Enough years have passed since Cleveland's darkest days that this energetic city on the southern shore of Lake Erie has begun to earn some legit cachet as a cool place both to visit and live. This isn't to say that Cleveland doesn't receive its share of ribbing for being something less than glamorous, but its portrayal in TV hits like Hot in Cleveland and, earlier, The Drew Carey Show - as well as such movie classics as Christmas Story and the gay '80s coming-of-age flick Edge of Seventeen presented a lovable, unpretentious, and quirky side to the city nicknamed by detractors, lamentably, as "the mistake by the lake" for many years.
Cleveland is riding relatively high these days, having become one of the most-improved cities in the Midwest, and earning considerable praise as a key tourist destination. It also hosted the the 9th Gay Games, which provided the city with a platform for showing off just how much its changed for the better. LGBT residents have played a vital role in the city's comeback, especially in neighborhoods east of downtown, such as Ohio City, Tremont, and Detroit Shoreway.
A century ago Cleveland was a beacon of industrial prosperity, but the Depression rattled the city's financial stability, and following World War II a bevy of local factories closed or relocated in the South. Cleveland's "suburban flight" during the 1950s and '60s was as severe as in any American city - complete with race riots and urban blight. Even preservation-minded gays and lesbians fled for commuter towns on Cleveland's outskirts. By 1975, if you could afford to leave Cleveland, you had.
The abandonment of downtown actually preserved its bounty of Victorian and turn-of-the-century commercial and residential structures. When the preservation and retrofitting of these buildings became fashionable two decades ago, civic leaders and private investors established an ambitious plan to reinvent Cleveland. Since 1980 block after block of downtown has been renovated, attracting corporate ventures and drawing suburban dwellers into the city's trendy dining, sports, arts, and entertainment districts. It's taken longer for downtown to attract full-time residents, but slowly, condos and lofts have begun to open.
When visiting Cleveland, it makes sense to stay downtown, where the bulk of the best hotels are - this also puts you within walking distance of several key attractions, a number of good restaurants, and the esteemed theaters of Playhouse Square. But to take advantage of the city's wealthy of up-and-coming neighborhoods, plan to arrive by or rent a car, and to spend some time exploring the areas east and west of downtown.
Getting to Cleveland - the Lay of the Land
The Lay of the Land
Ohio's second-largest city, Cleveland (population 396,000) hugs the south shore of Lake Erie, in the northeastern section of the state. It's situated at the confluence of Interstates 80 and 90, which merge here on their way westward before diverging again in Chicago; Interstate 77 runs south from Cleveland into Appalachian West Virginia, and Interstate 71 runs southwest to Columbus and then Cincinnati. Cleveland has a relatively compact, walkable downtown that's only recently begun to see an increase in residential living; most of the city's residents live in neighborhoods to the west and east along the shoreline, and increasingly to the south. Close-in neighborhoods like Ohio City and Tremont, which only decade or two ago struggled, have lately blossomed into hubs of trendy dining and shopping as well as popular places to live - both have a strong LGBT presence.
Driving distances to Cleveland from major cities and points of interest are:
- Boston, MA: 630 miles (11 to 12 hrs)
- Buffalo, NY: 190 miles (3 hrs)
- Chicago, IL: 345 miles (6 to 6.5 hrs)
- Cincinnati: 250 miles (4.5 hrs)
- Columbus: 140 miles (2.5 hrs)
- Detroit, MI: 170 miles (3 hrs)
- Indianapolis, IN: 320 miles (5.5 hrs)
- New York, NY: 460 miles (8 to 8.5 hrs)
- Pittsburgh: 130 miles (2.5 hrs)
- Saugatuck, MI: 335 miles (5.5 hrs)
- Toronto, ON: 300 miles (5 to 5.5 hrs)
- Washington, DC: 370 miles (6.5 to 7 hrs)
Flying to Cleveland
Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport is 14 miles southwest of downtown and is served by most major airlines, with direct flights throughout the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard (as well to a few international destinations, such as Cancun and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic), plus a handful of direct flights to major West Coast cities.
Cleveland 2016-2017 Events Calendar - Cleveland Gay Travel Resources
Here's a calendar of some of the top events in Cleveland throughout 2016 and 2017:
- Mid-Feb.: Brite Winter Festival.
- Early Apr.: Cleveland International Film Festival (includes a number of films of queer interest).
- Early Apr.: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Week.
- Last Apr.: Tri-C JazzFest.
- Early May: International BeerFest.
- Early July: Cain Park Arts Festival in Cleveland Heights.
