You may not think that “tourist” and “Cleveland” naturally go together. But hear me out before you click away from this post.
Cleveland has long been the butt of jokes; jokes about the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, jokes about mob ties and corrupt politicians; jokes about how it seems like the Universe has been working against Cleveland sports teams for decades.
And, while Cleveland is just now starting to dig itself out of the economic downturn that hit all of the Rust Belt cities hard in the 1980s, it's a much different city than the one most people continue to make fun of.
I've lived my whole life in northeast Ohio, the last 4 years in a quiet little suburb called Twinsburg. Downtown Cleveland is an easy 30-minute drive away, and I've found myself drawn there more and more lately to try new restaurants, go to events, and seek out things like cool architecture and street art.
I've always been an Ohio girl at heart, but now I consider myself a Cleveland girl, too.
Cleveland is one of many Midwestern cities that I think are grossly overlooked and underrated by the tourism industry – so I'm here now to (hopefully) help you fall in love with Cleveland, too. (Or, at the very least, come and visit sometime!)
In this post, I want to highlight some of my favorite neighborhoods in Cleveland. The city has more than three dozen different neighborhoods, but some are better-suited to living than visiting. So here are the top 5 neighborhoods that I think are worth visiting if you're in Cleveland as a tourist.
5 of the Best Cleveland Neighborhoods to Visit
1. Ohio City
Known for: Food and beer
If you ask me about my favorite neighborhood in Cleveland, it's probably going to be Ohio City. It's a very hipster-feeling neighborhood in terms of vibe, though the neighborhood itself has lots of history (and lots of beautiful old homes that I'm constantly dreaming of buying and renovating).
Ohio City is located just west of downtown across the Cuyahoga River, and used to be a completely separate city. Now, it's one of Cleveland's oldest neighborhoods.
Things to see in Ohio City
West Side Market – You can't miss West Side Market in Ohio City – like, literally, the brick building with its clock tower commands the eye when you drive down W. 25th Street. The market is Cleveland's oldest indoor-outdoor market, dating back to 1912. It has more than 100 vendors selling everything from meat to fruits to cheeses, with some of the stands having been here for generations.
Breweries – Cleveland Brew Bus describes Ohio City as “Cleveland’s hot urban brewery district,” and they're right – there are nearly a dozen craft breweries in this neighborhood alone. A few that offer tours/tastings (or at least a restaurant) include Great Lakes Brewing Co., Market Garden Brewery, Hansa Brewery, and Saucy Brew Works.
Street art/murals – Ohio City is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Cleveland for street art; you'll find it all over, with a particularly large concentration around an area known as Hingetown.
Things to do in Ohio City
Take a food or beer tour – You can take a food tour of West Side Market, or a beer tour of Ohio City with Cleveland Brew Bus.
Check out some art – Head to Spaces Gallery or the Glass Bubble Project to find some non-mural art.
Tabletop – If board games are your thing, head to Cleveland's first board game cafe, located right in the heart of Ohio City.
Where to eat in Ohio City
Ohio City has a TON of great restaurants to choose from; you could spend a week just in this neighborhood and still not run out of excellent places to eat. Some of my favorites include:
- Phoenix Coffee – For (obviously) coffee
- The Black Pig – Delicious French-inspired food made with local ingredients
- SOHO Chicken + Whiskey – For when you're craving some Southern cuisine
- Townhall – A quirky space serving up both bar food and vegan fare, complete with patio
- Flying Fig – A small farm-to-table spot with a large wine selection
- Momocho – Serving up modern Mexican dishes
- Mitchell's Ice Cream – Yummy ice cream spot in an old theater
- Mason's Creamery – Another excellent choice for ice cream
Parking: There's a paid parking lot behind West Side Market, but you can also find free street parking on most side streets.
2. Gordon Square (Detroit-Shoreway)
Known for: Theater and art
One of my newest go-tos when it comes to Cleveland neighborhoods is the Gordon Square Arts District (part of the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood). This artsy West Side Cleveland neighborhood is going through a bit of a Renaissance of its own, and if its growth continues it may very well nudge out Ohio City as my favorite part of Cleveland.
Things to see in Gordon Square
See a show – Gordon Square is home to a variety of theaters. There's the Capitol Theater that shows both first-run and indie films; Cleveland Public Theater with its 5 performance spaces; and Near West Theater, a volunteer community theater.
