17 Free Things to Do in Erie, PA

Free Things to Do in Erie, PA
Sean Pavone / iStock.com

From the stunning sunrises over the serene waters of Lake Erie to the vibrant arts scene, there's a certain charm that the city of Erie, Pennsylvania.

In this comprehensive guide, we've melded insights from locals and travelers to present you with a mosaic of experiences that define this remarkable place. While we've highlighted some must-visit spots, it's imperative to understand that these recommendations are shaped by personal opinions and experiences.

There are countless other wonderful places awaiting your discovery. Our goal isn't just to point you to the well-trodden paths, but to inspire you to explore and truly immerse yourself in the city's essence.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Perla Whitaker, Adam Torres, Mariah Watkins, Roberto Simmons, Ava Williams, Sergio Howard and Lila Maldonado.

Spend the Day at Dobbins Landing

View of the Waterfront at Dobbins Landing
Carrie's Camera / Shutterstock.com

One of my favorite places to unwind in Erie is the serene Dobbins Landing.

It's a place where the city's hustle and bustle seem to fade into the backdrop, replaced by the gentle lapping of water and the soft rustle of the breeze.

No matter how many times I stroll down its promenade, the view of the breathtaking Presque Isle Bay never ceases to amaze me.

The towering Bicentennial Tower, one of the main attractions at Dobbins Landing, is a sight to behold.

I often find myself taking the elevator to the top and just taking in the 360-degree view - it’s truly an unparalleled sight.

You can see the entire city of Erie, the sparkling bay, and even a glimpse of the nearby Presque Isle State Park.

Near the tower, there's also Smuggler's Wharf, a seafood restaurant I often frequent.

Bicentennial tower at Dobbins Landing
Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

Their clam chowder is delightful, perfectly creamy, and full of flavor.

Enjoying a hearty bowl while overlooking the bay is a simple pleasure I look forward to every time.

One of my favorite events at Dobbins Landing is the annual "8 Great Tuesdays" summer concert series.

There's nothing like listening to local music with the bay as your backdrop. It's a highlight of the Erie summers.

Dobbins Landing is special to me because of its unique blend of tranquility and vitality, offering a hearty slice of Erie’s charm.

Whether you're a local or a tourist, it's a place that invites you to sit back, relax, and truly appreciate the beauty of Erie.

View of Dobbins Landing from the Bicentennial tower
Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

Explore the Natural Beauty of Leo’s Landing

There's this little oasis in our town where I often retreat to when I long for the tranquility of nature.

It's called Leo's Landing, an unmissable spot on the Isle.

Often on weekends, I find myself drawn to the Feather art installation.

It's unique and gives a commanding view of the sandpit and wetlands.

Every single visit, I'm in awe of the vast array of wildlife - from ducks to geese, and if you're lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle soaring overhead.

I usually take a stroll on the trail beside the Feather.

It leads to Lake Erie, and there's nothing quite like its sights, like tall boats anchored at a distance, striking a beautiful contrast against the blue water.

You'll find a few benches at the trail's end, perfect for sitting, relaxing, and immersing oneself in the serene view.

Leo's Landing is also my go-to spot for an early morning jog or a leisurely dog walk.

The trail is clean and well-maintained, a multi-use path perfect for walkers, runners, and bicyclists alike.

Just be cautious if you're walking since bicyclists often pass by.

Moreover, if you're a bird watcher like me, you'd be in for a treat at Leo's Landing.

It's a haven for various birds, and there's always a sense of anticipation about what species you might encounter on your visit.

And yes, a pro tip - the paths can get pretty soggy, so don't forget to pull on your boots!

Experience Presque Isle State Park

A kayak at Presque Isle State Park
Carrie's Camera / Shutterstock.com

Every time I drive through the entryway of Presque Isle State Park, I'm filled with a sense of peace and serenity.

Unlike many other state parks, there's no admission fee, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists.

Offering 11 miles of sandy beaches, it's perfect for a sunny afternoon.

The Lighthouses, especially the Presque Isle Lighthouse, are a sight. I often take my children to Kite Beach for a swim.

Watching the houseboats in the bay while they splash around brings a sense of calm.

The state park is more than just beaches; the lagoons are a must-visit for bird watchers and photographers.

Then there's the environmental center, where you can learn about the local flora and fauna.

Lagoon lined with trees at Presque Isle State Park
Patrick baehl de Lescure / Shutterstock.com

One thing that always strikes me about Presque Isle is how well-kept it is.

The sand is clean, lifeguards are always on duty, and restrooms are well maintained.

