Enjoying Cleveland doesn't have to be expensive. The city has beautiful parks, fascinating shops, and free days at museums. Learn more about free things to do on the North Coast (presented in totally random order).
Attend Cleveland Orchestra Community Concerts
The Cleveland Orchestra, arguably the "Best Orchestra in the World," makes itself accessible to the citizens of its hometown with several free community concerts throughout the year. The most popular of these is the July 4th weekend concert, held annually on Public Square. Hundreds of thousands of Clevelanders come out to sit under the stars and hear the Orchestra play Tchaikovsky's "1812 Orchestra," among other selections, accompanied by fireworks.
Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery, opened in 1869, is the final resting place for important Clevelanders, such as John D. Rockefeller, President James A. Garfield, Jeptha Wade (the cemetery's first president), and Carl B. Stokes (Cleveland's first black mayor).
The elaborate stone monuments kept a generation of Italian stonecutters in business. Make sure to see the Garfield Monument and the Wade Chapel with its Tiffany window.
Savor the Sunset over Lake Erie
The view of the sunset from Cleveland's Edgewater Park, on the city's near west side, is one of the loveliest in town. Bring a picnic dinner and dine as you watch the sun sink unobstructed into the horizon. Or, walk along the beach and enjoy the view.
Pick up Free Music and Movies at the Cleveland Public Library
The Cleveland Public Library system has over 10 million books, tapes, DVDs, and CDs available to loan to Cleveland area residents. Visit the historic main library on Superior Avenue, between E 3rd and E 6th Sts.
If you rather, you can request your selections online and have them delivered to your local branch. DVDs and CDs can be checked out for seven days and are renewable unless someone else has requested them.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Cuyahoga County residents can see them and more for free each Monday at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
Residents should bring a driver's license, state ID, or utility bill with their address. Offer applies to the zoo only, not the Rain Forest, but there's plenty to see at the zoo, including the "Australian Adventure" and the "Wolf Wilderness" exhibits. Parking is always free at the zoo.
Lake Erie isn't known for its beaches, but one notable exception is the beach at Mentor Headlands Park, 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. The park has ample free parking, just off the beach.
The Cleveland Arcade is an architectural gem. Built in 1890 to resemble the shopping arcades of Milan Italy, the Arcade is just off of Public Square, between Euclid and Superior Avenues.
The structure has a tower at both ends with a five-story sky-lighted atrium between them. The arcade boasts elaborate metalwork and intricate brass gargoyles look down from the top level. Chairs are offered on the balconies for passersby to rest and marvel at the view.
The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, founded in 1966, is a peaceful green space nestled among the gracious houses of Shaker Heights, just east of Cleveland. The facility features a variety of trails that illustrate six natural habitats, as well as a nature center with exhibits about the Northeast Ohio landscape. Best of all, admission is free.
Cleveland has some interesting and diverse antique districts -- and it doesn't cost anything to browse. Try Lorain Avenue (between W.35th and W.45th Sts.) on Cleveland's west side for architectural antiques, such as leaded glass windows and old wooden doors. Stroll along Larchmere Avenue (pictured at left), near Shaker Square on the east side, for higher end china and glass items as well as furniture.
The Ohio and Erie Canal was built in 1825 to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River. Canal boats led by mules and drivers along the towpath were a constant feature.
Today, the towpath has been restored as a mixed use trail for biking, hiking, horse-backing riding, and jogging. The path starts at Cuyahoga Heights and continues all the way to Peninsula, Ohio through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, area wetlands, and along the restored locks.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is the last of America's important art museums to offer free admission to its permanent collection. Take advantage of this wonderful chance to see the museum's extensive holdings of Impressionist paintings, Asian art, and medieval religious and secular art.
Spend an afternoon studying one room or section. Since it's free, you don't have to rush through the museum. You can come back another day.
Canton Museum of Art
The Canton Museum of Art, founded in 1935, is the center of culture in Stark County. Home to the Canton Symphony and regular host to a variety of cultural events, the Canton Museum of Art has a small, but interesting permanent collection, which it augments with regular temporary exhibits from around the world. The museum is free to all on Tuesdays when it is open 10 am to 5 pm and 7 pm to 9 pm.
Ashtabula County, in extreme Northeast Ohio, is home to 17 authentic and reconstructed covered bridges, including the longest--and the shortest--covered bridges in the United States. These reminders of the past are all slightly different and are situated in beautiful settings. Take a self-guided tour (maps are available online or at the Ashtabula County Courthouse in Jefferson). The gas isn't free, but you can view the bridges and perhaps have a picnic lunch without charge.
The Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park is the first such facility in the world to combine slot machines, dining, rock and roll memorabilia and music. Of course, the slots aren't free, but admission is and the Rocksino is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Medina Toy and Train Museum
Located right on the square in the center of Medina, this small museum features dozens of model train set-ups, interactive children's exhibits, model cars and airplanes dating back to 1900, and lots of dolls and toys. There's even an on-site library with books to loan about toys and trains. The museum is open Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sundays from noon to 5 pm. Admission is free.
