Top Ten Things to Do in Cleveland

The city's distinct, well-defined neighborhoods provide visitors with much more than ten things to do in Cleveland. By: Monica Poling
Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must-visit attraction // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must-visit attraction // (c) 2011 Monica Poling

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Positively Cleveland

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Cleveland’s most famous attraction is also the one most worth seeing.  The iconic glass building, designed by noted architect I.M. Pei and overlooking Lake Erie, celebrates some of the most notable moments in rock and roll. The seven-story structure tells the stories of the bands, the singers, the songwriters and the deejays that formed and continue to define rock and roll history in a dazzling line up of artifacts, exhibits and multimedia presentations.

It is impossible to walk a straight line in this building, as every nook and cranny features a small piece of rock and roll history begging to be explored. While exhibits are almost too plentiful to list, a few favorites include listening booths featuring music by current and past musical legends, alongside the music of the performers that inspired these legends. A film depicting the earliest roots of rock and roll is well worth seeing, as is a geographical exhibit featuring some of the top cities that played a role in the development of rock and roll and the sounds those cities influenced.

Explore Downtown Cleveland
Downtown Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor area, which houses the Rock and Roll Hal of Fame, also features plenty of other noteworthy attractions, including the Great Lakes Science Center and the International Women's Air & Space Museum.

This is also a hopping area for sports fans. It’s hard to decide which is more exciting, watching the NFL Cleveland Browns in action, or catching a front-row seat to the avid rivalry between locals and fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not sure where to start? A new organization, Great Lakes Touring Co., gives visitors a great overview of downtown by bicycle.

Go Green at the Emerald Necklace
When it comes to green travel, not a lot can compare to the 21,000 plus acres that make up Cleveland’s park system. The Park District, run under the auspices of Cleveland Metroparks, is often referred to as the Emerald Necklace, because it surrounds the city.

Metropark’s most famous facility is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which launched its all-new elephant exhibit in May 2011. The state-of-the-art Elephant Crossing is five acres in size, quadrupling the former elephant facility. Although the elephants’ antics provide plenty of entertainment, another popular attraction is the giraffe exhibit, where lucky guests are able to hand feed the giraffes at select times during the day.

Get on the Water
Cleveland’s proximity to Lake Erie and the city’s bisection by the Cuyahoga River means that there are a lot of great outdoor recreational opportunities year round.

Visitors can enjoy high-speed jet skiing thrills or a slightly more sedate kayak ride by renting equipment at Great Lakes Watersports, which is located west of downtown in the Cleveland Flats district. Open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Great Lakes Watersports also rents full sized boats and several mini power boats. They can even arrange for temporary, one-day boater certificates for people who don’t meet the State of Ohio’s boater license.

Visitors who prefer to mix their water activities with an adult beverage can leave the driving to the crew of the Goodtime III excursion boat. The Goodtime III offers a variety of narrated tours of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, as well as a line up of dinner, lunch, brunch and dancing cruises. These cruises are very popular, however, especially during football season and sell out quickly, so advance reservations are highly recommended.

Visit Ohio City
Just west of downtown, across the Cuyahoga River, visitors can find the neighborhood known as Ohio City, which is equally well known for its historical landmarks as it is for the rapid emergence of new eateries, beer bars and microbreweries.

Dotted with Victoria-era homes, the area’s most famous landmark is the West Side Market, where vendors have been serving produce, meats, bakery goods and snacks since the 1840s. This popular local hangout is a great place to catch up on local gossip, while noshing on some amazing snacks.

Another popular site is the Great Lakes Brewing Company, which operates both a much-beloved microbrewery as well as a local gastro pub. Brewery tours are available but guests can also head straight to the brewpub and purchase a beer sampler, accompanied by the restaurant’s famous homemade, barley pretzels.

Culinary travelers will also want to check out the Flying Fig, a charming restaurant that focuses largely on fresh and natural flavors. Chef/owner Karen Small is an area pioneer in the locally-grown food movement and works closely with area farms to ensure that her menus are fresh, seasonal and sustainable.

In the Tremont area, just adjacent to Ohio City, the most popular attraction is the original house used in the filming of the 1983 classic movie, A Christmas Story.

Tremont has a bit of a reputation as one of Cleveland's hidden hot-spots for entertainment, art and dining. Certainly a number of the city’s exceptional dining options are located here.

Lilly Handmade Chocolates is defining the artisanal chocolate movement in Cleveland and offers pairings of fine wines and craft beers with handmade chocolate creations. Owners Amanda and Joshua Montague, both classically-trained chefs, love nothing more than to experiment with new chocolate combinations and lucky guests may even be fortunate enough to be asked to sample a new flavor.

