The fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, Erie offers a diverse choice of things to see and do, including museums, nature centers, thoroughbred horse racing, shopping and theaters. Visit the Erie Maritime Museum, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and enjoy panoramic views from the Port Erie Bicentennial Tower. Best things to do in Erie, PA with kids include the Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Presque Isle State Park, and Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark Resort. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Presque Isle State Park
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Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula filled with recreational trails, a marina, and numerous beaches for swimming. Jutting into Lake Erie, the beautiful, romantic coastline is great for a fun-filled day of swimming, fishing, boating, bicycling, hiking, or in-line skating. The marina gives visitors the opportunity to partake in a variety of water sports including water skiing, scuba diving, canoeing, or simply enjoying a scenic boat tour.
In the winter, visitors are invited to try out cross country skiing on the trails of the park, or ice fishing, ice skating, and iceboating. The park is a favored spot for ornithologists as many birds migrate through the Presque Isle.
2.Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Erie, PA
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A trip to the Erie Zoo and Botanical Gardens is not like a visit to any other zoo. You can get up close and personal with over 400 animals from around the world. You can enjoy seeing rhinos, warthogs, and cheetahs amongst other exotic wildlife from Africa and Madagascar at the Kikoba Outpost.
Train rides and carousels are available to take a ride and watch the animals play and eat. Though visitors mainly come for the zoo, the botanical gardens are a beauty of their own; here visitors can explore different plant species and gardens filled with colorful flowers. The Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one of the best things to see in Erie, Pennsylvania.
423 W. 38th St., Erie, PA 16508, 814-864-4091
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3.Erie Maritime Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
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From the war of 1812 to present day, the Erie Maritime Museum takes visitors on a journey through time of the many people and events surrounding Lake Erie. Focus is given to the events of the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10th, 1813, and visitors are able to see historical artifacts, interactive exhibits, and dramatic videos that bring the battle to life.
Some of the museum’s permanent exhibits include a reconstruction of the mid-ship section of the Lawrence and an original GE steam-powered electricity generating station. There are also many artifacts, models, and pieces of art in the museum gallery for visitors to better appreciate Erie’s extensive maritime history.
150 East Front Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-452-2744
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4.What to Do in Erie, PA: Tom Ridge Environmental Center
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The Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) is dedicated to teaching visitors of all ages about the unique 3,200 acres of Presque Isle and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula. Visitors will love this free learning center where there are more than 7,000 square feet of interactive exhibits from flying saucers and steel trees to origami birds. The center promotes environmental awareness in a way that excites people of all ages.
There’s a four-story high, 45-foot wide big screen that puts visitors right in the middle of the action. Visitors can learn about the history of Presque Isles while enjoying a fun-filled interactive experience. Next read: water parks in PA
301 Peninsula Dr. #1, Erie, PA 16505, 814-833-7424
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5.Asbury Woods Nature Center, Erie, Pennsylvania
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The Asbury Woods Nature Center consists of 205 acres of wetlands, forests, fields, streams, and historic properties that create outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors. Visitors can enjoy fishing, hiking, running, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor activities. There are also many animal exhibits, the picnic pavilion, a craft workshop, an amphitheater, the sugar shack, a native plants garden, the Little Woods Nature Play area, or the Otto Behrend Celebration Garden.
Additionally, the award-winning center has numerous programs, events, festivals, and nature camps for people to participate in and safely explore natural places. Some of the center’s events include Fantasy Forest, where children can safely engage in a variety of activities to learn about animals and plants in the nature center, or the Tracks in the Snow program, which acquaints kids with native animals in the area.
4105 Asbury Road, Erie, PA 16506, 814-835-5356
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6.Port Erie Bicentennial Tower, Erie, Pennsylvania
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The Port Erie Bicentennial Tower offers amazing panoramic views of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park, and downtown Erie.
The tower was built to signify the city's bicentennial year: 1996.
It is 187 feet (57 m) tall and has two observation decks that visitors can visit, one at 17 feet and the other at 138 feet, making it one of the tallest structures in Erie.
Visitors can get souvenirs at the tower’s gift shop before taking in the beautiful sights of Erie, and on a clear day, visitors can see 27 miles away to Long Point in Ontario, Canada.
