We asked, and readers answered. During the nomination period in March and the voting period in May, parents in Northeast Ohio weighed in on everything family-friendly in the region for our third annual contest.
Here are this year’s winners and honorable mentions in the “Things to Do with Kids” theme.
View the complete 2018 Parent Choice Awards winners in our July issue, or click here for winners in the “Food & Shopping” categories. Click here for winners in the “Health, Learning & More” categories.
Best new place/experience
Children’s Museum of Cleveland
At its new location in the Midtown Cleveland neighborhood, the museum brings a fresh look at fun and learning for all abilities in the historic Stager-Beckwith mansion. Exhibits include Wonder Lab, where water and science combine; Adventure City, which encourages pretend play and limitless imagination; Making Miniatures, a fascinating collection of dollhouses; and the Arts & Parts art studio. The museum also offers special resources to guests with developmental, sensory and learning differences.
As the nation’s largest indoor adventure park, Play: CLE offers 25,000 square feet of fun, including a zipline, climbing wall, ropes course, bouldering, parkour, and the Ninja Warrior Course. There’s also The Biner dining and bar area, plus a kids’ obstacle area for the youngest guests, making Play: CLE, located in Avon, a perfect fit for the whole family.
Kids and adults flock to Scene75 in Brunswick, where you can find practically every form of indoor entertainment: arcade, go-karts, laser tag, mini-golf, virtual reality, inflatables, 4-D motion theater, bumper cars, mini-bowling, and a laser maze. When you’ve worked up hunger and thirst, adults can visit the centrally-located bar and the whole family can get their fill in Food Truck Alley.
Great Lakes Science Center
Science, technology, engineering and math come alive and encourage all ages to “stay curious.” In addition to special traveling exhibitions and hundreds of hands-on exhibits, GLSC is home to the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, the Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater, the historic Steamship William G. Mather, the Cleveland Creates Zone, and the Polymer Funhouse, which includes an all-new infant area.
Akron Children’s Museum
Founded by a group of young parents who, after visiting numerous children’s museums throughout the U.S., determined that such an institution was needed close to home, the museum offers big imagination in a small footprint — perfect for young children. More than a dozen interactive activities and spaces are expertly arranged to give kids the freedom to explore while offering parents peace of mind.
Children’s Museum of Cleveland
The area’s newest museum lets kids splash, climb, build, create, explore and more, all while learning and having fun. Exhibits include Wonder Lab, where water and science combine; Adventure City, which encourages pretend play and limitless imagination; Making Miniatures, a fascinating collection of dollhouses; and the Arts & Parts art studio. On-site parking and the ability to bring in your own food add to the family-friendly appeal.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Families delve deep into the past in the dinosaur hall, discover the outer reaches of the Universe in Shafran Planetarium, and experience natural wonders and creature features in the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden. Children can experience hands-on learning in Smead Discovery Center, where the motto is “please touch!”
Best live theater experience for kids
Just look for the larger-than-life GE Chandelier — after all, it’s the world’s largest permanent crystal chandelier — and you’ll know your family has arrived at Playhouse Square. Each year, the not-for-profit performing arts center in Cleveland attracts more than one million guests. Parent date nights and family outings are the norm year-round, but kids will particularly love the annual Family Theater Day, designed to introduce the world of live theater to the next generation.
Beck Center for the Arts
Located in Lakewood, Beck Center is more than a non-profit organization that combines professional theater with arts education. It is committed to creating art experiences as individual as the people it serves, with eclectic performances to suit many tastes, education opportunities for all ages and abilities, community outreach programs, and free art exhibitions.
Magical Theatre Co.
As the only professional resident and touring theatre for young audiences in Northeast Ohio, this Barberton-based company attracts designers, actors, producers and directors whose credentials have been established from Broadway to Hollywood. Kid-friendly performances, often with an interactive component, happen year-round in the historic theatre.
Best place to get outdoors
From field to forest, beach to rock cliff, and winter to summer, Cleveland Metroparks lets you explore 18 reservations spanning more than 23,000 acres with more than 300 miles of trails, eight golf courses, and a nationally-acclaimed zoo. For every age and in every season, there’s an outdoor adventure awaiting your family.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This national park right in our own backyard park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife, and provides endless routes of discovery for visitors, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
This outdoor living museum on 3,500 acres promotes the beauty and importance of trees and plants. The grounds feature more than 20 miles of trails that lead visitors through cultivated gardens and native forests, as well as the Butterfly Garden, Murch Canopy Walk, and Emergent Tower, which rises 120 feet above the forest floor for breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Farmpark provides a connection to agricultural roots, helping people understand where food and clothing come from — but for families, it’s so much more. Through play and hands-on learning, kids experience life on a farm, from the Dairy Parlor, Well Bred Shed and Grain Place to the stables, indoor arena, barnyard and more. There’s also a farm-themed playground and picnic pavilion in Showman’s Circle.
Best park or playground
This Beachwood mega-playground is for children of all ages and abilities. Located at the Mandel JCC, Preston’s H.O.P.E. include Imagination Village, with make-believe houses that are connected by a raised walkway; Play Theatre; and Sand Area, as well as play areas with swings, tunnels and slides.