Across the street from Lilly is the Lucky Cafe, which has received national recognition for its famous biscuits and gravy. The cafe is quite popular with the weekend lunch crowd and offers an amazing selection of Italian sodas and coffee beverages made with fair-trade coffee.

For comfort food with a Southern flair, visitors won’t want to miss Grumpy Cafe, which serves the area’s most popular brunches. The restaurant offers a laid-back feel, with an ever-changing line up of art from local artists gracing the walls.

Another popular venue is the Prosperity Social Club, a tavern/hangout, built in an original 1938 barroom. The decor is retro, with a bowling machine, a pool table, vintage board games and a vacation-themed patio. The cuisine is a high-quality blend of tavern staples with some riffs off the owner’s Eastern European origins. Pierogies and potato pancakes stand alongside beer-battered fish fry and BBQ ribs. Two musts are the Andouille Sausage Stuffed Banana Peppers and the Panko Breaded Fried Oysters.

Little Italy
Heading east, Cleveland’s Murray Hill area, more commonly called Little Italy, is the home of much of Cleveland’s Italian-American population. The area has a strong sense of community and visitors will be delighted by its Old World charm, not to mention the superior quality of Italian cuisine served here.

The area is home to a number of firsts, including the first hand-cranked past machine, which was invented here, and the first restaurant opened by Ettore Boiarde (Chef Boyardee).

Cultural Convergence in University Circle
Adjacent to Little Italy is the University Circle area, where visitors will need at least one full day to explore. This park-like community is Cleveland’s cultural center and it is home to more cultural and performing arts institutions within one square mile than anywhere else in the country.  Because the facilities are all found in such close proximity to one another, visitors can easily park in one place and spend the day exploring the area’s attractions.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, which is free to visit, is currently undergoing a massive renovation. The facility, which remains fully open during construction, expects to launch its newest facilities in 2013.

Just some of the other cultural institutions located in the area are the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; the Cleveland Botanical Garden; the magnificent Severance Hall, which is the winter home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra; the Cleveland Cinematheque; and the Children’s Museum of Cleveland.

University Circle is also the home of Lakeview Cemetery, which may not seem like a run of the mill visitor attraction but, in fact, is often called Cleveland’s “Outdoor Museum.” It is the final resting place of more than 104,000 people, including such notable names as John D. Rockefeller, Eliot Ness and Carl B. Stokes.

Get Out of Town
The Lakeview Cemetery sits on the boundary between Cleveland and the city of Cleveland Heights. Cleveland Heights’ Coventry Village is a popular walking neighborhood, especially known for its eclectic restaurants and trendy boutiques. Today it retains some of the indie vibe that made it such a magnet for the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ‘70s.

A must-visit shop in Coventry Heights is the Big Fun Toy Store. Opened more than 20 years ago by owner Steve Presser, who remains a kid at heart, Big Fun was named by Playboy as one of the “coolest stores” in all of America. The term “stuffed to the rafters” could quite possibly have been invented here, as the store is busting at the seams with memorabilia, nostalgia and, well, big fun.

Looking for an original Donny and Marie sound stage? No problem. Troll dolls? Teddy Ruxpin? Lite Brite? Nintendo Sega consoles? Check, check, check and check. In fact if you can’t find it here, well it probably just wasn’t a cool toy.

Get Farther Out of Town
Visitors with a little more time on their hands will want to visit Sandusky, located some two hours outside of Cleveland. Sandusky is a popular beach playground and is also the home of the Cedar Point Amusement Park, which has been consistently named the “Best Amusement Park in the World” by Amusement Today.

If Cedar Point’s 17 thrill rides are a little too much action, Sandusky is also the jumping off point for ferry boats departing for the Bass Islands. A quaint getaway is the Victorian-era village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. Hundreds of thousands of people travel to this 500-person town annually, to enjoy outdoor recreation, including ice fishing in the winter and a large variety of special events. History buffs will want to be sure to check out Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.

Once back in Sandusky, visitors will want to get their pastry on at City Bake Shop, which is owned and operated by Wendy Kromer who co-authored Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes. The artisan bakery specializes in cupcakes, cakes, cookies, sandwiches and premium coffees and teas as well as a selection of handmade chocolates.

Bonus Pick: Get Happy
A visit to Cleveland isn’t complete without at least one stop at The Happy Dog.  Although there are seemingly just four items on the menu (hot dogs, vegan hot dogs, French fries and tater tots), ordering becomes significantly more complicated when factoring in the 50-plus toppings that can accompany the big four. This is a casual hang out, although the gourmet dogs were created by 2010 James Beard Foundation semifinalist Chef Eric Williams. The Happy Dog is a great place to hear live music and owner Sean Watterson brings in (and pays) live bands regularly throughout the week. Visitors can expect standing room only crowds during the popular “Polka Happy Hour.”

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