Who knew there were so many fun and unique things to do in Cleveland, Ohio?! Turns out, this underrated city has a lot to offer.
This post is in collaboration with Destination Cleveland. All opinions are my own.
You know when you and a city just click? I felt that way about London way back as a student, and I always feel that way when I get a chance to visit San Francisco. Well, imagine my surprise when I felt that click only partway through my weekend in Cleveland!
I had absolutely no expectations when I took on a campaign to work with Destination Cleveland. As far as US travel goes, Ohio doesn’t pop up on anyone’s radar, much less Cleveland. It always had a grittier reputation like there wasn’t much worth seeing in the way of history or architecture, and, of course, many of the neighborhoods weren’t exactly safe for visitors. Even local Ohioans we chatted with said the Cleveland of today is much different than the one of even a decade ago.
Well, I can only describe the Cleveland of today as cool. My mom was equally impressed as we toured around the city. The neighborhoods that might not have been the safest to walk a few decades ago are now full of world-class eateries, and the architecture that may have once fallen into disrepair has never looked better. The city has come up in a way that avoids crazy gentrification, and most locals I talked to were more than happy with how their hometown has changed.
Trust me, once you read through my list of fun things to do in Cleveland, you’re going to want to book a ticket there yourself to see what all the fuss is about!
Tips for Visiting Cleveland
Where to Stay
Kimpton Schofield Hotel
For a bit of luxury, stay right in the middle of downtown Cleveland at the Kimpton Schofield Hotel. It’s in a red brick historic building that the hotel has been renovated to look like it did in 1902. The rooms are so lovely, and I love that they have full-sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles in their shower instead of the miniatures! If you want free-wifi, you can sign up to the IHG rewards program.
Location-wise, the hotel is close to just about everything in downtown Cleveland. If you’re a baseball fan, it’s only 4-minutes by foot from Progressive Field. We spent our whole first day just walking since everything was so close. Book here
What to Pack/Expect for the Weather
All the locals we met commented on how unpredictable Cleveland’s weather can be. We fully expected to be there in the middle of a rainstorm, but it only started to drizzle a bit as we were leaving! Just pack for the season as Cleveland and Ohio experience all four. We were there in the middle of July and wore skirts and dresses. We were fine in the normal humidity, though it did get a little chilly when it finally rained.
If you’re flying, you most likely will fly into the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE). It’s not super close to downtown Cleveland, so you’ll most likely want to get a Lyft or book an airport transfer ahead of time if you’re not renting a car.
You can also take the Red Line on Cleveland’s RTA from the airport to downtown. Check here for the stops to see which one is closest to where you’re staying — ours would have been Tower City Center.
How to Get Around
We mostly walked and took Lyfts everywhere. There is public transportation, but it was just easier and faster to get a ride share in between neighborhoods and then walk when you’re in one.
If you want to drive, I’d just see what your hotel’s parking policies are. It might not be worth it to pay to rent a car and have to constantly find and pay for parking.
23 Unique Things to Do in Cleveland
And now for all the unique things to do in Cleveland!
1. Check out the Arcade Cleveland
Um… Am I in Cleveland or Milan?
I’ve been to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II in Milan twice now, so I recognized the inspiration in the Arcade Cleveland immediately! Shopping arcades are more normal in Europe, but they’re actually quite a rarity in the US nowadays. This gorgeous building was first built in 1890 as the first indoor shopping center in the US. Are we surprised Rockefeller was one of its financiers?
The Arcade Cleveland is made of two 9-story buildings with a 5-story arcade glass that spans over 300 feet. Today the top 3 levels make up the Hyatt Regency and the bottom levels are full of different shops. We got breakfast at the 1890 Restaurant.
2. Grab lunch at the Butcher and the Brewer
Like the name suggests, the Butcher and the Brewer specializes in meat and beer. It’s less than a 5-minute walk from the Kimpton Schofield, so if you arrive in the middle of the day like we did, it’s a great place to stop by for a late lunch or early dinner. You’re meant to share the dishes, and they have their own in-house brewery, butcher, and charcutier!
My mom got the mac and cheese, and I got the smoked lamb ribs, and we split two baked pretzels. It doesn’t sound like it’ll be good, but try the roasted garlic caramel sauce with your pretzel — I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The restaurant is on East 4th street, which is closed off to traffic. There are a bunch of bars and other restaurants here as well!
3. Don’t miss the other nearby arcades
While the Euclid Avenue and the 5th Street Avenue Shopping Arcades aren’t quite as grandiose as the Arcade Cleveland, they are still quite nice in their own rights! Plus they’re across the street and next to each other, so why not see some of the fun little shops in them. Near the 5th Street there’s a fun store with random knick-knacks and candy.
