Located on the shores of Lake Erie in Northeastern Ohio, Cleveland is the state’s second largest city. It’s probably best known as the “Home of Rock and Roll,” a name it was given by a local DJ during a live radio cast in the 1950s. Modern Cleveland is home to museums and sports arenas giving it the most urban feel of all of Ohio’s cities. Here’s Trekaroo’s top 10 fun things to do in Cleveland with Kids.
There is so much to do in Cleveland, you’re definitely going to want to stay the night.
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Fun Things to Do in Cleveland with Kids
10. Enjoy Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods.
It’s hard to miss Downtown Cleveland’s 125 foot Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument located in Public Square. A beautiful tribute to fallen Civil War soldiers from Cuyahoga County, its ornately carved column features the Goddess of Freedom. In recent years, Public Square has become a gathering place for local and visiting families due to its fun play fountain which perfectly reflects the monument in its waters. The area also features gardens, a café, and family-friendly events during the summer months.
The historic West Side Market in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood is a local hot spot where families head for a wide variety of produce, meats, and freshly-cooked meals. Dating back to 1912, it’s the oldest public market in Cleveland. Just a few blocks away is Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream Flagship Shop. Each batch of ice cream sold by Mitchell’s across the city is crafted right here in the Ohio City shop. The best part is that children can watch the ice cream being produced from a viewpoint high above the kitchen while enjoying their own treat. With flavors like caramelized chocolate and lemon black raspberry yogurt, the entire family will leave the shop with a smile.
9. Let the tots play at the Children’s Museum of Cleveland.
After two years of renovations, the all new Children’s Museum of Cleveland reopened in late 2017 in its new midtown location. Now housed in the Stager-Beckwith mansion, the museum has three floors of exhibits. In the Wonder Lab, children get to play with water, certainly a favorite for most kids. Tots squeal with glee as they watch ball after ball shoot upwards on streams of water. Another highlight is the adjacent Adventure City which provides places for tykes to build, pretend, and climb. Upstairs in the Making Miniatures exhibit, families can go on a hunt to find the museum symbol in more than a dozen dollhouses.
8. Cheer for the home team at a ball game.
Going to a Cleveland Indians game is a favorite summer pastime for northeastern Ohio families. The Cleveland Indians have quite a history, being one of the American League’s eight charter league franchises. Since 1994, the team has played at Progressive Field. Kids are invited up to the Kids Clubhouse where they can clock their speed running against their favorite players, throw pitches, test their reaction time, and even go down a two-story baseball bat slide.
Baseball not your family’s favorite sport? The Browns football team and the Cavaliers basketball also play in Cleveland. In fact, their homes are not far from Progressive Field.
7. Appreciate the view of Lake Erie at Edgewater Beach or Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve.
A favorite spot for families to enjoy the city’s Lake Erie waterfront, Edgewater Park is only a couple miles outside of Downtown Cleveland. This popular park has about 9,000 feet of shoreline where families can swim, picnic, play, and even go for a bike ride. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the Cleveland script sign, one of five across the city, in the upper area of the park. Not only does it have a fabulous view, it makes for a fun image for personalized postcards to send love ones!
A quieter spot for checking out the local wildlife is Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. Designated an important bird area by the Audubon Society of Ohio, this 88-acre man-made preserve offers a 1.3-mile loop trail for families to appreciate Lake Erie in all of its beauty. Families can even stop for a picnic or simply enjoy the gorgeous view of Lake Erie at sunset.
6. Watch the Sharks Swim by at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium
If your kids are fans of all things aquatic, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium is certainly right up their alley! Kids can try to count the sharks and fish swimming by in the aquarium’s massive shark tank. The tank even has a 150-foot underwater tunnel for families to walk through so that children can experience fish swimming just over their heads. The aquarium’s stingray touch tank is also a fun place to spend time interacting with the animals. Tots can stand along the side of the tank and watch the rays as they seemingly fly through the water. Greater Cleveland Aquarium is completely indoors so it is a fun, four-season spot to learn about the local aquatic ecosystem and the natural world beyond.