Parking can get tricky during peak hours, so arriving early is advisable.

The most overlooked gem of the park, in my opinion, is Beach 11.

It's accessible to everyone, and the sight of families enjoying the water is heartwarming. Just remember to watch out for the bold gulls!

Visiting Presque Isle State Park is like stepping into a postcard.

Whether you're looking to enjoy a picnic, swim in one of the Great Lakes, or escape the hustle and bustle, you'll fall in love with this park, just like I did.

Explore the Gull Point Trail

The first time I set foot on the Gull Point Trail, it felt like stepping into a world straight out of a wilderness adventure novel.

Located in the heart of the Presque Isle State Park, it's not your average Sunday stroll.

This trail is quite a challenge, especially for young children, but that's part of what makes it an exciting escapade!

Some sections of the trail lead off into sandy offshoots, which I always assumed led to the lake.

Feel the sand beneath your feet as you trek through the wilderness.

Every time I drive by Lake Erie on the US side, this is one place I never miss.

Apart from its stunning natural scenery, this state park's natural beauty is free for everyone to enjoy.

It's a slice of the great outdoors right in our backyard, and it's one of the reasons why I love living here so much!

Enjoy the Day at the Erie Waterworks Tower

Daytime view of Erie Waterworks Tower
Kathy D. Reasor / Shutterstock.com

I've always been fascinated by the Erie Waterworks Tower, an iconic landmark in my town.

It's a place that seamlessly combines history, recreation, and stunning views.

Not many people outside our town know about it, but it's worth visiting.

Something is calming about spreading a picnic blanket on the lush grass near the tower, filling your lungs with fresh air, and soaking in the picturesque views of the bay.

It's become a little tradition of mine to pack a lunch, cycle down the bike paths, and spend a day basking in nature's beauty.

The Waterworks Tower is a time capsule of Erie's past.

You get to learn about the history of our town, and seeing the tower standing tall against the sky, you can't help but feel a sense of pride.

Exterior of Erie Waterworks Tower
Kathy D. Reasor / Shutterstock.com

It's like a silent testament to our town's resilience and growth.

Another surprising thing about this place is the fishing. I remember taking my little cousins fishing here one summer.

We caught perch off the docks while watching the bottom feeders swim around.

A blue heron even graced us with its presence, swooping to catch a fish right before our eyes!

The kids were thrilled, and it was indeed a fun morning.

You never know what you'll experience at the Erie Waterworks Tower - a history lesson, a picnic with a view, or a delightful encounter with local wildlife.

It's one of the reasons I love being part of this community.

Discover the Great Outdoors at Frontier Park

Having lived in Erie for a while, I can safely say Frontier Park is one of my favorite places.

It is a gem hidden in plain sight, a place that offers something for everyone.

From the thrill of sliding down on the four new, big slides to the peacefulness of walking along the nature trails, Frontier Park never fails to nourish the spirit.

The park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts like me.

Its well-maintained trails are perfect for hiking, walking, or strolling.

The park offers a large playground for the kids, complete with toddler swings and sand pits. If you're up for some sport, you can visit the multiple lighted tennis courts or the soccer field.

What I love the most about Frontier Park is that it combines fun and education.

You can learn about the local flora through the numerous signages on trees and plants.

And if you're a dog owner, which I am, the park is also an excellent place for dog walking.

Accessibility is another thing I appreciate about the park.

It is wheelchair accessible and has curb cuts, making it easy for everyone to explore and enjoy what it offers.

There are also multiple locations with electrical outlets, so you can charge your device if you run out of battery.

But the best thing about Frontier Park is its natural setting.

Despite its proximity to the west side, the park is a beautiful, quiet space that feels more back to nature.

Crossing the streams and bridges gives you a sense of tranquility that's hard to find elsewhere.

If you want to unwind and reconnect with nature, I highly recommend visiting Frontier Park.

Undoubtedly, it is one of the best places to experience the great outdoors in Erie.

Enjoy a Tranquil Afternoon at Chautauqua Park

There's a certain charm to spending an afternoon, just me and my thoughts, at Chautauqua Park.

The first thing that hits you is the park's simplicity; it's not much but enough.

As I stroll further, I'm drawn toward the gentle whisper of the lake.

The park offers unique access to the lake through a mild ravine.

For those seeking adventure, there's even a rope to assist you on your way back up.

Trust me. It's worth the slight effort when you see the calming expanse of the lake unfold before you.

A tiny waterfall to the east is one of the park's best-kept secrets.

