October 18, 2017

Top 15 Things to Do in Cleveland with Kids

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I had completely forgotten that The Drew Carey Show was set in Cleveland until my third day in town, but I have to agree with the theme song, “Cleveland Rocks.”

We just got back from Cleveland this morning and we had such a great time. A fantastic mid-size city, there are so many fun things to do in Cleveland with kids. We stayed in-town at the Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown, which I highly recommend for a variety of reasons.

The hotel was just a block away from East 4th Street, a fantastic corridor of shops and restaurants, like Flannery’s Pub, Noodlecat and Greenhouse Tavern. Even better, it was across the street from Rocket Fizz, a soda pop and candy shop with so many different kinds of candies. As you can imagine, my kids were in heaven.

The Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown was also only a 15 minute walk from the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Even better, it was less than 10 minutes on foot from Progressive Field (Indians) and Quicken Arena (Cavaliers), so the location could not have been better. Public Square was also less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

Related: 10 Best Hotel Deals in Cleveland

The hotel is inside an old bank building, so it’s completely charming, not cookie-cutter. We loved it. And, of course, there was a free hot breakfast, including make-your-own pancakes. Always a favorite with my kids. Valet parking was $24, but it’s the easiest option, and you have in-and-out privileges, which was nice.

Things to Do in Cleveland

If you’re thinking about exploring Cleveland as a family, take a look at my list of 15 fun things to do in Cleveland with kids. 🙂

1. Learn About Local Marine Life at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium may not be as big as Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but it still has a lot to offer kids and families, especially as it relates to fish, reptiles and turtles from Ohio lakes and rivers, which can be found throughout the aquarium.

There are also several touch tanks where kids can use two fingers to tough stingrays and sea stars, among other small marine animals. Look all around as you walk through the 150’ SeaTube to see sharks, stingrays and many other types of fish swim by. The Tortoise Encounter is also not to be missed at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

2. Get Hands-On at the Great Lakes Science Center. There’s a lot to see and do at the Great Lakes Science Center, including hourly movies in the dome theater, daily science shows, a special area just for kids ages seven and under, and a three-phase LEGO exhibit. Plan to get there when the science center opens at 10 am because you’ll want to spend much of your day there.

We spent lots of time with LEGO bricks, making stop-motion movies and building race cars. We also made time for Dream Big, a fantastic 45-minute film showcasing what’s possible when you, yes, dream big. It’s pretty incredible the difference a simple foot bridge can make. There’s a great café in the science center too with well-priced salads, pizza, sandwiches, even gluten-free options.

Related article: Adventures Around Cincinnati: 120+ Must-Do Activities with Kids

3. Rock Out at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a must when in Cleveland, but only if you’re in town on your own or with children no younger than middle school. Fortunately, the Rock Hall is next to the Great Lakes Science Center, so it’s easy to split up so you can divide and conquer if you have older and younger kids.

The main exhibition is on Level Zero, which was kind of confusing to us, and we didn’t end up seeing the memorabilia and rock through the ages exhibits until the end. The exhibit highlighting the Hall of Fame Inductees is also on Level Zero. Definitely check out the “Video Killed the Radio Star” exhibit on Level Two and “Rolling Stone / 50 Years” on Level Four.

4. Tour the Christmas Story House. I didn’t even know that the house from the movie, A Christmas Story, was in Cleveland until only a few days before we made the drive to Cleveland. It’s a must-go. Guided tours of the Christmas Story House leave every hour on the :15 and last 45-60 minutes, including time to explore the house and pose with the leg lamp, of course.

Like most people, I’ve seen the movie dozens of times, and the tour guide shared many interesting facts and stories about the director, how different scenes were shot and props that didn’t quite make it through the door to the house. I may be back in Cleveland sooner than planned because, guess what, you can now spend the night inside the Christmas Story House.

Related article: One Food Your Kids Must Try in Every U.S. State

5. Make a Stop at Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Cleveland has a lot of great places to stop for ice cream, but we really liked Mitchell’s Ice Cream. There are a handful of locations around Greater Cleveland, but you’ll want to stop at the location in-town on West 25th Street. There are loads of flavors and the staff get you quickly through line (almost too quickly since we kept goofing up our orders!).

All of the ice cream ingredients are fresh, local, and in many cases, fair-trade or organic. I had Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, which was made with organic cocoa, and it was incredible. Seriously, so good. You can also sign up for a Tasting Tour ($3.75 per person) at the flagship location in Ohio City. As a bonus, you’ll receive a free scoop certificate at the end of the tour.

6. Splash Around on a Lake Erie Beach. The beaches on Lake Erie are so much fun and perfect for a beach cook-out and splashing around in summer. I never thought about going to the beach when visiting Cleveland, but it’s a must. The Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve and Edgewater Park are a couple of great spots for going to the beach, boating and enjoying the sunset.

We met up with family on Clifton Beach in Lakewood, which is about 10 minutes outside of Cleveland. It’s part of the private Clifton Club in Lakewood, but it definitely made me long for another day at any of the beaches in Greater Cleveland. Before you visit Cleveland, check out this list of the 10 best beaches on Ohio’s Lake Erie coast.

