Last month, I sent my wife and two older kids on an adventure to New York City for spring break, while I took off a couple days from work to hang out with our younger two2 kids. Instead of sitting around the house watching those two play video games, I planned the Ultimate Cleveland Staycation. Over four days, we tried to fit in as many hot spots and tourist attractions as possible, along with some personal favorites I wanted to share with them. Because it was only four days, there’s no way we could possibly fit all that Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have to offer. But we sure tried.
Located on East 4th, The Corner Alley is the perfect downtown destination for families. Excellent bowling facilities, bumpers for the kids, excellent food and drinks, and the best part of all…free arcade games. I had no idea they were free until my youngest son walked over and just started playing. The arcade games weren’t just free. The arcade games were the same games I grew up playing, which gave me an unfair advantage that I was happy to exploit (followed up by much trash talking). I really wish Corner Alley had invested in WWF Wrestlefest, but they probably just didn’t realize it was my favorite game. The Corner Alley’s bowling lanes can be rented by the hour, and while it might be a little more expensive than your neighborhood bowling alley, you can’t beat Corner Alley’s electric atmosphere.
We absolutely love the Great Lakes Science Center. We used to have a membership when our kids were younger. It had been a few years since we had made a visit so I was excited to see everything that had been updated. The kids were immediately drawn to the NASA exhibits because space is cool. The upper level is where the magic happened for them, though. GLSC does such a fantastic job creating interactive exhibits that educate but are fun for all ages.
I spotted a group of college-age friends having a blast playing around with the music exhibits. My son plays baseball so the speed pitch setup was his favorite. The Great Lake Science Center is a hands-on adventure not to be missed as your family explores Cleveland.
I wasn’t sure if our 10-year-old and 13-year old would care to check out exhibits chronicling the likes of Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, The Doors, The Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis and the hundreds of musical artists featured in the Rock Hall. Honestly, I think The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame turned out to be one of the highlights of our staycation. The Rock Hall takes advantage of what they know best, which is music, by placing listening stations near most exhibits. While we were checking out the Architects of Rock and Roll exhibit, members of the Rock Hall staff showed up with a guitar and portable amp and held an impromptu “Guess that Riff” contest, offering prizes for correct guesses. All three of us walked away with special edition Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitar picks.
We also loved the guitar gallery displayed up on Level 2. Our personal favorite was Ryan Adams’ guitar, mostly because it was covered with Star Wars stickers.
Another stop I wasn’t sure about with kids was the Cleveland Museum of Art. Could an art museum really keep their attention for more than a few minutes? The answer was yes and no. They are kids, so after a few paintings and sculptures everything starts blending together. However, they did spend time looking at the artwork, reading the descriptions and even came up with some ideas of what some of the pieces conveyed. In the end, most of their questions revolved around why so many sculptures were missing their arms and heads and why so many pieces involved naked butts. In fairness, I was thinking the same thing. Cleveland is lucky to have such a beautiful art museum, filled with a level of art that rivals much larger cities.
Visiting a Federal Reserve doesn’t seem like an exciting destination, but this hidden gem was one of the highlights of our staycation. Within the Federal Reserve is their Learning Center and Money Museum, designed for families to visit and learning about finances. A visit isn’t going to last more than a couple hours so I wouldn’t plan a whole day around it specifically, but it’s perfect to add to a trip downtown. We learned about the origins of bartering and why money is the best form. You can even make your own currency in the Learning Center.
They have limited hours, so check the website for info as well as some online resources and games that teach kids about personal finances. You also can request group tours of the Federal Reserve through their website.
No Cleveland staycation would be complete without a trip to the zoo. We love the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and have been members for as long as I can remember. We love feeding the giraffes as well as getting up close to the lions. My favorite animals are tigers, so I was elated when the zoo added the Rosebrough Tiger Passage. Elephant Crossing is equally impressive. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is 138 acres of animals, adventures, and family fun. One thing our zoo has that other zoos don’t is the beautiful Rainforest building, which is a great way to escape the rain and the summer sun as well as allowing for more winter zoo visits.
Having been to larger, similar facilities in Chicago and Washington DC, I wasn’t sure how much we’d enjoy the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. While it doesn’t have the size of those museums, our Natural History Museum still has tons to offer families looking for a fun local adventure. We were able to check out their newer exhibit, Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs, which is on display through mid-August. The life-size models of these ancient flying reptiles were insanely huge. One interactive exhibit allowed you to pretend you were a pterosaur flying in prehistoric times.
The most well-known exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is Lucy, which, at the time of discovery, was the oldest early human ancestor ever found. There also is a juvenile T Rex named Jane on display.
One pleasant surprise was the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden. We had no idea there were living animals on display at the Natural History Museum. We visited on a cold day, but I’m glad we ventured outside because their outdoor facility was remarkable. We got up close and personal with a bald eagle. We also spotted barn owls, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes. We will be making another trip soon so we can spend more time checking out all of the animals in the Wildlife Center.
We couldn’t make our whole staycation about learning, although a visit to Brewnuts is truly a learning experience. If you’ve never been to Brewnuts, you are missing out. First, it’s a doughnut shop so that should be more than enough to get your family excited. Brewnuts isn’t just another doughnut shop, though. They elevate the game with their original flavors, attention to details and a love for the craft of doughnut making. I met Shelley and John Pippin a few years ago before their idea became a brick and mortar business. They are the real deal.
If you aren’t familiar with the Brewnuts story, they use beer in their doughnut recipes. If beer isn’t your thing, don’t worry — the alcohol is cooked out. What does happen from the beer, though, is a depth of flavor you don’t find in other doughnuts. Beyond the doughnuts, their shop is crazy cool. Brewnuts has such a vibrant, inviting atmosphere that my kids loved. They have old-school counter seating that doughnut shops are known for as well as plenty of table seating for families. We ate our doughnuts from the comfort of lawn chairs in a corner of the shop that resembles Key West.
If you follow our family’s adventures on my website, you know our youngest daughter does not like doughnuts. I don’t understand so I constantly try and find the doughnut that will turn her from the dark side. Brewnuts delivered a home run in the form of a delightful doughnut covered in Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It was good. Real good. My personal favorite, though, was the Cadbury Crème Egg. If you’ve never been to Brewnuts, you owe it to your family to plan a trip in the near future.
Our family loves to travel. We have been fortunate enough to see and explore many great cities across our country, but we always love exploring all that Cleveland has to offer. The places we visited on our epic staycation are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cleveland’s sights and sounds. Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are finally getting their due in national publications the past couple years and it’s well deserved. We love our city and wouldn’t want to have daily adventures anywhere else.