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Ok, so I’ve dreaded writing this blog post. Not because we don’t love Cleveland. Because WE DO. Cleveland is so underrated. We love living here and proclaim its virtues from the rooftops whenever we can.
I’ve dreaded this post because it’s nearly impossible to narrow down our favorite Cleveland experiences, attractions, museums, parks, restaurants, and everything else CLEVELAND.
We’ve had the honor and privilege of raising our family near the CLE. The city has given us so many great family days. Whether you’re a longtime local or one of the billion people we’ve told to visit Cleveland, there are plenty of things to see and do in this fair city.
Without further ado, here’s a list of our favorite things for families to do in Cleveland.
Table of Contents
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
There are tons of zoos across America. But there’s only one Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Our zoo has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Our family has been zoo members since our kids were toddlers, and we have no plans of stopping that tradition. Plus, our membership gets us discounted admission to more than 150 reciprocal zoos nationwide.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo extends across 83 acres and is home to more than 3,000 animals. My favorite zoo habitat is the Rosebrough Tiger Passage, which houses several gorgeous Amur tigers. Other areas we love include:
- Australian Adventure
- African Elephant Crossing
- African Savanna
- Susie’s Bear Hollow
Cleveland Metroparks is worth a trip regardless of the time of year, but when it’s cold outside, the zoo also features a two-story rainforest exhibit. The zoo hosts several events throughout the year, including Trick-or-Treat Fest, Wild Winter Lights, Asian Lantern Festival, and more.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
I’ll be honest. I didn’t love the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1995. I thought they could’ve utilized the space better with more exhibits. I avoided going back for a long time because of my initial reaction.
I can say that’s no longer the case. The Rock Hall is incredible. It’s such a tribute to musicians and the world of music. It’s hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia and emotion when walking through the various exhibits and tributes to rock & roll legends. One of the coolest features is “Legends of Rock,” The exhibit features handwritten drafts of hit songs and outfits and instruments from many of music history’s greatest concert moments.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame isn’t just for rockers. The museum embraces all music genres, including hip-hop, heavy metal, folk rock, R&B, jazz, ska, and more.
If you love music, a trip to Cleveland must include a stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Great Lakes Science Center
Another family favorite is the Great Lake Science Center. Nestled along Lake Erie, the interactive center features tons of hands-on exhibits the whole family can enjoy. GLSC is home to the NASA Glenn Visitors Center and the restored William G. Mather steamship.
Great Lakes Science Center celebrates science, technology, medicine, engineering, and other disciplines in a fun, interactive way. And if you get tired from all the exciting activities, catch your breath with a movie at the Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater featuring the world’s first three-projector, laser-illuminated movie projection system and a six-stories high screen.
The Great Lakes Science Center participates in the ASTC Passport Program, meaning members enjoy reciprocal benefits at more than 300 cultural institutions across the country.
Federal Reserve Money Museum
As a personal finance blogger and writer, this one holds a special place in my heart. The Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, operates banks in 12 U.S. cities, including Cleveland. Our FED location features a kid-friendly museum dedicated to MONEY.
The free museum (yes, free) features several interactive exhibits that walk through the history and purpose of money, cybersecurity, bartering, cash operations, identifying counterfeit dollar bills and more. You can also get your photo in front of a 23-foot-tall Money Tree.
The Money Museum has limited hours on weekdays. Check the museum’s website for details and directions before visiting.
Tours of Cleveland
There are few ways to explore Cleveland better than to participate in a walking tour. Tours of Cleveland runs spectacular walking tours year-round. Scott O’Con and his team have created curated walking tours celebrating and sharing the history of the city, including details that even longtime residents might not know.
You can also sign up for special tours like the Downtown Cleveland Christmas Tour or Tales of Terror Tour for a unique look at specific parts of the city’s history.
We had the pleasure of taking the Christmas tour last year, and it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in Cleveland. Scott seemed to know everything about Cleveland and was a blast to hang out with for the night. We will definitely be booking more tours in the future.
West Side Market
If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Cleveland’s West Side Market. The city’s oldest public market features 100 food vendors with something for everyone. You may get lost walking around the European-style market, and honestly, that’s probably ok considering you’re surrounded by the very best culinary delights the city has to offer.
You’ll find baked goods, fresh produce, meats, spices, dairy, seafood, and more. Our favorites include Campbell’s Popcorn, Jack Frost Donuts, Pierogi Palace, West Side Market Cafe, Pizza Di Bella, Ohio City Pasta, The Cheese Shop, City Roast Coffee & Tea, and literally ALL of the meat shops.
Terminal Tower Observation Deck
There’s no better place to take in 360-degree views of Cleveland and Lake Erie than the Terminal Tower Observation Deck. The 52-story building has been a part of the Cleveland skyline since 1930 and is the second tallest building in Ohio.
The observation deck sits 668 feet high on the 42nd floor of the building, The seasonal attraction is generally open from Spring to Fall but is subject to change.
The only way to purchase tickets is through Eventbrite. Tickets cost $5 per person (plus a $1.27 fee). See the Eventbrite listing for more information and available dates.
