If you're thinking there's not much to do in Cleveland, you might want to think again. Our contributing writer, Liz de La Nuez recently had the opportunity to go on a press trip to Cleveland and boy was she in love with this charming city. Today, she's sharing with us some of the many attractions, shopping and dining options that Cleveland has to offer, along with things to do while visiting this hidden gem.
By Contributor, Liz de La Nuez
Cleveland Rocks! When I was invited to visit the city of Cleveland through Jet Blue’s inaugural flight, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went on my merry way to Cleveland, Ohio and I will be forever grateful, we discovered a hip and modern community that felt fresh and new. The people we met were all humble, friendly and kind. Everyone that we came in contact with only raved about their city and took such pride in their hometown. People told us heartfelt stories about their connections to Cleveland.
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There was a real camaraderie between business owners, community leaders and the people of Cleveland that felt heartfelt and honest. They understand the popular reaction to Cleveland, however they also know how much their amazing city has to offer. This city is full of life, has a lot of history to offer, yet it’s very modern and forward thinking. There are great people doing such pretty spectacular things. We met a lot of thoughtful individuals that shared their favorite hang outs and showed us all the wonderful surprises that Cleveland has to offer.
Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn which was centrally located and close to all the hot spots that we visited. It was lovely, clean and the staff was extremely hospitable. The room was very spacious and included a fully stocked kitchen which is great when traveling with family. It offered a contemporary free breakfast in the morning and it had a beautiful shopping area on the first floor. Outstanding and affordable, I would recommend this hotel when visiting Cleveland.
I have to admit that I was easily won over within the first few hours of landing in Cleveland. After meeting the amazing staff from Cleveland Destination, we were escorted to our first stop “Happy Dog.” It offers a great beer selection along with a build your own hot dog menu. There are over 50 toppings to choose from ranging from chili to fruit loops.
Of course what is a hot dog without a side of tater tots, right? This was a cool retro hot spot with awesome food and lively atmosphere. They enjoy showcasing local musicians and giving local artists the opportunity to display their artwork. They also host a popular “Polka Night” which is a big hit in the neighborhood and with the locals. The “Happy Dog” hosts live music on most nights and are big supporters of the local talents and keeping the arts alive.
Cleveland was built on Rock & Roll.
One of the most memorable events from my time in Cleveland was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For starters, it is HUGE so know to set aside several hours aside for rock and roll exploration. You definitely want to explore this unique museum at your leisure. We were so fortunate to have the best tour guide who enthusiastically took us on a musical stroll through all the different eras represented in the museum. We saw artists ranging from Elvis to Beyonce and were thrilled to discuss their influence on the music industry. The museum gave a nostalgic feel about where music has come from and a respect toward the artists that have made such huge impacts on today’s music. Seeing my favorite artists’ memorabilia was surreal and inspiring. It was a very enjoyable experience to hang out and listen to some of history’s truest and most talented musicians. I highly recommend visiting this museum and becoming acquainted with some of your favorites.
Our first dinner out on the town was at Lolita and I was completely impressed with this restaurant’s sophisticated decor and atmosphere. It was gracefully detailed in its appearance and the food was absolutely exceptional! It is an award winning restaurant owned and operated by Chef Micheal Symon. Like all the restaurants that we visited, they also pride themselves in the quality of freshness that their restaurants have to offer. The menu offered exotic and unique dishes such as crispy pig ears and roasted bone marrow. It was my first time eating bone marrow and it was one of the most savory dishes that I have ever had.
Afterward we strolled on over to Society Lounge which has a glamorous downtown vibe. It serves up fancy handmade cocktails with the freshest ingredients. There are no artificial flavors and everything is handmade right down to the syrup that some cocktails may entail. The mixologists are experts at their craft of making detailed drinks that are elegant and seductive. I ordered the Dessert Cocktail Flight which consists of three hand-made cocktails from scratch and scrumptious desserts also made from scratch. The mixologist’s take their time to perfect your fancy drinks and take pride in their craftsmanship. This tucked away intimate lounge promotes face to face conversations and invites you to sit back relax and enjoy another cocktail. You will feel as if you’ve been transported to a different era as you enjoy a classy night out while sipping some freshly made cocktails.
West Side Market
One of the things that surprised me most about Cleveland was the wonderful history that it had to offer. When we visited the West Side Market, I loved the story of how the same family owned businesses have been providing fresh choices to the public since 1912. I bought some of the most delicious coffee that I have ever had, grabbed some breakfast and headed to the top to take in the views. This market provides all sorts of delicacies and goodies. Fun place to walk around and pick up some items to eat or cook.
We had lunch at Prosperity Lounge which was one of my favorites. I loved everything about this place. From the vintage inspired decor to the incredible staff that sat and chatted with us about this and that. It was full of character and charm as the decor mostly consisted of antiques. Originally built in 1938, this is a hip place with a down to earth feel to it. It had a vintage bowling machine, retro jukebox and decor dating to before the days of prohibition. Just like everywhere else that we visited in Cleveland, they pride themselves on fresh local ingredients. We did see time and again restaurants supporting local farmers. One of the first items that I tried here was the Kishka Sausage Sandwich and I was in pure amazement from the explosion of taste that erupted in my mouth. It was one of the most amazing tastes that I have ever experience and it just got better from there! Following that we had the Pierogie which is a Clevelander favorite and again it was a masterpiece. But Prosperity Lounge was not done with me yet...to finish me off they swerved up Shrimp and Grits...which were a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I mean, this place had one great signature dish after another. The atmosphere was awesome, the new patio was perfection and the staff was friendly and fun. This is a “must” visit when in Cleveland.
