Cleveland, Ohio has rock and roll and so much more to entertain your teens on a weekend getaway. If you consider the physical limitations, fickle attention span, shortened daylight hours, and periodic bouts of famine under which most teenagers operate, you’ll understand why cities with a compact core of entertainment, dining and nightlife are ideal for a short family break.
Cleveland’s a Capital of Music & Entertainment – Rock Hall
The city that spawned D.J. Alan Freed, hosted Elvis’ first concert appearance in the North (at Brooklyn High School), originated the syndicated “Upbeat” rock TV show, and gave us countless musical luminaries, was chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum for its museum site.
Since it opened in September 1995, the Temple of Rock has greeted more than 500,000 fans each year. The dramatic, glass and steel space designed by I.M. Pei cantilevers high above Lake Erie. Anyone dancing into its soaring atrium to the music of the Rolling Stones, Madonna or Tupac is immediately taken with the coolness of the place.
Visitors over 30 (who aren’t yet dead) will recall most of the Hall of Famers (artists are not eligible for the Hall of Fame until 25 years after their first recording) especially after seeing the entertaining review of past induction ceremonies. Note the many Baby Boomers who are ogling Jimi Hendrix’s childhood drawings and John Lennon’s jacket from the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Depending on how many kids or grandkids they’re toting, most parents are at the clever multi-media exhibits designed to explain rock’s rebellious spirit to today’s more complacent audience. The scratchy black & white “Mystery Train” and the racy “Kick Out the Jams” explore the influence of gospel, blues and folk on the genre, while the “Rock Is” gives you pure Joplin profanity, snippets of Woodstock nudity and other moments of low – haute rock culture.
While your teens probably need no introduction to the music of Jerry Garcia, The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen, they’ll be surprised by “The Beat Goes On.” Fans select one tune from a computer display, see the musical styles that influenced its creators, then hear the original artists. Once you’ve gotten the kids to listen to all your favorites, let them loose with big change in the superior gift and memorabilia shop operated by FYE.
Cleveland Family Fun for Kids & Tweeners
Nearby, the Great Lakes Science Center sits on the shores of Lake Erie, providing scenic views. It has dozens of fun and informative hands-on exhibits and general admission is free for kids on Tuesday. It houses a public high school for scientifically minded students, so expect to see lots of teens at work in their special classroom as well as around the center. In warmer weather you can climb aboard a 1925 Great Lakes freighter, the Steamship William G. Mather. Learn how geography played a role in transforming Northeast Ohio into an industrial center as you explore from bow to stern. Grab some food at the Elements CaFe, where they have soups, salads, and sandwiches and they even have Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas.
Other attractions of interest for different age levels in Cleveland include the Metroparks Zoo where they offer a Summer Day Camp for children ages 5-12. This $25-million five-acre exhibit showcases the zoo’s commitment to the care and conservation of elephants, providing them with a spacious, stimulating, natural environment. Visitors can get up-close and personal with Moshi, Martika and other adorable elephants, watching them interact and socialize.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is another worthwhile attraction. Be sure to head to the lower level. Here you will find researchers busy at work, giving the kid’s a look into what a career in the sciences actually looks like. It is also where the Snead Discovery Center is housed, an intergenerational, hands-on learning center.
The Cleveland Botanical Garden special feature is the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse. This 18,000-square-foot conservatory immerses you in the flora and fauna of two distinct lands: the Costa Rican Rainforest, complete with colorful butterflies fluttering around and the spiny desert of Madagascar. It is the perfect place to be if the weather is not cooperating, as it always feels tropical inside. Outdoor gardens include a peaceful Japanese Garden and the Hershey’s Children’s Garden.
The arts are going strong here. Cleveland is home to the country’s largest performing arts center outside off New York City, PlayhouseSquare. More than 1,000 shows are on the menu each year, with an emphasis on family-friendly, affordable programming. If you visit in May, you might catch the annual International Children’s Festival, when performers from around the world give families the opportunity for an enriching live theater experience for a reasonable price.
Where to Appreciate Cleveland’s Sports Crazy Fans
As dusk falls, you’ll see the city’s youth gathering for gangplank parties along the waterfront promenade or swarming past on their way to Cleveland Browns Stadium to catch a Browns football game.
There’s also plenty of tailgating going on in the nearby Jacobs Field parking lot, prior to a Cleveland Indians baseball game, and at the Quickens Loan Arena, which hosts the Cavaliers basketball team with the much-hyped return of Lebron James, plus the local AHL Lake Erie Monsters hockey team.
