As home to the world-famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, there’s no doubt that Cleveland rocks. But, there’s a lot more to discover in the grand city on the shores of Lake Erie. From water sports on the lake and a world class amusement park with 17 roller coasters to one-of-a-kind museums and a beautiful national park that’s just outside city limits, Cleveland is full of surprises that make for a fun and fascinating visit.
10. Tower City Complex
The shopping and entertainment complex known as Tower City in the heart of downtown on Cleveland’s Public Square is a testimonial to the city’s rise in recent years. The historic Higbee’s department store building was re-purposed in 2012 when it opened as the Horseshoe Casino, which takes advantage of the 1920s building’s Art Deco décor to offer a classic casino feel that’s different from most casinos. Almost 100 shops and restaurants are part the Tower City complex, ranging from Morton’s Steakhouse and Hard Rock Café to Subway and Foot Locker. The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland and Renaissance Cleveland hotels also lend an elegant touch to the entertainment center, where Segway and walking tours depart. The 52-story Tower features an observation deck on the 42nd floor with sweeping views of downtown and Lake Erie. Tickets are only $5 for access to the deck, where you can see for 30 miles on clear days.
9. Great Lakes Brewing
Cleveland, like other cities, has seen the craft beer craze catch on in a big way recently. The one that got it all started is Great Lakes Brewing, Ohio’s first and most celebrated microbrewery. Many of Great Lakes’ brews are among Ohio’s most popular craft beers, including its Burning River Pale Ale and Dortmunder Gold Lager, while others are only available at its outstanding brewpub. The brewpub and brewery are located in Ohio City, one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods located across the Cuyahoga River from downtown. The brewpub is housed in an historic brick complex and serves excellent pub-style food in several spaces including a tree-lined beer garden along a cobblestone street. Its beautiful tiger mahogany bar once hosted Eliot Ness, the famous leader of the ‘Untouchables’ law enforcement team that battled infamous gangster Al Capone. Brewery tours are offered and a gift shop sells Great Lakes and Cleveland memorabilia.
8. Cleveland Botanical Garden
The Cleveland Botanical Garden is a 10-acre oasis located in the city’s delightful University Circle cultural district. The Smith Glasshouse anchors the complex as the only conservatory in the U.S. to house two distinct biomes. The rain forest of Costa Rica is adorned with butterflies and lush plants including exotic avocado, coffee and chocolate trees, while the adjacent spiny desert of Madagascar is a dry ecosystem with equally exotic succulents and chameleons. Outside, there are a variety of dazzling themed gardens to explore, including Japanese, rose and herb gardens. There is even a children’s garden with a treehouse and paths for exploration. The garden recently merged with the nearby Holden Arboretum to create the 13th largest public garden in the country. Holden offers over 2,000 acres of protected forests and 20 miles of hiking trails.
7. Lake Erie and Cuyahoga River Excursions
Cleveland’s waterfront location where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie means lots of options for getting out on the water, especially since both bodies of water have improved substantially in recent years. The Nautica Queen and Goodtime III excursion boats operate a regular schedule of sunset, dinner and entertainment cruises on Lake Erie most of the year from near downtown. Anglers have a wide choice of guides and charter boats to choose from as they seek to battle walleye, perch and steelhead, and the East 55th Street Marina offers a large pier that juts out into the lake. Great Lakes Watersports rents jet skis on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats entertainment district, and renters can zip past the city skyline and onto the lake. Outfitters also rent kayaks for self-guided and guided tours on the lake and Cuyahoga and Rocky Rivers.
6. Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection of almost 45,000 pieces spans 6,000 years of artistic achievement with a decidedly modern twist, all while charging no admission fee. Located in University Circle, the museum recently completed an extensive renovation and expansion that added digital technology to help visitors find and explore art from its collection more quickly. The marquee new attraction is the Collection Wall, a 40-foot, interactive, multi-touch wall that showcases over 4,100 works from the museum’s permanent collection. The wall changes every 40 seconds to display various works that are grouped by theme and type. Visitors can open as many as 20 separate interfaces simultaneously across the wall, which is the largest such ‘MicroTile’ screen in the U.S. Visitors can even save their favorites on their iPad or iPhone by using one of the wall’s eight docking stations. There are now six interactive displays at the Museum.