- Mid-July: Taste of Tremont.
- Mid-July: Burning River Festival.
- Mid-August: Cleveland Gay Pride.
- Mid-Sept.: Tremont Art and Cultural Festival.
- Late Oct.: Cleveland Beer Week.
Resources for gay travelers to Cleveland
For visitor information on Cleveland, check out the excellent GLBT travel site created by the Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau. The city's LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland (6600 Detroit Ave., 216-651-5428), in the up-and-coming Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, is a good go-to for referrals and advice on the local scene.
The Cleveland-based Gay People's Chronicle has coverage on the local gay scene, and the alternative newsweekly, Cleveland Scene is strong on dining, nightlife, the arts, and local issues. Additionally, you'll find further information on the city's gay scene at the Cleveland About.com Gay Resource Page.
Exploring Cleveland - Cool Neighborhoods and Attractions
Cleveland's renaissance has occurred largely downtown, which is quite walkable. To the north is Lake Erie, fringed by the Memorial Shoreway. University Circle, a district on the east side, contains the top museums, as well as Case Western Reserve University. The gayified suburbs of Lakewood, to the west, and Cleveland Heights, to the east, are at opposite ends of the city.
Downtown, Warehouse District, and the Flats
Downtown Cleveland is home to a number of vintage buildings that date to the time when native son and Standard Oil baron John D. Rockefeller presided over one of America's most formidable business districts. The wealth of early 20th-century buildings, entertainment and shopping districts, and renewed tourist interest has given downtown a new energy, although some blocks are still a bit downcast. The latest development, Horseshoe Casino, is in the heart of downtown, on the south side of iconic Public Square - it has no hotel on-site but is close to several, and visitors to this nearly 100,000-square-foot facility will find more than 2,000 slots, 65 table games, a poker room, and several restaurants.
Action has always revolved around Public Square, a regal park of fountains and statuary over which looms the focal point of the downtown comeback, City Tower Center. This 52-story complex serves as a hub for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority commuter rail system. Above it are three levels of upscale shops and cafés, and a Ritz-Carlton hotel. It's a short walk from City Tower Center to the handsome Quicken Loans Arena, home to pro basketball's Cleveland Cavaliers, and to the stunning vintage-style Progressive Field, home of baseball's Cleveland Indians.
Stroll east from Public Square to reach the Playhouse Square Theater District, a revived complex of 10 theaters and performance spaces, most of them historic (several offer tours).
Along the shores of Lake Erie, the North Coast District is home to the pyramidal Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, designed by I. M. Pei. It offers an invigorating tour of music and pop culture during the past half-century, with such colorful memorabilia as Janis Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche. Next door is the Great Lakes Science Center, with its touch-friendly exhibits, and just beyond lies the mammoth Cleveland Browns Stadium.
You can walk a short distance north from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum to scenic Voinovich Bicentennial Park, which affords fine views of Lake Erie as well as the downtown Cleveland skyline and is the site of Cleveland Gay Pride celebration each June.
The recovery of the Flats, the district along the Cuyahoga River, has been one of Cleveland's more impressive magic tricks, although the neighborhood has ebbed and flowed a bit in terms of energy over the past couple of decades. This industrial area west of and down a steep slope from downtown was once the domain of grain-processing plants. Some factories still thrive along the river, but the plants and warehouses closest to downtown have largely been converted into rowdy (and straight) nightclubs and restaurants. One of the most impressive developments in the Flats has been the conversion of the old Powerhouse building into Greater Cleveland Aquarium, giving the neighborhood a marquee attraction.
Up the steep hill from the Flats, on the northwest edge of downtown, is the historic Cleveland Warehouse District, which when it emerged as a dining and clubbing destination in the '90s had a significant gay presence. The district is now more the domain of clubs and restaurants catering to straight revelers from the suburbs, but these SoHo-like, cast-iron structures do contain some good restaurants as well as some beautiful loft-style apartments and condos.
As gay clubs that had formerly been located in the aforementioned Warehouse District shut down, the city's most popular ones moved just east, across from the Flats district, to the now quite trendy neighborhood of Ohio City, an area rife with hip eateries, fun boutiques, a handful of B&Bs, several gay bars, and the wonderfully atmospheric and historic West Side Market, a trove of vendors set inside a dramatic early-20th-century market building where you can buy fresh produce as well as many ethnic treats for which Cleveland is known: pierogis, sausages, artisan cheeses, Middle Eastern breads and meats, roast coffee, decadent cakes, Cambodian dishes, Asian spices, handmade pastas, and more. Most of the businesses in Ohio City are along West 25th Street, near the junction with Lorain Avenue, which is also lined with several restaurants and shops, and also Fulton Road.