5. See the butterflies at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
Do you have a budding gardener on your hands? Cleveland Botanical Garden lets kids get down and dirty with over 350 species of exotic plants! Opened in 2003, the Glasshouse has a two-story butterfly habitat where the delicate-winged creatures soar and flutter overhead. In the Hershey Children’s Garden, a giant tree house offers a bird’s eye view of the outdoor gardens while allowing kids to use their imaginations racing up and down the stairs. Hidden paths lead to fairy gardens and even a kid-sized bird nest.
4. Walk among the wallabies at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
Each city in Ohio seems to have its own zoo and Cleveland is no exception. At the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo visitors can see four different types of bears: black bears, grizzly bears, sloth bears, and Andean bears. Maybe you’ll be as lucky as we were and get to see the grizzlies wrestling together in the water! Another highlight at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is the Australian Adventure exhibit. Families can walk among the wallabies and kangaroos. Keep your eyes open and you might spot a joey in its mom’s pouch! Kids love the nearby Yaga Tree, a tree house playground where they can climb across rope bridges and slide down a long twisty slide. Watch out for the crocodile who lives in the tree house!
Check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things to Do in Ohio with Kids for more fun Ohio zoos to visit.
3. Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Cleveland rocks! In fact, rock and roll is a Cleveland-coined term! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum traces music history back to the origins of early rock to present day. You don’t have to be a super fan or even a fan at all to be touched by the artifacts you’ll see. Among them; notebook pages with lyrics scrawled on them by famous hands, kitschy memorabilia that may still be gathering dust in your parents’ attic, and belongings that show the humanity of someone reaching for a dream that few attain.
There are a lot of historical items, as well those belonging to modern day artists kids may be more familiar with like Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. The interactive exhibit, “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” showcases rock-themed, playable pinball machines featuring icons like Alice Cooper, Dolly Parton, Guns ‘n’ Roses and of course, the band behind the hit, “Pinball Wizard,” The Who! Visitors receive free tokens with their admission so gather your Pinball Wizards and go! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is beside the Great Lakes Science Center making for a fun and easy day.
2. Explore the physical world at The Great Lakes Science Center.
The Great Lakes Science Center is the perfect place for curious kids to investigate how things work. The top floor of the museum is devoted to hands-on physics demonstrations ranging from how sound is produced to circuit boards with which kids can learn about electricity. You’ll find a plasma ball and other classics from your childhood museum visits in the hall of Science Phenomena. Down one floor in the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, space flight is the focus. From piloting vehicles to looking inside the actual 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module, historic space flight and ideas for the future meet in one place. Finally, the chemistry shows at the Great Lakes Science Center should not be missed. Most of the time there is an impressive explosion in store at the end.
The Steamship William G. Mather is tied up directly outside the Great Lakes Science Center and available for self-guided tours. Walk up through the cargo hold to the pilot house. Children can even pretend to steer this 618-foot historic ship. Be sure to check out the engine room and engineers’ quarters in the back of the ship. There you can learn exactly how this steam ship was powered until it was taken out of service in 1980.
1. Investigate art using the Art Lens App at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Cleveland Museum of Art has modernized to reach the next generation with digital exhibits unlike anything our family has ever experienced. The museum’s Art Lens Exhibit draws children in by engaging them digitally with items that can be found upstairs in the collection. Visitors can use Art Lens screens to flip through items in the museum’s collection. Then they can choose an item, like a dagger or a helmet, by digitally grabbing it. On the next screen, they can put on the helmet or pose with the dagger for a photo. It’s even possible to connect a phone wirelessly to the exhibit so that the photo and information about the museum object can be downloaded automatically. The final challenge is to find the object upstairs in the museum’s collection with the help of the Art L’ens App.
The magic of the app doesn’t end there. There are also exhibits where kids can use a virtual pottery wheel to make vases and another where they create paintings on a screen through movement. Even without the apps and screens, the Cleveland Museum of Art certainly should be on your Cleveland itinerary. The museum’s collection is both massive and diverse including about 45,000 pieces ranging from photography to Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi. A highlight for families is the Armor Court with swords and full suits of armor. Entry to this museum is completely free for families.