1 Holland St, Erie, PA 16507, 814-455-7557
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7.Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
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The Erie Art Museum came into existence in 1898 as The Art Club of Erie. It has since then moved locations and changed names and is now a part of the Discovery Square Corporation, the development block in downtown Erie filled with museums, educational centers, and history centers. Visitors to the art museum can admire over 8,000 objects such as American ceramics, Tibetan paintings, Indian bronzes, contemporary baskets, and many other artifacts.
The museum hosts 18 to 20 visiting exhibitions annually and shares parts of its collection with national and international partners through traveling exhibits. Visitors can also see how Erie supports the local folk artists, as the museum raises awareness for the traditional arts through installations and events.
411 State St, Erie, PA 16501, 814-459-5477
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8.Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier, Erie, Pennsylvania
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The Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier showcases more than 250 varieties of trees. Take a stroll around the arboretum that was established in 1998 and admire trees like the Hawthorn, Ginkgo, Scarlet Oak, Russian Olive, Corkscrew Willow, Dogwood, Douglas fir, Honey locust Maple, Alder, and the Tulip tree, just to name a few.
During winter or summer, there are numerous activities at this venue. Hiking and biking trails, sled riding hills, and the labyrinth are sure to impress the whole family. Walk to the virtual tree gazebo and experience a serene ambiance seated under the canopy of the trees that are in bloom during the spring.
1501 W 6th Street Erie, PA 16505, 814-453-5323
9.ExpERIEnce Children's Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
© ExpERIEnce Children's Museum
Giving children between toddlers to ten years old an opportunity to be inspired, get creative, and to let their imaginations run free, the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is non-profit organization in the historic cultural district of downtown Erie. Visitors are invited to bring their kids down to an environment that lets them engage in a broad range of topics from math, health, and science to culture, art, and literacy.
Three floors with over 50 hands-on exhibits allow kids to go wild with activities like boat racing, imagining a career, or producing a play. There are also many events that the museum hosts, from visiting authors to outdoor play areas. A visit to the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is a memory that will stay with children for years to come.
420 French Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-453-3743
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10.Downtown Erie, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Downtown Erie presents stunning views of the sunset on Lake Erie. It is home to landscaped parks, numerous restaurants and boutiques, and an exciting nightlife. Over 500 merchants and property owners created the Downtown Improvement District in 2004 to revive Erie’s historic and economic district.
With a pedestrian friendly ambiance and excellent transport option, many prefer to leave their vehicles at home when heading to work, while others are attracted to downtown living with an option of modern condos, apartments, or lofts in historic buildings.
140 East Fifth Street Erie, PA 16507, 814-455-3743
11.Waldameer Park & Water World, Erie, PA
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Waldameer Park and Water World originally started as a popular picnic spot called Hoffman’s Grove – it is now an exciting adventure and water park with over 100 rides, slides, and attractions. Visitors can enjoy thrilling rides such as the Ravine Flyer II or the XScream Drop Tower, or more toned down classics such as the Ferris wheel or Merry-Go-Round.
Water World, which is a water park full of rides, slides, and pools, provides a great way for families to cool off on a hot summer day. Waldameer is family-owned and family-friendly, so visitors can be assured that there’s something for everyone. Ensured to give visitors the full adventure park experience, Waldameer also offers many games, food stalls, and entertainment.
220 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA 16505, 814-838-3591
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12.Erie Library, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Erie Library is popular destination used by Erie residents and visitors for studying, reading, and gathering. The library, which has five branches and a bookmobile, has extensive collections of books as well as other reading formats like e-books. The library offers a range of programs, services, and classes that provide people with access to information, learning opportunities, and socializing. The library’s goal is to create a culture of creativity, curiosity, and learning in Erie and its surrounding areas by providing easy access to relevant and accurate information as well as the chance to meet other people. Some of the library’s current programs are kids’ story times, computer classes, yoga for pre-school kids, book clubs, Lego construction, the Blasco Library Concert Series, and much more.
160 E Front St., Erie, PA 16507, 814-451-6900
13.Presque Isle Downs and Casino, Erie, PA
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Presque Isle Downs and Casino is a popular gambling destination with thoroughbred horse racing at their racetrack. Visitors can try their luck at over 1,700 games, including casino favorites such as Bally Quick Hits, Wheel of Fortune, and Wizard of Oz.
