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Given Geneva-on-the-Lake’s long-standing reputation as a family-friendly getaway, it’s no surprise to learn that the town was more or less established thanks to the installation of a carousel. This was back in the 1870s, shortly after a plot of land at modern-day Mapleton Beach on Lake Erie was cleared for recreation and opened as a public picnic spot with beach access. Once the horse-powered carousel was put in, a few years later, it was official: Geneva-on-the-Lake was established as Ohio’s first summer resort — a proud claim that has remained on the town’s welcome sign ever since. The original carousel still stands (it’s now a half-mile west), as do many of the charming lake cottages that were built to accommodate pleasure-seekers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though Geneva-on-the-Lake has sprouted hotels, spas, restaurants, wineries, and golf courses in the ensuing years, it’s still very much the same friendly, small-town resort it has always been.
Located in Ohio’s far northeast Ashtabula County, Geneva-on-the-Lake is a 65-mile drive from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), which serves major cities all over the country as well as a handful of locations in Canada and Mexico. The village is small, with limited taxis and rideshares, so having your own car is recommended for getting to and from the Strip downtown and the many cottages and inns scattered around the area. Walking and bicycling are popular modes of transportation during the summer tourist months, but in the off-season, having a car is a must.
Geneva-on-the-Lake is perched on the southern shore of Lake Erie, where the so-called lake effect rules the weather forecast. Summer is true to the calendar: It lasts from June through September with warm, humid, and partly cloudy days stretching into the 80-degree Fahrenheit range. Winters are freezing (or just below), generally overcast, and often quite windy, given the city’s proximity to the Great Lakes, so a heavy winter coat is recommended. Spring and fall temperatures can vary drastically. Snow can fall as late as May or as early as October, and balmy days might pop up in March or as late as November. If you’re traveling during the shoulder seasons, pack layers just in case.
Spanning nearly 700 acres just west of Geneva-on-the-Lake, Geneva State Park encompasses a large sandy beach on Lake Erie, as well as freshwater marshes, creeks, and hiking and biking trails along the lake. Fishing and boating are incredibly popular here, as are the inland campgrounds.
Cruising through Geneva-on-the-Lake along State Route 531 feels like stepping back in time. Arcades, hot dog stands, and lively pubs line the mile-long road known affectionately as the Strip, where mom-and-pop retail shops and neighborhood eateries welcome both visitors and regulars. Big crowds descend on this stretch the weekend after Labor Day, when the Thunder on the Strip festival draws thousands of motorcyclists from all over the country.
True to Midwestern architectural tradition, 19 beautiful covered bridges can be found scattered throughout Ashtabula County, six of which date to the 1860s. The closest to Geneva-on-the-Lake is the Liberty Street Bridge, which is the shortest covered bridge in the country: It carries cars just 18 feet across Cowles Creek.