Ohio : Safety by City
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Tucked along the serene shores of Lake Erie, Ashtabula, Ohio, boasts a rich history that beckons travelers seeking a unique blend of heritage and charm.
It’s just 50 miles from Cleveland and in Ohio’s wine country.
The city’s modern roots can be traced back to the early 19th century when it was established as a vital shipping port.
Ashtabula is infamous for the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster, a catastrophic train accident that occurred on a frigid winter night in 1876.
The bridge over the Ashtabula River collapsed, leading to a devastating fire that claimed many lives.
The city’s vibrant Main Avenue Historic District is a treasure trove of quaint shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
You can also delve into the wine scene, with numerous wineries dotting the nearby countryside, making it a burgeoning wine destination.
Lake Shore Park and Walnut Beach provide opportunities for leisurely walks and lakeside picnics.
Ashtabula, with its poignant history and evolving cultural scene, is a place where travelers can reflect on the past while enjoying the pleasures of the present.
You can also explore the nearby options of Geneva and Geneva-by-the-Lake, two of the top tourism cities in this region.
Ashtabula isn’t the most dynamic city in the county, but it does have a rich history and several museums to consider.
Warnings & Dangers in Ashtabula
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here and far safer communities nearby. On top of that, we don't have access to traditional crime data, so we have to make some assumptions as we go based on the data we can get and local news reports.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
You can review the Ashtabula County Transportation System (ACTS) routes to see if that option suits your needs, but it's not a great way to see all the amazing places in the county. Taxis and rideshares are available, but a rental car is the most reliable way to get around. Use the rideshares if you're visiting the wineries and need a sober driver.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
We don't have this crime data, but we do know theft rates are very high compared to the national average. Treat it as a medium risk and limit what you carry to bare necessities.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
While this is a summer destination, there are risks throughout the year. Treat it as a medium risk due to severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash flooding, blizzards, ice storms, and strong winds.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
This is another detail we don't have from the crime data, so to err on the side of caution, we're giving this a medium risk.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Ashtabula has seen its share of disasters throughout history, but a terrorist attack isn't a huge concern here. The risk is low, but it's still important to report suspicious activity, as many trains run through this corridor.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, with most scams targeting residents. You might face panhandlers due to the high poverty rates here, but you are under no obligation or threat to give them money. In fact, it's better if you don't.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
Women should proceed with the same medium risk as anyone else. For a more traditional Lake Erie waterfront experience, try Geneva-by-the-Lake.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
Lake Erie supplies the tap water here with a robust treatment plan as detailed in the annual water quality report. The risk is low, with all standards being met or exceeded based on the latest report we could find (2021). You can call (440)576-3722 if you have additional questions.
Safest Places to Visit in Ashtabula
VisitAshtabulaCounty.com is the best tourism website as it covers the entire county and not just a few locations in Ashtabula.
Just note that some of your favorite attractions might be a short drive from Ashtabula.
Since this is known as Ohio’s wine country, let’s start with the wineries.
The options are all along the Grand River Valley, and you have more than 30 to choose from.
The tourism site has a winery guide and even a dog-friendly winery guide.
The bulk of wineries are about 15 miles from Ashtabula, near Geneva and Madison.
The closest to Ashtabula is the Old Firehouse Winery, right along Lake Erie.
It’s located in Geneva-on-the-Lake, a wonderful carnival-type atmosphere that is bustling with tourists in the summer.
A walk around Ashtabula Harbor will take you to some unique stores, restaurants, and art galleries.
Visit the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum.
I would recommend looking them up on Facebook and not the website, as the website is no longer there as of this publication.
The Facebook page does suggest that it’s still open.
The museum is housed in the old lightkeeper’s house.
The Ashtabula Lighthouse is at the edge of a breakwater (don’t try to walk it – too dangerous), but you can get great views from the city park along the shoreline.
The lighthouse is not open for tours.
The Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum is a historic site that played a crucial role in the abolitionist movement.
This hidden network of tunnels and secret rooms was used to shelter escaped slaves on their journey to freedom.
You can also learn about history at the Finnish-American Cultural Center in Ashtabula. Many artifacts and mementos are on display.
Ashtabula is near a covered bridge scenic route, so it makes sense that Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges is located here.
You can pick up a map of the scenic drive while you’re there.
Fall visitors should check out Brant’s Apple Orchard, where you can pick your own and then try the famous apple cider and apple cider doughnuts.
You’ll also find several lakefront beaches and parks in Ashtabula.
I would just recommend visiting during the daytime.
There are also a lot of industrial buildings around this area, just so you are prepared.
Visiting Geneva-by-the-lake will give you better views and plenty of boat charter options.
Places to Avoid in Ashtabula
Going off the police department’s annual report from 2022, the top locations for calls for service are a sloppy triangle-shaped area west of Highway 11.
The boundaries are West 58th Street on the south, Main and Lake Avenues on the east, West 19th on the north, and West Avenue on the west.
