The Best Time to Visit Cleveland

best time to visit cleveland

 

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With its location on Lake Erie in the Northern part of the United States, Cleveland is very much a cold-weather town, and it can stay cold well into the spring (it’s not uncommon for fans to watch the Indians in April bundled up against the chill – or for games to be snowed out entirely). Summers are full of activities, and warm and sunny with the occasional bout of inordinately high temperatures that can be uncomfortable. The best season to visit, however, is early fall. Most seasonal activities last well into September, and the weather is usually cooperative, if not pleasant.

Weather in Cleveland

Winters are cold and snowy (particularly on the city’s east side, which gets lake effect snow – larger accumulations from cold fronts picking up moisture from Lake Erie). The first temperate days of spring are joyous occasions, but temperatures remain volatile almost until May. Spring gives way to a hot summer, and temperatures can remain warm into the fall.

Peak season

Cleveland – and really, all of northern Ohio – is trying to take advantage of its lakefront, and as expected, lake-based and outdoor-based activities peak in the summer, from parties on the lakefront to open-air concerts. But there’s a small but vibrant surfing community, and they find the colder weather in the fall and early spring make the waves better (obviously, if you’re surfing at those points, you’re going to have to wear a wetsuit). More weather-dependent activities are conducive to the summer or fall, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only time you can do them.

(Clevelanders are a hardy bunch, as any trip to the Muni Lot on a frigid Browns game day will show.)

Barring major events (Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention in 2016, will host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game this summer, and the NFL Draft in 2021), there really are no periods where the city is particularly slammed with people, and rush-hour traffic is noticeable but not as severe as, say, Chicago or cities on the east coast.

January and February

It’s still cold, gray and snowy. Valentine’s Day provides a brief respite, with restaurants (and bars, if you’re single) filled up with people, but there aren’t a whole lot of things to do. Now’s probably a good time to visit the museums in University Circle (the Art Museum in particular has a wide and wonderful collection, and remains free and open to the public), or possibly the Rock Hall (but be forewarned: It’s on the lakefront, so it’s usually even colder there than even several blocks inland downtown).

March

Temperatures are particularly volatile in March, with lots of lamb and lion type weather. Again, indoor activities might be your best bet.

Events to Check Out:

  • The Cleveland Film Festival: For a lot of people in Cleveland, this – not baseball – is the sign that spring is near, showing everything from foreign films to documentaries to the occasional big studio movie making its debut locally. Most of the movies can be seen at Tower City, a former train station turned into a shopping destination.
  • St. Patrick’s Day Parade: Like most large cities, Cleveland is home to a significant population with Irish ancestry. And they all come together downtown on St. Patrick’s Day – sometimes in shirtsleeves, sometimes bundled up against the cold weather, but there’s always a crowd.

    April

    The weather starts to get better, but it can still be hit-or-miss this time of year. It’s not uncommon for snowfall this late in the year, sometimes coming within 48 hours of a day that feels almost like summer. There are some days where you wake up and it’s hovering around freezing, only to be sunny and 70 by mid-afternoon. Layers are key.

    Events to Check Out:

    • Opening Day: Tickets for Indians games are usually fairly easy to come by, with one glaring exception—the season opener at Progressive Field. It’s typically an afternoon game, and even without tickets, it’s fun just to be downtown in an atmosphere that’s pretty much an all-day party.
    • Dyngus Day: The end of Lent is cause for one big party among Cleveland’s Polish-American community, so the Monday after Easter is Dyngus Day, full of food, beer and polka music. The biggest party in Cleveland can be found in the Gordon Square area on the city’s west side.

      May

      The weather finally starts to warm up, and the sun even comes out. Spring is finally here, and the weekend calendar in and around Cleveland really starts to take off.

      Events to Check Out:

      • Asian Festival: A century ago, Cleveland had a vibrant Chinatown, and its natural heir is AsiaTown, in a lot of the same neighborhoods on the city’s near east side. For a weekend, the Asian Festival is a celebration of food and culture from all parts of the Pacific, from Indian dancers to Chinese monks to Japanese and Korean pop music.
      • National Train Day at the Midwest Railway Preservation Society: Down in the Flats, Cleveland’s industrial heritage is preserved at an old B&O Railroad roundhouse, with engines and historic (and even haunted, it’s said) railroad cars. If you miss it in May, the society has regular monthly open houses.

