Cleveland and Northeast Ohio may be known for the beauty of Lake Erie, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its thousands of music artifacts, and Playhouse Square, the second-largest performing arts center in the United States. However, the area is filled with many activities for kids and adults to enjoy together, whether passing through on a trip or longtime residents of Ohio's second-largest city.
Fortunately, many of the attractions are free. At any time of year, you can explore places like museums and art galleries, zoos, greenhouses, parks, and other wonders without having to spend money.
Cleveland's best free attraction is not just for adults. The Cleveland Museum of Art, located in University Circle, is filled with more than 60,000 works of art from virtually all periods and genres. Of particular interest to kids is the armor court, a light-filled interior courtyard filled with medieval suits of armor, weapons, and tapestries. The museum's permanent collection is free every day for kids and adults alike, but donations are accepted and encouraged.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo rewards Cuyahoga County residents each (non-holiday) Monday with free admission to the zoo (not including the Rainforest). However, tourists can also enjoy free admission to the zoo on select days throughout the year, and there is no cost for parking during these events. Be sure to check the official website for exact dates and special no-cost nights for military service members, senior citizens, kids, and adults.
Located on 83 acres just four miles south of downtown Cleveland, the zoo exhibits include African elephants, the "Wolf Wilderness" exhibit, and the "Australian Adventure."
The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, founded in 1966, is a peaceful green space nestled among the gracious houses of historic Shaker Heights, just east of Cleveland. The 20-acre facility features a variety of trails that illustrate eight natural habitats, exhibits about animals and nature, bird walks, educational programming, and much more, all of which are free to enjoy.
The Nature Center is open daily, though for fewer hours on Sundays.
The Federal Reserve Bank Museum's Learning Center and Money Museum features many interactive exhibits about the history and the power of money. You'll also learn how to make currency and identify counterfeit money. The most striking feature is a 23-foot tall money tree located across from the museum's entrance.
Interestingly enough, this museum dedicated to money and the tours it offers are completely free to enjoy. They are open Mondays through Thursdays.
Cleveland's Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, located just off of Martin Luther King Boulevard near University Circle, houses a beautiful collection of exotic and native plants. This peaceful and fascinating place is rarely crowded, and exhibits include the large orchid and tropical plant exhibits as well as the spring bulb and December holiday plants displays. Of particular interest to kids is the room full of cacti and other southwestern plants.
Each spring, usually in early May, the state of Ohio treats residents to two days of "free" fishing (no license required) on Lake Erie and in the state's numerous lakes and streams. However, non-residents are not allowed to participate in this event.
Kids under the age of 16 are not required to have a fishing license, so you're more than welcome to take your kid fishing if you get a temporary non-resident fishing license for yourself from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Located inside the lobby and west wing of downtown Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, the International Women's Air and Space Museum celebrates the contribution of women in flight with a rotating schedule of temporary exhibits, including airplanes, flight suits, and memorabilia from the likes of Amelia Earhart and others.
The museum is open seven days a week during airport hours.
From late July to late August, Cleveland Browns fans have the opportunity to view the team up close for free during the training camp workouts in Berea, a suburb of Cleveland. The team also hosts a free family night once a year. Kids 12 and under are selected daily at random to get autographs from their favorite players at no additional cost, as long as they bring their own souvenir to sign.
While the event itself has no cost to attend, concessions are also available for purchase during the training camp.
Ashtabula County, in far northeastern Ohio, is home to 17 authentic and reconstructed covered bridges, including the longest and shortest covered bridges in the United States.
These reminders of the past are all slightly different and situated in beautiful settings. Take a self-guided tour with maps that are available online from the Ashtabula County County Covered Bridge Festival, and while the gas isn't free, you can view the bridges and perhaps have a picnic lunch to save on costs for this excursion.
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio love festivals, and fortunately, many of them are free. From April through October, the region celebrates the seasons, its diverse ethnic heritage, the arts, and the summer and fall harvest with a number of special events. Among the best no-cost festivals are University Circle's Hessler Street Fair, Little Italy's Feast of the Assumption, and Geneva's Grape Jamboree.
The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, located east of Cleveland in Bay Village, is a great spot for kids and adults alike to learn about wildlife and nature. The center, founded in 1945, houses an animal rehabilitation clinic as well as a variety of indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, including a Rabbit & Turkey Barn, a Planetarium, and a Turtle/Tortoise Exhibit. among others.
Lake Erie isn't necessarily known for its beaches, but a notable exception is the beach at Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, which is east of Cleveland in Lake County. This long stretch of white sand is ideal for getting lost in a good novel, watching the waves lap up at the shore, or combing for seashells. There's even a picturesque lighthouse, and ample free parking just off the beach.
Another good choice is Breakwater Beach at Geneva State Park in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio. This large cove beach has lifeguards, picnic tables, and restrooms, and parking is free here, too.
The main branch and 28 neighborhood branches of the Cleveland Public Library house more than 10 million books, tapes, DVDs, and CDs—all available to loan to Cleveland area residents. If you're in town for more than a few weeks (perhaps visiting for the summer), you can get a temporary library card and check out books on a short-term basis.
Otherwise, many of the Cleveland Library branches are home to stunning architecture and a variety of quiet places where anyone is welcome to enjoy a good book. While you can't check out a book from the library, they are open to the general public regardless of residence. Visit the historic main library on Superior Avenue, between East Third and East Sixth streets, for its classic architecture and peaceful, outdoor reading courtyard..
Check Out Model Trains and Antique Toys
Located right on the square in the center of Medina, about 45 minutes from Cleveland, the Medina Toy and Train Museum features dozens of model train set-ups, interactive children's exhibits, model cars, and airplanes dating back to 1900, as well as many dolls and toys. They even have an on-site library with books for loan about toys and trains, but this check-out service is only available to residents of Ohio.
A fun way to check out Cleveland and many of its attractions on weekdays is to ride around on The E-Line Trolley at no charge. The trolley conveniently takes you near shops at The Arcade and Tower City, where window shopping and exploring are always free. Plus you can check out Playhouse Square, the country’s second largest performing arts center. Exit the trolley wherever you like to have a good time with the whole family.