Family Road Trip Guide: Cleveland, Ohio

Families love this nearby city by the lake filled with family fun, a beautiful national park and yummy eats.

Cleveland, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, is the third largest metro area in the Great Lakes region, behind metro Detroit and Chicago. Professional sports, engaging museums, green spaces and sweet treats often lure visitors to The Land. My son and I recently visited to enjoy a Cleveland Indians game and check out Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Getting to Cleveland

Cleveland is only about a three-hour drive from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, and you can plan several family-friendly stops on your way. Soar in Sandusky at Cedar Point, voted one of the best amusement parks in America. Take stunning pictures amongst sunflowers at Maria’s Field of Hope, which offers two locations — one near Cedar Point, another by Cleveland in Avon, Ohio. Imagination Station and National Museum of the Great Lakes are interesting excursions in Toledo, Ohio. You can also check out African Safari Wildlife Park or Seneca Caverns on your road trip.

Things to Do in Cleveland, Ohio 

Museums

Cleveland boasts many museums and is known as the birthplace of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is fun to visit with kids who are into music history and costume displays. The Great Lakes Science Center offers interactive exhibits where you can make parachutes and put them to the test in a wind tube or virtually fly a supersonic jet. Little kids will love the Children’s Museum of Cleveland for its art room, theater stage and Wonder Lab with water tables and a vacuum scarf shooter.

Fans of the famous holiday movie will be thrilled to hear A Christmas Story House is open for tours. Learn how Cleveland was selected for the film site, say “Fra-Gee-Lay!” standing next to the famous leg lamp, hold props at The Bumpus House next door and purchase your own major award at the gift shop across the street.

Sports

Cleveland is home to several sports teams. Whether football, baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer is your jam, there are many matches to cheer on. The Cleveland Browns have a Family Zone where guests can enjoy the football game in an alcohol-free environment. My son and I had a blast watching the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Most of our time was spent at the Kids Clubhouse, which has numerous places to play and take photos. My boy was enthralled by the Tribe Tracker, a race from home plate to first base against a simulated Indians player. You can also watch a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, Cleveland Monsters ice hockey or Cleveland SC soccer game.

Progressive Field. Photo credit: Courtney Fries

Outdoor Activities 

The seventh most visited national park of 2020, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a 30-minute drive from Cleveland. Stand on The Ledges for a scenic view for miles. Brandywine Falls is a 65-foot waterfall that’s viewable from a boardwalk platform after a short hike. Kids can become Junior Rangers and enjoy family-friendly activities in the free Junior Ranger Handbook. Take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for views of wildlife and other wonders. Wander over to Trail Mix, a gift shop that supports the national park, for local goods, sandwiches, beverages and buckeyes, the yummy chocolate peanut butter candy popular in Ohio.

The Cuyahoga River was voted No. 1 best place in North America for urban kayaking by USA Today 10Best readers. Paddle past bridges and buildings as you relax on the water with a kayak from Great Lakes Watersport. Cleveland has several exceptional waterfront restaurants in the surrounding entertainment area, dubbed The Flats.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo recently opened a tandem zipline experience, Eagle Zip Adventure. Take in the Cleveland skyline from a 150-foot tower before zipping 700 feet at speeds up to 35 miles per hour over Waterfowl Lake. The zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals, offers educational encounters and hands-on activities like giraffe feeding. The Cleveland Metroparks encompass almost 23,000 acres of green spaces around the city to run, play and relax.

Where to Stay in Cleveland, Ohio

My son and I stayed at the Drury Plaza Hotel Cleveland Downtown. The former Cleveland Board of Education building was transformed into this upscale hotel, which opened in 2016. We loved the nod to the building’s history with touches like the Teachers’ Lounge, the hotel’s casual restaurant with ABCs on the wall. With a pool, free food and drinks at the “5:30 Kickback” social hour, and located within walking distance to many downtown attractions, we thought this hotel was the perfect choice for our visit.

Places to Eat in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland has many dining options. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are most interested in desserts.

Grumpy’s Café is a family-owned breakfast and brunch eatery that offers indoor and outdoor dining. My son ordered the Cinnamon Apple Walnut French Toast — warm, cinnamon-glazed apples atop walnut-encrusted wheat bread — and it tasted like autumn on a plate. I thoroughly enjoyed The Carminator, which is scrambled eggs in a wheat wrap with spinach, grilled veggies, bacon, swiss cheese and chipotle mayo. We were the opposite of grumpy after eating there!

The Carminator, Grumpy’s Cafe. Photo credit: Courtney Fries

Lindey’s Lake House is a beachy restaurant with a spacious, breezy outdoor patio and large windows overlooking the Cuyahoga River in the Flats East Bank. The cracker-thin brick-oven pizza received rave reviews from my son. We also enjoyed our meal at the Teachers’ Lounge at Drury Plaza Hotel.

Now onto the desserts. Mitchell’s Ice Cream is a Cleveland favorite with nine locations in the area. Stop by the Ohio City neighborhood flagship shop for a peek at how they hand craft their ice creams with local ingredients. You can see the production kitchen as you order. Seasonal, vegan, yogurt and sorbet flavors are served, like autumn caramel apple and vegan cold brew.

Mason’s Creamery is a funky, small-batch ice cream shop that also serves ramen. They dish out standard flavors like cookies and cream as well as interesting options like cookie butter and popcorn. Try an egg waffle for a warm, toasty, breakfast-type waffle that’s wrapped around two scoops of ice cream.

b.a. Sweetie Candy Company is the largest retail candy store in North America. It’s a giant warehouse store with national brands, regional favorites and nostalgic candies. My son and I had fun exploring the seemingly endless variety of flavors and options, including crazy snacks like Larvets dried worms.

b.a. Sweetie also has mini golf and a soda shoppe, which features more than 200 flavors of soda and 36 flavors of homemade ice cream. Is this a kid’s dream come true or what? Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop is another stop where kids and kids at heart can indulge in vintage and hard-to-find treats.

Why Our Family Loves Cleveland, Ohio

My son and I enjoyed Cleveland because the city has unique entertainment and outdoor activities, plus it’s a just short drive away.

We especially had a great time watching the Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field where some of The Land’s best eateries can be found. While attending a game, start with a gooey grilled cheese from Melt, kick back with a beer from a local brewery, such as Great Lakes Brewing Company, and top it all off with a treat from Sweet Moses, another ice cream shop. The Kids Clubhouse has so many fun and interactive options for families, like a slide and chances for little kids to play ball.

Bonus: The people in Cleveland were so friendly, brimming with recommendations for family-friendly things to do. And, of course, my sweetheart loved all the sweets.

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