Cleveland’s location — perched where the Cuyahoga River empties into Lake Erie — made the city a major metropolis, and it still remains a destination for those who want to sample sports, art, and music at the city’s many museums. From movie props to ancient statues, from historic cars to rock stars’ costumes, there’s an abundance of museums in Cleveland appealing to a variety of interests.
Many, but by no means all, of the museums can be found on the east side, in or near the neighborhood known as University Circle. With that in mind, here are some destinations to get whatever kind of culture you desire.
Endowed by the city’s leading industrialists in 1913, this museum remains one of the most visited art museums in the country. Its collection of nearly 45,000 items spans from ancient Egyptian art to Pop Art of the late 20th century. The armor room, which dates back to the museum’s 1916 opening and includes everything from chain mail to medieval weapons, is particularly awe-inspiring. The museum also has one of the largest and most significant art libraries in the country.
Celebrating its centennial in 2020, the natural history museum has been a field trip destination and much more. Its mascot, “Steggie,” a stegosaurus sculpture that overlooks Wade Oval, remains a popular spot for selfies. Inside are bones from dinosaurs dating back 225 million years, as well as a collection of nearly 4,000 human and primate skeletons. The museum also has a planetarium and the stuffed remains of Balto, the heroic husky who helped rescue an Alaskan town.
"The heart of rock 'n' roll," Huey Lewis famously said, "is still beating in Cleveland." The Rock Hall, designed by I.M. Pei and resembling a record on a turntable from the air, opened in 1995, and since then, it’s been a repository for memorabilia like costumes, instruments and handwritten lyrics. A radio show is broadcast on site, and artists show up for lectures and the occasional pop-up concert. For research junkies, the hall’s holdings of rock journalism, memoirs and other items aren’t far away, at Cuyahoga Community College.
In 1983, a movie cast and crew came to Cleveland to film what would become a yuletide staple: “A Christmas Story.” Two decades later, the house that was used for filming was sold to a superfan of the movie, and in 2007, after being restored to look just like the home in the movie, it opened for tours. The house is stocked with period memorabilia and is interactive (you can spend the night there, or just sit under the kitchen sink and ponder Ralphie’s impending doom), and there’s a museum across the street with costumes and props from the movie — including one of the BB guns.
“Cleveland’s outdoor museum” spans 285 acres between the eastern border of Cleveland and the cities of Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland. Among the 70,000 people buried there are President James Garfield and his wife Lucretia (in an imposing 180-foot-tall memorial, with a balcony that offers views of the lake and downtown Cleveland), billionaire John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness, Prohibition agent and hero of “The Untouchables.” The Wade Chapel, with ornate Biblical mosaics and Tiffany windows, is not to be missed.
For more than 150 years, the Western Reserve Historical Society has been chronicling the people and events of the Cleveland area, many of which are on display at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle. In addition to a new permanent exhibit, “Cleveland Starts Here,” the museum’s home to an expansive library for research into local history, a collection of cars that dates back to the early days of the auto industry, and the former Euclid Beach Park carousel.
In 1891, the Cleveland Spiders of the National League began play at a ballpark at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 66th Street, situated at the end of a trolley line. For the next half-century, League Park would be home to luminaries of sport, from baseball to football to boxing. The building that originally housed the Indians team and ticket office is now a museum, open Saturdays year-round with expanded hours in the summer (during baseball season, of course). Exhibits are dedicated to Indians history as well as the lesser-known areas of professional baseball, like Caribbean teams and the Negro Leagues.
Once, Euclid Avenue was the city’s millionaire’s row. Now, one of the last remaining mansions on that street is home to the Children's Museum of Cleveland, which offers art rooms, water tables, a two-story play area and other hands-on exhibits to keep children of all ages entertained and active while offering opportunities for socialization. The upper levels have miniatures and dollhouses, some under glass and others offering opportunities for play.
Inside Cleveland’s stately Federal Reserve Bank downtown is the Money Museum, dedicated to finance, economics and the history of money. You can learn about how currency has changed over the years, try your hand at spotting counterfeit money and pose for a picture on a dollar bill. Free tours are available by appointment of the bank itself, one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the country.
Tucked inside the city's Burke Lakefront Airport downtown is the International Women's Air and Space Museum, dedicated to telling the story of women in aviation and aeronautics, from the Wright brothers' sister Katherine to aviators like Amelia Earhart, who participated in the famed Cleveland Air Races, to women who have gone into space. Among the items on display is a console from Cape Canaveral.