Hello, Toledo!

Marinas & Yacht Clubs

Free public docks are located at Toledo’s downtown riverfront at Promenade Park, near Imagination Station and the Grand Plaza Hotel. Boats may stay overnight, but there’s no security and no showers, restrooms or other facilities for the more than 50 slips. They’re used mainly by boaters walking around downtown or attending Toledo Mud Hens baseball games.

The Docks Restaurants offer short-term docking (no water or electric) for boaters stopping by for a meal.

Open May 1 to October 15, the Toledo Skyway Marina by the National Great Lakes Museum reserves 20 of its 70 docks for visiting boats (30- to 50-footers, docking only); 2014 rates were $1.30 per foot. 419-691-2628

At Maumee Bay State Park, dock rates are: $62 for Sunday through Thursday nights and $82, Friday, Saturday and holiday weekend nights. Docks cannot be reserved online. 800-282-7275

Brenner 75 at Harrison Marina is one of Toledo’s best-known marinas, with docking, storage, gas and ship’s store. 419-729-1676; brenner75.com
Two yacht clubs located near the Toledo Zoo are the Maumee River Yacht Club (419-382-3625) and Toledo Sailing Club (419-382-5841).
Other yacht clubs on the Maumee include Indian Hill Boat Club (419-893-9265), Toledo Yacht Club (419-726-3485), and Bay View Yacht Club (419-729-0731).


Hello, Toledo!

by Susan R. Pollack
This Ohio port city, nestled on the banks of the Maumee River, welcomes visiting boaters with open arms, inviting them in to experience its friendly atmosphere and local charms.
Boaters can get anywhere from Toledo.

But before cruising up the Great Lakes from Lake Erie or heading off to sea via the St. Lawrence Seaway, why not drop anchor and sample the smorgasbord of attractions in this Ohio port city on the banks of the Maumee River?

You may be pleasantly surprised.

So says Shirley Levy, former longtime boating writer for the Toledo Blade, who touts Toledo as both an attractive cruising base from which to explore nearby ports and a destination worthy of discovering on its own.

“From Lake Erie, you can get anywhere in the world, believe it or not,” Levy says. “It’s very accessible to many other ports within a 100- or 200-mile radius, including Canada’s southernmost community, Pelee Island, the Lake Erie Islands, and the roller coaster-rich Cedar Point amusement park.

“But there are a lot of attractions here, too,” she continues. “Toledo has many nice restaurants on the waterfront, and other points of interest are easily accessible. We have a world-class art museum and zoo — those are little-known treasures.”

Beyond that, Levy says, boaters may be surprised at the welcoming attitude (especially for Associated Yacht Club members) at the city’s private yacht clubs, scattered along the Maumee River.

“Unlike some cities, there’s a real spirit of friendliness at the private clubs,” Levy says. “They roll out a big welcome mat.”
That goes for the rest of the city as well.

Getting to know “Glass City”

Located on the northern border of Ohio and the western end of Lake Erie, Toledo grew in the 19th century, thanks to its location on the railway line between Chicago and New York and at the terminus of the Miami and Erie Canal. Its status as a transportation hub attracted immigrant groups and industries such as furniture- and carriage-makers, breweries, automotive suppliers, and glass manufacturers. Jeeps have been produced here since 1941.

Today, as headquarters for three glass companies, it’s still known as “Glass City” and is a center for the American studio glass movement, glass artists and galleries. The Toledo Museum of Art’s stunning, post-modern Glass Pavilion, with its world-class glass collection and glass-blowing studio, should be a must on any visitor’s itinerary. Check out the dazzling Libbey cut-glass punch bowl custom made for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis; it weighs 134 pounds, holds 15 gallons and has 23 surviving cups (toledomuseum.org/glass-pavilion).

A good starting point in this city of 282,000 is the revitalized downtown, home to a growing core of venues for all ages and interests. The Toledo Mud Hens, a minor league/AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, draws baseball fans to the new Fifth Third Field in the Warehouse District, while the nearby Huntington Center Arena buzzes during Toledo Walleye Hockey games and concerts. Culture buffs flock to the historic Valentine Theatre, whose lobby and entrance have been lovingly restored to their 1895 grandeur.

For boaters, downtown access is easy — and free — via the Portside Docks at Promenade Park, just steps from Imagination Station, a riverside science center where even grown-ups may unleash their inner daredevil by riding a high-wire bicycle 20 feet above the ground. 

