Your Trip to Cleveland: The Complete Guide

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For too long, Cleveland was the object of mockery, derided as “the mistake on the lake.” But for those who know it, it can be fun, active … and maybe even a little trendy. There are restaurants that can be a veritable trip around the world, a fertile live music scene, museums, and art studios, and parks and beaches aplenty. Here are some tips to make your trip efficient – and fun.

Planning Your Trip

Best time to visit: Cleveland is known for its unpleasant winter, and that extends into the spring (it’s not uncommon to see snow in late March or even April). The summer is the best time to enjoy the lake – particularly if you want to swim in it – while the fall offers the chance to see the changing colors of the trees and temperatures that are typically pleasant but not oppressive.

Getting around: Depending on your destinations, a car isn’t mandatory. The Rapid Transit Authority offers a variety of trains and buses crisscrossing the city and Cuyahoga County. There are also ride-sharing services and car rentals if necessary.

Travel tip: The Red Line of the Rapid hits most of the tourist hotspots, from trendy Lakewood to the near West Side of Ohio City to downtown and out to University Circle and Little Italy.

Things to Do

Whether you like to be active or prefer to be a spectator, if you’re into history or science, the beach or the ballpark, there are plenty of things to do. But if your time is short and you want the full Cleveland experience, here’s where you should go.

The West Side Market: Once upon a time, the city was served by massive markets, with dozens of vendors under one roof selling everything from produce to meat to baked goods to prepared food. The last one left is the West Side Market on West 25th Street, just over the Lorain-Carnegie bridge from downtown in Ohio City. There’s plenty of food available, and it affords you a great opportunity for people-watching (and the obligatory photo looking down on the main floor from the mezzanine).

University Circle: Destinations in this neighborhood on the city’s east side include Severance Hall, home to the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra, and the city’s natural history, art and history museums. Also, you’re not far from Little Italy, with everything from bakeries serving traditional Italian desserts to pizza places to more formal dining options.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: Because who doesn’t like to go see animals? Well-regarded throughout the country, the Cleveland Zoo displays animals from virtually every continent, as well as the popular rainforest exhibit. The zoo also has a variety of programming, from evening cocktails to morning special events with zookeepers. You can even spend the night there on some occasions.

For more things to do, check out our list of the best museums in Cleveland. Or, if you’re up for a trip out of town, our list of the best day trips from Cleveland.

Where to Eat and Drink

With a variety of ethnic backgrounds, there are no shortage of dining options, from places with no-frills, stick-to-your-ribs cooking to restaurants that display all the latest trends.

The city’s East Fourth Street downtown (adjacent to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and Progressive Field, home to the Cavs and Indians, respectively) has a variety of options, from “Cleveland-style” barbecue at Mabels to standard bar food at the Corner Alley and Harry Buffalo and upscale options like Pickwick and Frolic and Greenhouse Tavern.

Cleveland (and Ohio) is also home to a growing craft beer scene, with a critical mass found in the city’s Ohio City neighborhood on the near West Side. Great Lakes Brewing is the granddaddy of the Cleveland microbrewing scene, but across the street is the Market Garden Brewery (right next to the West Side Market), and a little farther down Lorain Avenue is Platform Brewing, which has a more experimental feel. There are also several downtown-adjacent breweries near Playhouse Square, including Noble Beast and Masthead.

For more, check out our articles on Cleveland’s best bars and the foods you absolutely have to try while you’re in town.

Where to Stay

As a city that prided itself on conventions and at one point had a significant amount of corporate headquarters, the downtown area has always been accommodating to travelers. There are still a variety of hotels there, ranging from a Holiday Inn Express to more posh accommodations, like the Ritz-Carlton in Tower City. A couple unique experiences include the Drury, in a building that used to be home to the Cleveland Board of Education, and the newly-restored Schofield, part of the Kimpton chain and named for its architect, Levi Schofield, who also designed the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Public Square.

For more budget-conscious travelers, there are several hotels on the west side adjacent to the Red Line, and more options around Hopkins International Airport. There are also several hotels (and a variety of nearby restaurants) on Rockside Road in Independence, just off Interstate 77 and not far from downtown.

Getting There

The city is served by two airports. Burke Lakefront, adjacent to downtown, isn’t a large commercial airport, but serves mostly private planes and charter flights (it’s also home to the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, commemorating the contributions of women to flight and space exploration). The largest airport is Hopkins International Airport on the city’s western outskirts, with a variety of domestic and international flights. The airport offers a taxi service, and is also served by buses and trains of the Rapid Transit Authority (in fact, Cleveland was the first city in the United States to have train service from its airport to its city center).

Ride-sharing services are available, and the airport has a full complement of car rental agencies. Cleveland is crisscrossed by several main highways, including Interstate 90 from east to west, and 71 and 77 from north to south. The inner belt of 490 and the outer belt of 480 also serve the city and adjoining suburbs.

Money-Saving Tips

For a low-cost glimpse into Cleveland’s history, visit Lake View Cemetery on the city’s east side. The historical importance is unparalleled, as the final resting place of John D. Rockefeller and James Garfield, among others. But it’s also a tranquil setting, full of lush trees, unique craftsmanship in places like Garfield’s monument and Wade Chapel and, as the name indicates, views of the lakefront to downtown and beyond.

The Cleveland Museum of Art and its expansive collection has been free to the public since its opening in 1915 (there are some ticketed exhibitions, though).

Wednesdays during the summer are particularly active. Lunchtime at Perk Plaza downtown is Walnut Wednesday, featuring a variety of local food trucks and live music. Wednesday evenings are Wade Oval Wednesday in University Circle, with activities, food trucks and live music as well.

The Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park is free.

In 1916, a statue commemorating William Shakespeare was dedicated and a garden was planted in Rockefeller Park on Cleveland’s East Side, the start of Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens, dedicated to the ethnicities that have populated the city. There are statues and landscaping displays, and occasionally events, including the annual Opera in the Italian Garden and One World Day every August.

Many local movie theaters offer dollar family-friendly matinees during the summer, a way to beat the heat or entertain the kids on a rainy day.

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