Spread over 62 acres in Green, Boettler Park includes two playgrounds, a walking trail, protected wetland, a stocked fishing pond, historic schoolhouse, and recreation galore: tennis, basketball and sand volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and soccer fields.
The crown jewel of the Lakewood Parks system, this 31-acre lakefront park offers pools, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, a playground area, bandstand, Lakefront Promenade, picnic areas, softball fields, and the Lakewood Skatepark.
Best rainy day outing
RainForest at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Showcasing more than 10,000 plants and 600 animals from the jungles of Asia, Africa and the Americas, this indoor hot spot (literally) is perfect for a rainy day or a long Northeast Ohio winter. The two-acre, two-level habitat features an indoor aviary, 25-foot waterfall, tropical rainstorm exhibit with thunder and lightning effects, a research hut and weather station, and much more.
After enjoying a healthy meal or snack, parents can relax with a cafe beverage while kids have a ball in Cafe O’Play’s 5,000-square-foot play area, which features a large climbing structure, toddler area, dance room, Gaga Ball court, EyePlay interactive floor, sports court, and more. Frequent events and costumed character appearances add to the kid-friendly appeal.
Children’s Museum of Cleveland
On a rainy day, CMC brings the water play indoors at the Wonder Lab — but don’t worry, kids will stay dry thanks to full-coverage smocks. There’s also the Adventure City, Making Miniatures, and Arts & Parts exhibits to keep children busy when the weather outside is less-than-cooperative.
Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Open 363 days a year, GCA offers eight galleries and more than 50 exhibits. Learn about the animals, how aquarium staff cares for them, and when and what they eat. You don’t need scuba gear to go nose-to-nose with a painted turtle, get splashed by a stingray, be tickled by a cleaner shrimp, snap a selfie with a shark, and more.
Best place to explore nature
Among its 18 reservations and 100 hiking trails, the parks system also offers five nature centers: Brecksville, Canalway, North Chagrin, Rocky River, and Watershed Stewardship. A professional staff of educators helps families better understand the natural world, the cultural history of the region, or learn new outdoor skills. Whether in the classroom, out on the trail, on the river, or in one of its education centers, the natural wonders of the park district are just a visit away.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Numbers don’t lie: more than 900 plant species are found in CVNP, as well as 194 species of birds, 91 aquatic macroinvertebrates, 43 fish, 32 mammals, 22 amphibians, and 20 species of reptiles. The diversity and geography of the national park — in addition to its rich, family-friendly programming — make it a destination for exploration.
F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm
This Summit Metro Parks discovery center’s grounds include a suspension bridge, gardens, observation decks, ponds, wetlands, hiking trails and a tall-grass prairie. The 10,000-square-foot visitors center offers seasonal exhibits, kids’ areas, live native animals, a gift shop and more.
Best water park
Kalahari Resorts & Conventions
From toddlers and teens to moms and dads, everyone finds their oasis at Kalahari in Sandusky. The getaway boasts hair-raising waterslides, world-class spas, kids’ play areas, and diverse dining options. Water attractions include a 12,000-square-foot wave pool, Swahili Swirl raft ride, Zip Coaster uphill water roller coaster, Cheetah Race slides, lazy river, indoor/outdoor spas, and much more.
Cedar Point Shores Waterpark
Cedar Point Shores Waterpark offers 18 acres of splashing family fun, from thrilling water slides for adults and older kids to Lemmy’s Lagoon and Lakeside Landing for the youngest visitors. Grab a snack at Beaches & Cream and lounge in a cabana to cool off on a hot summer day.
Great Wolf Lodge
Family staycation adventures await in this Sandusky resort’s indoor water park that includes several options to swim, splash and slide — rain or shine. Special events, shows, an arcade and the Cub Club ensure there’s plenty of fun for little ones.
Water Works Family Aquatic Center
Keep cool in the lazy river, work out in the deep end, or find fun on the exhilarating slides in this close-to-home water park in Cuyahoga Falls. Memberships or daily passes are available to residents and non-residents alike.
Best family beach
Staffed by lifeguards in the summer and with cabanas and beach chair rentals, Huntington beach offers a taste of an oceanfront vacation on the shores of our very own Lake Erie. In 2011, Huntington became the first beach in Ohio and the first on Lake Erie to be recognized as Blue Wave Certified by the Clean Beaches Council.
Park of the Lakefront Reservation, Edgewater Park boasts 9,000 feet of shoreline, dog and swim beaches, boat ramps, a fishing pier, picnic areas and grills, and a rentable pavilion. It’s the summer home of the Edgewater Live food and music fest, and also houses the new Edgewater Beach House, which ups the park’s beach vibe with made-to-order fare and a seasonal outdoor bar with the best view in town.
Headlands Beach State Park’s mile-long natural sand beach is the largest in the state. In addition to swimming, sunbathing, sandcastles and picnics, make a whole day of your family’s trip with a visit to nearby Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, or Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve & Marina.
Best jump center
Get huge air, stay fit, host a party, or just bounce around at Sky Zone’s four locations in Northeast Ohio. The original home of wall-to-wall aerial action offers open jump daily, in addition to special events like dodgeball, Skyfit, Toddler Time, Glow, and more. Sky Zone also offers Sensory Hours, which provide a quieter, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs.