Just southwest of downtown Cleveland, historic Tremont was laid out in the 1830s and prospered through much of the 19th century and early 20th centuries, growing into a popular place to live among the city's many Eastern European immigrants. As Cleveland's fortunes waned after World War II, Tremont lost its luster as well as much of its population, but the neighborhood has undergone a swift and stunning renaissance since the 1990s. This bustling area is anchored by leafy, dignified Lincoln Park (Starkweather Ave. at W. 11th St.). Galleries and acclaimed restaurants are situated around the park and along Professor and Jefferson avenues. The neighborhood is also home to the house featured in the classic movie A Christmas Story; the Christmas Story House, at 3159 W. 11th Street, is now a museum filled with trivia from the movie's filming.
Home to the city's LGBT Community Center, this formerly hard-luck neighborhood a couple of miles west of Ohio City and southeast of Edgewater is one of Cleveland's fastest transforming neighborhoods. It's situated along Detroit Avenue, between roughly 54th and 70th streets. Along here several notable restaurants and shops have opened, and the historic Cleveland Public Theatre and Capitol Theatre Cinemas lend an arty vibe to the neighborhood.
Lakewood and Edgewater
Many gays and lesbians live on the western edge of Cleveland, in the historic Edgewater neighborhood, and in the suburb immediately west, Lakewood. These neighborhoods, divided at 117th Street, are virtually indistinguishable, although Lakewood has the more stately early 20th-century housing stock (much of it Craftsman-style). The main drags, Clifton Boulevard and Detroit Avenue, have a few gay businesses; Detroit Avenue is the hub of Cleveland's gay nightlife scene. When the weather's cooperative, scads of homos drive a mile east of Lakewood to Cleveland's most popular beach, Edgewater Park. It may not be Waikiki, but it's fun on sunny weekend afternoons.
Three miles east of downtown is University Circle, a 500-acre district of turn-of-the-century mansions anchored by grassy Wade Park. Here you'll find prestigious Case Western Reserve University, several of the nation's leading research hospitals, and some first-rate museums, including the immense and recently expanded Cleveland Museum of Art, whose dozens of galleries have earned it international attention. It's best known for its Asian and medieval European collections. Within walking distance is the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. A short drive away are the New Cleveland African-American Museum and the new Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.
Martin Luther King Jr. Drive winds north from University Circle to I-90; this scenic, leafy drive is lined on both sides by the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, which has plaques and horticultural displays dedicated to different ethnic groups with strong concentrations in Cleveland.
Fringing University Circle to the southeast, and home to the new Museum of Contemporary Art, Uptown Cleveland is a new mixed-use development of condos, apartments, shops, and restaurants - buildings are springing up around the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road.
Coventry Village, Cleveland Heights, and Shaker Heights
Continue east from University Circle, turning right onto Mayfield Road (U.S. 322), and you'll cut through the heart of Little Italy (Mayfield Road at Random Road) to picturesque Cleveland Heights, a racially and economically diverse community with a diverse population, including quite a few gays and lesbians. Within this prosperous and neatly laid-out community, you'll find Coventry Village, whose shopping district, between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, makes for a pleasurable stroll - it's abuzz with offbeat boutiques, coffeehouses, and gay-friendly businesses. You'll find still more upscale shopping and dining a bit farther south, in tony Shaker Heights, another of Cleveland's attractive and historic "streetcar suburbs."
Cleveland Restaurant Guide
Unflashy but dependable, Cleveland's cuisine has strong Eastern European, Greek, and Italian influences. Steak houses and burger joints, as well as home-style eateries known for their good breakfasts, are prevalent, but sophisticated new restaurants have begun opening downtown.
Cleveland Gay Bar Guide
For such a large a city, Cleveland doesn't have a huge club scene, either. The few mainstays---some of which are spacious and impressively decorated---still fail to drum up major crowds. The best clubs are downtown in Ohio City and in the Lakewood area.
Cleveland Hotel Guide
Ohio's second-largest city has a good mix of luxury and mid-priced properties downtown, all within walking distance of the bustling Playhouse Square theater district and several key attractions. There are also a few charming, historic, and gay-friendly B&Bs in near-in neighborhoods like Ohio City and Tremont, plus a smattering of lodging options in the east side (Cleveland Heights, University Circle) and west side (Lakewood) neighborhoods.