for children and adults.
The Erie Otters, a professional team in the Ontario Hockey League, entertain fans at the Erie Civic Center. At the 6,000-seat Jerry Uht Ball Field, the Erie SeaWolves, AA affiliates of the Detroit Tigers, play professional baseball from June until September.
Erie's Presque Isle State Park, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Pennsylvania and the state's only beach park, draws more than 5 million visitors annually. The park offers a full array of year-round recreational opportunities, including swimming, boating, and skiing. The now-clean waters of Lake Erie contain more than 20 species of freshwater fish, and fishing can be enjoyed throughout the year. The Erie area supports a thriving boat rental industry. The City Parks Department operates a variety of indoor and outdoor facilities offering 107 tennis courts, 27 golf courses, and 128 swimming pools, among other amenities. U.S. Route 6, an official bicycle route, passes through the Erie area. Just outside the city is a ski resort, and the Allegheny National Forest is nearby.
Erie has become a regional shopping center attracting shoppers from the tri-state area and Canada. Shopping venues have expanded considerably in recent years. The city has two huge plazas off upper Peach Street near I-90, and a third one, Erie Marketplace Plaza, anchored by a Target store, opened in 2001. The Millcreek Mall underwent a 1.5-million-square-foot expansion and is now home to more than 150 stores. More than 2,000 retail establishments are located in Erie, in 12 large shopping centers and 54 smaller centers. On the west side of town, Village West offers specialty stores in a New England style atmosphere. Various outlet and discount stores and antique shops are located throughout the Erie County area.
American and Italian cuisines are well represented on Erie area bills of fare, as are several other ethnicities. Pubs, grills, and café's are among the most popular eateries in the area; fast food and fine dining establishments round out the offerings.
Visitor Information: Erie Area Tourist and Convention Bureau, Inc., 208 E. Bayfront Parkway, Suite 103, Erie, PA 16507; telephone (814)454-7191