In a particularly odd circumstance I haven’t seen since researching remote areas of Maine, even Google Maps Street View doesn’t cover most of the streets in Ashtabula.
Honestly, if you don’t have a reason to be in Ashtabula, it might be better to stay somewhere else closer to the interstate.
The region holds many things to do, but Ashtabula isn’t the most attractive lakefront city or the safest.
I’d recommend staying closer to Austinburg, just eight miles southwest.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ashtabula
- Ashtabula does have its own police department. They have a Facebook page that is rather hard to find at first glance, but you can look for the page that has the phone number (440) 992-7172. The page isn’t updated often. Maybe that phone number can help you get some answers closer to your visit.
- There’s an annual report published on the city’s website that veers from the traditional crime data reporting, but one aspect I like is that it details where the most calls for service (listed as CFS on the document) happened, suggesting the more dangerous parts of town.
- That same report also details where the most car accidents happen, which is also helpful for those who will be driving around in a rental car. You’ll know the places where you should use extra caution.
- Anglers are required to have a fishing license, and you should review the rules of the Ohio Department of Fish & Game before you make the purchase online.
- If you see any suspicious activity or concerning incidents that don’t rise to the level of calling 911, you can leave a crime tip by calling (440) 992-7126. You can remain anonymous. If you want to speak to someone about what you say, use the number (440) 992-7126 instead.
- Sign up for Ashtabula County ReadyAlert to get updated about severe weather or other public safety issues. You can sign up for free and choose to get phone calls, text messages, or emails. It’s important to stay aware of weather events when you visit this area.
- If there’s snow in the forecast, don’t park on the streets. The snow plows need to get through. The goal is to have all roads cleared within 24 hours, so the parking ban shouldn’t last too long.
- Roads here aren’t in the best condition, and every spring, potholes pop up. That could mean more construction on any road in the region. You can review the city’s website for updated road projects, but always give yourself 15 extra minutes to arrive at a destination.
- For such a small town, Ashtabula has many drug problems. There’s a narcotics team now through the police department to help crackdown. You can see detailed drug arrests in the annual report mentioned above. As America struggles with a drug overdose issue, it’s important to emphasize that you don’t ever take drugs from someone on the street. That’s even if it looks like a prescription drug. Some are laced with lethal doses of Fentanyl.
- Use the Ohgo (free) app to check traffic conditions across the state. One of my favorite features is setting your preferred routes and then signing up for notifications. You can learn about accidents, road closures, and weather conditions to help plan a detour.
So... How Safe Is Ashtabula Really?
Ashtabula Police Department has provided what is one of the least helpful (for comparison standards) crime statistic documents I’ve seen in 25 years of journalism.
Instead of listing crimes by categories recognized by the FBI NIBRS standards, the document appears helpful only to be more confusing the deeper you dive into it.
On top of that, the department hasn’t historically released formal crime data to the FBI, so I can’t even review that.
Then, the OIBRS (crime data from Ohio cities) is missing Ashtabula city and county information.
So, my frustration wants me to put a big SHRUG emoji here, but that won’t help you.
((To be fair, sometimes law enforcement agencies don’t submit data – which isn’t mandatory – due to a lack of staff to complete the guidelines))
From what I can glean off the data that was provided, the theft rate here is 70% higher than the national average.
However, I can’t tell you how many of those were shoplifting or pickpockets.
The top incidents reported to the police were:
- Domestic Violence (213)
- Petty Theft (199)
- A totally unhelpful category called <Blank> (150)
- Assault (136)
- Disorderly Conduct (125)
Assuming those assaults are aggravated assaults, it would be at a rate that is 165% higher than the national average.
Of course, that specific detail is missing.
We’ll err on the side of the higher rate for your safety.
The data also doesn’t tell us how many of those crimes were against people who know each other or strangers.
We also know the town has a 31% poverty rate and an average income that isn’t much higher.
Nothing in my research suggests this is a super safe town to visit, but it also doesn’t suggest it’s an outright dangerous town either.
You can always email the police department – with a Hotmail email address at that – at email@example.com.
How Does Ashtabula Compare?
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A visa or visa waiver is essential for international visitors to enter the country. The U.S. State Department website is your resource for information on visa waiver eligibility. Be sure you have a valid passport that isn't within six months of expiring.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Cleveland's airport does have a currency exchange option, but your lowest fees will come from a bank where you are a member. You can also check that off your list of things to do before you leave your home country.
Plan for four robust seasons, but know that spring and fall can have varying temperatures even day-to-day. Winter will require thick, insulated clothing and accessories like gloves, scarves, and hats. Summers will be humid and range from warm to hot. You'll want bug spray anytime you go outdoors, especially on hiking trails or near the water.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is about an hour west, but always check traffic conditions before you go. You'll have to drive through the heart of Cleveland, which could leave you stuck in a traffic jam.
The weather risk here is enough to warrant travel insurance to protect against losing money due to delays and cancelations. For those without health coverage in the United States, please consider a supplemental health policy for your trip.
Ashtabula Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Ohio - Safety by City