Located in northern Pennsylvania, there are plenty of indoor things to do in Erie, PA in December, such as visiting attractions like the Erie Maritime Museum and Erie Art Museum. These also happen to be two of the best things to do in Erie, PA on a rainy day. Another grey day activity is to visit Millcreek Mall, which offers the best shopping in Erie, PA.
As for Lake Erie things to do, check out the view from Bicentennial Tower or head to Presque Isle State Park, which juts into the lake. If you’re looking for things to do in Erie, PA at night, see a show at Warner Theatre or at Erie Insurance Arena. Here are more suggestions for things to do in Erie, PA tonight, tomorrow, and this weekend.
1. Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle State Park is home to an arching sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. With four million annual visitors, it’s Pennsylvania’s most-visited state park. It’s also a popular summer destination, thanks to the fact it’s home to 13 beaches. Other things to do in Presque Isle State Park include going on a boat tour, visiting its lighthouses, birdwatching (over 300 species call the park home), and enjoying the 11 miles of hiking trails.
2. Erie Zoo
Erie Zoo is home to over 400 animals from around the world. See exotic animals like the African lion, jaguar, southern white rhino, and the Bornean orangutan. Visitors should also keep their eyes peeled, as the zoo’s various areas are surrounded by themed botanical gardens. This includes the Wild Asia garden, the Model Railroad Garden, and the Children’s Zoo garden. The zoo also hosts fun events like Cinco de Rhino and its annual summertime parade.
3. Erie Maritime Museum
The Erie Maritime Museum is dedicated to showcasing the region’s rich maritime heritage through interactive exhibits and historic artifacts. Permanent exhibits include the Battle of Lake Erie, Maritime Art, and the USS Michigan/Wolverine, which had a long-running US Naval career. However, its main drawcard is its modern-day replica of the U.S. Brig Niagara, which had a pivotal role in the War of 1812. Today, it’s a sailing school vessel periodically open for tours.
4. Flagship Niagara League
The Flagship Niagara League is the non-profit organization that operates both the Erie Maritime Museum and the U.S. Brig Niagara. Commonly called the USS Niagara or the Flagship Niagara, the vessel was a wooden-hulled snow-brig and the relief flagship for Commissioner Oliver Hazard Perry in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. As mentioned, this modern-day replica serves as a sailing school vessel and as a state ambassador as it is Pennsylvania’s official state ship.
5. Bicentennial Tower
If you’re searching for the best views in town, check out the Bicentennial Tower at Dobbins Landing. Built to celebrate the town’s bicentennial year in 1996, the tower is 187 feet tall. Jutting into Lake Erie, the tower features two observation decks, which overlook the downtown district, Lake Erie, and Presque Isle State Park. The Bicentennial Tower also has various opening hours depending on the season, so visit the Port Erie website for up-to-date information.
6. Erie Art Museum
One of the best things to do in Erie, PA on a rainy or wintry day is to visit the Erie Art Museum. Its collection features over 8000 works of art, including comic book art, Tibetan paintings, American ceramics, and photography. Hosting many visiting exhibitions annually, its most popular permanent exhibition – Everything but the Shelves – features thousands of images hung salon-style. The museum also organizes events like painting classes and open-mic poetry nights.
7. Waldameer & Water World
Waldameer and Water World is a seasonal amusement and water park with over 100 attractions for the whole family, such as four rollercoasters (including one of the world’s best wooden rollercoasters), a 500,000-gallon wave pool that can accommodate up to 1000 people, and 19 water slides. Along with 17 food stands and free family-friendly daily entertainment by Wally and Wendy Bear, Waldameer and Water World is a must-visit destination to check out this summer.
8. Tom Ridge Environmental Center
Located within Presque Isle State Park, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center is an educational center dedicated to teaching visitors about the state park’s flora, fauna, and history. Named after a former Pennsylvania Governor, the center is free and open to the public year-round. Some of the top things to do here include climbing the 75-ft observation tower, seeing the interactive exhibits, watching Big Green Screen Theater’s orientation film, and visiting Presque Isle Gallery and Gifts.
9. Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort
Spread over 80,000 square feet, Splash Lagoon is a Polynesian-themed indoor water park – tropical temperatures included. It’s home to plenty of fun attractions, including seven water slides, pools and hot tubs, the 12-level Tree House, the Tree Tops Ropes Course, an arcade featuring over 100 games, The FlowRider indoor surf machine, and Wild Waters Wave Pool. Splash Lagoon is also conveniently connected to three hotels, with three more a quick shuttle ride away.
10. Presque Isle Downs and Casino
Presque Isle Downs and Casino is both a casino and thoroughbred horse racing track. Let’s start with the casino, which is home to over 1500 slot machines, seven poker tables, 32 table games, and 50 BetAmerica sports betting kiosks. It also has four dining options and three bars, including Backstretch Buffet’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Presque Isle Downs and Casino hosts live racing events in summer on its one-mile Tapeta racetrack, but simulcast racing is available year-round.
