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Your guide to visiting the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. 

Alex Schechter
November 19, 2017

Set along America’s Rust Belt, Cleveland is a former manufacturing capital turned bustling culinary and arts hub. Curious visitors have been increasingly drawn to this underrated urban destination (sort of like Prague, the way it was 20 years ago). Not only is it affordable, but also there are plenty of fun things to do in Cleveland. World-class dining, craft beer, arts, and culture — it's all here, and for a fraction of the cost you’d find in bigger cities like New York City or San Francisco.

Where Is Cleveland, Ohio?

On a first visit to Cleveland, many travelers are surprised to discover it's a waterfront city with beaches and sailing. After all, Cleveland saddles right up to the shore of Lake Erie, and in warmer months you’ll find locals sunning on their own blissful stretch of coastline. While there’s currently no ferry service to Canada — occasionally visible from across the lake — you can drive northeast to Niagara Falls (about 4 hours), or head to nearby Sandusky to rent a boat and explore the famous Lake Erie Islands.

Cleveland's Top Attractions

Considered by many the city’s number one point of interest, the Cleveland Museum of Art is hard to beat. Located in museum-filled University Circle, it deserves an entire afternoon spent wandering through its frequently rotating exhibits (Alex Katz, Rodin, Yayoi Kusama); plus, admission is free.

Meanwhile, the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tells the stories of rock’s legends, living and dead, while also scheduling frequent film screenings and live concerts. Visitors should also catch an Indians game at the 35,000-seat, wonderfully modern Progressive Field stadium, which has a glass-enclosed restaurant as well as the rollicking Budweiser Patio.

What to do in Cleveland if yours is a family of daredevils? Drive an hour west to reach Cedar Point, which boasts 17 roller coasters, including the terrifying Magnum XL-200. Once your stomach has been sufficiently flopped, grab lunch on Cedar Point Beach and watch the boats go by.

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Best Beaches in Cleveland

The Lake Erie shoreline is dotted with laid-back, sandy beaches that are as delightful as anything you’d find on the East Coast. 

Huntington Reservation

Start with Huntington Reservation, a beautiful coastal hideout that’s part of Cleveland Metroparks. When you’re not leaping over the blue-green waves, you can sprawl out on the sand, go fishing on the breakwall, or have a picnic.

Edgewater

Meanwhile, Edgewater is a more convenient spot for those not looking to venture far from the city. Three miles from downtown, the resort-like park (a portion of which is dog-friendly) has cabanas, beach volleyball, and quite a few concession stands for when those ice cream cravings set in.

Major Events and Festivals

In 2018, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be hosted at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, and considering past events have featured big-name performers like Alicia Keys and Pharell Williams, this is an easy way to catch some of rock’s biggest stars all under one roof.

But other cultural events and festivals shape the landscape, too, including the Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, as well as the Cleveland International Film Festival (April 4 to 15 in 2018), which showcases over 200 different features by emerging filmmakers from all over the world.

The nation’s largest cycling festival takes place here every September, turning the lakefront into a live action pedal party with competitive races, night rides, and a flurry of live music and festival tents.

Fireworks in Cleveland

Fireworks aren’t just a tradition in Cleveland — they’re a citywide event. With access to a sprawling coastline along Lake Erie, the light show is truly dazzling every July 4th, with Jacobs Pavilion, Superior Viaduct, and Edgewater Beach ranking among locals’ favorite spots to see the colorful explosions reflecting over the water.

Shopping in Cleveland

Once home to the city’s manufacturing jobs, the newly revitalized Gordon Square area has become a popular residential and commercial arts district, centered around the corner of 65th and Detroit Streets. Prominent performing arts venues like Cleveland Public Theater and the Near West Theater make it a good option for couples seeking a cultured evening out.

Boutiques in Cleveland

During the day, visitors can do serious retail damage at places like Fount, where highly skilled artisans churn out handsome purses, clutches, totes, and backpacks in rich, high-quality leather. Another popular shop is Trunk: a mix of secondhand clothes from designer and mid-level brands. Just down the street is the funky iLTHY Workshop, which houses sportswear and accessories with a colorful, artistic edge.

Cleveland’s Best Restaurants

While Cleveland has yet to earn the recognition of culinary hot spots like Los Angeles and New York City, it's been quietly coming into its own over the last five years. To get a sense of Cleveland’s best places to eat, start at the Westside Market. The indoor market has been in operation since 1840, and is crowned with a massive 137-foot clock tower. Inside, you’ll find family-owned stalls selling homemade sausage, Cambodian sticky rice, and handmade pastas, among others.

Most romantic restaurant: L’Albatros Brasserie

Cheap eats: Nanobrew

Best Italian restaurant: Trentina

Best French restaurant: Edwins

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Best Bars in Cleveland

Ohio City, the oldest neighborhood in Cleveland, also happens to be its culinary epicenter, with dozens of chef-driven restaurants, and plenty of decent bars to choose from.

One particular stretch of West 25th Street has become a destination for beer-seekers, with the recent opening of Market Gardening Brewery, a 35,000-square-foot production facility that also offers tours and a brewpub.

For something a little more refined, there’s Toast, which has a serious wine list. And The Harp is Cleveland’s go-to Irish pub, complete with local beers, traditional Irish fare, and live music.

Easy Day Trips from Cleveland

Half an hour south of Cleveland is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the state's only national park. Hugging the region’s main waterway, Cuyahoga Valley has forested hiking trails, sandstone cliffs, and more than 70 waterfalls. It's also one of the nation’s most visited national parks. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall, when the forest creates a multi-colored canopy over the green river. Kayaks are available to rent, too, making this the perfect family getaway from Cleveland.

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Best Hotels and Resorts in Cleveland 

Downtown Cleveland is packed with hotels, each offering something for every kind of budget. While waterfront views are easy enough to accommodate (the lake sits just a few blocks away), other highlights include easy access to Progressive Field baseball stadium or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Luxury Hotels

One of Cleveland's most upscale hotel properties is the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, where all guests have views of either downtown or Lake Erie.

Boutique Hotels

If it’s a boutique hotel stay you’re after, travelers should book a room at either the Kimpton Schofield Hotel or the swanky Metropolitan at the 9.

Affordable Hotels

Affordable hotel options can be found in and around downtown as well. Budget-conscious travelers should consider the Cleveland Hostel, the Holiday Inn Express, and the Hilton Garden Inn.

Vacation Rentals in Cleveland

Hotels aren’t the only places to stay in Cleveland, however. Visitors will discover great, cost-friendly options on sites like Airbnb, where you can find everything from a guest room in Ohio City to a historic cottage on Lake Erie.

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