5. West Side Market
Just across the Cuyahoga River from downtown Cleveland is Ohio City, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and home to West Side Market. Housed in a sprawling 1912 brick building that features a 137-foot clock tower, the market has over 100 vendors, making it one of the largest such markets in the country. The amazing selection of goods is a foodie’s dream, with fresh produce, flowers, nuts, spices, fine meats and cheeses, seafood, exotic ethnic foods, gourmet specialty items and ready-to-eat treats. The West Side Market celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 and has been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network. It’s open every day except Sunday. While the market is the main attraction in Ohio City, the quaint neighborhood also has several unique shops and restaurants housed in restored historic buildings. It’s a great place to wander around for a morning or afternoon.
4. Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is only a short drive from Cleveland, home to some of the most rabid football fans who root on the Browns from the Dawg Pound at FirstEnergy Stadium. Among the Hall’s newest and most popular exhibits is the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery that opened in 2009 with interactive video kiosks and artifacts that highlight every Super Bowl’s great plays and best players. The gallery’s Super Bowl Theater is a multi-media extravaganza that explains how the Super Bowl became America’s most popular sporting event. Other exhibits detail football’s history, highlights and progression. The exhibit displaying the various Super Bowl rings that have been awarded to the game’s victors over the years is an especially impressive display. One exhibit even allows visitors to test their knowledge of the game at the Hall’s trivia challenge as well as play the EA Sports Madden Football video game.
3. Cedar Point Amusement Park
Cedar Point Amusement Park is actually in nearby Sandusky on the Lake Erie shoreline, but Cleveland claims it anyway and for good reason. The second-oldest continuously operating amusement park celebrated its 146th season in 2015, and it’s better than ever with over 150 rides, shows and attractions. The big attraction at Cedar Point is its 17 roller coasters that zip along on a mind-boggling 10 miles of tracks. The park’s fastest coaster is the Top Thrill Dragster that takes those who dare along the track at 120 mph. New in 2015 is the Rougarou, a thrill-inducing floorless coaster. Cedar Point also has three unique carousels including one of only three operating D.C. Muller carousels in the world. The massive park has more than three miles of midway that are illuminated by 1.6 million LED lights.
2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
National parks are few and far between in the eastern U.S. but Ohio has one right outside Cleveland. Cuyahoga Valley National Park spans 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland. There are more than 125 hiking trails in the park to a variety of overlooks, meadows and waterfalls including the 65-foot Brandywine Falls. Cycling is the main attraction as more than 20 miles of prime bike paths meander through the park on the original Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, where several historic sites tell the history of the 308-mile canal that connected Lake Erie and the Ohio River when it was completed in 1832. Cyclists and hikers often use the historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad that runs through the park to take them back to the trailhead they where they began their journeys. Cross-country skiing on the towpath is popular there in the winter as well.
1. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
You don’t have to be a huge rock music fan to marvel at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on downtown Cleveland’s lakefront. The Wow Factor kicks in as you’re approaching the landmark building, designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, which is anchored by two glass pyramids and a 160-foot tower overlooking a large outdoor plaza. All the soaring glass windows and high angles of the pyramids create a stunning visual display inside, where the world’s largest single collection of rock memorabilia is showcased. There are special exhibits about Elvis, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and other rock icons that include priceless artifacts such as dozens of vintage guitars and the handwritten lyrics of some of rock’s most famous songs. Numerous visual and listening stations tell a rich story of rock’s most famous artists, and the expansive museum shop sells one-of-a-kind souvenirs and hard-to-find CDs and vinyl albums.