Related: 10 Fun Things to Do as a Family at the Beach

7. Hunt for Sea Glass at the Beach. Lake Erie is well-known for sea glass (or “beach glass”). My 12 y.o. daughter and I had a great time walking along the coast hunting for sea glass. Clear and green are the most common, but every once in a while we’d find sea glass that was aqua, royal blue or amber, though those are far more rare.

Some beach-goers have even found sea glass that is yellow, red, orange or pink, though we weren’t lucky enough to find any of those colors. Still, it was a fun activity to do with my daughter, and every wave brought in new sea glass to take home as our Cleveland treasures.

8. Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. I love trains and had been wanting to ride along the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which runs the length of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, for some time. Sunday was my day as we boarded the National Park Scenic coach train at the Rockside station in Independence, Ohio.

If you take the train to the end of the line in Akron, the round-trip is about three hours, 20 minutes, but we opted to get off at the Peninsula station, about 45 minutes into the ride. This was perfect since it gave us time to explore the small town, eat lunch and work on Junior Ranger activity booklets before heading back to Rockside (the stopover was just under two hours).

Related article: Stamp It: Passport to Your National Parks Program

9. Earn a Junior Ranger Badge. We love the Junior Ranger program and try to take advantage of it every time we visit a national park (some state parks also have Junior Ranger programs). We picked up the activity booklets at the train stop in Peninsula and got right to work completing various activities (the kids needed to complete at least eight to earn a badge).

Even better, at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which by the way is less than 20 minutes from downtown Cleveland, the kids had the option to also earn a Junior Ranger patch. To earn the patch, the kids needed to attend a ranger program, complete three extra booklet activities or take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

10. Go for a Family Bike Ride. There are lots of UH Bikes bike share stations around Cleveland, making it easy to explore downtown by bicycle, but another great option is to rent a bike from Century Cycles in Peninsula. Century Cycles is just a short walk from the Peninsula train station.

Since the train stopover in Peninsula is just under two hours, you have time for a one-hour bike rental to ride along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The shop has plenty of bikes available, including e-bikes, kids’ bikes, bike trailers and tag-alongs. Go for a bike ride, then stop for lunch at the Winking Lizard Tavern just across the street (they have a huge kids’ menu).

Related: 21 Ways to Get Outdoors on Your Family Vacation

11. Take in an Indians Game. Clevelanders do love their sports teams. Two of my girls and I bought tickets to a Cleveland Indians game at the last minute on Friday night and had a fantastic time. We were among a very small minority not wearing Indians t-shirts and we didn’t see a single person wearing t-shirts or hats to cheer on the other team.

More than hot dogs and popcorn, Progressive Field offers all kinds of craft beers, cheesesteaks, nachos, even ballpark sundaes at Sweet Moses Ice Cream. If you have time, sign up for a one-hour behind-the-scenes field tour, which is offered from May 2 – September 2 and includes a look at the Press Box, Dugout, Batting Cages, Home Plate Club and more.

12. Hike to Brandywine Falls. There are more than 70 waterfalls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but the 60-foot Brandywine Falls is by far the most popular. The hike to the waterfalls is just 1.5 miles along the Brandywine Gorge Trail. The trail is a loop and offers great views of Brandywine Falls, particularly in the fall as the leaves are changing colors.

If you don’t want to hike to Brandywine Falls, there is an overlook near the Inn at Brandywine Falls. For more waterfalls, try the .5-mile Buckeye Trail loop which leads to Blue Hen Falls. You can also access Buttermilk Falls from this trail. Or, take the Bridal Veil Falls Trail. It’s an easy .25-mile hike to the falls from the trailhead.

Related article: 20 Really Cool Things Your Kids Can Do in National Parks

13. Walk Around Public Square. In the heart of Downtown Cleveland, you’ll find Public Square, a beautiful open area that provides public space for outdoor concerts, movies and farmers markets. Despite the fact that Public Square was maybe three blocks from my hotel, I managed to miss this entirely, though I can see that it’s quite lovely.

This summer, Public Square will offer all kinds of events, including Tunes & Trucks every Tuesday and Yoga on the Green every Wednesday evening. Public Square will even host a National Yo-Yo Day Celebration in June. It’s a great place to relax and people-watch all afternoon.

14. Learn About Money at the Federal Reserve Bank. Everyone loves money and kids will love a visit to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to explore the Learning Center and Money Museum. Kids can track counterfeit money and learn all about the history of money through time. Even better, the museum is free.

The Learning Center and Money Museum are only open Monday-Thursday from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm so keep that in mind if you want to visit. Fortunately, it’s nestled right downtown and you can easily loop this in with a visit to the Great Lakes Science Center or Cleveland Public Library.

Related: Show Me the Money: Taking a Tour of the U.S. Mint

15. See What’s in Bloom at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. There’s a lot to see and do at the Cleveland Botanical Garden with kids, including the Hershey Children’s Garden and the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse, which features all kinds of strange plants and more than 50 different types of birds, reptiles and butterflies.

The botanical garden should be a hit on its own, but kids will really love the new Nature Connects exhibit, which features more than a dozen sculptures made from LEGO bricks. We checked this out last year when it was at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach. Look for a giant tortoise, a seven-foot long dragonfly, even a colorful peacock, all made from LEGO bricks.

What are your favorite things to do in Cleveland with kids? I’d love to hear some for your top picks.

 

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