4. Take in the views of Cleveland from the Observation Deck at the Terminal Tower
Fun fact — the Terminal Tower in Cleveland can be seen in a few famous movies, including Spider Man 3 and The Avengers! It can also definitely be seen in a certain Christmas classic that plays all day each year but more on that below…
Nowadays, you can now go up to the tower’s observation deck! It’s on the 42nd floor of the 52-story building and has views of the whole city. Just be mindful of when it’s open. You have to reserve tickets for about $5 a person here as you can’t walk-up and get them. When you arrive, just go to the main desk, and a woman will be hanging out to let you know when you can go. There’s no point in being super early, we got there at like 3:15 for 3:30 and she said come back at 3:25, so we just went to the Starbucks nearby to wait 10 minutes.
5. Pay homage at the Jesse Owens Statue
I mean, I barely ran track in school, and even I know who Jesse Owens is! He’s one of the most famous Olympians not only because he was an incredible track star but because he proved his talent at one of the most contentious sporting events in recent history — the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Anyway, while Owens was born in Alabama and passed away in Arizona, he actually spent his formative years in Cleveland, Ohio! There’s a cool bronze statue in Fort Washington Park that’s been there since 1982 to commemorate his legacy.
6. Enjoy the largest rubber stamp
So, when I was looking up unique things to do in Cleveland, I came across the Free Stamp in Willard Park. It’s the world’s largest rubber stamp, and I obviously needed to fit it in during our trip. The giant red stamp is 28 ft x 26 ft x 49 ft and the stamp says “FREE.” Absolutely random and equally amazing! Who doesn’t love kitschy things like the “World’s Largest…” or the “World’s First….”?
7. Walk around the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Did you know the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland? I vaguely remember my dad visiting when he and my brother were looking at schools in Ohio. I’m not exactly a rock and roll aficionado, but, hey, I like good music! The architecture of the building has a very cool, geometric look, and the actual museum is incredible. It really goes into the history of rock and roll music, and pays homage to so many great artists and disc jockeys who took chances on different styles of music. My mom kept reminiscing on all the stuff she grew up with, like “American Bandstand” or Elvis Presley at his prime.
There are floors on floors of exhibits, so don’t miss a single one! Get your ticket ahead of time here.
8. See the Cleveland Lighthouse
Behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a park called the Voinovich Bicentennial Park. If you walk down to the water, you can see the Cleveland Lighthouse from afar. It’s not the closest spot, but it’s still quite visible. Apparently in the winter, it becomes frozen over so it looks like a real-life icicle tower.
9. Pose with the Cleveland Script signs
The Cleveland signs are spread out around the city, but the one we went to in the Voinovich Park. We later found another one at the edge of the Tremont neighborhood.
Here are all the location addresses:
- North Coast Harbor (near Rock n Roll Hall of Fame): East 9th Street Pier
- Tremont: 1502 Abbey Ave.
- Edgewater Park: 6500 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway
- Euclid Beach: 16301 Lakeshore Blvd.,
- The Foundry: 1831 Columbus Rd.
- The CLE Airport: Near baggage claim
10. Grab a quick breakfast at Pour Cleveland
Right near the Kimpton Schofield is a cute cafe called Pour Cleveland. They sell all light roasted coffee and have some delicious bagel and muffin options. I got their San Sebastian roast with Macadamia milk and a sesame bagel with black pepper and thyme cream cheese – yum! My mom got a hot chocolate, sesame bagel, and she even ventured out of her foodie comfort zone and tried their strawberry cream cheese!
11. Check out the murals at Gordon Square
I love a good mural! Korea has them all over the place from random countryside schools to whole mini-villages in bigger cities. Cleveland has them aplenty, especially around Gordon Square. Here’s a map of them so you can decide where to start.
The whole area is considered an art district, so if you have more time, I’d check out the area for a bit longer than we had. Our Lyft driver recommended Sweet Moses for ice cream!
12. Relax at Edgewater Beach
If you want to go for a swim, head over to Edgewater Beach! It’s a cute little area, even if you don’t want to swim. Check out one of the Cleveland Script signs, go fishing from the pier, or pack yourself a little picnic to hang out. If you’re into yoga, we saw a few different yoga classes going on through the park when we went!
13. Tour the A Christmas Story House
If you haven’t seen the classic A Christmas Story, go watch it now. It’s not even my favorite Christmas movie, and I had a blast on this tour! There’s just so much to see — the house itself, the museum, and the gift shop. We thought we’d be there less than an hour and I think it turned into 2+ and could have been longer.
In order to see inside the house, you need to go on a tour, which you can get at the gift shop. They start every 30 minutes from 10:15 am, and if you can, get Isaiah! He was hilarious. The tour goes into the history of the movie, why it was filmed in Cleveland, and a lot more fun facts. Then you’ll have time to wander around the house, which has a lot of fun scenes from the movie.
By the way, you can stay over at the house. Um, yeah! Stay at either Raphie’s house or the Bumpus’s house and the tour is included!
14. Grab a taco (or three) at Barrio
Want some Mexican? Grab some tacos from Barrio! You can eat there or get them to go, which is what I did since it was a bit busy with an Indians game going on. The interior was really cool. They have a local artist, Mac, paint Day of the Dead themed murals throughout all their locations!
