Content Produced in Partnership with Destination Cleveland
I’m quickly finding my groove to be mid-sized, completely underrated U.S. cities. Just on the cusp, they’re destinations you barely hear anything about yet are so awesome it’s fairly amazing they’ve managed to stay under the radar this long without getting overrun by jet setting, camera-happy millennials (looking at you Denver, Portland, Austin, NashVegas). I experienced it this year with Grand Rapids, Boise, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and now Cleveland.
Cleveland rocks. Drew Carey said it, Khloe Kardashian’s on the bandwagon, and now I’m saying it. Cleveland is cool. Before you go, “Girl, bye.” Hear me out. Cleveland has got it going on.
Their Humor is Fire
I really appreciate people and places that can laugh at themselves. Once called, “The Mistake on the Lake,” Cleveland was a city of clumsy misfortune (like the river catching on fire). Instead of becoming the butt of the joke, they decided to own it. Their newest marketing campaign, “Make No Mistake,” sets out to highlight all the intentional — and wonderful — things about Cleveland. The best example? Despite how terrible the Browns may be, they embrace it, even going as far as to throw themselves a perfect season parade – for winning exactly 0 games. If the Cubs were once the lovable losers of America, it’s hard not to adore Cleveland sports the same way.
Can You Say Free?!
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but like the giant stamp sculpture proclaims – there are plenty of free attractions in Cleveland – no strings attached (beyond the free loaner guitar from the Kimpton, that is).
The Cleveland Museum of Art is always free and boasts an extensive permanent collection of Picassos, Monets, Van Goghs, and Warhols (the special exhibit, Kusama Infinity Mirrors, does require a paid ticket and is totally worth it if you can snag one). There are free outdoor concerts every Thursday night throughout the summer at Edgewater Live and it’s always free to peruse the West Side Market’s vintage food hall. You can window shop around Ohio City (Sweet Not Salty and Room Service are personal favorites for their handcrafted artisan goods) and attend a free glass blowing demo at the Glass Bubble Project. Their national park is one of the few last remaining free ones in the country and the RTA trolley is also free to ride downtown – with a smile, of course.
Wide Open Spaces
Called the Emerald Necklace (that has a better ring than “Mistake on the Lake”), Cleveland is surrounded by 18 Metro Parks that encompass a whopping 23,000 acres. Edgewater Beach is the favorite town-gathering place, but it’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park that really steals the show. Home to 140+ miles of trails, you can chase waterfalls, see one of Ohio’s famed covered bridges, and just generally bask in the outdoors. Since it comprises such a massive area, there’s no traditional park entrance, you’re just completely enveloped by nature.
All the Noms
Cleveland is a major melting pot with ethnic pockets from Little Italy to Asia town. As such, it’s not hard to eat well (and authentically) in the neighborhood. West Side Market boasts niche artisanal vendors hocking their wares where you can find everything from cannolis and pizza bagels to poultry, macarons, lobster, lamb, and row after row of fresh produce. Heinen’s is one of TripAdvisor’s top 10 places to visit in the Cleveland, a global market meets grocery store with over 40 wines and 8 beers on tap all under one gorgeous domed skylight.
If you’re into Instagram foods, Colossal Cupcake is where to satisfy your sweet tooth. Their version of the freakshake actually has a whole cupcake blended into a milkshake. Brewnuts is another popular photo spot for beer and donuts (which you can get both extremely early in the a.m., no judgment here). They change up the flavors seasonally but are currently sticking with a peach theme for summer, which pairs nicely with a frozen mimosa. Their indoor “patio” looks like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville vomited pink flamingos everywhere (in the best way possible).
If you’re just into good food, Michael Symon is the name to know. Owner of Lola Bistro, Mabel’s Cleveland-style BBQ, and B Spot Burgers, he is a regular on Food Network shows like Iron Chef. Other spots to try include TownHall, one of those interesting mixed-use spaces that’s a beer hall meets fast casual counter meets sit down restaurant. Everything is non-GMO and their menu includes a full wellness guide with gluten-free, vegan, paleo, and dairy free options, cold-pressed juices, boozy shakes, and a mix of bowls. You can also get your drinks infused with a shot of CBD oil…for health reasons, of course. Nuevo is another must-visit if not for the food for its gorgeous beachfront locale. Right on the water near one of the Cleveland sign photo ops, their rooftop overlooks a sand volleyball and bocce court. You can sample crazy Mexican fusion cuisine (like blue cheese and strawberry guacamole) and drink the rainbow with colorful marg flights.
That Architecture Porn
As a major hub of the rustbelt, Cleveland’s neoclassic design is centered around bridges that crisscross the waterway with newer sculptures sprinkled in. Some of the not to miss spots include the Arcade, West Side Market, Heinen’s, and my personal favorite, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. The pictures really speak for themselves so all I’ll say is WOW.
Are You Ready for Some Football?
It’s a bit ironic that a city with a serious losing streaking is home to the “Sistine Chapel of Football,” but America’s game really was born here. Canton, Ohio is where the Akron Pros became the first league champs. Having visited the college football hall of fame in Atlanta, the pro memorial dwarfs it in size and grandeur.
Hall of Fame Coach Marv Levy said, “To know the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest of them all,” which is exactly what you’ll experience at the Pro Football Hall of Fame – all the feels. Actually the size of a football field, the Hall of Fame game is played here and being inauguration week, super fans abounded, dressed from face-painted head to toe like their favorite team.
Inside the museum is a huge collection of trading cards, an Xbox room, and the history of America’s game, including the teams that came and went (who remembers the Pottsville Maroons or the Columbus Panhandles?). It chronicles the many rules and scoring changes and fun stats about the ball itself (Did you know 228 are produced just for the Super Bowl?), dynasties, records and fantastic finishes.
The highlight is a 4D holographic theatre that takes you into a motivational locker room speech from your favorite head coaches meant to embody “your halftime show for life” and inspire you to leave better than you came. The whole production is intertwined with metaphors for life, teamwork and playing hard.
If that sounds awesome, the future development plans to build an entire Hall of Fame Village are even cooler. Coinciding with the NFL’s centennial celebration in 2020, they’re building a waterpark, player care facility, and Hall of Fame hotel, which will allow you to virtually decorate your room like your favorite team.
Are You Ready to Rock?
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is probably Cleveland’s most iconic attraction and with good reason. Live music sets the tone outside, while inside, America’s rock history can be traced back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. Influenced by the melting pot of immigrant settlers, there are exhibits documenting the heyday of cities like Memphis, Detroit, London, San Francisco, and L.A. You can peruse outfits, guitars, lyrics, and props from heavy hitters like the Supremes, Guns and Roses, the Beach Boys, and more recent chart-toppers like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
Where to Stay: Kimpton Schofield
Centrally located in a landmark building, the Schoefield is everything you’ve come to know and love from a Kimpton property. There are bikes to borrow, in-room yoga mats, free nightly wine and cheese receptions, and even loaner guitars to ensure you fully embrace your time in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.
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