The sound of the flowing water adds a soothing soundtrack to my tranquil day out.

Nearby, there's a slight stretch of beach ripe for exploration. I often sit here, letting my senses take in the symphony of sights and sounds.

While it may not be grand, I cherish Chautauqua Park's quaintness.

It's a bit of tranquillity tucked away in our bustling town, and it's easy to see why it's become one of my favorite places to unwind.

Unwind at Presque Isle Beach

Sunny day at Presque Isle Beach
Jill Lang / Shutterstock.com

When I wake up to birds chirping, I know it will be a great day at Presque Isle Beach.

The sandy shores of Lake Erie are my sanctuary, my escape from the everyday hustle.

I grab my binoculars and camera and head out, the refreshing smell of the morning dew and the lake filling my senses.

Birdwatching is my favorite morning pastime.

I've spotted many feathered wonders here, from Ospreys to Terns, each a marvel to behold.

After a walk along the beach, I dip in the dedicated swimming area.

The cool water washes away any lingering sleepiness, and I'm ready for the rest of the day.

Moreover, the park is mesmerizing, filled with lush greens, and the trails wind through some of the most scenic spots.

It's also spacious, perfect for a family barbecue or even a solo bicycle workout.

As the day winds down, I go to Presque Isle Light and North Pier Light, one of the two lighthouses.

The sunset from these points is breathtaking, a riot of colors that paint the sky. And if I'm lucky, I might catch a glimpse of a boat tour on the lake.

Presque Isle Beach is a family-friendly spot with plenty of dining options and shopping areas nearby.

The beach's cleanliness is remarkable, except for the public restrooms at the end of the day, but it's a small price to pay for the beauty surrounding me.

I especially love the evenings at Waldameer Park, just up the hill from the beach.

The sounds of laughter and the sight of twinkling lights always make me smile. They remind me of why I love this place so much.

On those quieter days, I find myself drawn to the visitor center, immersing myself in the history and beauty of Presque Isle. Moments like these remind me how lucky I am to call this place home.

I used to live in the bustling city of Erie, but now, I wouldn't trade my laid-back beach life for anything.

Enjoy a Day Out at Liberty Park

There I was, smack-dab in the heart of summer, the sun beaming overhead as I made my way over to Liberty Park.

My time at Liberty Park was a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively.

The cleanliness of the park and the adjoining marina was a sight for sore eyes.

Moreover, the playground is a particular favorite of mine, armed with its range of high-quality, seemingly new equipment that always teems with laughter and joy from the little ones.

It's a sight that always brings a smile to my face, a testament to the park's family-friendly vibe.

And how can I forget the Beer on the Bay event? I made it a point to attend this year, and I must say, they outdid themselves.

The venue was well-organized, and even the parking situation, often a nightmare in such cases, was surprisingly manageable.

It seems that no matter the event or occasion, Liberty Park always impresses.

Visit Glenwood Park

Every visit to Glenwood Park brings a new adventure for my little ones.

With so much space and play options, it's their preferred spot for exhausting their boundless energy.

One of my favorite things about Glenwood Park is that picnic pavilions are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Whether for an impromptu family lunch or our annual summer team picnic, I've never had trouble securing a spot close to the playground.

Even more impressive is the number of litter bins and recycling spots in the park, which helps maintain its cleanliness.

However, be aware that the pavilions lack any electrical outlets, so you might need to adjust your plans if you're organizing a gathering.

More than just a playground, Glenwood Park offers an abundance of shade and places to sit.

It's a perfect outdoor space to follow social distancing guidelines without feeling restricted.

Nestled near the zoo, it's easily accessible via Glenwood Park Drive.

Visiting this park feels like a retreat into nature.

The serenity is a welcome change from city life and a great reminder of the beauty surrounding us daily.

Sail Back in Time with the Flagship Niagara

View of the sailing Flagship Niagara
Lance Woodworth, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There's nothing like stepping aboard the Flagship Niagara to make the rich history of Erie come alive.

I've explored many historical sites in my town, but none have made as much of an impact as this one.

The moment you step aboard, you're hit with the sheer bravery and sacrifice of the mariners who defended our freedoms on Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

Moreover, the scale of the boat itself is awe-inspiring, but the thought of 150+ men crammed in there, living and fighting, really brings home the reality of what life was like on board.

Not only is this a historical marvel, but it is also an active training vessel, giving it an added layer of authenticity.

Spending a few hours on board, helping to pull the sails, and learning about how everything works is an unforgettable experience.