If slot machines don't interest you, you can get in on the action in the newly renovated poker room or at the craps or blackjack table. Those who aren’t a fan of gambling can enjoy the live entertainment, award-winning cuisine, and shopping, or relax in the adjacent newly opened hotel.
8199 Perry Hwy, Erie, PA 16509, 814-860-8999
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14.Millcreek Mall, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Since 1975, Millcreek Mall has been giving visitors an array of shops, kiosks, and restaurants to spend the day at. There are over 175 stores and restaurants within the mall as well as in the surrounding vicinity; visitors can shop at department stores such as Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney or at stores such as Old Navy, Michaels, and the DSW Shoe Warehouse.
Visitors can take advantage of tax-free clothing, one of the main reasons many people from surrounding states visit PA malls. Those who are looking to re-energize during their shopping trip with a good meal can visit one of the many restaurants there such as Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill, the Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Arby’s, or the Aoyama Japanese Steakhouse.
654 Millcreek Mall, Erie, PA 16565, 814-868-9000
15.Warner Theatre, Erie, PA
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All visitors will enjoy a visit to Warner Theatre, but for architecture, interior design, history, and, of course, theatre aficionados, the Warner Theatre will provide a memorable experience unequalled by any other. Commissioned by Warner Bros., the theatre opened its doors in 1931 with a solid bronze ticket booth, a luxurious gold-gilded grand lobby, rich tapestries, and French gold-backed mirrors.
Filled with Czechoslovakian glass and crystal chandeliers, the theatre has hosted various ‘pictures’ traveling shows, major film releases, and was an important link the vaudeville circuits of the ‘30s. Now, visitors can enjoy varying shows and concerts from a stage show of Annie to a musical performance by John Mellencamp.
811 State Street, Erie, PA 16501, 814-452-4857
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16.All an Act Theatre Productions, Erie, PA
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All an Act Theatre Productions, or A3 as the locals call it, is a community theatre that aims to expose more people to the arts while continuing live theatre, and it has been doing so since 2004. The production company is also home to The Footlights Theatre Program. The program has been running every summer for 41 consecutive years and has offered children of all experience, background, and social status a free first-hand theatre experience through the production of a full-length musical.
It is one of the longest running and most successful programs that Erie offers its youth. Visitors are invited to view shows put on through the program, as well as a number of other musicals and live theatre events.
652 West 17th Street, Erie, PA 16502, 814-450-8553
17.Erie Insurance Arena, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Erie Insurance Arena is a foremost sports and entertainment center. Inaugurated in 1983, it recently underwent a $47 million expansion and renovation that included new luxury suites and a club level. This sports facility has over 9,000 seats and is home to the SIFL Erie Explosion, OHL Erie Otters, and the NBA-D League Erie BayHawks.
It is also a popular venue for hosting concerts, graduations, family shows, and other events. The modern ambience adds to the viewing pleasure. Celebrate with family and friends or connect with clients from the privacy of the suites while catching an exciting game or concert.
809 French St Erie, PA 16501, 814-453-7117
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The Erie Playhouse is the place to be for visitors who enjoy diverse plays and musicals. One of the oldest and largest community theatres, the Erie Playhouse is recognized as one of the top ten community theatres in national competition. Visitors from all over love catching a show whether it be a concert, musical, play, or any of the other special events the playhouse holds.
Some of the shows scheduled for 2016 are Nice Work If You Can Get It, Peter and the Star Catcher, and Rapunzel: A New Musical. Visitors can also partake in a number of classes starting from kids in pre-k to adults who want to take advanced acting classes.
13 West 10 Street, Erie, PA 16501, 814-454-2852
19.Pulakos Chocolates, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Founder George P. Pulakos began selling his delicious handmade candies in 1889 in Philadelphia before moving to Erie in 1903. Using only the freshest ingredients, he created masterpieces like the incredibly popular sponge taffy. Savor the molded chocolates that come in intriguing shapes like a ballerina, baby days set, or even a cell phone.
The elegant box of specialty chocolates have French truffles, cherries coated in chocolate, assorted creams, fruit jelly slices, peanut butter cups and clusters of nuts, and caramel delight. Take a tour and discover the secrets of chocolate making at the Pulakos factory. Witness the creation of their specially blended chocolate recipes that have been perfected over four generations.