Directly across the Maumee River, in International Park, a row of waterfront restaurants called The Docks is the hottest spot in town, with dockage for diners and great views of the downtown Toledo skyline.

“On a nice day it’s just packed,” says Don Smith, owner and president of Brenner 75 Marine, with three area locations. “From a boating standpoint, it’s by far the busiest area. And they’re all very nice restaurants.”

Offering a mix of atmospheres and cuisines, the colorful eateries include The Real Seafood Company, Zia’s Italian Restaurant, El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant and the nautically themed Forrester’s on the River.

Dive into the past

The newest star on the Toledo waterfront — and of great interest to boaters — is the $12-million National Museum of the Great Lakes, which opened last spring on the north end of the Marina District, a half-mile down the Maumee River from The Docks. It’s adjacent to the Toledo Skyway Marina, with 20 dock spaces set aside for visiting boaters.

From birch-bark canoes, old luxury liners, rum runners, and the Underground Railroad to wartime activity such as the War of 1812 and Air Force pilots training in World War II, the museum showcases all five Great Lakes — Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Together, they contain 84 percent of all the surface fresh water in North America and more than one-fifth — 21 percent — of the world’s fresh water.

It’s hard to miss the 617-foot-long ore carrier, Col. James M. Schoonmaker, moored on the east bank of the Maumee adjacent to the main museum. Beautifully refurbished and transformed into a museum ship, it ranked as the world’s largest bulk freighter — hailed as the “Queen of the Great Lakes” — when it was launched in 1911. (It was known in later years as the Willis B. Boyer.)

Open for touring during the warmer months, usually May through October, the green freighter is one of the highlights for frequent visitors such as Mary Hagan of nearby Curtis, Ohio. She says she’s still discovering items of interest, even after four visits to the Great Lakes museum.

“There’s so much here, I still haven’t seen everything,” Hagan says, and ticks off her favorite parts of the museum ship, including the massive engine room, posh officer’s dining room, stainless steel galley, and the captain’s quarters.

“They’ve redone it to show how it would have been as a working ship,” she explains.

Inside the main museum, which is open year-round, Hagan’s 12-year-old grandson, Caleb Pacholski, chattered excitedly as he moved among the many exhibits, which are displayed in five galleries and include artifacts, photographs, documentary videos, and interactive displays.

“Is that for real? Were there any bodies on it?” he asks, staring wide-eyed at an inflatable orange life raft from the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald that automatically inflated and popped to the surface after the ship mysteriously sank in Lake Superior with all 29 crewmen on November 10, 1975. There were no survivors.

Pacholski also was intrigued by a video game-like exhibit in which he used “sonar” to direct a simulated submersible around the Fitzgerald shipwreck, visiting “buoys” to trigger videos detailing circumstances and theories about what may have happened to it. The doomed freighter, made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting ballad, is the best known of the more than 8,000 ships and 10,000 lives that have been lost on the Great Lakes during recorded history.

Other exhibits focus on footage from actual dives (visitors can don goggles and old-fashioned diving helmets to watch) and Great Lakes lighthouses — there are 326 of them. One exhibit even presents real-time information about all commercial ships on the Great Lakes, including their current location, destination and cargo. (Visit inlandseas.org for museum hours and fees).

Things to eat, see and do

If you’re hungry for lunch, no trip to Toledo would be complete without a stop on the east side at the legendary Tony Packo’s Café, made famous by Toledo native Jamie Farr — as Corporal Max Klinger — on the hit TV show M*A*S*H.Try the fried green pickles and a classic Hungarian hot dog while inspecting hundreds of celebrity-signed hot dog buns plastered on the walls; or sample Hungarian specialties such as stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash with dumplings, and apple strudel (tonypackos.com)

Across town, the acclaimed Toledo Zoo is making headlines with its new, state-of-the-art aquarium, which is scheduled to open in late March. Shark sightings — in northwest Ohio, of all places — are guaranteed.

Though the zoo’s new residents include salt- and freshwater species, it’s the zebra sharks in the 93,000-gallon Pacific Reef exhibit that are taking center stage. Showtime gets commences underwater when divers feed them, talking to anxious observers through microphones in their masks.

Other crowd-pleasers include touch-tanks with small, black-tipped reef sharks, stingrays and other small sea critters, plus an outdoor koi pond whose specimens — variously orange, yellow, white or indigo — dazzle in the sunshine. The new aquarium is in the zoo’s refurbished, copper-roofed WPA building, home to an aquarium since 1939.

