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Today's Family Magazine

Escape to Downtown Cleveland

By Nina Polien Light

Living in the burbs certainly has its perks, but there’s nothing like spending a day downtown.  From skyscrapers and stadiums to museums and markets, Cleveland has it—minus the congestion and hefty price tags typical of many metropolitan centers.  Instead of packing suitcases and waiting in airport security lines this summer, consider hopping on an RTA rapid transit train or driving west on Interstates 90 or 480 for a seasonal excursion the whole family is sure to enjoy.

You can’t go wrong with parking the car somewhere around Tower City Center, picking a direction and seeing where your feet will take you.  Maybe you’ll happen upon the Sailors and Soldiers Monument on Public Square, find yourself enjoying a meal at one of several acclaimed restaurants on or around East 4th Street, get a close-up look at the giant Free Stamp sculpture at Willard Park or climb atop the script Cleveland sign at North Coast Harbor. There are several such structures scattered throughout the city.  All are picture-worthy endeavors.

If you’re not the walking type, board an RTA trolley, which makes frequent stops at notable sites such as the Gateway Sports Complex, Historic Warehouse District, Flats East Bank, Cleveland Convention Center, Arcade (the architecture is amazing), Cleveland State University and Playhouse Square.  Here, you’ll encounter the world’s largest outdoor chandelier comprised of 4,200 crystal lights.  Unlike RTA bus and rapid transit rides, which require a modest fare, trolley rides are free, thanks to civic underwriters.

Prefer a more structured plan? Call ahead to reserve spots on one of Cleveland’s many unique sightseeing adventures.  Lolly the Trolley (, not affiliated with the RTA trolley) offers guided rides through the Cultural Gardens, University Circle, North Coast Harbor, Ohio City, West Side Market, Flats and Cuyahoga River region, Gateway Complex and the former Millionaire’s Row, where prominent citizens, such as John D. Rockefeller, once lived.  Specialty trolley outings include the Elliot Ness Tour, which revisits sites frequented by the 1930s city safety director best known for nabbing mobster Al Capone, and the Ethnic Markets Tour, a trip through Cleveland’s deliciously diverse neighborhoods.

Stops may include Italian, Asian, Indian, German, Middle Eastern or other markets, as well as the iconic West Side Market, which has been operating since 1912 and is the city’s largest indoor/outdoor public market.  Some Lolly the Trolley tours can be combined with lunch cruises aboard the Nautica Queen ( or Goodtime III (, comfortable excursion ships offering terrific offshore views of Cleveland.

Another way to experience some of the city’s most popular sites is to Take a Hike ( Different days of the week feature different guided tours to places such as the Gateway District, University Circle, Canal Basin Park, Civic Center, Warehouse District and Playhouse Square.

But why try to cram everything into one day?  Downtown Cleveland’s accessibility makes it a great destination for fun throughout the summer.  Circle a few dates on the calendar to enjoy some of our favorite corners of downtown Cleveland:
  • Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum (  Located inside the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, this museum features interactive exhibits that will teach your family about personal finances and currency. Kids love standing beneath a 23-foot money tree.
  • Cleveland Grays Armory Museum (  Built in 1893, Grays Armory is the city’s oldest independent armory and pays homage to the Cleveland Grays, an independent volunteer militia company that predates the National Guard.
  • USS Cod Submarine (  Self-guided tours through this World War II fleet submarine, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark, offer a glimpse into our country’s past.
  • International Women’s Air and Space Museum (  Since 1998, this little-known gallery located inside Burke Lakefront Airport, showcases women’s many contributions to aviation and aerospace.  Admission is free.
Other options for enjoying summer in and around downtown Cleveland include:
  • Browsing and eating your way through the Cleveland Flea on select weekends.
  • Visiting the Polymer Funhouse or Cleveland Creates Zone at the Great Lakes Science Center.
  • Taking in the Legends of Rock or British Invasion exhibits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Munching on peanuts and Cracker Jacks during an Indians game at Progressive Field.
  • Gazing at colorful fish and underwater plants at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
  • Building a sand castle at Cleveland Metroparks Edgewater Park.
  • Dancing to live music at WOW! Wade Oval Wednesdays.
  • Riding a water taxi from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Flats.
  • Jamming to free concerts at Edgewater Live or Euclid Beach Live.
  • Pedaling on the Lakefront Bikeway.
Of course, not every summer excursion must (or should) include the kids.  Be sure to reserve some Mom and Dad time, as well.  It’s worth hiring a babysitter to:
  • Place a few bets at the JACK Cleveland Casino.
  • Sip an adult beverage and take in the Cleveland skyline at the Azure Rooftop Lounge located at The 9 (
  • Chill out with classical music and cocktails at [email protected] performances.
  • Attend concerts at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica.
  • Taste some of the best craft brews in the country, leaving the driving to Cleveland Brew Tours ( or Cleveland Brew Bus (
  • Laugh the night away at Improv Comedy Club & Restaurant, Hilarities or Something Dada Improv Comedy Co.

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