Though the islands are similar in some respects and different in arguably many more, most people seem to identify with one or the other. Either you love South Bass because there are many more bars and restaurants, shopping and live bands, or you prefer Kelleys because it has less of all that and more nature in which to stretch your legs. You can't help feeling more at home at one or the other, depending on your interests.

"Kelleys people always refer to Put-in-Bay as 'the other island,' and they call us 'the other island,' " said Mark Volz, 57, who owns the Eagle's Nest Bed and Breakfast on Kelleys. "We're pretty different, I guess. Not to speak negatively of Put-in-Bay, but they attract the party people."

He paused.

"Then again, we do too. We party hard. But they party harder."

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IF YOU GO:



WHEN TO VISIT: South Bass and Kelleys Islands are busiest at the height of summer. Locals say the best time to be there is pre-Memorial Day May and post- Labor Day September and October. The weather is favorable, and restaurants and bars are open.

GETTING THERE: Private boats and small planes travel regularly to the islands, but the most common route is by ferry from the mainland. All operate first come, first served, but different lines originate from different ports.

South Bass: With a car, the only option is Miller Boat Line (millerferry.com; 800-500-2421), which departs Port Clinton on the mainland. Jet Express (jet-express.com; 800-245-1538) departs Port Clinton and Sandusky but doesn't take cars.

Kelleys: With a car, the only option is Kelleys Island Ferry (www.kelleysislandferry.com; 419-798-9763), which departs Marblehead on the mainland. Jet Express also comes here, departing Port Clinton and Sandusky on the mainland. The only option between Kelleys and South Bass is Jet Express. To take your car from one island to the other, you must return to the mainland.

STAY:

South Bass: The hotels can be meat markets, but BayShore Resort (328 Toledo Ave.; 866-422-9746; bayshoreresortpib.com) is clean, and its rooms overlook the lake. B&Bs are generally the best bet but often accommodate only couples. Bodee's Bungalow (385 Dollar Ave.; 419-967-0837; bodeesbungalow.com) is modern and immaculate; ask for a room overlooking the woods. The folks at Ashley's Island House (557 Catawba Ave.; 419-285-2844; ashleysislandhouse.com) are endlessly kind and helpful, and their best deal is for two couples or a large family: the suite of two queen rooms and a private bath. The Anchor Inn (anchorinn.info; 419-285-5055) is lovely and another great bet.

Kelleys: There is a lot to like about the Fly Inn (103 Edgewood Lane; 419-746-2525; kiflyinn.com). It is bright, airy and home to the island's only nail salon. Plus, the hostess makes a wonderful breakfast, and there's a pool out back. Eagles Nest Bed and Breakfast (216 Cameron Rd.; 419-746-2708; eaglesnestbnb.com) is clean and cozy, plus it's near the lake. If history is your thing, check out Cameron House (441 W. Lakeshore Drive; 517 Division St.; 419-746-2520), where the owners have preserved the building's 19th Century character. Venture Resort (441 W. Lakeshore Drive; kiventureresort.com; 419-746-2900) is a new, large, clean hotel that faces the lake.

EAT:

South Bass: Nearly every menu on the islands offers fried perch and walleye. Most of it is fine, but it's also easy to dread after a while. Just when I thought I couldn't eat another piece of whitefish, the fried perch tacos at Goat Soup and Whiskey (820 Catawba Ave.; 419-285-4628) saved the day: crunchy, savory and tangy. Most things on the menu are homemade. Skyway (1324 Langram Rd.; 419-285-4331) is quality bar food away from the downtown madness and where locals eat. Axel and Harry's (227 Bayview Ave.; 419-285-2572; axelandharrys.com) is finer dining -- no fried perch here -- and affords handsome waterfront views, but it's expensive. Go for lunch, when prices are half what they are at night. Tipper's (corner of Catawba and Delaware Avenues; 419-285-8477; beerbarrelpib.com/tippers) offers an impressive daily special for meat eaters. My 8-ounce New York strip, with mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans, was surprisingly good, especially for the price -- $8.95, plus tax.

Kelleys: The best meal I had on the islands was at Island House (131 Division St.; 419-746-2800). Another fine-dining spot that goes beyond typical island fare -- for me, it was scallops with baby spinach and Gouda scalloped potatoes. Entrees are in the $30 range but far more satisfying than fried perch. Kelley's Island Wine Co. (418 Woodford Rd.; 419-746-2678; kelleysislandwine.com) makes decent wine and an OK pizza. (It is far better than the winery on South Bass Island, Heineman's.) Dockers (114 W. Lakeshore Drive; 419-746-2100) offers one of the better breakfasts on the island. The best beer on the island is just west of downtown, at Kelleys Island Brewery (504 W. Lakeshore Drive; 419-746-2314; kelleysislandbrewpub.com).

MORE INFORMATION:

South Bass: visitputinbay.com

Kelleys: kelleysislandchamber.com