Take Pics In Front Of The Cleveland Script Signs
Is it even a trip to Cleveland if you don’t snap some selfies in front of the famous Cleveland Script Signs? Thanks to Destination Cleveland, there are six of the iconic signs scattered across the city. Locations include:
- Tremont: 1502 Abbey Ave., Cleveland, OH 44113
- Edgewater Park: 6500 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, OH 44102
- North Coast Harbor: East 9th Street Pier, Cleveland, OH 44114
- Euclid Beach: 16301 Lakeshore Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44110
- The Foundry: 1831 Columbus Rd., Cleveland, OH 44113
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport: 5300 Riverside Dr., Cleveland, OH 44135
North Coast Harbor
One of the coolest places to chill within Cleveland city limits is North Coast Harbor. Of course, it’s home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, and First Energy Stadium, but it offers so much more. Located along the lakefront, the harbor provides some of the best green space in the city, including Voinovich Bicentennial Park, public sand volleyball courts, a playground, and Nuevo Modern Mexican restaurant.
Another great way to explore Cleveland is by spending time on Lake Erie. A couple of boat cruises operate in the city and offer tours of the lakefront.
The Goodtime III is Cleveland’s largest sightseeing ship. The ship features four decks for up to 1,000 passengers. Tours include views of downtown Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie, and the Flats.
The Nautica Queen is the top choice if you’re looking for a dining cruise along the waterfront. While not necessarily a sightseeing tour, you’ll still experience much of what makes Cleveland so great, plus great food and entertainment.
Explore the Cleveland Metroparks
Perhaps Cleveland’s biggest perk is its unbelievable parks system known as the Cleveland Metroparks. The parks system spans over 24,000 acres in 18 reservations across Northeast Ohio. There are more than 300 miles worth of hiking trails and eight parks with lakes.
We’re lucky enough to have some Metropark trails and parks within our city and within walking and biking distance. Honestly, we don’t spend enough time exploring this local treasure. Some of our favorite areas within the park system include:
- Edgewater Park
- Bedford Reservation
- Brecksville Reservation
- Huntington Beach Reservation
- Rocky River Reservation
If you love to golf (we do not), there are eight Metroparks golf courses in the area too.
Greater Cleveland Aquarium
We’ve visited the Greater Cleveland Aquarium several times over the past decade. While it’s not the biggest aquarium around, it is a special one with unique exhibits celebrating aquatic life around the globe. The aquarium also has some areas that specifically focus on Ohio’s lakes and rivers.
No visit to the aquarium is complete without visiting my favorite area — the shark gallery and seatube. The 230,000 tank and underwater seatube feature three species of sharks, stingrays, eels and other ocean life. I’m a huge shark fan, so it’s where I spend most of my time when visiting the aquarium. Greater Cleveland Aquarium is also known for its holiday festivities throughout the year, especially visits from Scuba Claus around Christmas.
The Corner Alley
The Corner Alley is a family favorite whenever we’re downtown. Yes, it’s a bowling alley, but it’s such a cool environment, especially being located on iconic East 4th Street. Not only is there bowling but there’s a complete restaurant and bar and other entertainment options, including old-school arcade classics.
One of our favorite Cleveland experiences occurred at The Corner Alley. We met a huge group of guys from Indiana while we were bowling. They were all dressed up as Ricky Vaughn from Major League. Apparently, these guys all work together and plan a trip each year to an MLB city. They go all out and get dressed up in costumes based on the city. They were a blast and even posed for a photo with our kids.
Enjoy Cleveland’s Sports Teams
We love our sports teams in Cleveland, whether they’re winning or losing (insert jokes here). While we may not always come out on top (or even be competitive), Cleveland’s sports franchises are the best when it comes to entertainment and family fun.
I’m a huge basketball fan, so the Cleveland Cavaliers are my favorite local team. We were season ticket holders for several seasons and have taken in many games, including the playoffs and more. Nobody provides a better entertainment experience than the Cavs.
Cleveland’s other teams do a great job too. We love catching Cleveland Guardians games too. Progressive Field (The Jake) rivals almost any MLB team when it comes to culinary options. Tons of the top local restaurants and breweries operate booths within the ballpark. It’s insane the types of food you can get at our baseball games.
The Cleveland Orchestra has been a mainstay in the city since 1918. Since then, it’s grown into one of the most acclaimed orchestras in the world. Franz Welser-Möst leads the world-renowned orchestra.
You can find the Cleveland Orchestra performing during the concert season at the gorgeous Severance Hall in University Circle on the Case Western Reserve University campus. They spend their summers performing at Blossom Music Center, a spectacular outdoor concert venue in Cuyahoga Falls. Our family has been lucky to catch several performances over the years, including a performance of Star Wars: A New Hope, where the orchestra provided the soundtrack while the movie played on big screens around the facility.
