Guys, I can’t believe how smitten I was with Cleveland after only a weekend visit. Like I’m actively messaging my friends about planning return trips and telling everyone I know about all I got up to!
This post is in collaboration with Destination Cleveland. All opinions are my own.
I know what you’re thinking, especially with my disclaimer. “Obviously, you loved Cleveland, Sam. They’re paying you to!” Which, okay, fair, feel free to take my gushing with a grain of salt. However, I was never contracted to write this specific post, and I could have easily left things at my big guide on unique things to do in Cleveland.
However, my mom and I had such a fun time, and I was so won over, that I really wanted to let you guys know just how cool of a city Cleveland is and why I loved it so much.
5 Fun Reasons to Visit Cleveland
1. You’re Visiting the Hometown of Rock ‘n’ Roll
“Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay, it will never die!” (Please tell me someone knows that song.)
Anyway, did you know Cleveland is the hometown of rock ‘n’ roll?
I feel like if there’s one thing that connects humans, it’s music. You don’t even need to know the language to be moved by it (See: K-pop). People don’t love Taylor Swift for any old reason — the way her songs capture very specific feelings is something a lot of us relate to.
What better place to learn more about the history of music and celebrate what rock ‘n’ roll has done in the last century than in its hometown?
First, Visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Okay, let’s start with the most obvious. The best way to see Cleveland’s musical ties is at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which sits in a very cool building downtown. Learn about its history from the early days of blues all the way to recent artists like Billie Eilish.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I feel like, shows you just how the music industry has evolved. It really is incredible to see just how music and our consumption of music has both changed and not changed over the decades.
I also love how quickly you realize everyone has memories tied to songs or artists. My mom and I explored every single floor and exhibit and bonded over how much we loved Elvis.
Second, Pay Homage at Alan Freed’s Grave
Not only is it home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but Cleveland is the literal birthplace of the genre. While the origins of rock ‘n’ roll come from black rhythm and blues singers, the actual phrase was first used by Alan Freed when he was a DJ for WJW Cleveland in 1951.
From Freed’s own description, rock ‘n’ roll is “a river of music which has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed greatly to the big beat.”
What made Freed, and many DJs like him, unique, is that he wouldn’t play white covers of black artists. He actively promoted black singers at a time the Civil Rights Movement was still three years away.
He followed up his radio show with the first ever rock ‘n’ roll concert in 1952 at the Cleveland Arena, and soon the city was seen as the place where musical trends started. Not too shabby for a midwestern city in the 50s, hey?
You can visit his gravestone, which, quite appropriately, looks like a jukebox. at Lakeview Cemetery.
2. The Food Scene is Incredible
Something that I wasn’t quite expecting was just how elaborate the food scene is in Cleveland. Since we only were there for a weekend, we only got a taste of it. But every Lyft driver or local I spoke with had a long list of restaurants every time I asked them if they had a recommendation. Seriously, every conversation went like this:
- Me: What do you think is the best restaurant in Cleveland?
- Driver: Long Pause. Well, that depends, what are you craving.
- Me: Really anything.
- Driver: Launches into a list based on all types of food and why
Everyone had a specific place they liked for a specific reason!
Personally, my mom and I only had a chance to eat at the Butcher and the Brewer, Barrio, West Side Market, the 1890 Restaurant, Pour Cleveland, and the Taste of Tremont food festival. We fit in a lot on a few days, but there’s still many, many more places I want to try.
3. The Art & Culture Scene is Also Incredible
Cleveland also has a really underrated art and culture scene! Yes, there are gorgeous murals around Gordons Art District, and I highly recommend going to see them, but, let’s be honest, most US cities have cool art murals.
No, Cleveland’s a step ahead in the arts scene as well. Around University Circle, there are a bevy of museums in one walkable area. It’s actually one of the most concentrated areas in the US for cultural institutions.
I personally stopped at the Cleveland Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Modern Art (MOCA), but there’s a bunch more:
- Cleveland Botanical Garden
- Cleveland Museum of Natural History
- Severance Hall (my driver told me the Cleveland Orchestra has a lovely Christmas concert each year here)
- Cleveland Institute of Art
- Cleveland Institute of Music
You can also see the Lakeview Cemetery in University Circle.
I’d also be amiss not to mention Playhouse Square, which is the largest performing arts center outside of New York City!
4. It’s home to one of the most iconic Christmas movies ever
Whether you like A Christmas Story or not, no one can argue it’s become a classic in the US. I mean, what other movie plays for 24 hours straight every year?
Did you know the did a lot of filming right in Cleveland? Better yet, did you know you can visit and stay at the Parker home?
Right in Tremont, pop over to the little yellow house known now as the A Christmas Story house. The owner turned it into a proper homage to the movie, renovating the rooms to look like the rooms from the movie, right down to Ralphie and Randys’ bedroom and the leg lamp in the window! There’s also a museum, the Bumpus house, and a super fun gift shop nearby.
My mom and I had such a great time on the tour that I immediately texted Corinne about a potential bachelorette trip and my mom wound up buying a leg lamp decoration. I don’t even think either of us would have listed the movie as our top three favorite holiday movies before this visit either!
5. Lake Erie is Beautiful
Okay, for those of you who are thinking, “Cool, great, but when I travel, I like to enjoy the outdoors,” then you’ll be happy to know that Cleveland sits right on Lake Erie. AKA one of the five Great Lakes of the United States.
Right behind the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, you can walk to the North Coast Harbor, which will put you along the waterfront. You can also see the Cleveland Lighthouse from afar. Apparently, in the winter, it freezes over so much it looks like something Elsa got ahold of.
Another great area to enjoy the lake is at Edgewater Park. When we went over, there was a nice swimming area and we even saw some fun yoga classes going on. Check here to see all the different parks and ways to enjoy Lake Erie right from Cleveland.
If you want even more outdoorsy things to do, you can get out to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in less than 30 minutes by car.
And there you have it, some highly compelling reasons to visit Cleveland the next time you’re planning a little weekend trip. I’m just waiting for my friends to move to Pittsburgh so we can visit more.
Have you been to Cleveland recently? What did you think?