This is a sports-crazy town and without a chief’s hat or brown jersey you’re bound to feel pretty out of place.
That is, until you settle down in one of the city’s party houses, a.k.a. breweries. We love the Great Lakes Brewing Company (216/771-4404), where every dish is crafted around a local brew and the first Tuesday of every month you can try the Brewmaster’s Dinner, which pairs beers with seasonal foods prepared by the experts in the kitchen. You don’t have to come for the food; there’s live Irish music on weekends and a nice outdoor eco-friendly garden featuring a retractable roof.
A hot contender for the city’s favorite burger is Heck’s Café Ohio City (216/861-5464) housed in a 19th-century brick townhouse.
Near the West 25th Street RTA station in Ohio City, the Momocho Mod Mex (216/694-2122), formerly the Fulton Bar & Grill, now serves Mexican food, and has gotten great reviews since opening under new ownership.
Staying & Dining in Cleveland
The Flats district spans both banks of the Cuyahoga River, and the East side has the landmark Flat Iron Cafe (216/696-6968), an Irish pub that offers live music and great deals on drinks. When the beloved Cleveland Indians are playing in town, they offer a free and fast shuttle to-and-from the stadium, so you can avoid the cost and hassle of the crowded parking lot.
Since Cleveland’s bicentennial in 1996, the New American City’s historic, Victorian-era Warehouse District has also become a major culinary and nightlife center; start your tour on West 6th Street.
If you are traveling with a budding foodie in tow, you will not want to miss the historic West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood, built in 1912. Following the tradition of when ice was delivered nearly a century ago, the market is only open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Local delights include pierogi and grilled bratwurst, but with 180 booths, including dozens of ultra-fresh produce stands, no one will leave hungry.
Cleveland Heights has lots of family-friendly dining options, and is a fun place to explore, thanks to its welcoming granola-vibe. A meal at inexpensive Tommy’s is sure to please the entire family. Their milk shakes were voted the best by Rolling Stone magazine, adding to the coolness factor. Owner Tommy is the father of five, so he knows how to please fussy eaters. The menu has a large section of vegan, veggie and gluten-free options, combined with all-American favorites like burgers and fries. After dinner, head next door to Big Fun, a giant toy store that offers kitschy collectibles and memorabilia. It’s the place to find that Welcome Back Kotter lunch box that you lost in the 3rd grade.
Cleveland & Regional Family-Friendly Hotels
For downtown hotels, The Flats is easily accessible by the RTA Waterfront Line, which runs near the central Hampton Inn Downtown, Holiday Inn Select, Galleria at Erieview shopping mall or the Sheraton Hotel, to Old River Road and dozens of restaurants and cafes.
During our August visit, we stayed at the renovated Doubletree Hotel Cleveland South (216/447-1300), with large rooms, an indoor-outdoor pool and the rowdy Shula’s 2 sports bar, where we found a very good breakfast buffet (kids under 18 stay free.)
A stunning newcomer to the hotel scene is the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade (216/575-1234), whose 293 rooms are fit around a fully-restored, ca.1890 Italian-style shopping arcade. The recently renovated Doubletree Hilton Cleveland Downtown-Lakeside is a stone’s throw from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is well-situated to reach many attractions on foot
Some families would prefer a bargain lodging outside the city. The plus about being farther from the action is being near a great themepark, and it’s about 40 minutes from downtown Cleveland to Aurora. Once a Six Flags park, Geauga Lake’s Wildwater Kingdom (330/562-8303) is finding its roots again. After its purchase by Ohio’s Cedar Point, the park maintains its fast array of thrilling water rides.
Sandusky is another good bet for families wanting to stay outside the urban center, but be in downtown in about 40 minutes. You will find lots of family-appropriate activities here, including the Maritime Museum of Sandusky, The Merry-Go-Round Museum, a frightening year round, live action haunted house, Ghostly Manor Thrill Center and Cedar Point Amusement Park, known as the roller coaster capital of the world.
Want to focus on urban pleasures more than theme parks? Ask the Positively Cleveland (800/321-1004) or Ohio Tourism for help. You’ll have to plan ahead to stay within walking distance of Cleveland’s major downtown attractions, because hotels near the stadiums are booked waaaay in advance by Ohio families coming to Cleveland to — guess what? — Party! But there are other nearby places where partying gets put on the back burner.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.