DESTINATION: Vineyards, Beaches, And World Class Fishing: Three Distinct Lake Erie Communities In Chautauqua County, NY
Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2019
By: Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau
More than 40 miles of Lake Erie shoreline constitutes Chautauqua County, New York’s northwestern border. Tucked in among the region's shale escarpment are three harbors home to three distinct communities: Westfield, Dunkirk, and Sunset Bay.
Westfield and Barcelona Harbor
Traveling west to east, Barcelona Harbor provides the first opportunity for both docking and launching. Secure transient dockage at Monroe’s Marina or purchase a launch ticket from the Harbor Master at Barcelona Harbor.
Wineries and Watering Holes
Westfield, once home to Welch’s and now the headquarters of the National Grape Cooperative Association, could be considered the seat of Lake Erie Wine Country, a collective of 23 wineries along Chautauqua County's Lake Erie Grape Belt. The Grape Discovery Center offers a history lesson detailing a more than 150-year growing tradition, plus the opportunity to sample and purchase many local wine and grape products including artisanal food items and grape-inspired art.
- Noble Winery: Sit back and relax at Noble, where a covered porch offers incredible views of Lake Erie from its elevated perspective.
- Johnson Estate Winery: New York State's oldest estate winery should be on your must-visit list. Check for events like vineyard walks and garden picnics happening during your trip. Samples of craft spirits distilled across the State are also available.
- Mazza Chautauqua Cellars/Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing: New York's first winery-brewery-distillery has a craft beverage for everyone. Enjoy your drink of choice on their beautiful patio.
- 21 Brix Winery: Snap a photo with Ella, the pink elephant, before visiting the tasting bar. 21 Brix serves a spectrum of palate-pleasing wines and regional craft beers that pair well with their everyday charcuterie boards.
- Big Inlet Brewing: This new small-batch brewery is worth the mainland trek. Head into the reclaimed hoop barn to order a beer made from NYS ingredients, pick up your food truck fare, then grab a board game before taking a seat in the loft.
A Charming Downtown
After checking out the Barcelona Lighthouse and information center adjacent to the marina, which bears the distinction of being the first natural gas lighthouse in the U.S., spend an afternoon browsing shops in the classic Main Street village center of Westfield. Antique stores, art galleries, bakeries, and independent restaurants fill the storefronts. The McClurg Museum, built in 1818, sits proudly on the village green. Tour the 14-room Federal-style mansion, also home to the Chautauqua County Historical Society. Ask about the Lincoln Letters, then head across the green to the Abraham Lincoln-Grace Bedell Statue to uncover its interesting significance. Outside the village center, Portage Hill Art Gallery presents a fine array of work from Chautauqua County artists, many inspired by our verdant vineyards, rolling hills, and calming waters.
Stretch Sea Legs
Hike the Chautauqua Rails to Trails system, enjoying the task of identifying local flora and fauna along the way. A bike ride through Amish country and up Thayer Hill Road to Luensman Overview Park will treat you to a rewarding Lake Erie vista. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Canada across the otherwise seemingly endless lake. Make use of the picnic facilities and pack a lunch, perhaps with farm-to-table goodies secured at the Westfield Farmers and Artisans Market (Sat. 9a-2p) or a delicious pie from Portage Pies.
Lodging & Waterfront Dining
In addition to downtown Westfield, the immediate Barcelona Harbor community offers several waterfront dining opportunities including Jack’s Barcelona Drive-In, the Barcelona Market Café, and When Pigs Fly BBQ Pit. If you’re looking for unique regional eats, stop by Westfield Fisheries for smoked Lake Erie whitefish.
You won’t find any major hotels in Westfield but several bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, and vacation homes are available for those looking to overnight off the boat.
Dunkirk and Chadwick Bay
Dunkirk is Chautauqua County’s only city situated on Lake Erie. It presents guests with multiple dining and lodging options, including popular hotel brands. The Dunkirk Clarion Hotel is located adjacent to the Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay Marina, making it easy to dock for the night. Holiday Harbor also offers visitor slips, convenient for a day of exploration.
Start at the Boardwalk Market, one of the most unique destinations on Lake Erie. It is home to many shops, a modest collection of restaurants, an ice cream stand, and visitor information center. The nearby park and pier is a hub of activity, especially on Thursday nights when the recurring Music at the Pier Festival is underway. August 16-18, 2019, marks the return of Dunkirk’s Great Lakes Offshore Grand Prix. This thrilling racing event features multi-million dollar boats and is entirely free to watch.
Shakespeare on the Lake returns for its fourth summer season. Twelfth Night is to be performed July 17-20 while Romeo and Juliet will entertain July 24-28, 2019.
The Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veteran’s Museum sits not far from where the War of 1812 was first fought on Lake Erie, when Captain Martin Tubbs and local militia fired on the Lady Prevost, a British schooner moored nearby. This fact, coupled with the lighthouse innkeeper and U.S. Military artifacts on display, fuel rumors that the Dunkirk Lighthouse is haunted. Join a daytime tour or book a nighttime paranormal investigation to find out. Haunted or not, the lighthouse features a truly spectacular view of Lake Erie from the 60-foot tower.
Irving and Sunset Bay
This hideaway community is a real treasure! Reserve a visitor slip at Sunset Bay Marine Park in Irving or drop anchor at Sunset Bay’s sandy, shallow cove. Lodging here is mostly limited to beach-themed cottages and vacation homes.
The wide and sandy shoreline at Sunset Bay Beach Club attracts people by boat and land, ensuring it’s a hub of activity on beautiful summer days. Share the water with kiteboarders, SUP yogis, and kayakers, all of whom can rent boards and equipment from SUP Erie Adventures. Grab a seat at Cabana Sam’s tiered outdoor deck or order an island-themed beverage from the beach bar.
World Class Fishing
The eastern basin of Lake Erie that runs along Chautauqua County is known for its trophy-size walleye and excellent bass fishing. Charter captains are readily available to increase the odds of landing the catch of a lifetime. Additionally, Lake Erie’s tributary streams receive an annual run of migratory rainbow trout called “steelhead.” From October through April, this area transforms into the renowned Steelhead Alley as thousands of trout ascend Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Canadaway, and 18-Mile Creeks on their mission to spawn. For the sportsman, excellent fly-fishing opportunities await.
This article first appeared in the Summer Issue (Jul/Aug) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.