Check out some art – Being an arts district, there's plenty of art to see in Gordon Square. There are a handful of new murals going up along Detroit Ave., and there are a smattering of galleries to visit, too. If you're in town on the third Friday of the month, you can go to the monthly open house at 78th Street Studios, which is an old warehouse that's been converted into artist studios.
Things to do in Gordon Square
Shop – There are quite a few cool shops in Gordon Square, including Fount (they craft leather bags right here in Cleveland), HausFrau (a record shop), and iLTHY (for your pop culture clothing needs).
Play pinball – Check out Superelectric Pinball Parlor, a fun bar with vintage pinball machines.
Where to eat in Gordon Square
Lots of good/cool food options here too:
- Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. – A cool coffee shop – all of their lattes have travel-themed names!
- Happy Dog – A Cleveland institution serving up hot dogs and beer
- Banter – Serving up poutine and sausages
- Spice – A farm-to-table restaurant that sources from its own farm
- Toast – A wine bar offering up good food (with, yes, toast featured prominently)
- Stone Mad – A gastropub with a bocci ball court
- Minh Ahn – If you're craving authentic Vietnamese food
- Brewnuts – If you love both beer AND donuts, this is the place for you
- Sweet Moses – A 1940s-style soda fountain serving homemade root beer and sundaes
Parking: There's free street parking, and a couple free public lots.
3. Downtown Cleveland
Known for: Sports, entertainment, architecture
I can't talk about Cleveland and not talk about its downtown area. The downtown core actually covers a few different neighborhoods, from The Flats to Playhouse Square to East 4th Street. But for brevity's sake I'll include all my favorite bits from all those neighborhoods here.
Things to see in downtown Cleveland
Rock n Roll Hall of Fame – No trip to Cleveland would be complete without a visit to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. The museum itself is top-notch, and you'll be able to appreciate the unique I.M. Pei-design, too. Allow at least a few hours here to really soak it all in.
Public Square – Public Square was originally laid out by Cleveland founder Moses Cleaveland in 1796. It's been updated a little bit since then (it underwent a huge makeover in 2016 before the Republican National Convention came to town), but still is the center of a lot of the action in the city. In the summer, enjoy the fountains and green space, and in the winter strap on some skates and go ice skating here.
Cool architecture – Along with the Rock Hall itself, you'll find lots of other cool buildings downtown, too, from the art deco Terminal Tower to the Gothic-style Trinity Cathedral. And don't forget to look INSIDE some of Cleveland's downtown buildings. You'll find architectural delights at The Arcade, Heinen's (yes, inside a grocery store!), and the Cleveland Public Library.
Things to do in downtown Cleveland
See a show or game – Enjoy a theater or Broadway show at a theater in Playhouse Square, or catch a Cleveland sports team at Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, or FirstEnergy Stadium.
Watch boats on the Cuyahoga – One of my favorite downtown spots is along the Cuyahoga River at Heritage Park. Not only does this spot in The Flats offer up some great views of the Cleveland skyline, but it's also the perfect place to watch boats traverse the river. If you're lucky, you might even get to see the Center Street Bridge swing out of the way of larger vessels.
Shop – There are some cool spots to shop downtown, including Small Box in the Warehouse District (housed in converted shipping containers), and the CLE Clothing Co. on East 4th St. If you're in town for the once-monthly Cleveland Flea (which runs from April to October), that's well worth checking out, too.
Where to eat downtown
East Fourth Street is currently at the heart of downtown Cleveland's dining scene, so several of these spots can be found there!
- Pour – For good coffee in a cool downtown space
- Lola – Iron Chef Michael Symon's downtown eatery
- Greenhouse Tavern – For New American fare
- Marble Room Steaks & Raw Bar – This place has amazing architecture inside, too
- Barrio – A tasty taco joint
- District – Serving up modern American food and cocktails named after Broadway plays
- Blue Point Grille – If you're craving seafood in an upscale spot
- Luca Italian Cuisine – For good Italian food in The Flats
- Punch Bowl Social – A place to go for food, drinks, a rooftop patio, AND bowling
Parking: You'll find mostly paid lots/parking decks downtown, though there's some metered parking, too.
Known for: Churches, food, and art
Located adjacent to Ohio City, Tremont is most recognizable for its tree-lined streets, Victorian homes, and large number of churches. It's one of the oldest parts of Cleveland, and was at one time home to a large immigrant population. These days, Tremont is being revitalized through an influx of young professionals moving into the neighborhood.
