When late summer rolls around, my kids and I are desperate for some adventure. From our house in the Heights, that usually means we’re heading down the hill to Cleveland, where we’ve discovered countless family-friendly things to see and do over the years.
The options are many and growing, but here is our pick for Top 10. We’d love to hear about your favorites, too.
10. Great Lakes Science Center
Tucked between Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Great Lakes Science Center is packed with hundreds of hands-on exhibits that let kids explore all kinds of science. Our favorite: The Bridge of Fire, where thanks to 200,000 volts of static electricity your hair literally will stand on end. You can buy tickets for just the Science Center or add on a movie at the jaw-dropping Omnimax Theater and/or a tour of the humongous 1920s-era Great Lakes freighter, the William Mather, which is docked just outside. The Science Center is also the official home of the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, so if your kids are into spacecraft, it's a can't-miss. Oh, and here’s a tip: on Tuesdays general admission for kids 18 and under is free.
9. U.S.S. Cod Submarine Memorial
Did you know there’s a World War II-era submarine docked on the shores of Lake Erie? It’s called the U.S.S. Cod and from May to September, you and your kids can board and tour the 312-foot, 1,525-ton vessel. The Cod patrolled the Pacific front from 1943 until 1946, and was brought to Cleveland in the 1950s as a training vessel for the Naval reserves. Because the Cod was never altered from its original wartime set up, you get to see exactly what it was like to serve on a real WWII submarine. You and your kids can clamber up and down ladders and through tight hatchways and, yes, peep through the periscope.
8. Cleveland Museum of Natural History
My kids and I start every visit here playing on “Steggie,” the 18-foot long, 8-foot tall Stegosaurus sculpture outside the museum’s entrance. Once inside, it’s hard to pick what to do first. Check out the dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures? Take a ride on the earthquake simulator? Count the stars at a planetarium show? Personally, I'm fascinated by the Foucault pendulum, which demonstrates in dramatic fashion the Earth’s rotation on its axis. A 270-pound bob, swinging on a 32-foot wire, covers just six inches of real estate per hour. Fallen dominos mark the passage of time and space.
7. Memphis Kiddie Park
This 60-year-old whizz-bang landmark on Cleveland’s West Side wins the prize for best local amusement park for the eight-and-under crowd. The park’s 11 rides are mostly classic round-and-round-we-go type (you know, rockets, boats, cars, nausea). But there’s also a miniature roller coaster, called the “Little Dipper,” which is the oldest steel coaster operating in North America. It’s got quite a little kick, even for grown-ups. A book of 25 tickets will run you about $25. Better yet, visit on a Wednesday when all attractions are just 60 cents. Consider Memphis Kiddie Park as spring training for the big leagues at Cedar Point, which the little ones can graduate to when they top out height wise.
6. Greater Cleveland Aquarium
and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Yes, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo are actually two
separate attractions. But since both deal in living creatures, I've given myself creative license to combine. Opened just this year in the Flats, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium has aquatic life from near and far – like sharks! In fact, there are 18 sharks prowling the aquarium’s massive shark tank, keeping company with the likes of cownose rays and plenty of colorful fish. If you prefer furrier friends, then head over to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Bring a lunch to eat in the picnic pavilion because this is an all-day affair. The new Elephant Crossing exhibit features five acres of wooded grasslands, ponds for swimming, and plenty of room for up to 10 elephants. Note to parents: On Mondays, admission to the zoo is free.
5. Sweetie Fry
and Sweet Moses
Nothing says kids and summer like a delicious, drippy ice-cream cone, right? So, parents, why not make it an event? Over here on the East Side, we’re all raving about Sweetie Fry, a family friendly shop that trades in two delicious treats: Ice cream! French fries! Both are handcrafted from scratch the right way. Start with chili-cheese fries before moving on to one of owner Keith Logan's off-beat creations like French toast, key lime pie, even maple bacon. (There are traditional flavors too.)
West Siders needn't drive clear cross town for a chilly treat. Sweet Moses, located in the Gordon Square Arts District, is a 1920s-style soda fountain that takes ice cream to a whole different era. Sweet Moses excels at traditional America favorites like hot fudge sundaes, chocolate malted milk shakes, root beer floats, and strawberry phosphates. How cool is that?
4. Wade Oval Wednesdays
What better way to enjoy summer in the city than to grab a blanket and head to University Circle for Wade Oval Wednesdays, a weekly alfresco concert series? As you nosh on food from local vendors, drink a glass of wine or beer, and listen to great live music -- this year’s bands were picked in collaboration with The Beachland Ballroom – the little ones can explore the free children’s activities or just tire themselves out running around the scenic park. Show up on August 15, and you and the family can enjoy a free screening of Puss and Boots
. Now that's entertainment!
3. The Hershey Children’s Garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden
Open from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October, the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Hershey Children’s Garden truly is one of the most magical spots in the city. Everything is kid-sized, full of whimsy, and enchanted in that Secret Garden
kind of way. My kids love to explore the garden’s meandering paths, discovering its magical nooks and crannies. I’m happy to just sit and admire the profusion of flowers that seem to bloom all summer long. You and your kids can also climb into a giant tree house, watch fish and frogs at the pond, or explore the hidden caves. Be warned: Your kids will
jump into the fountain, so bring a bathing suit and towel.
2. 41° North Kayak Coastal Adventures
Not much beats paddling a kayak on a warm summer’s day. Cleveland-based 41° North Kayak Coastal Adventures will rent you a boat by the hour or day out of its Yak Shack Rental Center in Lakewood’s Rocky River Reservation. You can stick to the lazy twists and turns of the Rocky River or venture out into Lake Erie (weather permitting). Both single and tandem kayaks are available. Paddlers must be at least 14, but children can ride along with an adult. Once you and your kids get your sea legs consider signing up for one of 41° North’s weekly tours, like the three-hour sunset tour of Lakewood’s cliffs and coves. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.
1. Indians Game
Oh, Tribe, we will always love you. Despite the MLB standings at any given time, going to Progressive Field for an Indians game is always a magical time. Where else can you snack on beer and hotdogs while watching a major league sporting event capped off by fireworks? New promotions make it easier, cheaper and funner than ever to cheer on the Tribe. For starters, you can pick up tickets for the bleachers at just $10 a pop. Park for free in Ohio City and hop on one of two different shuttles, available for just $1 round trip, every Indians home weekend for the remainder of the 2012 regular season.
Wendy Park at Whiskey Island
Cleveland Museum of Art
West Side Market
Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve
The Children’s Museum of Cleveland
Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Bowling at the Corner Alley
Rockefeller Park Greenhouse
Photos Bob Perkoski