Away from the ship, the museum provides an excellent overview of Erie's maritime history.

I spent hours here, losing myself in the past, and could easily have spent the entire day.

For anyone who wants to get a natural feel for the history of Erie, the Flagship Niagara is a must-visit.

You'll learn about our past and get hands-on experience sailing a 19th-century replica ship. It's an experience you'll never forget.

Take a Stroll Through Perry Square

Every season brings a new reason to visit Perry Square.

As the crisp winter air breezes through, you can't help but be captivated by the beauty of the ice sculptures during the Winterfest.

Each one is crafted with intricate detail. They add a magical touch to the park.

And when summer rolls around, Perry Square truly comes to life. Any given night, you might find yourself in an impromptu concert.

The music fills the air, and couples can be seen dancing under the soft glow of the street lamps.

Let's also not forget the 814 Erie Fest, a lively event that transforms the park into the host of one of the best events in Erie.

Perry Square, no doubt, is a true gem of our city.

Get a Bird's Eye View of Erie from the Bicentennial Tower

Night lights of the Bicentennial Tower
Carrie's Camera / Shutterstock.com

I've been living in Erie for twenty years now, and one of my favorite ways to appreciate the beauty of my hometown is by visiting the Bicentennial Tower.

Right in the city's heart, it provides a captivating perspective of Lake Erie and the surrounding skyline.

Whenever I need fresh air, I head over to the tower.

For just a few dollars, I get to ride the elevator to the top of this 187-foot tower and trust me, the view is worth every penny.

As I step out onto the observation decks, I find myself captivated by the panoramic vistas of Lake Erie and my beloved city.

No matter how many times I go, it never gets old.

Apart from the breathtaking views, there's also an array of engaging mini-history lessons scattered around, telling the story of our area.

And who can forget about the food and ice cream for sale? It's the perfect combination of entertainment and education, all in one place.

As if all that wasn't enough, the Library/Museum is also within walking distance.

So, after you've soaked in the beauty from the top of the tower, take a stroll and explore some more of what Erie has to offer.

I had the chance to go on the first Tuesday of the month once, and guess what – admission was free!

Even at the standard $6, it's a very reasonable price for such a unique experience.

You're missing out if you haven't been to the Bicentennial Tower yet.

Oh, and don't miss the lower viewing deck. There's a beautiful mural that genuinely adds to the scenic beauty of the tower.

Whether you're a local or just visiting, an afternoon at Bicentennial Tower will make your day.

Discover the Erie Bird Observatory

I've lived in the vicinity for years and have always been fascinated by birdwatching.

There was something magical about spotting a rare bird, identifying it, and learning about its habits.

I visited the observatory's website last week to check the visiting hours and book a spot on one of their guided tours.

Likewise, I love how organized they are, providing all the required information at the click of a button.

Walking into the observatory, I was greeted by a symphony of birdsong, music to my ears.

The place was teeming with bird enthusiasts armed with binoculars and guidebooks.

Out there in the open, surrounded by the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves, there was a sense of tranquility that was hard to find elsewhere.

I also saw a majestic bald eagle perched high on a tree, its sharp gaze scanning the surroundings.

The Erie Bird Observatory is a place to understand them, appreciate species diversity, and learn about their behaviors and habitats.

It was an enriching experience, which I will cherish for years to come.

Discover Erie Land Lighthouse

Exterior of Erie Land Lighthouse
Doug Butchy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now and then, I find myself drawn to the majestic Erie Land Lighthouse.

It's my little haven, a spot where the hustle and bustle of life seem to disappear for a while.

Each visit is a little history lesson, with plaques scattered around the grounds, each revealing a piece of the lighthouse's past.

And the lighthouse itself? Its beauty never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I've seen it.

Close view of Erie Land Lighthouse
Niagara, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the best times to visit is on a quiet Friday evening. Traffic is usually light, and you might even have the place to yourself.

And it's not just the lighthouse that's worth seeing. Adjacent to it is a small park with swings that bring back memories of simpler times.

Even if you decide not to take the tour and climb the lighthouse, there's more than enough to keep you occupied.

The Erie Land Lighthouse is a treasure trove of stories, a serene sanctuary, and a testament to our rich history.

Final Thoughts

Erie, Pennsylvania, is a treasure trove of natural beauty and historical significance, with plenty to keep you busy without spending a penny.

Whether you're a history buff, nature, or someone seeking a relaxing getaway, Erie has you covered.

So, grab your walking shoes, binoculars, or beach blanket, and experience Erie for yourself.

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