Named “Best Zoo in the U.S.” last year in an online voting contest (USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice), the zoo also introduced three new bird-themed exhibits: “‘Keet Retreat,” a free-flight parakeet encounter where visitors wave optional $1 seed sticks to encourage birds to land on them; “Penguin Beach,” with a walk-through exhibit showcasing penguins on three sides — from ground level, above and underwater though a “wall of water;” and “Flamingo Key,” a tropical island-inspired exhibit starring a flamboyance (or flock) of adult and juvenile flamingos.

And that’s all in addition to its five-acre African habitat and Safari Railway, pioneering hippoquarium, arctic wolves, and North America’s largest saltwater crocodile, a 17-foot-long, 1,500-pound Australian reptile named Baru (toledozoo.org).

Explore downtown

When it comes to name-dropping, the internationally known Toledo Museum of Art can be forgiven. It’s chock-full of 30,000 treasures by a who’s who of the world’s master artists, including Monet, Degas, Picasso, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir and Van Gogh. What’s more, admission is free (toledomuseum.org).

Back in the downtown Warehouse District, a favorite gathering spot is the restored Oliver House, a former grand hotel preserved and transformed into multiple eateries. They include: Petit Fours Patisserie, a chic little lunch spot and bakery; the casual Mutz Sports Bar; and Maumee Bay Brewing Co., with a large selection of award-winning beers and seasonal brews.

Amid a colorful collection of memorabilia, friends gather in Maumee Bay Brew Pub to sample flights that may include Glass City Pale Ale and the historic hometown Buckeye Beer; many are available for carry-out. Don’t miss the cheddar beer soup, giant brick oven pretzel and Oliver House pizza.

Nearby, at 205 S. Erie Street, shoppers give their credit cards a workout buying glassware, gifts and accessories for boats and homes at the sprawling Libbey Factory Outlet Store, seven days a week. Just outside, the Outdoor Farmer’s Market is open Saturday mornings and early afternoon year-round.

Toledo’s stylish new Hollywood Casino, adorned with movie star posters, is another spot for wallet action. Sprawling across 125,000 square feet, it buzzes with more than 2,000 slot machines (from penny to $100), 60 table games, and 20 live poker tables.

Among several lounges and eateries is the elegant and splurge-worthy Final Cut, where Chef Aaron Lawson creates lobster “popcorn,” handcrafted sorbets and other fancy fare to accompany a full menu of prime steaks and fresh seafood (hollywoodcasinotoledo.com).

Offerings and events

Boaters seeking a change of pace may head for Maumee Bay State Park Lodge, just outside town, in Oregon, Ohio, where 24 overnight docks come with power and water hook-ups for 40-foot boats and smaller.

Marina guests may use all the lodge facilities, including pools, racquetball courts, fitness center, hot tubs, dockside picnic tables and grills, and miles of paved biking and walking trails. A 2-mile boardwalk winds through protected, bird-friendly wetlands. Glimpses of the 1904 Toledo Harbor Lighthouse are possible on a clear day. Complimentary shuttle service is provided to the 18-hole, Arthur Hills-designed golf course (maumeebaystateparklodge.com).

Also popular are the waterfront dining room and nautically themed Ice-Breakers Lounge. Maumee Bay lodge hosts two annual festivals: The 12th annual Toledo Lighthouse and Waterfront Festival, July 11-12, will feature live entertainment, fresh perch, an arts and crafts village, lighthouse and boat tours, seminars, children’s activities, and a sand castle contest (toledolighthouse.org).

Or join the thousands of bird buffs who flock to “The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival,” May 8-16. Last year’s event drew more than 70,000 enthusiasts to the Lake Erie shoreline between Toledo and Sandusky to view birds that stop there to rest during their great migration to Canada, which lasts about four weeks, typically April 20 through May 21.

“Last year during the festival, the lodge recorded visitors from 44 states and 22 countries,” says Patrick Czarny, general manager, adding that many of the birds arrive in full color spring plumage and rarely are seen other than during migration times (biggestweekinamericanbirding.com).

Whether they arrive by land or water, what all those visitors find when they come to Toledo these days is a far cry from what greeted them a decade ago, according to Don Smith, owner of Brenner 75 Marine.

Citing the city’s burgeoning array of concerts, ballgames, restaurants, museums, zoo enhancements, and public dock space, Smith says, “A lot of people don’t realize, but the downtown area has a lot going on. They’ve done a nice job creating activities and options.”

Toldeo welcomes boaters with open arms to indulge in its sights, sounds and sustenance. Come see for yourself!