The tacos themselves are super yummy. I got some pre-designed ones on the menu, but if you don’t see any you like, you can custom make one (or three).
15. Tour Lakeview Cemetery
I know it sounds weird to go to a cemetery, but there’s a lot of cool architecture sprinkled around Lakeview. From the crying angel statue to Wade Chapel to the James A. Garfield Memorial, there’s so much to see. I didn’t know this existed before I went, but there’s actually a trolley tour at 1pm, you just need to call to book. I missed it, so I walked, but it was a bit much to walk in the middle of the July heat, and you can’t bring a bike in.
16. Pop into Moonstruck Vintage
For a little vintage shopping, pop into Moonstruck CLE Vintage near Lakeview Cemetery! It’s a funky shop, and the owner was really sweet. I even found the 80-style earrings I’ve been wanting to try.
Moonstruck is right in Little Italy if you’re craving Italian. You could also pop in after doing this fun Little Italy food tour.
17. Check out the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art
From Lakeview or Moonstruck, walk down to MOCA or Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll notice the geometric style building, which is designed by Iranian architect, Farshid Moussavi. It’s free to enter, and you’ll find something interesting to see in 3 of the 4 floors (the one floor is for working artists). When I went, my favorite was the Lee Mingwei exhibit called “You Are Not a Stranger.”
Fun fact — MOCA was actually founded by all women in 1968!
18. Walk over to Wade Park
From MOCA, walk to the park around Wade Lagoon. It’ll give you a gorgeous view of the Cleveland Museum of Art from across the water, and is just a beautiful area in general to walk around.
19. Get lost in the Cleveland Museum of Art
Do not skip out on the Cleveland Museum of Art! It’s free to enter, and I was actually quite blown away by how extensive it was. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised as it’s one of the largest museums in the US. If you enter through Wade Park, you’ll go through the South Entrance into the 1916 Building.
At first, I thought there was only this one building with two levels, but I quickly realized it’s actually only one side. There are the East and West Wings and then a North Building and they all connect around a large, rectangular courtyard. The 1916 and North buildings go up to Level 2 while the East Wing goes down to a lower level, which is where they were holding the main exhibit at the time.
My favorites were the landscape paintings in the 1916 Building and, of course, it’s always fun to see a little piece of Korea, which is part of an Asian exhibition in the North Building.
20. See the cathedrals of Tremont neighborhood
Tremont (pronounced “tree-mont”) is such a cool neighborhood! It’s where the A Christmas Story house is located, but there’s a lot more going on if you want to stick around. As one of the oldest areas in Cleveland, you can see the influence of the many immigrants who once dominated the neighborhood — from European to African to Hispanic and more. The best way to see this is in the many churches and cathedrals sprinkled around town. The big one, of course, is the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral. If you only see one of the churches in person, this is the one to see.
21. If you’re here in July, check out the Taste of Tremont Festival
If you come during the 3rd Sunday of July like we did, you don’t want to miss the Taste of Tremont. One of the big things all our Lyft drivers told us was that Cleveland has a surprisingly fantastic food scene. Everyone had a favorite restaurant for every occasion!
Considering Tremont’s diverse history, you can bet there are just as many if not more delicious restaurants and eateries as there are churches. Taste of Tremont is an annual festival where all the local businesses of Tremont set up stalls along Professor Avenue from Starkweather to W 10th St. Most of them, of course, are food, though there were some non-food stalls as well. It was such a fun festival! We went later in the day around 6, so it was probably a lot less hectic than earlier on.
If you’re not here for the festival you can easily check out the different eateries in Tremont or this cool food tour. Try Grumpy’s Cafe, Lucky’s Café, Hi and Dry Bowling and Beer, the South Side, or Tandul for Indian.
22. Get a nice view of downtown from Tremont!
Once you’ve walked through Professor Ave, keep walking over to the Cleveland Script Sign on Abbey Ave. It’s less than a 10 minute walk, and you’ll get a beautiful view of downtown Cleveland. Apparently it’s a really gorgeous view at night with the lights all lit up along the bridge.
23. Grab a snack at West Side Market
Before you go on the airport stop at the West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood. It’s the oldest operating indoor/outdoor market beginning in 1840 with the building having been built in 1912.
There are a lot of stalls through the market from typical groceries to actual food spots. Don’t forget to pop up to the second floor to get a really nice view over the whole market. My friends recommended doing a food tour, but they weren’t running one on the day we were planning on going.
Once you’ve grabbed your food, you can walk across the street to a little park area to eat and people watch! You never know what you’ll see — we caught a film crew in the middle of filming something, we just don’t know what.
If you’re hanging out in the neighborhood, you can also check out Great Lakes Brewing and the Flying Fig.
And there you have it. All the unique things to do in Cleveland! It’s a cool city, right? Definitely worth a stop if you’re traveling the US. Let me know if you have a favorite spot or recommendation!