6 Kid-Friendly Activities in Cleveland
Due to its industrial past and bad luck with sports teams, this isn’t usually the first destination would-be tourists think of when dreaming up a family vacation. But upon visiting, families are unexpectedly delighted at the region’s wealth of history, parkland, museums, cultural institutions and excellent restaurants. The downtown area is compact and easily walkable and boasts a lovely variety of architecture. Public Square, right in the heart of downtown, recently underwent a $25 million renovation, designed by landscape architect James Corner (of New York’s High Line fame). The new park offers amusement for kids with a large splash park in the warmer months and an ice skating rink in the winter.
Cleveland is relatively inexpensive, too, making it ideal for a family getaway. With weather similar to Chicago or Boston, enjoy the playing in the sun in warmer months or bundle up and get cozy in the winter.
What to Do
In addition to exploring downtown, several neighborhoods stand out as gems of this city. Five miles to the east lies University Circle, the city’s cultural hub. Take a walk around the wonderfully shaded one square mile neighborhood, said to be one of the world’s densest concentrations of museums, cultural centers and educational institutions. Just west of downtown is Ohio City, which boasts the West Side Market, many popular microbreweries and an array of farm-to-table restaurants (and adjoining Tremont is another great neighborhood for foodies). Head a bit further west along Detroit Road to W. 65th Street, where the Gordon Square area serves as one of the newer arts districts in town, with funky shops aplenty.
Activities abound and there’s plenty to fill your time whether you go for a long weekend or a week.
- West Side Market. This public market, which recently celebrated its centennial, is a marvel. The Russian Orthodox design is stunning and its huge vaulted main hall always causes intrigued visitors to ask what it was previously (it was designed as a market from the beginning). Vendors hawk fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, sweets and a variety of ethnic foods, from pierogis to crepes to salsa. The international swirl of people buying and selling here gives a great look into Cleveland’s immigrant past. Kids can wander the aisles relishing the new and strange foods they encounter or delighting in the abundance of desserts offered.
- Cleveland Zoo and Rainforest. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of the Midwest’s finest. It is well known for its extensive elephant and wolf exhibits, as well as the Rainforest. The wholly separate, tropical building is home to more than 600 animals. The zoo also features Australian Adventure, a recreation of the land down under, complete with a train ride through the Outback.
- Cleveland Museum of Art. One of the best free art museums in the country, CMA recently underwent a $350 million expansion and its soaring main atrium might be the city’s best living room. Kids seem drawn to the expansive Armor Court, with its knights and weaponry, while parents can wander for hours through the Chinese, European and African art galleries.
- Gateway. This portion of downtown, built in the early 90s, contains both Progressive Field and The Q Arena, where you can catch a game with the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Cleveland Indians or the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.
- North Coast Harbor. Take a walk along the scenic lakeside promenade to visit the Great Lakes Science Center where kids can test pressurized bottle rockets, have their hair stand on end on the Bridge of Fire or tour a restored steamship from 1925. Little tots will also love the free early childhood workshops they offer. After, stop in at the stunning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where you can learn the roots of rock, see the first draft of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic “Born to Run” or immerse yourself in a short film about Elvis’s life. Plan to spend up to half a day at each.
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Further afield, Ohio’s only National Park is a belt of green south of the city. Explore 125 miles of pristine hiking trails that run along rivers, through woods and past waterfalls. You can even park in the southern suburb of Independence and take the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad into the park in the picturesque town of Peninsula.
Cleveland is conveniently situated on multiple interstate highways, including I-71, I-77, I-80 and I-90. The medium sized airport is clean and easy to navigate. A direct light rail line connects it to downtown, about 10 miles away. Akron-Canton airport is another option; it is served by several no-frill airlines and it is less than 45 minutes away. Amtrak also stops in Cleveland on its New York-Chicago line, but its middle-of-the-night embarkation times make it less than convenient for families.