Unique Places to Visit in Western PA
Sewickley, Pennsylvania, for Memorial Day Weekend
Sewickley, PA, is a small, pretty, historic town, with shops and restaurants, but the one thing this town really does right is support its veterans! Sewickley usually kicks off Memorial Day weekend with fireworks on that Friday night, followed by a remarkable parade on Memorial Day itself. During this parade, you will likely see many retired veterans (and possibly some currently serving), military bands, high school bands, school cheerleaders, and other community organizations, but everyone is there for the same reason: to honor those who served, or currently served, the United States of America. In addition to the celebrations of Memorial Day, the Quaker Valley School District also holds special Veteran's Day celebrations each year, during which students actually attend school, and have the opportunity to learn about the true meaning behind this holiday. Personally, I think all schools should do this, rather than just giving students the day off, without really educating students about the importance of this holiday. If you are unavailable to visit this great town on this special weekend, no worries! Pittsburgh is only a 20-30 minute drive from this town. Also, you may just enjoy walking through the Borough of Sewickley, on an average day, just to see what it has to offer! Finally, before transition to the next unique place, I would like to say, "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE," to all those who have served and/or currently serve the United States of America.
Warren, Pennsylvania for the 4th of July
I have to say, this is my absolute favorite place to be for the Fourth of July. For a city just big enough to be named a city, it is usually referred to as a "small town." For this type of area, you would never imagine what happens there on the 4th of July. For decades, Warren, PA has hosted an immaculate 4th of July parade, with HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS of people attending (I'm not sure of the exact number, but I am not exaggerating) each year. Parade-watchers come from Warren, and surrounding towns such as Youngsville, Sheffield, Bradford (all in PA), Jamestown, NY, and other locations. If this already sounds insane to you for a "small town," this next part might surprise you even more: the parade is about one mile long, but usually lasts two and a half hours to three hours, as there are amazing community floats, political vehicles, shriners, and so much more. Along the sidelines of this parade, there fast-food restaurants that are usually open due to the large crowds, as well as food booths that are there just for the event, so you definitely won't go hungry!
O.K., so when the parade is over, now, what do you do? Head to Betts Park. There, you will find live music, many food vendors, and last year, there were two bouncy-houses (although one deflated while children were in it). Although the events here have sadly decreased over the years (decades ago, there used to be a full-on carnival here for the 4th, but no longer), it still provides something to do for the day, especially if you are not originally from the town, and not invited to any cookouts! Additionally, Betts Park is right along the river, so you can just sit in the gazebo, grass, or at a picnic table, and observe the river and ducks (but no feeding the ducks; the town no longer allows that due to the ducks being overfed). It's beautiful scenery, and finally, at this same location, you can attend the annual fireworks at night (they are usually done relatively soon after it becomes dark). If this environment isn't your thing, you could head to either the Chapman Dam State Park, or the Kinzua Beach (although, I believe, Chapman Dam is much nicer). Both locations allow swimming, but at Chapman Dam, there is a long line of sanded beach, concession stands, and I believe there are lifeguards (this may have changed over the years, so once it is confirmed, I will edit this article). Pets can be walked at the park, but they are not allowed on the beach area, or in the water.
If, after or before you have experienced all of the above, and you still have extra time in your weekend, head to Rimrock, or Jake's Rocks. There are overlooks of the damn, and paths to view the rocks, etc. (but I caution you to walk these slowly, as there are some spots that could be extremely dangerous if you are not paying attention). If the weather is not rainy, and you like the outdoors, I highly recommend visiting these locations.
Overall, if you haven't experienced the 4th of July like this before, give Warren, PA a try next time! There are a few hotels available (Hampton Inn in North Warren, the Holiday Inn on Ludlow Street in Warren, and Super 8 on Struthers Street), as well as nearby campgrounds, so there are options for everyone!
Erie, PA has so much to offer all year, but I would recommend the summer months over the winter months, so I will highlight great spots for both parts of the year:
- If your family is full of ocean-lovers and swimmers, Presque Isle State Park is a great substitute for the ocean! Although it is Lake Erie, and fresh water, the water at this part of the lake has waves that make you feel like you are actually at the ocean! The park has several different beaches, as well as a bike path. Only some of the beaches have concessions stands, lifeguards, etc., so make sure to visit the Presque Isle website to read the differences between all of the beaches before visiting. Additionally, there are spots where fishing is permitted, but always research first! There have been times over the past that Lake Erie had problems with contamination. Inquire with the park or local fishing/game commission to learn fishing rules for the time of your visit. To finish your stay off, take a visit to the Presque Isle Lighthouse! Again, it's gorgeous scenery, and worth a view. If you are looking for an overnight stay, many hotels and campgrounds are available. Camping is allowed at Preque Isle, but there seem to be many limitations on camping there, so I highly recommend researching those ahead of time, if you intend to camp...no pets.
- Waldemeer Park & Water World:This is a combined amusement and water park, although the majority of my visits have been just to the water park. It is located almost directly across from the Presque Isle State Park. While everyone has probably been hearing all of the hype about the indoor water park, Splash Lagoon, this outdoor park may get overlooked, but it has existed much longer than Splash Lagoon (see my winter suggestions to learn more about Splash Lagoon). Waldemeer's Water World has speed slides for the adventurous, and slower slides and a lazy river for those who like to just relax. When it is time to dry off, you could either head to the amusement part of this park, or return the next day (if you love rides, that is).
While you're completing your stay, while enjoying the Presque Isle State Park and' Waldemeer Park & Water World, if you're hungry, and would like to go out to dinner, there are numerous restaurants in the Erie area, and some quite close to Presque Isle. If you truly enjoy the outdoors, I'm sure some of them provide outdoor seating. If you have forgotten anything for your trip, don't worry! The Millcreek Mall is not too far away, located at 5800 Peach Street, Erie, PA.
If you plan on visiting Erie, PA during the winter, head to Splash Lagoon, and indoor water park. It has action-packed slides, a wave pool, and a pool where younger children can play and/or swim, bring a bag with warm clothes for when you depart from this location, as there is no on-site hotel, so you will have a cold walk out to your car if you didn't pack warm clothes!
If you don't have kids (or don't have them with you), you may want to head to the Presque Isle Downs & Casino at night.
As mentioned in the summer section of this article, there are a significant number of restaurants in the Erie area, as well as the Millcreek Mall, in the case that you need anything.
As you have read, Erie can be great in either winter or summer, so if you are looking for an affordable, fun-packed vacation, give Erie, PA a try! If you are looking for a road trip once you leave Erie, Niagra Falls is only about a two hour drive away.
Erie/Presque Isle, PA
Things to Pack for Erie, PA
For the Day
For the Evening
If you plan to fish and/or camp
Swimsuit/Swimming Trunks (perhaps, two)
Nice Outfit for Dinner
Workout Clothes (for a stroll on the bike path, etc)
Bait (but can purchase nearby)
sneakers (for a stroll on the bike path)
Flipflops (for the hot sand)
If you are in for a multi-location road trip, these three locations are all within a few hours from each other, but if you truly want to maximize the experience, visiting Sewickley and Warren separately may work best, so you can be there for the holidays mentioned in the article above (Memorial Day and July 4th), but Erie is great anytime, especially during the summer! Please see the map below, so you can measure the distances between each location. Have fun!
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