Things to see in Tremont
A Christmas Story House & Museum – If you're from the US, chances are you've seen “A Christmas Story” at least once (or, if you're like me, at least once a year on Christmas Eve when TBS plays it for 24 hours straight). The house where the American cult classic was filmed is located in Tremont, and the inside looks exactly like it did during filming. Touring the house is fun.
Art – Tremont is quite an artsy neighborhood, too. You'll find galleries and murals all over, with my (current) favorite being a brand new one that just went up in July 2018 on W. 14th Street.
Things to do in Tremont
Walkabout Tremont – On the second Friday of every month, you can enjoy Walkabout Tremont from 5-10 p.m. This community event “showcases the best of Tremont’s creative side,” featuring street performers, pop-up art, bar specials, and extended hours at galleries and shops.
Food tour – You can also go on a Tremont food tour.
Pose with the Cleveland script sign – There are 3 Cleveland script signs in the city, with one of them being in Tremont on Abbey Avenue. There's a dedicated parking lot for this particular one just under the bridge across the road.
Where to eat in Tremont
You can find everything in Tremont, from ethnic food to fine dining.
- Loop – Coffee shop downstairs, record store upstairs
- Sokolowski's University Inn – A Cleveland institution, this family-run restaurant has been serving up Polish and Eastern European food since 1923.
- Grumpy's Cafe – There's nothing grumpy about their comfort food
- Ushabu – A Japanese-style hot pot restaurant
- Bourbon Street Barrel Room – For when you're craving New Orleans-style food
- Dante – If you want to have a fancy night out, try their 7-course tasting menu
- Churned Ice Cream Shop – Creative ice cream flavors, plus dairy-free options
5. University Circle
Known for: Museums and learning
Home to Case Western Reserve University and many of Cleveland's museums, Universiry Circle is a very pretty neighborhood that I've found myself visiting a lot recently. You could easily spend a day or two just enjoying the museums in this part of the city, but there are some cool non-museum things to check out, too.
Things to do in University Circle
Go to a museum – Cleveland has some fantastic museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art (which is FREE to visit!), the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland, and even a medical museum (the Dittrick Medical History Center).
See the Cleveland Orchestra – University Circle is also home to the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall. Cleveland's orchestra is fantastic, and is often named one of the best in America (and, in fact, in the world). And they're celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2018.
Things to see in University Circle
Wade Oval – Directly behind the Cleveland Museum of Art is a sculpture garden and green space with a pond in the middle. This is Wade Oval, and it's a great place to enjoy the sunshine in Cleveland. In the spring, several dozen cherry blossom trees bloom here.
Cleveland Botanical Garden – If plants are your thing, then you can also check out the Cleveland Botanical Garden, which is located on the site of the old Cleveland Zoo. Here you'll find a glass conservatory, an excellent children's garden, a topiary garden, a Japanese garden, and more.
Cleveland Cultural Gardens – If *free* gardens are more your jam, hop on Martin Luther King Boulevard and head north through Rockefeller Park, where you can enjoy the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. This is a collection of more than 30 small gardens that are designed and cared for by different cultural/ethnic groups in Cleveland. This concept is totally unique, and I love the multiculturalism on display here.
Where to eat in University Circle
You'll find a lot of college-student-friendly joints in University Circle, but also some other great spots to eat:
- Algebra Tea House – For tea, coffee, and fresh smoothies
- Trentina – For when you're in the mood for Italian
- L'Albatros Brasserie & Bar – For classic French cuisine
- Table 45 – World dishes served up at the InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center
- Piccadilly Artisan Creamery – Ice cream made with local ingredients and liquid nitrogen
Parking: There's some metered parking around Wade Oval, along with several paid surface lots and parking garages.
Where to stay in Cleveland
If you're looking for a good place to stay in or near some of these neighborhoods, here are my top picks:
- Glidden House – A B&B in University Circle
- Tudor Arms Hotel – Near University Circle, located in an historic building
- Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade – Downtown hotel with an entrance to the Arcade
- Kimpton Schofield Hotel – A downtown boutique hotel
- Metropolitan at The 9, Autograph Collection – Another good downtown option
This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please forgive me if I've left out your favorite restaurant, point of interest, or even full neighborhood – there's just no way to include everything.
But hopefully this 2500-word post will prove to non-Clevelanders that this city of ours is actually way cooler and more interesting than most people realize!
Who's ready to come visit me in Cleveland now? Which Cleveland neighborhood would you most like to see?
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