While it isn’t the bustling tourist hubs of New York and LA, Cleveland just might be one of the most underrated cities in America. Sitting along the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland boasts everything from museums to a lively theater district. My personal favorite? Gourmet grilled cheese. So what are some must-see spots in this Northeast Ohio city? Let’s get right into it.
1. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum tops out the list of must-see Cleveland. Where else can you view so much of modern musical history under one very cool roof? This pyramid-shaped building sits right on Lake Erie and holds several floors of exhibits and artifacts. Guitars played by rock gods like Jerry Garcia and Billie Joe Armstrong? Yep, they’ve got ‘em. You can also take a look at stage costumes worn by Elvis, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie. And ponder handwritten lyric sheets of songs so legendary that they’ve become a part of our society’s collective consciousness. Besides the permanent exhibits, the Rock Hall features specialty events and exhibits throughout the year. The biggest one is the annual induction ceremony, but there are smaller shindigs throughout the year. One of their most recent special exhibits? A collection of rock-themed pinball machines. How cool is that!
2. Tower City
Visiting Cleveland without a trip to Tower City would be like visiting New York without stopping at the Empire State building. As an iconic part of Cleveland’s skyline, the top of Tower City is visible for miles around. Inside, visitors will find a multi-level shopping mall with lots of their favorite stores—there’s even a food court if you get hungry. In the spring, the movie theater at Tower City plays host to the Cleveland International Film Festival, a wonderful event that brings in films and filmmakers from all over the world. The rest of the year though, it’s a normal movie theater, playing standard box office releases at reasonable prices. Of course, there’s more for movie buffs to love at Tower City. Parts of the building have featured in several films including A Christmas Story, Avengers,
and Captain America: the Winter Soldier.
Beyond that, Tower City is home to the Tower City Observation Deck. While it’s only open on select days certain times of the year, those lucky enough to take a $5 self-guided viewing tour can find sweeping views of the city and Lake Erie.
3. Edgewater Park and the Cleveland Sign
It ain’t Miami, but Cleveland does have a few nice beaches. On the westside of the city, travelers can find Edgewater Park, a gorgeous free beach park open to the public. Here, you can wiggle your toes in the sand, marvel at the vastness of Lake Erie itself, or get a cocktail during the summer months. You can even pick up seashells. Fancy a stroll or a bike ride along the waterfront? There are tons of walking and biking trails with sweeping views of the shoreline and the city. The Edgewater boathouse also includes large porch swings and seasonal drinks and snacks. (And a public restroom.) If you’re looking for one of those famous Cleveland script signs, the one here is perfectly poised with the Cleveland skyline as its backdrop. A tip for that perfectly centered shot? Try taking your picture from across the road instead of right by the sign.
4. The Cleveland Museum of Art
Ranked the second best museum in America by Business Insider
in 2016, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. Here, you can see a little bit of everything. Ancient pottery, suits of armor, Picasso, Monet, Warhol—there’s something for every art lover within these halls. There are exhibits dedicated to religious art of all kinds, antique furniture, even rugs. The best part? The Cleveland Museum of Art is free, so you can spend as much or as little time as you like. As a bonus, the Cleveland Museum of Art is yet another of Cleveland’s must-see locations to feature in film. A scene from Captain America: the Winter Soldier
was filmed in the museum’s bright and airy atrium.
5. Melt Bar & Grilled
No visit to Cleveland should be deemed complete without a visit to Melt Bar & Grilled. This Cleveland foodie paradise boasts several locations around town and a menu of gourmet grilled cheeses. These aren’t your childhood grilled cheeses though, as fillings range from pulled pork to six (6!) different kinds of bacon. With tons of vegan and vegetarian options too, this place really has something for everyone. A personal tip? When in doubt, go for the Fried Father. Or go all in with the Melt Challenge. This five pound whopper of a sandwich features 13 types of cheese, three slices of bread, and a ton of Melt’s homemade fries. As a general tip, a trip here will take some time, so sit back and relax with one of their speciality cocktails while you wait.
6. Playhouse Square
Like a lot of cities in America that used to be known for industry, Cleveland is revitalizing itself with the arts, and Playhouse Square is at the center of this leap forward into the future. Boasting several different theaters, Playhouse Square plays host to everything from comedy acts to Broadway productions. Past productions include Les Miserables
, Into the Woods
, and even the Hamilton
tour. Theater students from nearby Cleveland State University also perform here, giving art patrons a chance to support up and coming artists as well. No matter what visitors ultimately sit down to see, they’ll find a lively district with tons of local restaurants and charm. And plenty of parking!
The Wrap Up
Cleveland may not always make the lists of must-see tourist destinations in America, but it really should. This hidden gem of a city is the perfect mash up of old and new, with lots of industrial charm and plenty of modern shine. With tons to do and see, visitors to this oft-overlooked city will find out what locals already know—that music, art, and a killer grilled cheese might just be the key to a good time.