The first Monday evening of every month, beginning on February 4, 2013, the Cleveland Children's Museum is offering free admission from 5 pm - 7 pm. The program will continue through the end of 2013. (If the first Monday is a holiday, the free day is Tuesday.)
The Cleveland Children's Museum, located at University Circle, features fun, interactive exhibits, such as "Splish Splash!," Bridges to the Community and the Big Red Barn.
Explore the Allen Museum in Oberlin
The Allen Memorial Art Museum, at Oberlin College, was founded in 1917. The museum collection, which consists of over 11,000 objects, is considered to be one of the finest college or university collections in the United States. The Allen Museum is just a 45-minute drive from downtown Cleveland and admission is free.
Cleveland Accordian Museum
America's first accordion museum is located in the Rocky River home of Jack and Kathy White. The multi-room facility includes over 300 accordions, hundreds of discs and pieces of sheet music, and even a shrine to Grammy-award-winning Cleveland accordion master, Frankie Yankovic. Admission is free, but since it's a private home, call them first at 440 895-9223 or contact the Whites via email.
Enjoy the Kent State Museum on a Sunday
The Kent State University Museum was founded in 1983 by fashion entrepreneurs Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman and opened in 1985. Today, the museum houses one of the finest and largest collections of apparel and textiles in the United States. The museum rotates its holdings regularly and hosts a number of interesting special exhibits. Visit on Sundays; it's free.
Visit the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial
Eight US presidents came from Ohio, including the 25th, William McKinley. McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio; married a prominent Canton socialite, Ida Saxton; and lived a good portion of his life in Canton. The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial honors this president who was assassinated in office. The marble monument and statue was dedicated in 1915 and welcomes visitors throughout the year. Admission to the monument is free.
Cuyahoga County Archives
The Cuyahoga County Archives is housed in a 1874 Victorian Italianate mansion -- the Robert Russell Rhodes House -- in Cleveland's Ohio City. The archives houses a wealth of mundane, and historic, documents, including hundreds of Northeast Ohio maps, dating from 1835 to the present, as well as deeds, census information, and other statistics. The archives is also the place to start researching your family tree. The site houses birth, death, and marriage records from 1909 and before. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 830am to 3pm.
Marvel at the Bridges of Ashtabula County
At one time, hundreds of covered bridges dotted the northeast Ohio countryside. A popular construction in 18th century Connecticut, the early settlers of the (Connecticut)Western Reserve brought this unique and charming architecture with them from New England. Today, less than 50 of these bridges exist, with the largest concentration being in Ashtabula County, an hour's drive east of downtown Cleveland.
Explore the Butler Institute of American Art
The Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, was to the museum to feature exclusively American Art. Founded in 1919, the museum's collection includes works by a large number of American masters, including Winslow Homer (and his "Snap the Whip"), Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent. The museum is open Thursday - Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm, Sunday from noon to 4 pm, and on Wednesday from 11 am to 8 pm. Admission is free every day.
Wade Oval Wednesdays
Each summer, from mid-June to the end of August, the cultural institutions of University Circle sponsor a series of free Wednesday concerts, ranging from jazz to big-band to classical. Most of the events are in the evening with a couple of lunchtime concerts added. In addition to music, many of the area's museums offer extended hours and discounted admission and area restaurants offer samples of their cuisine.
Temple Tifereth Israel Museum of Religious Art
Located at University Circle, Temple Tifereth Israel Museum of Religious Art houses an extensive -- and spectacular collection of Judaic Art. Although a portion of the collection has been moved to the Maltz Museum of Jewish History in Beachwood, there is still a large number of artifacts, antique Torah hangings, pottery dating from 2000 BCE, and other objects on display. The museum, founded in 1950, is open Monday through Friday by appointment, from 9 am to 4 pm.
Cleveland's Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, located just off of Martin Luther King Blvd near University Circle, is a wonderful collection of exotic and native plants. Admission to the greenhouse is free and highlights include the extensive orchid and tropical plant exhibits as well as the spring bulb and December holiday plants displays.
The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a collection of 24 ethnic gardens planted in Rockefeller Park along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Many of the individual gardens date back to the early 20th century. They represent the many ethnic groups that came together to form Cleveland's population. Among the groups represented are African-American, Chinese, Czech, German, Hebrew, Polish, Greek, and Ukranian. The gardens are open from dawn to dusk.
SPACES Art Gallery, located at the top of the west bank of the Flats on the Superior Viaduct, is a non-profit, artist-run gallery. Open since 1978, the 5500-square foot gallery has featured the work of over 7000 artists, with emphasis on local talent. The gallery is located at 2220 Superior Viaduct, Cleveland. Hours vary. Call 216 621-2314 for current exhibit information.
The Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex, located on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, is open to the public during the Browns training camp, from late July to late August. Admission is free and it's a great way to see the new players up close.
The Cleveland Sculpture Center
The Cleveland Sculpture Center, located next to Lake View Cemetery, in Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood, offers a changing array of sculpture exhibits. The center is open Wednesdays through Saturdays and offers free parking as well as free admission.
