There's no shortage of things to do in Cleveland: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cedar Point Amusement Park, shopping, live music and events, restaurants, bars, and sports. But did you know that you can see a statue that looks like it's crying black tears? Or tour the original A Christmas Story house? How about a museum dedicated solely to contraception? Once you wander off the beaten path, you'll be surprised by all the cool and unexpected experiences this little city in Ohio has to offer.
You'll find every kind of sausage under the sun at West Side Market: fresh, smoked, double-smoked, Polish, Hungarian, you name it. There are 100 stalls sprawling throughout this spacious market hall: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheese-makers, and sellers of spice and rice. Enjoying continuous usage since its construction in 1912, the beautiful barrel-shaped building has been repeatedly renovated and improved and has the airy feel of an aircraft hangar.
The house where A Christmas Story was filmed is now open year-round to the public. Fans of the nostalgic 1983 holiday film will appreciate that the interior has been restored to its original cinematic splendor and is a replica of Ralphie's cozy 1940s family home. The museum directly across the street features original props such as Randy's overstuffed snowsuit and the toys from the store where Ralphie saw the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle of his dreams. Just don't shoot your eye out, kid.
When the 45-story Sohio Building in downtown Cleveland was first opened in 1985 by Standard Oil of Ohio, also known as "Sohio," the CEO at the time decided the soulless corporate structure needed a bit of brightening up. So, he commissioned sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to design the world's biggest rubber stamp, which they did—the 49-foot-tall stamp with the word FREE on the bottom honors Civil War soldiers and freedom from slavery. When British Petroleum took the building over not long after, the new CEO refused to "rubber stamp" the sculpture, feeling its message mocked the global corporation. The stamp was finally freed from a warehouse in Indiana in 1991, finding its permanent home in Willard Park, a few blocks from its intended location. One thing's for sure: this giant stamp is sure to make an impression on you.
In Cleveland's enormous Lakeview Cemetery, you'll find the infamous "Angel of Death Victorious," an unsettling life-size statue with outstretched wings that appears to have black tears streaming down her face. Hauntingly beautiful, the Haserot Angel, as she is also known, sits solemnly on her stone throne at the gravesite of canning entrepreneur Francis Haserot. But that's not the only spooky statue in this 280-acre home to 100,000 graves, including that of former president James E. Garfield. You'll find some cloaked statues with faces obscured by their stone robes scattered throughout.
According to local legend, John D. Rockefeller funded the construction of "Cleveland's Crystal Palace" because he wanted to shop indoors. The 140-year-old shopping complex, with its two nine-story towers and five-story arcade enclosed under an enormous glass skylight, was modeled on the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The magnificent structure has two stories of shopping and restaurants to explore. You can even book a few nights here if you fancy -- the top floors are now a hotel.
The Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception showcases the desperate, dangerous, often painful lengths people have gone to over the centuries, all in the name of preventing pregnancy. Here, you'll find Casanova's handwritten advice for his lovers to insert a lemon after doing the deed with him. Other "contraceptives" include beaver testicles, Goodyear tire rubber, spider carcasses, and mule ear wax.
Once you've finished viewing this outlandish collection, you'll leave the museum with a newfound appreciation for the marvels of modern medicine.
If you find yourself in Cleveland during the winter months, head to the harbor, and you'll find a rather eerie phenomenon on Lake Erie: a vacant lighthouse encrusted in layers upon layers of ice. Every winter, the West Pierhead Lighthouse turns into a gigantic ice sculpture, whipped up by Mother Nature herself through a combination of wintry winds and waves. The 105-year-old lighthouse's slight tilt somehow makes this icy occurrence all the more unsettling.
Although it's becoming a bit of a "rare bird" these days, you can still find this distinctly Midwestern dish on some menus in traditional Cleveland eateries. Here's the catch: city chicken is not actually chicken at all. It's a mock chicken dish concocted during the Great Depression when chicken was considered luxury meat. Imaginative Midwesterners mimicked the savory flavor of drumsticks by skewering veal or pork and breading it. Nowadays, chicken is cheap, so order a helping of mock chicken while you still can.
This multi-turreted, gargoyle-laden castle at the heart of Cleveland has too much history not to be haunted. Apparently, its elaborate construction was an attempt to distract the original owner's wife from all the deaths of her immediate family members, which took place in the castle -- until she died, too. Supposedly, an ax murder, a hanging death of an illegitimate daughter, and a mass shooting of Nazis down in the basement have also occurred within the castle walls. Once home to Mickey Deans, the late husband of Judy Garland, it has a bit of star power behind it, too. Although now a private residence, Franklin Castle still attracts its fair share of morbidly curious onlookers.
Since the term "Rock and Roll" was coined in Cleveland in the 1950s, the genre has played an important role in the city's identity. Celebrate the genre and the country's best rock artists with a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The striking, angular building holds permanent and rotating exhibits celebrating the origins of rock and roll, as well as its influence on social, political, and cultural history. Artifacts and exhibits showcase artists like Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, and Aretha Franklin. If you're at all into music, you'll want to check this out.