Where to Eat in Cleveland with Kids
Cleveland has the most urban feel of all of Ohio’s cities, and its food scene does not disappoint. There are many local chains that serve up delicious food in a kid-friendly environment.
Visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art? Stop in for lunch at the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern while you’re in the neighborhood. Happy Dog offers 50 different toppings for your burger or hot dog so everyone in the family is sure to leave satisfied. Also, don’t miss out on the fries. There are more than 25 dipping sauces available from ketchup to Brazilian chimichurri sauce.
Another must for families is a meal at Melt Bar and Grilled. The grilled cheese options are almost endless. While my son enjoyed the plainest possible “Kindergarten” grilled cheese, I savored every bite of the “Popper.” The “Popper” is stuffed with jalapeno peppers and cream cheese; then it is battered and fried. I will certainly order this sandwich every time I return to Cleveland.
For a special breakfast treat, families should consider Jack Flaps Luncheonette. The waffle that my son ordered looked like a dessert and the lemon curd on my pancakes with gram cracker crumbles had just the perfect tang.
Downtown Cleveland offers many choices including Corner Alley on Euclid Avenue severing up hand-tossed pizza. It also has 16 bowling lanes with giant screen televisions and computerized scoring for an entire evening of family fun. Nearby Barrio Gateway is located in the historic 5th Street Arcades. Be sure to walk through the historic indoor shopping plaza after enjoying your tacos.
Downtown Cleveland Hotels for Families
Cleveland, Ohio has lodging options that will suit any family’s style and budget. These downtown hotels are within walking distance of many major Cleveland attractions and eateries.
Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown
Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown (pictured above) is unlike any other Holiday Inn Express that I have ever visited. It is truly a historic city hotel. Once the Guardian Bank Building, Holiday Inn Express Downtown Cleveland has the look of a 19th Century hotel. However, it’s rooms and fixtures have been recently updated to 21st century standards so it has a modern feel. The location directly across the street from the 5th Street Arcade is perfect for grabbing a quick bite to eat. It’s also only a ten minute walk from Progressive Field.
Residence Inn Cleveland Downtown
Families heading to Cleveland for a sports game will love the convenience and proximity of Residence Inn Cleveland Downtown. Residence Inn is an all-suite hotel, giving families plenty of room to spread out. Each room has an in-suite kitchen, and complimentary breakfast is served daily.
The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland
For the ultimate in Cleveland luxury, The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland offers its guests stunning views of Lake Erie and Cleveland proper. Ritz Kids programs make families staying at the hotel feel special. Guest relations is on staff to help with procuring tickets to many of Cleveland’s games and attractions.
Things to Do Near Cleveland Ohio with Kids
Take a Day Trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park or Put-In-Bay
Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky is located only about an hour’s drive from Cleveland. Dubbed the “Roller Coast,” it is loaded with fun roller coasters for the entire family. The park’s newest attraction, Steel Vengeance is world’s first steel-on-wood hybrid roller coaster. It stands over 200 feet tall and the initial drop in the track is 90 degrees! Just looking at it from the walkway leading to it will take your breath away! Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force are currently two of the fastest roller coasters in the entire world; the thrill seekers in your family will certainly be happy riding coasters all day. There are also two Peanuts-themed kiddie areas so the little ones won’t feel left out. Cedar Point is located right along the shores of Lake Erie, making it easy for families to take a break from the thrills.
Families also enjoy taking a boat out of Sandusky to visit one of Lake Erie’s islands. Trekaroo families love Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island. Jet Express leaves from downtown Sandusky several times a day. On South Bass Island, families can bike, mini golf at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, or go to the top of Perry’s Monument to get the best possible view of the islands.
Many thanks to Karyn Locke who wrote the first version of this article.
Disclosure: The author was hosted by Destination Cleveland to give you fine folks the scoop on Cleveland, Ohio. While she appreciated the hospitality, all opinions are her own.