        June

        Summer is upon us. The sun shines, and warm temperatures are assured. It’s finally time to get out and see what the area has to offer.

        Events to Check Out:

        • Parade the Circle: University Circle on the east side is home to the city’s museums, one of which, the Cleveland Art Museum, holds an annual festival of art, performances and creativity.
        • Burning River Fest: The Cuyahoga River was once famously known for its pollution, enough that it caught fire on multiple occasions. It hasn’t been a concern lately, but the annual festival – held at the city’s former Coast Guard Station, an Art Moderne masterpiece – raises environmental awareness while offering music and good beer.

          July

          Outdoor activities really peak in July, with everything from festivals to food trucks parking near any public space around downtown for lunchtime, preferably eaten al fresco. There are plenty of outdoor options.

          Events to Check Out:

          • Wade Oval Wednesdays: Every Wednesday, Wade Oval on the city’s east side becomes a hotspot for music, food trucks and arts and crafts activities.
          • Visit the beach: Cleveland Metroparks have several public beaches, with amenities including bathhouses and restaurants. The best time to visit is July, when the temperatures are warmest, including the water in Lake Erie.

          August

          The weekends are action-packed in August as people try to squeeze their last bit of fun out of the summer.

          Events to Check Out:

          • Feast of the Assumption: Every August, Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The feast day is especially sacred to Italian-Americans, and in Cleveland’s Little Italy, the feast turns into a whole street festival. (If you do visit, take the RTA Rapid train, which stops right in Little Italy. Parking is always at a premium in that neighborhood, but then especially.)
          • One World Day: The Cleveland Cultural Gardens’ annual event features food, entertainment and the opportunity to walk through the gardens, a tribute to the multiethnic background of the Cleveland area.

            September

            You’ll still get some warm, if not hot days, but this is the point where everyone starts to transition back to fall. The kids are all in school, outdoor pools are closed up for the season and people start winterizing their boats and motorcycles.

            Events to Check Out:

            • The Cleveland Air Show: Labor Day weekend in Cleveland means the air show, a tradition that dates back more than half a century (but Cleveland’s been an aviation hub for virtually as long as airplanes have been flying). The event features displays of precision flying and skydiving, and on the ground there are informational displays and historic aircraft.
            • Visit Lake View Cemetery: The weather’s probably most conducive, and as a bonus, you get to see the leaves changing colors while taking in the city’s history. The monument to President James Garfield is probably the biggest attraction.

              October

              It starts to get colder, not miserably so, but there’s enough chill in the air to remind you it’s fall, and outdoor activities really start to wind down. But there are a few remaining.

              Events to Check Out:

              • Woollybear Festival: Billed as the largest one-day festival in Ohio, the Woollybear Festival in Vermilion – about an hour outside of downtown Cleveland – features a parade and its namesake caterpillar, which has a coat of fur that portends the severity of the winter.

              November

              Fall’s starting to give way to winter, but there are still plenty of things to do. Just maybe not outdoors. Now’s a good time to try to take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway, to see Ohio’s only national park from vintage trains. The railroad offers dinner excursions, beer and wine tastings and murder mystery trains, and starting in November, there’s even a Polar Express for kids, but buy tickets early. They sell out quickly.

              December

              There’s no way around the cold. But at least it's festive, as Christmas is on everyone’s minds. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of holiday-themed activities.

              Events to Check Out:

              • Christmas Story 5K: Since 2007, A Christmas Story House has been drawing fans of the movie – or just people looking for a quirky way to spend an afternoon – to the city’s Tremont neighborhood. The first Saturday in December, there’s a road race, open to the public and fun to watch. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen a crowd of thousands running toward the house, many wearing the bunny suit immortalized at the end of the movie.
              • Visit a Christmas light display: Public Square is lit up for the holidays, including an outdoor skating rink. And in East Cleveland, Nela Park, home to a General Electric light bulb plant, decorates with an enormous display of lights.
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