Of all the places I’ve been, there are few I love visiting more than Cleveland. It could be the family I have there, or just the fact that it’s where I was born, but I look forward to every trip. I am immensely proud of my home city, and boast of it whenever I can (which I’m sure people get tired of real quick). I can rattle off “interesting” facts about Cleveland all day long. Did you know Cleveland had the first black mayor of a major American city? Or that Superman was invented there? And Tom Hanks credits Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival with jumpstarting his acting career?
But I digress. If you’re going to Cleveland, you don’t need fun facts—you need things to do and places to go. Here are a few of my favorites.
This neighborhood is one of the best in the city. While traffic and parking can be a bit of a pain (especially on weekends), you’ve got the Great Lakes brewery (swing in for a flight of beer and some Edmund Fitzgerald chocolate chunk ice cream), along with Market Garden and Nano Brew breweries across the street. There are a ton of places to eat—Flying Fig is nice, and TownHall is a great place for brunch. However, if you’re heading down there for food, you’re going to want to stop at
West Side Market
Open since 1912, this is the oldest indoor/outdoor marketplace in Cleveland. While it mostly specializes in various cuts of meat (you wouldn’t think so many meat purveyors could flourish in such a small space), if you’re not planning on cooking anything there are still plenty of prepared foods and other market items to check out. Urban Herbs is a great place to pick up any spices you need. Czuchraj Meats was namechecked by Michael Symon on The Best Thing I Ever Ate for their out of this world beef jerky. Man vs Food alumn Steve’s Gyros always has a line, and it’s always worth standing in (but get the regular gyro—there’s one with more meat for $2 extra, but I’m not sure how it’s physically possible to fit any more than they already give you). Side note: get as many napkins from Steve’s as you can. Maha’s Falafil is excellent, too. Be sure to take your food up to the balcony to eat and overlook the entire market.
To the unexperienced, there aren’t a lot of phrases less exciting than “downtown Cleveland,” but the place has its charm—unless you’re trying to drive around down there when there’s a Browns game. Right on the waterfront is the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center, as well as the Browns’ stadium. Head over to East 4th Street for a small pedestrian-only road of shops and restaurants (where you’ll find Michael Symon’s Lola and Mabel’s BBQ, as well as Jonathon Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern)—including Cleveland Clothing Company. Go there and get a shirt; you’ll probably notice it seems like a requirement for Clevelanders to wear some kind of clothing denoting this. It’s also a few blocks away from Quicken Loans Arena, where you can see the Cavs or the Rockers play, and Progressive Field. Go to an Indians game, and get the famous stadium mustard (also available in stores). You’ll also be near the Arcade, America’s first indoor shopping center (est. 1890), partially funded by John D Rockefeller.
If you enjoy nature, the Cleveland Metroparks is the place for you. Spanning over 23,000 acres in 18 separate reservations, you can do pretty much everything. There are miles and miles of bike paths, over 100 hiking trails, water activities—you name it. Often dubbed the Emerald Necklace because of the way it wraps around Cleveland, you’re never far from a trail or a wooded area, which is extremely refreshing for a big city. You can also swing by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo if you’re into that sort of thing.
Odds & Ends
There are endless things to do in Cleveland and the surrounding area, and I love it so much I could go on forever. If you like Christmas, head to the Tremont neighborhood to see the actual house A Christmas Story was filmed in, which now functions as a museum for the movie. You can head to Lake View Cemetery to see John D Rockefeller’s grave, or check out the spooky Weeping Angel. If you want to get out of the city, the nation’s best amusement park, Cedar Point, is a little over an hour away (but we’ll talk about that later).
Don’t let the old jokes or stories about a burning river (though true) deter you. Cleveland has made plenty of must-visit lists in recent years, and as the city moves past its steel mill history, it will only continue to get better. Like any big city, it’s got something for everyone, but only in a slightly smaller package, with a more friendly Midwest wrapping. There’s got to be a reason Randy Newman, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Scott Weiland all have songs about Cleveland. Right?
Now that you’re in Cleveland, check out some of our favorite places to eat.