2530 Parade St., Erie, PA, 814-452-4026
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20.The Historical Society of Erie County
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The Historical Society of Erie has an impressive collection of archival material that is available for viewing. The society boasts 809 separate collections, 3,750 historic maps, 321,775 photographic images, 5,529 rare books, and 4,880 architectural drawings that are sure to make the visit a memorable experience.
The three historic landmark properties, the Hagen History Center, the Yellow House, and the White House known as the Battles Estates Museum, have fascinating exhibits and manicured landscapes. Organized tours are available.
356 West Sixth Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-454-1813
21.Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture
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The Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture was established in 2011 to oversee the planning and execution of cultural and artistic events in several of the modern venues on campus. With an ambition of developing future patrons of arts among the Erie community, the institute showcases different plays and musicals from around the country.
Visitors are encouraged to interact with the performers and artists during the pre-show and after show discussions. Independent and classic films are screened catering to the diverse audience.
501 East 38th Street Erie, PA 16546, 814-824-3000
22.Scallywags Pirate Adventures, Erie, Pennsylvania
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Scallywags, an impressive wooden ship, is 62 feet in length. Pirate Captain Tiny Tim will take the whole family on an adventure. Children will enjoy dressing up as pirates with a tattoo painted on their body, and they will learn to sing and dance like a pirate, becoming enthralled with tales of Lake Erie and buried treasures.
Create a memorable day as the crew guides you into battle with Scallywags’ 16 water guns along the pirate hangouts. Adults can have fun in the evening on the Seasoned Seadogs cruise.
2 State Street Erie, PA 16507, 814-453-2627
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23.Jerry Uht Park, Erie, PA
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Jerry Uht Park became an icon of the Erie sports history from the inception of SeaWolves in 1995. Visitors have a choice of six luxury suites, five main concession stands, and two picnic areas on either side of the field or a beer garden for private viewing.
The raised upper decks of seats over first base make this park unique. It can be rented for birthday parties and group outings, and the SeaWolves offer several VIP experiences for groups at the park.
110 E 10th St, Erie, PA 16501
24.Firefighters Historical Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
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The Firefighter Historical Museum was inaugurated in 1976, and it stands on the site of the first fire station, which was commissioned in 1873. Explore this fascinating museum and learn about the tools that they used.
Visitors can see the hand-pulled apparatus, the ancient four-wheel hose cart, and the steam fire engine that were deployed. On display are different types of helmets, uniforms, medals, and safety gear, and the memorial to the firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty is sure to touch your heart.
428 Chestnut Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-456-5969
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Over 100 years old, Erie Philharmonic began in 1913 with a 50 piece ensemble of “Sacred Music.” Today, world-renowned vocalists like Jasmine Muhammed and Michael Redding present classics like Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris.
Some of the other presentations of Erie Philharmonic are Spielberg Scores, Musicolympics, and Come Home for the Holidays. For a truly cultural experience, witness acclaimed pianists entertain the public with music from Mozart, Ravel, Chopin, and Stravinsky. The annual Youth Concerts specifically targets elementary students.
23 West 10th Street, Erie, PA 16501
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25 Fun Things to Do in Erie, Pennsylvania
- Presque Isle State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Erie Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Erie Maritime Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Hedgehog - Fotolia.com
- What to Do in Erie, PA: Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Photo: Courtesy of rufar - Fotolia.com
- Asbury Woods Nature Center, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Brian - Fotolia.com
- Port Erie Bicentennial Tower, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Steven - Fotolia.com
- ExpERIEnce Children's Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: ExpERIEnce Children's Museum
- Downtown Erie, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Waldameer Park & Water World, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of n_u_t - Fotolia.com
- Erie Library, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Erie Library
- Presque Isle Downs and Casino, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of otaraev74 - Fotolia.com
- Millcreek Mall, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Millcreek Mall
- Warner Theatre, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of ugljesaras - Fotolia.com
- All an Act Theatre Productions, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of andrys lukowski - Fotolia.com
- Erie Insurance Arena, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Erie Insurance Arena
- Erie Playhouse, Photo: Courtesy of lapandr - Fotolia.com
- Pulakos Chocolates, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Pulakos Chocolates
- The Historical Society of Erie County, Photo: The Historical Society of Erie County
- Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture, Photo: Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture
- Scallywags Pirate Adventures, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Courtesy of Alexandr Vasilyev - Fotolia.com
- Jerry Uht Park, Erie, PA, Photo: Courtesy of mtsaride - Fotolia.com
- Firefighters Historical Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania, Photo: Firefighters Historical Museum
- Erie Philharmonic, Photo: Courtesy of Nikolai Sorokin - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia
Attraction Spotlight: Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark Resort
Located in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark Resort is an 80,000-square-foot themed indoor water park offering water slides, hot tubs, an indoor ropes course, an arcade and laser tag facility, and an indoor bowling alley and bar. Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark Resort was designed by Erie franchising firm Scott Enterprises and opened to the public in March of 2003. In 2005, the resort expanded, adding two new water slides and the Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.
