10 Family-Friendly Fall Adventures to Embrace in Erie

Erie, PA makes the perfect fall fun destination for your next getaway from Pittsburgh!

By Emily Papa, Macaroni KID South Hills Publisher October 27, 2023

The cool breeze of autumn on the first days of Fall, foliage changing right before our eyes, and an exciting lineup of family-friendly activities - that's exactly what we found during our unforgettable weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania, hosted by Visit Erie

My family and I were graciously hosted by Visit Erie, but all opinions expressed are my own.

I think most people from Pittsburgh consider Erie, PA a great day trip in the spring or summer, but I feel like I don’t hear much about Erie, PA being a FALL destination.  My family quickly learned that fall in Erie offers no bounds of experiences that should limit it to a one-season easy getaway with plenty of fall fun things to do. From exploring nature's beauty at Asbury Woods Nature Center to making a splash at Splash Lagoon, every memory we made in Erie was filled with fun and excitement. I’m going to share 10 family-friendly experiences in Erie during the fall to help you discover why this charming city is an excellent choice for your next fall family getaway!

Accommodations at Courtyard Erie Bayfront by Marriott

During our stay in Erie, we had the pleasure of calling the Courtyard Erie Bayfront our home away from home. We’ve stayed there before, and I’m always impressed with its clean and modern rooms and incredible views of the bay. The convenient location made it easy to get to and from everywhere on our itinerary. The icing on the cake was the indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, including an infinity pool. It provided the perfect way to unwind after our exciting days of exploration.

Enjoying a nice fall swim in the heated infinity pool at Courtyard Erie Bayfront hotel.

Shoreline Bar and Grill

We ate a more than a few of our meals at Shoreline Bar and Grille which is located in the lobby of Erie Bayfront Marriot hotel. For breakfast, we ordered quick meals to eat on the go and for dinner we made reservations to indulge while watching the sun set over the bay. While we were waiting for the food to be delivered, our kids played ball where we could see them in the grassy area next to the outdoor seating area. For a late night sweet treat, we ordered desserts all snuggled up on a couch next to one of the fire pits facing the bay.

My dinner with a view at Shoreline Bar & Grille at Erie Bayfront Mariott

Waiting for my strawberry shortcake to arrive!

Asbury Woods Nature Center

First on our Fall Family Fun Agenda was Asbury Woods Nature Center, where we met with Sarah Bennet, Director of Education, for a quick tour of the center. Sarah walked us through the Nature Center, half of which was the original home of Otto Behrend, and shared the rich history of Asbury Woods with us. Throughout our tour, we got to get up close and personal to meet the animal residents. My son even got to “walk” a turtle!  Outside, my daughter and I walked only some of the 216-acre region that offered a perfect blend of hiking, wildlife encounters, and educational experiences. 

Getting a sneak peek into one of Erie’s favorite fall events, was a real treat! In a few short weeks, the Asbury Woods Nature Center will host their annual "Scary Creature Feature," where actors dress up in costumes (made locally by Erie Playhouse) of nocturnal creatures like a spider, opossum, salamander, skunk, and owl to line the trails surrounding Asbury Woods Nature Center to educate families as they walk a spooky path of festive fun. But even aside from their “Scary Creature Feature,” Asbury Woods proved that Erie isn't just a summer destination; it's a year-round haven for nature lovers like my kids.

My son Sammy J. "walking" the resident box turtle.

Sammy J. exploring bones, furs, and turtle shells!

Trying to spot the Queen Bee while learning about bee colonies.

Port Farms Fall Harvest Festival

Port Farms Harvest Festival welcomed us with open arms, and we couldn't have asked for a more delightful fall experience. With so many activities included with admission like the 8-acre Big Foot corn maze, wagon rides, low ropes course, tire form and petal carts, we could’ve stayed there all day. Seriously all day. My kids spent forever playing in the corn box and then even more time using their imaginations over in Tiny Town, which is legit the cutest, tiniest town you have ever seen! My parents met us there to join in on the festivities, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch and savored delectable fall treats. This event epitomized Erie's fall spirit, making Port Farms Fall Harvest Festival a must-visit for families seeking wholesome autumn fun and totally worth a day trip from Pittsburgh alone!

Family Fun at Port Farms Fall Festival enjoyed by 3 generations!

Lucy burying her brother alive in the Corn Box at Port Farms Fall Festival.

The most indulgent Root-beer float you will ever have!

Splash Lagoon

For a dose of indoor family fun, we made our way to Splash Lagoon, Erie's premier indoor water park. Rated among the best in the country, Splash Lagoon always lives up to its reputation. The upgraded Tree House attraction, complete with new slides and a tipping coconut, was a highlight for my kids since the last time we had been there. Our family had a blast riding thrilling slides and floating down the lazy river. Splash Lagoon is always a fun choice when visiting Erie.