Cleveland Cultural Gardens
Located in Rockefeller Park, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are unlike any other gardens on the planet. There are over 30 gardens stretched over 1.5 miles representing different cultures or countries represented in Cleveland. Each garden features unique landscape, horticulture, sculptures, and national flags. Countries and cultures represented in the ever-growing garden include:
- African American
- American Legion Peace Nations & American Legion Peace States
More gardens are in development including Korean, Lebanese, and Native American.
b.a Sweetie Candy Company
If you like candy, check out b.a. Sweetie Candy Company before leaving town. The popular candy store has been around for over 68 years and is the largest candy store in North America. Enough said, right?! I am a candy fiend, so this is my Cleveland happy place.
They literally have everything. I mean everything. And they ship all over the world too. But a candy delivery isn’t the same as walking the aisles of this massive sugar high masquerading as a store. While you’re there, stop in at Sweeties Soda Shoppe for ice cream, sundaes, sodas (over 200 flavors), and more. And the summer is perfect for a round of mini golf next door at Sweeties Golfland Park.
People who’ve never visited Cleveland may not realize this, but our city is home to some of the finest cultural establishments in the country. I’ve already mentioned the orchestra. Here’s another one.
Outside of NYC, Playhouse Square is the largest performing arts center in America. That’s right!
Cleveland, Ohio, has the largest performing arts center outside of Broadway.
Soak that in while I tell you a little bit more about Playhouse Square. Five main theaters make up the Playhouse Square district:
- Allen Theatre
- Connor Palace
- Hanna Theatre,
- KeyBank State Theatre
- Mimi Ohio Theatre
All five theaters became part of the Cleveland scenery in the 1920s. They’ve all had restoration projects since that time but still maintain their original charm. Don’t forget about the massive 44-foot-tall chandelier hanging outside the Playhouse Square District over Euclid Avenue. It’s the largest outdoor chandelier in North America and probably the most instagrammable spot in our city.
Playhouse Square operates year-round as one of Broadway’s premier touring partners along with being the home to several local groups:
- Cleveland Ballet
- Cleveland International Film Festival
- Cleveland Play House
- Cleveland State University Department of Theatre and Dance
- Great Lakes Theater
- Tri-C JazzFest.
We’ve had the opportunity to witness several productions at Playhouse Square while living in Cleveland, including Wicked, Disney’s The Lion King, Dear Evan Hansen, In The Heights, Anastasia, To Kill A Mockingbird and more.
A Christmas Story House & Museum
Hammond, Indiana, likes to take credit for The Christmas Story, but Cleveland is where much of the movie was filmed. It’s also home to the Christmas Story House, the Parker Family’s home, where many scenes take place in the film.
The house is open to the public year-round and is an absolute trip if you’re a fan of the movie. You’ll see many props, costumes, and memorabilia from the film (yes, the leg lamp is there). My favorite part was climbing under the kitchen sink (where Randy hid) for a quick photo.
Across the street from the house is an entire museum dedicated to the film. There’s also a gift shop where you can purchase your own leg lamp and other memorabilia. You can even stay overnight in the Christmas Story House or over at the Bumpus House (The neighbors)
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Although not technically located in the city, The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is still part of Cleveland. The company runs tourist excursions along its railways on renovated railcars. It’s everything that fans of trains have ever wanted.
Railroad excursions run through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Ohio & Erie Canalway. SVSR hosts special events for children and adults like The North Pole Adventure, Christmas Caboose Ride, Ales on Rails, Murder Mystery tours, and more.
It’s been a while since our family ventured on the CVSR, but it was always a highlight when our kids were younger. But now that they are all old enough for other events like the murder mystery tours, it might be time to head back for another ride along the railways.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we love our doughnuts. We find donut shops to visit whenever we travel. While we’ve found plenty that we’ve loved, Cleveland is home to several of our favorite shops. Some of our favorites here include:
Those are only a few of the fine doughnut establishments within our fair city. We’ve been known to hop in the van and tour the city’s various donut shops from time to time. I’m looking forward to checking out more shops soon.
Cleveland Museum of Art
We love the Cleveland Museum of Art for two specific reasons. First, it’s free to visit. You can’t get better than that, right?!
Secondly, it consistently ranked among the best museums in the country and is one of the most visited art museums in the world.
I’m not an art expert. I couldn’t tell you what’s in our museum without looking it up. When our kids were younger, they thought visiting the art museum meant walking around looking at statues and paintings of naked butts. I can’t say I didn’t think the same thing, honestly. But there’s something incredible about visiting such a fantastic collection of world culture in one spot. The museum features over 60,000 works of art from over 6,000 years.
The museum itself is a piece of artwork. We love visiting and exploring the various galleries, gift shops, and cafes.
We love the city of Cleveland and not just because we live here. It’s a great destination for families, couples, and individuals for entertainment, culture, education, food, music, and much more. There’s something for everyone in Cleveland. If you’re thinking of visiting soon, feel free to message us with any questions you have. For more information on where to go, where to stay and eat, and more check out Destination Cleveland.
What are your favorite things to see and do in Cleveland? Let us know in the comments.
Kevin Payne is the budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. He’s also the host of the Family Money Adventure Show podcast, where he helps families learn to manage their money better so they can afford to do the things they love.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to USA Today, Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Fox Business, Credible, and CreditCards.com.