11. Millcreek Mall
One of the largest shopping complexes in the United States, Millcreek Mall is regularly visited by residents from Ohio, New York, and Canada because Pennsylvania has no sales tax on clothing. It houses just over 170 stores and restaurants, with three main department stores: Boscov’s, Macy’s, and JCPenney. Other popular brands that call Millcreek Mall home are H&M, Forever 21, and Ross Dress for Less. Food options include Moe’s Southwest Grill and Outback Steakhouse.
12. Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park
One of the best free things to do in Erie, PA is to visit the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park (LEAF). Open to the public year-round, the tree museum is home to over 1000 trees in appropriately-named sections like Crabapple Ridge, Pine Lane, Oak Alley, and Beech Grove. Within the park, there’s also a peaceful stream, a seasonal sledding hill, a wetlands section, a recreational soccer field, tennis courts, and the Labyrinth public artwork.
13. ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum
For a top thing to do in Erie, PA with kids, we’d suggest visiting the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum. This interactive museum offers kids of all ages fun and education exhibits that will spark the imagination. From the Portal to The Past Exhibit that takes kids through a series of caves, to the hands-on Water Table exhibit where they can explore the science of water, the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is packed with interesting things to do. Check out their website for more information and add this special destination to your list of must-do things with kids.
14. Asbury Woods Nature Center
Asbury Woods is a preserve with plenty of attractions, including five miles of walking trails through old-growth forest, the Brown’s Farm Barn, the Little Woods Play Area, the Squeaky Frog Gift Shop, and the Asbury Woods Nature Center. Free to enter and open year-round, the Asbury Woods Nature Center is home to the interactive Discovery Classroom, an innovative and vegetative green roof, and live animal habitats, including a turtle pond and a honeybee hive exhibit.
15. Downtown Erie
The city’s downtown district encompasses a vast space – following State Street from the Bayfront District to Union Station. Downtown’s top attractions include the Erie Art Museum, the Bicentennial Tower, ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum, Blasco Library, Erie Maritime Museum, and Warner Theatre. As for its food and drinks scene, visit the many food trucks that line Perry Square daily, head to one of downtown’s four microbreweries, or check out 1201 Kitchen for contemporary Latin/Asian cuisine.
16. Erie Library
The Raymond M Blasco, MD Memorial Library is located in the same building as Erie Maritime Museum – a former power station. From its windows, customers have uninterrupted lake (and U.S. Brig Niagara) views. As the Erie Public Library’s main library building since 1996, it was named in honor of Dr. Raymond M. Blasco for his generous endowment. Relocating the library to the lakefront also led to the subsequent revitalization of the Bayfront District.
17. Warner Theatre
Opening in 1931, the Warner Theatre was built in a combination of the art deco and French renaissance architectural styles. Commissioned by the one and only Warner Bros. Entertainment, it was a movie theater until 1976 when it was transformed into a performing arts venue. Featuring luxe interior details like crushed velour and gold-backed French mirrors, Warner Theatre is home to the Erie Philharmonic and the Lake Erie Ballet, as well as touring Broadway productions.
18. All an Act Theatre Productions
All an Act Theatre Productions is a local theater troupe dedicated to making high-quality theater productions more accessible to residents in the greater Erie community. Founded in 2004, the organization operates out of a 130-seat theater in Columbus Square. It puts on multiple productions every year, such as the stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a student production of Godspell, and The Man Who Came To Dinner, a classic comedy.
19. Erie Insurance Arena
If you’re looking for things to do in Erie, PA at night, check out Erie Insurance Arena’s packed events calendar. Established in 1983, the multi-purpose indoor arena is home to both the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League and the NBA G League’s Erie Bayhawks team. It’s also used for theater productions, opera performances, and music concerts. Erie Insurance Arena has hosted the likes of Elton John, Cher, and Rod Stewart over the years.
20. The Historical Society of Erie County
The Erie County Historical Society manages the Thomas B. Hagen History Center, which includes the 19th-century romanesque Watson-Curtze Mansion, the Visitor Center Carriage House, the H.O. Hirt Reading Room and Library, and the King-Mertens Archive Buildings. The society is dedicated to preserving the region’s history through exhibits like the Griswold Cast Iron, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s Sword, President Lincoln’s Flag, and the Admiral Thomas Weschler Military Gallery. Visit their website for seasonal opening hours.
21. Lake Erie Speedway
The Lake Erie Speedway calls itself “Pennsylvania’s premier outdoor entertainment center.” Established in 2002, it consists of a ⅜ mile paved oval race track. It was a member of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series until 2013, but now the speedway simply hosts a selection of special events throughout the year. These special events include Crash-a-Rama (described as a “redneck rodeo”), the All-Star Monster Truck Tour, community festivals and fundraisers, and a Drift series every season.