"Stop taking pictures and let's get in the water, mom!"

Harbor Ridge Golf Course

Our morning tee time at Harbor Ridge Golf Course was a perfect family bonding experience. This 9-hole golf course is the ideal family course, offering stunning views and a chance for everyone to enjoy golf at their own pace. It's a fantastic choice for families looking for a leisurely morning of golf in a beautiful setting. Once we finished all 9 holes we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Harbor View Grill, the on grounds' restaurant that offers both indoor and outdoor seating.

We did more cruising in the golf cart than golfing...

But these two handsome guys made up for it!

Erie Zoo and Botanical Garden

Another highlight of our Erie adventure was a visit to the Erie Zoo and Botanical Garden. Home to nearly 400 animals and 11 enchanting gardens, the Erie zoo provides a memorable and educational experience for all ages. Unlike the Pittsburgh Zoo, you can connect with all the wildlife while strolling through stunning botanical displays easily in under two hours (and with no giant hills). This alone makes the Erie Zoo not only a notable top family-friendly attraction while in Erie, but now my idea of how every zoo experience should be!

Excited to explore the Erie Zoo!

Can you spot the monkey that escaped?

Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle

Our exploration of Erie wouldn't have been complete without a visit to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle. While I was very intrigued by the interactive exhibits that offered a fascinating peek into Erie's unique ecosystem, my kids and husband were more interested in climbing the 75-foot tower to view Lake Erie in all her glory from the observation deck. Open year-round and offering free admission, this educational gem is a must-visit for families seeking both fun and education during their Erie stay.

Checking out the views from the 75 foot observation tower at Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle, Erie.

Presque Isle State Park

Despite the cool start to summer, one of the most memorable moments of our Erie trip was spent on the sandy shores of Presque Isle State Park. My son's enthusiasm knew no bounds as he tore off his shirt and ran towards the water as if it were a scorching summer day. The beaches at Presque Isle provided a perfect backdrop for family fun as my kids played in the the sand and relaxation for me as I watched them in gratitude. Even in the off-season, the beauty of Lake Erie's shores shines through.

Sometimes they can be so sweet!

Just enjoying the beaches of Lake Erie at Presque Isle!

Dining at Oliver's Rooftop Restaurant

For a touch of sophistication with a family-friendly twist, we enjoyed a delightful dinner at Oliver's Rooftop Restaurant. While I was a little concerned it might be too upscale for a casual night out, their excellent kids' menu and engaging atmosphere made it a welcoming spot for families. The combination of floor to ceiling panoramic views of Presque Isle Bay, Lake Erie, and the Lakefront District coupled with delectable cuisine created a memorable dining experience.

Playing Dots & Boxes waiting patiently for our food to come. 

She felt like a movie star with the wind in her hair and the bay at her back!

Fall Brunch at The Cork 1794

Our trip to Erie concluded with a delightful fall brunch at The Cork 1794, a stylish and spacious brunch spot located in West Erie Plaza. For a starter, we indulged in the most delicious shrimp wontons, compliments of the chef. This is something that we would have never ordered off a menu but once we tried them, we couldn’t stop until the plate was empty! We also had to try the Grilled Glazed Donuts because apparently those are a “thing” in Erie and OMG I can see why! My daughter savored a classic breakfast with perfectly cooked eggs, sourdough toast, and home fries, while I indulged in a waffle topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream. It was the perfect ending to our adventure, proving that Erie's culinary scene has something to satisfy every family member's taste buds.

We were told these shrimp wontons were not on the menu at The Cork, but they need to be!

Who doesn't enjoy chocolate chip waffles?!

As parents, we couldn't help but notice that while all our adventures in Erie were fantastic, Port Farms and Presque Isle State Park stood out as the clear favorite for our kids. Port Farms' array of activities and attractions ensured that we could have easily spent an entire day there. Furthermore, the Erie Zoo, though smaller, offered a more manageable and intimate experience, making it a great choice for families with younger children.

Our hosted trip curated by Visit Erie to Erie, Pennsylvania, surpassed our expectations as a fall family getaway destination, and we can't wait to return for more unforgettable experiences. If you’re thinking about making Erie, PA your next day trip or weekend getaway from Pittsburgh, not only do I recommend any of the places we visited, but I’d also highly recommend downloading Visit Erie’s free app, Hello Erie. With the app I was able to explore Erie’s offerings, add them to My Plan, and create one of the most interactive itineraries I’ve ever had with a map and all! Whether you're seeking nature's beauty, thrilling water adventures, or delicious dining options, Erie, PA has it all for Pittsburgh families looking to create lasting memories close to home in the fall.