Subsequent expansions in 2011 and 2013 added a 30,000-square-foot wave pool, an independent dry ropes course attraction, and new water rides. In 2014, Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar was renovated and redesigned as Hooch and Blotto’s Sports Bar and Grill, adding a bowling alley to the facility. The resort was recognized as the sixth-largest water park resort in North America by Water Parks Resorts Today magazine in 2008, and has been ranked as one of the top 10 water park resorts in America by a number of resort and family attraction publications.
Today, Splash Lagoon encompasses more than 80,000 square feet, with attractions themed around a Polynesian resort style. All indoor water attraction areas are kept at a temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, giving the resort a tropical feel year-round. The resort is located along Erie’s Upper Peach Street, which contains a variety of nearby restaurants and retailers, and is connected to several hotel facilities, including a Comfort Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and Residence Inn. As one of the most prominent water park facilities in the American Great Lakes area, Splash Lagoon is host to more than 300,000 annual visitors and has seen a total attendance of more than nine million visitors since its 2003 opening.
Nine water slides are featured at the resort, including the Big Kahuna, the Python Plunge, the Black Hole dark slide, and the 40mph Hurricane Hole. Most slides embark from the five-story Tiki Tree House play area, which offers 12 distinct sub-levels of water play activities, including a 48-foot Tiki Tipping Bucket that periodically dumps 1,000 gallons of water at the sound of an alarm horn. The resort is also home to the Wild Waters Wave Pool, the largest indoor wave pool east of the Mississippi River, which features a 200,000-gallon wave pool area with waves reaching maximum heights of six feet.
Three whirlpool areas are offered, a Lava Pool and Frog Pond for all-ages play and a secluded Paradise Cove pool for visitors ages 21 and up. An Aqua Tumbler ball play area rolls on the water, allowing for looping inversions, while a Lazy River area allows for mild relaxation. The four-foot Adventure Bay pool offers pick-up water basketball games and a lily pad course, and the Monkey Shines Island play area provides a safe play space for younger visitors with a shallow pool area and miniature slides and swings.
In addition to water attractions, several dry attractions are available for access without general water park admission, including a three-story Tree Tops Rope Course with balance beam, tightrope, and bridge balancing challenges. The 6,000-square-foot Treasure Island Arcade features over 110 games, with ticket redemptions available for a variety of prizes. A state-of-the-art Lazer Tag area is also the Erie area’s largest laser tag facility, offering team and individual competitive challenges.
Opened in 2014, Hooch and Blotto’s Sports Bar and Grill is designed to evoke the feel of a prohibition-era sports bar with modern amenities, featuring large screen televisions for sports coverage and a family-friendly eight-lane bowling alley area, which was the recipient of the 2015 Design and Architecture Award by Bowlers Journal International Magazine. American bar fare is offered, including burgers, pizza, appetizers, and draft and bottled microbrewery beer offerings. Family-friendly concessions is also offered at the Laguna Grill, located on the first floor of the water park, and beachside alcoholic beverages are provided by the Soggy Dollar Bar. Beach accessories and souvenirs are sold nearby at the Surf Shop Gifts and Sundries shop.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Group admission packages to Splash Lagoon are offered for school groups, corporate retreats, and other organizations. The Splash Lagoon facility may be also rented for overnight groups and fundraising programs for schools and nonprofit organizations. School field trip programs are offered, emphasizing history and science concepts related to water park operations, and birthday party packages may be reserved for young children. Annual public special events at the resort include a Sensory Day for children with autism spectrum and other related disorders, a Here Comes Santa holiday celebration, and a themed New Year’s Eve event with character appearances and a midnight ball drop.
8091 Peach St, Erie, PA 16509, Phone: 814-217-1111
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