Cleveland Police Historical Museum
The Cleveland Police Historical Museum, located on the first floor of Police Headquarters in the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland, displays an array of artifacts relating to Cleveland crime and police history. Among them are dead masks of the Kingsbury Run murder victims, the first police call box (a Cleveland invention), and information on the training of the K-9 unit.
The Peter B . Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University
Set amidst the traditional buildings of Case Western Reserve University, at University Circle, is architect Frank Gehry's masterpiece Peter B. Lewis Building. The five-story, 150,000-square foot building is the headquarters of Case's Weatherhead School of Management. The building is noted for its asymmetrical design and curvilinear stainless steel roof.
It is closed to the public during the week, but free hourly tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays, beginning at 1 pm.
Cowan Pottery Museum
Cowan Pottery, the brainchild of artist R. Guy Cowan, produced Art Deco Style tableware, vases, and art pieces, in Lakewood and Rocky River between 1912 and 1931. The studio made over 850 shapes in 160 glazes and its studio artists included some of the best of the age, including Viktor Schreckengost. The Cowan Museum, opened in 1978, is located inside the Rocky River Library. The museum's collection includes more than 1,100 pieces, which are displayed on a rotating basis.
Old Woman Creek Natural Reserve
This state nature reserve, located on 572 acres about three miles east of Huron Ohio, is one of the few remaining freshwater estuaries in the Lake Erie region and an excellent site for viewing American water lotus beds and bald eagles. The reserve is open 8 am to 5 pm daily and the visitor center is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Free Museums
Every year on Martin Luther King Day (mid-January), Cleveland area museums offer free admission in celebration of the civil rights leader's birthday. Past participants have included the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (cleveland city residents only), and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In addition, many venues offer free music and dance performances.
Ohio Free Fishing Days
Each spring the state of Ohio rewards its resident with two days of "free" fishing (no license required) on Lake Erie and in the state's numerous lakes and streams. For more information, see Ohio's state fishing website.
Cleveland Institute of Art Galleries
The Cleveland Institute of Art, located across from the Cleveland Botanical Garden at University Circle, welcomes visitors to tour their gallery. Situated just off of the main lobby, the gallery features a changing array of art from students and local artists as well as internationally recognized artists.
Murray Hill Art Walks
Each June and December, the Murray Hill Art District in Little Italy, opens the doors to its dozens of artists studios and galleries to the public. The three-day events let visitors browse through works in a variety of genres, from traditional to avant-garde. Most galleries offer light refreshments for you to enjoy as you browse.
Four Seasons of Festivals
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio loves festivals -- and many of them are free. All year round, the region celebrates the seasons, its diverse ethnic heritage, and the summer and fall harvest with a number of special events. Among the best free festivals are University Circle's Hessler Street Fair, Little Italy's Feast of the Assumption," the Geneva Grape Jamboree and the Medina Ice Festival.
Free Rock Hall Concerts
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame maintains a full schedule of outdoor concerts from late spring through fall, most of which are free. See the Rock Hall site for the full schedule. It's a great program.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Public Square
The Soldiers and Sailors monument, completed in 1895, commemorates Cleveland's sacrifices during the Civil War. The bronze base of the 125-foot tower contains 9,000 names of Northeast Ohio Civil War Veterans. The interior contains four bronze relief panels as well as rows of intricate and lovely stained glass windows. The monument is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm.
A part of Case Western Reserve University, the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, contains one of the nation's largest collections of artifacts and memorabilia relating to medical history. The museum contains early medical instruments, replicas of doctors offices from 1880 and 1930, and currently has a large gallery of contraceptive devices and a digital interactive exhibit.
The Dittrick Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is FREE.
Squire's Castle, located in the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, was built in 1897 by Feargus B. Squire, a vice-president for Standard Oil. The turreted stone structure was originally intended to be the gatekeeper's house of his never built 525-acre country estate. Urban legend has it that his wife died in the house and still haunts it. Today, the Cleveland Metroparks administers the ruined shell of a house and use it as a picnic shelter and lecture site.
Cleveland's Ukrainian Museum, located in the city's Tremont neighborhood, is one of several free museums that celebrate Northeast Ohio's ethnic diversity. This small museum, founded in 1952, features a changing array of exhibits that highlight Ukrainian art, music, literature, and culture. Of particular interest is the annual spring display of colorful Ukrainian Easter eggs.
The Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum
The Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum, a part of the Peninsula Library and Historical Society, is located on the 2nd floor of the 1887-circa Boston Township Hall in downtown Peninsula. The small museum features a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits that highlight the history of the Cuyahoga River Valley, Western Reserve, and Ohio and Erie Canal.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 4 pm.
Wildwood Cultural Center
Located in the heart of Mentor's Wildwood Park, the Wildwood Cultural Center includes a large, early 20th-century manor house (partially restored) surrounded by a wooded area with paths and nature trails. The site also hosts a regular schedule of craft fairs, concerts and art shows, many of which are also free.