Although a grocery store may not sound like a thrilling attraction, checking out Heinen's is a must-do experience when in Cleveland. Located in the historic Cleveland Trust Building, you've never seen a grocery store so majestic. Taste local wines and beers, or enjoy a warm espresso at the coffee shop while admiring the old bank's tall pillars, elaborately decorated arches, and an impressive glass ceiling. You could spend hours in this beautiful building (and you won't go hungry).
The West Side Market and its iconic clock tower are on the west side of downtown, in the Ohio City district. It's the oldest market space in Ohio and hosts hundreds of vendors selling everything from produce to poultry and spices to confectionery. Climbing the clock tower that stands on one corner of the market will transport you to Europe in an earlier century; it's in the National Registry of Historic Places, and the view from the top is one of the best in Cleveland.
Rarely does public space feel so well-celebrated as in Cleveland's downtown district. Perk Plaza is a lovely place to enjoy a coffee or read a book, and Willard Park hosts the Free Stamp, a locally famous piece of public art. Make sure you take a walk through the Cleveland Public Square, the central plaza of the city. The park is home to a 125-foot monument to the Civil War and gives you a great view of Cleveland's three tallest buildings—Key Tower, the Terminal Tower, and 200 Public Square.
Sports fans will enjoy seeing the Cleveland Indians play live at Progressive Field. Check out the unique local eateries and craft beers that line the stadium before the game, or browse the Indian Team Shop. You can even book a tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities. If you're traveling with kids, the Kids Clubhouse has various interactive activities for children of any age, including a pitching simulator and a kid-sized baseball field.
Cleveland has a busy festival schedule all year long, and there's something for everyone. The Cleveland International Film Festival is a huge city event and is visited by over 100,000 people every year. The city's fashion week is another popular event and is the third largest fashion week in the United States. If you like to party, don't miss the Great Lakes Burning River Fest, a two-night event at Whiskey Island featuring music and craft beer.
Have your dinner with a view. Cleveland's unique location, perched on the shores of Lake Erie, is part of what makes this city so unique. Local companies offer brunch, lunch, and dinner cruises leaving from downtown. You'll coast down the river, listen to live music, and end with a stunning sunset and a fantastic view of Cleveland's waterfront skyline.
East 4th street is the heart of downtown. A pedestrian street lined with independent cafes, local bars, world-class dining, and exciting entertainment, it's no wonder locals say that East 4th is like no other street in the world. For dinner, look for one of the many local restaurants opened by world-renowned chefs. Then take in the game at a sports bar or a unique cocktail at one of the city's luxurious bars. End the night at a renovated arcade or bowling alley. You can't be bored on East 4th.
If you're feeling lucky, you might want to spend an evening at the JACK Cleveland Casino. Located in the former Higbee's department store building in Tower City Center, the casino has over 100,000 square feet of premier gaming space. The casino is open 24 hours, so you can get your gaming fix at any time. While you're there, go next door to Terminal Tower and take the elevator up the 52 stories to the viewpoint at the top. You'll find an unrivaled view of the city at the top of what once was the tallest building in North America outside of New York City.
If you're curious about the Great Lakes ecosystem and the regional environment, the Great Lakes Science Center is for you. This one-of-a-kind educational facility features exhibits on the natural environment in the Great Lakes region and exhibits showcasing local biotechnology, energy, and space advancements. The IMAX Dome theater shows breathtaking films on a 6-story curved screen format. Their films span a number of topics, from the Great Bear Rainforest to animal species that have been saved from extinction.
The Cultural Gardens began in 1916, and today have 33 gardens that have been designed and planted by a variety of cultural groups. They line Martin Luther King Boulevard and East Boulevard in Rockefeller Park. The purpose of the diversity shown through gardening is "peace through mutual understanding." Designers used their individual landscapes to pay homage to poets, philosophers, scientists, and other people who have contributed positively to the world. Also featured in the gardens are symbolic sculptures and replicas of or tributes to sacred monuments in other lands. Come to enjoy nature on foot or on a bicycle. You can take a leisurely walk or ride along the Doan Brook, which runs its route right through the Gardens. Educational guided tours are available through bookings.
Get up close and eye-level with over 300 marine species in various 360-degree displays throughout the aquarium. The facility houses 2,500 freshwater and saltwater animals, many of which come from nearby Lake Erie. Explore 8 different ecosystem galleries, including Tropical Reef and Giant Pacific Octopus. Help care for the stingrays by collaborating on a piece of art, or Sign up for ZZZs in the Seas and spend the whole night sleeping underneath the sharks. Shark enthusiasts can also visit the shark habitat to take a dive with them!
The women's flight museum showcases women's history in all facets of the aviation and aerospace industry. Tour the exhibits and learn about big names like Amelia Earhart, plus lesser-known women such as Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman, and first Native-American to have a pilot's license. Entrance is free, and you can purchase an inexpensive guided tour if you prefer.
North Chagrin Reserve is a stunning natural attraction filled with picnic areas, woodlands, wetlands, sanctuaries, and trails. Located in Mayfield Village, Willoughby Hills, and Gates Mills, the reservation is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, including varieties of frogs, toads, snakes, turtles, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, oaks, chestnuts, and wild geraniums. Don't miss out on Squire's Castle, a beautiful vacant gatehouse from the 1890s.