Cleveland is a place that many don’t think of as a desired location, either because of its bad reputation from decades past, or because it just doesn’t pop into one’s mind as a tourist destination. But one thing that I have always heard about Cleveland is that its residents love it. Like LOVE IT. And I can see why; it is a fantastic hometown.
Cleveland is part of the Rust Belt, an area of the country that is historically known for producing steel, from Pennsylvania across Ohio and into Michigan, hugging the Great Lakes. With numerous jobs lost over the latter half of the 20th century, Cleveland reached it’s all time low when over half of its population had moved elsewhere, leaving it at an approximate population of 500,000 in the 2000 census. However, this is also the time that Cleveland picked itself up by the bootstraps and became the ultimate comeback kid, one project at a time, seemingly starting with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opening in 1995. The city now boasts championship sports teams, a lively performing arts scene, and award-winning restaurants, most notably Michael Symon’s restaurant, Lola (he is a Cleveland native). They have renovated downtown beautifully and efficiently, placing the Cleveland Browns stadium at one end, by the lake and the Rock Hall, and the Cleveland Indians (“Go Tribe!” as they say) and the Cavaliers stadium at the other end. In the middle is Playhouse Square, housing five theatres, all of which have been recently restored to a stunningly grand splendor of arcades and marble columns, with additional studio and lab spaces. It is the biggest performing arts complex outside of NYC, boasting the largest subscription base in the country, currently at 32,000 people. Amongst this mecca of well laid out, topnotch entertainment are restaurants, bars, renovated hotels, and tons of museums, from the Rock Hall to the Great Lakes Science Center on Lake Erie to the nationally acclaimed Cleveland Museum of Art, currently ranked the 2nd best art museum in the nation, just behind the Met. The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the top ranked ensembles in the country, housed in the spectacular Severance Hall. The history of the city is prevalent in the statues, monuments, and parks throughout, just as is the religious heritage. The stunningly gothic cathedrals command your reverence, as their spires and stained glass add distinctly to the skyline. The bells ring sweetly with perfect pitch the choral tunes of jubilation as people leave mass, walking out to view a sunset seemingly painted by an artist. And to top it off, many of these establishments are within a walkable distance in downtown or a very short cab ride away.
In addition to downtown, there are also quaint neighborhoods that have jumped into the renovation craze. Near downtown are the Warehouse and Flats districts, where trendy folks are turning formerly abandoned industrial areas into lofts and restaurant space, maximizing the fantastic views of the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie, and the bridges that connect the city across the waterways. The two sides of the city visibly coalesce to bring Cleveland into a new era. Ohio City, Tremont, Gordon Square, and Shaker Square are currently the trendiest of neighborhoods, but there is no doubt that there will be more popping up quickly. These spots are a short 10 to 15 minute car ride away from downtown, and typically contain free or cheap parking. Mass transit (RTA) is well priced and efficient. Cleveland Metroparks are also cleaning house, renovating multiple outdoor spaces, with Edgewater Park and Rocky River Reservation at the top of the list. Add in Cuyahoga Valley National Park just 25 minutes south of the city, and you are a short drive away from good hiking, biking, horseback riding, or kayaking.
There is no denying that this city is hot, and it has taken back control of its reputation, seemingly leaving those evil words in the dust. It is now ranked 15th on the “Best Places to Live in the US” by Time Out, a global entertainment guide, based on affordability, cultural offerings, safety, and green space. But after all of this surprise that the city packed in its punch, the biggest revelation came as I got to know its people. They are indeed very proud of their city, but they are also intensely unified. Anyone living there from the 60s to the 90s, no matter what you did as a career, was somehow affected by the local job market collapse. It took everyone working together on a common mission to reimagine, and then rebuild, the city. It was hard work, and they had to do it together. The pride in this achievement was palpable as I weaved my way through the streets or spoke with the locals. It is almost as though this mission has bonded them together. It isn’t perfect yet, and they know that there is still much more to do, exhibited by the laundromat I stumbled into just minutes from downtown, in a hood where I did not need to hang. The roots of the old time are still very present. But I am impressed with their collective vision, their tenacity, and their welcoming demeanor. Cheers, Cleveland. I will come back any time.
In the sake of full disclosure, I visited Cleveland for six weeks during September and October, when the weather was gorgeous, all three sports teams were playing, the playhouse square was filled with Broadway shows, concerts, and original local productions, fall festivals were abundant, and everyone was in high spirits. I have no idea how the city functions in the dead of winter, but I imagine my stay would have been filled with a live performance of A Christmas Story at Playhouse Square, a ride on the Polar Express at Cuyahoga Valley NP, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
Consider posting your travels to the city using #ThisisCLE or #AskCLE.
The Cleveland Museum of Art
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
4th Street Alley (many award-winning restaurants)
The Flats, East or West Banks (eat, party, chill, great river & bridge views)
Playhouse Square (see a show, but at least see the lighted chandelier)
Take in a sunset at 9th Street Pier or on a dinner cruise on Lake Erie
Heinen’s Grocery Downtown (consider having lunch here)
The Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio City
Edgewater Park (great view of the skyline, Lake Erie beach & sunset spot)
A Christmas Story House, if you are a fan (movie filming site & interactive museum)
Stretch & Stroll
Stretch: Joggers and bikers will enjoy Rocky River Reservation, with miles of paths, as well as kayaks for rent to paddle the river. There are also picnic grounds and athletic fields.
Stroll: Grab a cup of coffee at Heinen’s and walk down to 9th street pier. Walk back to St. Clair and turn West towards the warehouse district. Head down into the flats and watch some boats roll in and grab a drink on a restaurant’s deck.
*Also consider Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve
A Bite of Brunch
Love of the Locals
West Side Market, Heinen’s Grocery Downtown
Local Catch of the Day
Lake Erie Walleye and Yellow Perch
Maggie Dog’s Fav
Edgewater Park Dog Beach
(Offleash play in the lake, many pups around, bring your own ball)
4th Street Alley (all ages)
music & comedy venues, upscale bowling alley, restaurants & a speak easy
The Flats (leans towards the 30 something and up crowd)
East Bank for restaurants/bars, West Bank for music
Ohio City (young professionals crowd)
restaurants, bars, and microbrews
Azure Rooftop at The 9 (very posh)
Grouped by activity and/or style
The Rock Hall of Fame
To quote a friend, “It is like taking a tour of one’s life. We all have connections to this music and its story.”
Great Lakes Science Center
Fun for kids of all ages; though family focused, adults can enjoy it, too.
Free architectural tour of the restored arcades of Euclid St. and Playhouse Square, Sat mornings. Also see Old Stone Church, Cleveland Public Library, and Trinity Cathedral
Cleveland Museum of Art
A lovely romantic day with a nationally acclaimed museum
Cleveland Botanical Gardens & the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
More children focused; could do both in one day with a picnic in the park.
Rockefeller Park and Cultural Gardens
Designated gardens for many different immigrant groups. Not a must see, but it might be nice to cap off a day at the museums.
Great Lakes Brewing Company, other microbrews
West Side Market
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
25 minutes south, Free & Dog Friendly *see separate post
Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky, OH
“the roller coaster capital of the world”
Grab a ferry to one of the islands, near Sandusky, OH
Kelleys Island, Middle Bass Island, Put-in-Bay
Chagrin Falls, Antiquing, and nearby Amish country
Go on a Sunday for the market, then grab an antiquing map from a shop before heading out. To see Amish country, travel in a circle from Chagrin Falls out hwy 87, turn right onto hwy 168 in Burton, then right onto hwy 422. Aurora Outlet Stores are also near this area.
http://www.riderta.com, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority