The $3.5 million Grindley Aquatic & Wellness Campus opened at Lakeside in 2017. (Lakeside Chautauqua)

All are welcome in Lakeside Chautauqua. All can participate in the community’s myriad activities, from art classes to shuffleboard.

The 1-square-mile private community, which was just named one of the 10 best little beach towns on the Great Lakes, draws 150,000 visitors each year to the shores of Lake Erie. It has a gate fee for guests 13 and older during the summer season, June 16 to Labor Day. But you don’t need an invitation, or overnight accommodations, to enter.

Any visitor can swim in the state-of-the-art pool, walk the 700-foot dock on Lake Erie, play shuffleboard, shop, attend a lecture, join in organized games or take in a concert at Hoover Auditorium. You can even take free tennis lessons or leave your kids supervised on the playground. New pickle ball courts are opening this summer, too.

Anything a Lakeside resident can do, you can too.

“It’s a perfect day trip for someone from Cleveland,” said Gretchen Colón, Lakeside vice president of advancement and communications. “If you’re there for a day, you’re part of the community.”

It was just named among the 10 best little beach towns on Lake Erie by Coastal Living magazine.

Here’s what you need to know.

What do the passes cost?

  • Daily: Adults $23.50, youth 13-24: $15.50, 12 and younger free. All daily passes are good until 7 p.m. the following day
  • Saturdays: Adults $28
  • Car: $12 inside the gate, $6 for parking lot outside
  • Three hours (not good for pool or evening concerts): $7.75
  • Complimentary passes are available for 90 minutes of shopping and dining or for Sunday morning worship.

What’s the history of Lakeside?

Lakeside was founded in 1873 during a series of rousing camp meetings organized by the Methodist Church. Attendees stayed in tents, which eventually were built into cottages. And for more comfort, Hotel Lakeside was begun.

A year later, the Chautauqua Institution at Lake Chautauqua, New York, was founded, initially to train Sunday school teachers but soon expanding to become an oasis of spiritual enrichment and education. That blossomed into the Chautauqua Movement, with more than 300 Chautauqua-style resorts established by the early 1900s.

Lakeside embraced the movement and held its first Sunday school training sessions in 1877. In the 1890s, programs were added in religion, education, cultural arts and recreation. The programs remain the four pillars of Lakeside today.

(The restaurants do not serve alcohol, though you can have your own in private homes.)

Can you stay if you want to?

Lakeside now has two hotels, a campground and loads of cottages available for rent. And for decades it’s been known as a summer escape for vacationers from Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and beyond. But few have realized that the gates are open to anyone.

“It has been a hidden gem,” Colón said. “We’re trying to open it up.”

You could also stay nearby in Marblehead, or stop on the way back from Kelleys Island.

Or buy a house and stay for the whole summer, like the Dracketts, who have summered there for four generations.

Is it good for kids?

Cars are kind of a nuisance in Lakeside, so people walk and bike, or drive golf carts. And during the season, everyone must stop to show a pass on the way in — and out.

“It’s like a 1950s neighborhood,” Colón said. “The grounds are safe. You can sit at the coffee shop and let the kids go to the movies. You can’t do that anywhere else.”

Families can play mini golf or see a movie at Ottawa County’s only movie theater, for nominal fees. There’s the $3.5 million aquatic center that opened last year, plus a kiddie pool and splash park, along with a swimming beach, on Lake Erie. There are ice cream shops and a pizza place and a giant fenced-in playground. Lakeside also hosts summer camps for older kids.

What about adults?

A few ideas:

Take an art class

Take in the Lakewood Symphony Orchestra, led by seven guest conductors

See big name entertainment on the weekends, including Herman’s Hermits on Saturday, Aug. 18

What other big events are on tap?

A triathlon, plein air art festival and tour of cottages are big events at Lakeside this summer. Take a look.

Lakeside Garden Tour

Lakeside Triathlon

Plein Air Festival and Wooden Boat Show


Lakeside Tour of Cottages

Lakeside Symphony Candlelight Showcase