Playhouse Square was a lovely place to visit and tour with it’s intricate detailing and breathtaking theatrical spaces. The building dates back to the 1900’s and the beauty and history that it offers is very special. There is an extraordinary story that goes along with this space about the rise and fall of this location, however it is too long for me to retell at the present time. Perhaps at another time, but if I have peaked your interest then you can find the story on Playhouse Square. They offer several different types of shows in their massive venue and even sell out, so if you are planning a visit to Cleveland I highly recommend catching a show at Playhouse Square.
The most memorable night of the trip was when we were given a tour of the local breweries. Sam McNulty who is Cleveland’s unofficial Mayor (as the locals like to refer to him) was sweet enough to stroll us around to each of his places and give us the V.I.P treatment. He was so kind and humble about the three locations that he founded and managed. We were all so impressed by his base of knowledge and commitment to the city of Cleveland. All the beer bars had a long list of local crafted beers and amazing food such as Bar Cento’s award winning pizza (voted best pizza in Ohio by Food Network). He showed us all in in’s and out’s of the the beer business and even gave us some cool Nano Brew glasses as a souvenirs.
We had breakfast at Urban Farmer Cleveland on our last day of the tour and it was spectacular. Again we saw the trend of farm to table that the city so proudly boasts about. This restaurant also prides itself in working with local farmers in order to offer the freshest ingredients in their dishes.
The Cleveland Museum
The Cleveland Museum of Art is FREE. Yes totally FREE. Not only was it impressive in the amazing art collection that it has on display (hello Picasso, Monet, Renoir) but it’s free to the public. There were beautiful pieces of all types and it was just such a delightful afternoon to stroll around this amazing museum observing and being inspired by art. They also had a cool area for kids to explore art through creativity and technology making a wonderful stop for the kids as well. Did I mention it was FREE?
Provenance at Cleveland Museum of Art
The trend of fresh ingredients and innovative dishes continued at the Provenance at Cleveland Museum of Art. This cafe believes in food imitating art. Their dishes are made with the finest ingredients and are presented to stimulate the senses. The culinary team led by Douglas Katz takes pride in working with local farmers works to create an artistic culinary experience. Everything was scrumptious from our entrees to the intricate sampler of desserts that the pastry chef brought out for us. We had the opportunity to meet with the head Chef who is passionate about combining art with great food. He follows the philosophy of farm to table and gathers ingredients from local farmers to create his signature dishes.
The Lake View Cemetery
The Lake View Cemetery may sound gloom, but it’s anything but that. This cemetery was more like a park than a resting place. We saw locals enjoying a picnic or just taking a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. It is the final resting place for J.D. Rockefeller, James A. Garfield (20th President of the United States) and inventor Garrett Morgan. Their was a lot of history and picturesque beauty to take in on our tour and the view from the top of the memorial for President James A. Garfield was breathtaking. We also visited the Wade Memorial Chapel where we were able to witness the stunning leaded glass windows.
Big Fun Toy Store
Big Fun is a local toy store that is BIG fun for people of all ages. Steve Presser who is the founder and owner has an extensive collection of new and vintage toys. You will take a stroll down memory lane as you relive your childhood and remember your most beloved toys. It was so much fun stepping into this time machine of goodies and feel good items. Steve is very passionate about the treasures that his store offers and is a true inspiration about living out your dreams. It’s a gem within the neighborhood that the local kids enjoy visiting and is beloved by many. I loaded up on fun trinkets and cool collectibles for my kiddies.
Dinner at the Greenhouse Tavern was anything but ordinary. With awards such as “Best New Chef in 2010” and Bon Appetit's “Best New Restaurant” in 2009 it’s no surprise that the quality of the food was extraordinary. With unique dishes such as gravy frites, fried brussel sprouts and for dessert buttered pocorn pot de creme which was to die for….seriously the best dessert I have ever had. This place is a standout. The food was exquisite and the desserts were different and eccentric. From the menu to the recycled decor it was an experience from start to finish.
Pickwick & Frolic
Our final stop was Pickwick & Frolic Restaurant and Club and it was a great ending to an amazing trip! This place has an old hollywood vibe and the owner Nick Kostis is the sweetest! It’s a tucked away treasure that the locals enjoy frequenting. They offer nightly shows varying from comedy to cabaret. You can enjoy a great show while eating a meal that has been made from scratch in correlation with local farmers’ ingredients.
Overall this is a city that felt new and different. It was full of surprises and it rocked us to the core with it’s incredible food, modern locations and friendly people. I want to thank Cleveland Destination and Jet Blue for an fun packed weekend of adventure. I look forward to my next trip.