What do Knockerball, Battle Beam and Ninja Course all have in common? They’re popular activities at Get Air, located in Middleburg Heights. Of course, there’s also trampolines galore, including a Kiddie Court area for jumpers less than 46 inches. Also on-site are a foam pit, dodgeball area, rock wall, space for fitness classes, and more.
The Jump Yard
This North Royalton bounce zone offers a variety of inflatables, an infant/toddler area, a parent lounge, and a concession stand so kids can refuel and play all day. Teen Nights provide affordable thrills for older kids and peace of mind for parents.
Best place to take energetic kids/best play area
Kids can bounce off their seemingly-infinite supply of energy at four area locations: Boston Heights, Highland Heights, Canton, and Westlake. From Toddler Time to the Warrior Course and every age and ability between, Sky Zone is a surefire win when it comes to entertaining the whole family.
Located in Stow, Cafe O’Play’s massive play area accommodates a wide age range. Older kids will enjoy the climbing structure — made of colorful tubes, slides, obstacle courses, ramps and stairs — while a toddler play area entertains kids up to 48 months and offers cushions, ramps, toys and a small climbing structure. If that’s not enough, the indoor play center also features an EyePlay interactive floor, screened in Sports Court, Gaga Ball, a dance room, and private party rooms.
Play Day Cafe
This Solon play spot is designed for children from infants to 12-year-olds. Running around the multi-level playground, toddler playground, interactive game floor, Ball Blaster Zone, Wiggle Car track, and more will ensure a quiet ride home — even if your kids have outgrown naptime.
Best animal encounter
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Meet animals from around the world and learn how you can secure a future for wildlife at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Feed a giraffe right out of your hand and get nose-to-nose with Amur Tigers. Unlock your adventure with KeyBank ZooKeys to learn more about your favorite animals. Give your feet a rest on the Circle of Wildlife Carousel or Boomerang Line. New this summer, journey to the Asian Highlands, home of the Amur leopard, snow leopard, red pandas, and takin.
The tagline “You’ve Never Been This Close” couldn’t be more true, as the Akron Zoo’s layout and exhibit spaces let visitors get nose-to-nose with hundreds of rare and exotic animals from around the world. New additions are coming to the “Curious Creatures” exhibit, plus check out the new resident male snow leopard and a new species, the Siberian musk deer.
Jungle Terry and Friends
Jungle Terry brings wildlife right to your location, training, caring for and traveling with dozens of animals and reptiles. The kid-friendly shows are available seven days a week and make stops at parties, schools, libraries, company picnics and more throughout Northeast Ohio.
Lake Erie Nature & Science Center
Providing free admission seven days a week and performing wildlife rehabilitation at no charge to the public, LENSC offers nature, environmental and science experiences through school field trips, preschool, family, scouting and planetarium programs, nature hikes and a variety of wildlife exhibits, along with domestic and wildlife close encounters.
Best place for tween/teen adventure
Affectionately known as “America’s Roller Coast,” Cedar Point offers teens and tweens independence while navigating the park themselves, making their way through more than a dozen high speed roller coasters, experiencing thrill rides, and even taking a splash break at Cedar Point Shores water park. New this year is Steel Vengeance, the tallest, fastest and longest hybrid roller coaster in the world.
The largest indoor adventure park in the nation offers a unique mix of challenging attractions that will have teens running, jumping, climbing and testing their skills in order to achieve bragging rights among their friends. Activities include zip line, ropes course, climbing wall, ninja warrior course, parkour course, bouldering area, and more.
Teens and tweens love stretching boundaries, and that includes testing the limits of gravity. At four area Sky Zone locations, kids can take part in a Skyslam dunk contest, dive into the Foam Zone, battle it out in Skyjoust, defy obstacles in Parkour Blox, compete in Ultimate Dodgeball, or simply jump the day away.
Best family staycation destination
While older kids and teens will enjoy this Sandusky amusement park’s high-speed thrills, there’s plenty of fun for the littlest guests, too. Cedar Point’s Kiddie Kingdom and Camp Snoopy are starting points for young thrill-seekers, and even parents can get in on the fun with the park’s Parent Swap program. Add another day to the staycation and the whole family can cool off at Cedar Point Shores Waterpark.
Great Wolf Lodge
Staycation fun awaits in this Sandusky resort, where families can splash away in the indoor water park, explore activities and attractions throughout the resort, and experience delicious on-site dining. Great Wolf Lodge offers a high proportion of attractions for kids in particular, so it’s a great destination for young families.
Kalahari Resorts & Conventions
Family members of all ages find their oasis at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Sandusky, one location in the chain of largest indoor water parks in the U.S. The getaway boasts hair-raising waterslides, world-class spas, kids’ play areas, and diverse dining options.
Cleveland’s hotspot for arts and culture offers world-class attractions guaranteed to up the family fun factor so much, your kids won’t even realize they’re learning. View historical landmarks, soak in the surroundings in one of several museums, catch a concert or live performance, grab a bite to eat, and so much more.