Cleveland, OH

Clevelanders Shouldn’t Miss the Gems in Their Own Backyard

Carolyn V. Murray

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past several years fulfilling a global travel bucket list. And more recently, I contemplated exactly what destinations I would want to see on one last final road trip throughout the U.S. I didn’t give much thought to the cities that I’ve already lived in. After all, been there, done that.

That was a classic mistake. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, left when I was eighteen and returned in my adult years on two separate occasions for about five and a half years total. Had Cleveland been any other city, I would have immediately researched and constructed a list of must-see local attractions, as I’ve done for every other city that I’ve visited.

But then, Cleveland’s not one of those glamorous tourist cities like New Orleans and Las Vegas, and Key West. What could there possibly be to see here? What indeed.

I last left the Cleveland area three years ago and right before I left, I ran into an old schoolmate from high school. We met later at a restaurant/bar that had been made from a converted three-story home and a large back patio. It was a wonderful place, in a terrific neighborhood (Larchmere) filled with similar conversions, and I found myself wondering, How did I never know this was here? And what else might I have missed out on?

More recently, in the past several weeks, I’ve come across a multitude of stories from residents and visitors enjoying some of the Cleveland area’s most appealing assets. Which of course, makes me aware (and a little mortified) of how unfamiliar I am with so much of my own hometown.

But better late than never. Now that I can anticipate the world opening up again, I’m going to be headed for a two-month visit to Cleveland by late summer/early fall. I’ll be staying with my 82-year-old mother, who loves to travel and see new things. But she needs someone else to act as the tour guide. This won’t just be a chance for me to fill in some of the blanks on my own Cleveland experience, but to show her a good time as well. And after a year of being cooped up inside (she’s finally vaccinated) she’ll definitely be in the mood to see some new sights.

Here are some of my top priorities:

Edgewater Beach

I’m seriously embarrassed to be unaware of this, but apparently, there’s a beach in Cleveland. Even though we’re nowhere near the ocean. An actual beach. With sand and swimming and beach volleyball. Yes, it is actually possible to grow up in this neck of the woods and never have ventured anywhere near this beach. But I’ve now seen enough pictures of it, where it’s so packed with people, that I’m probably the last person in Cleveland who hasn’t discovered it.

The Emerald Necklace

This is something that Cleveland is famous for that I’ve actually heard about. It’s a string of Metroparks and green spaces that circle the Cleveland area and looks like a green necklace when viewed from the air. My mother brags about this Cleveland asset all the time, like the proud Clevelander she is. But she has spent most of her life enjoying the reputation of the parks rather than the actual experience of them. Which is a shame, since researchers are recently discovering how walking in forests is particularly healthy for us. I think a weekly trip to the woods would do my mother and me a world of good.

The Flats

This is another embarrassing confession. Yes, they’ve been around for twenty-six years. And as soon as I heard of them, I knew I had to check them out. Well, so far, that’s been a big fail. But a fail that can be easily rectified. Bars, clubs, taco joints, beer gardens, comedy shows…Apparently, a huge country music venue and a 1970’s-style disco are currently works-in-progress. Developers are seriously determined to make the area appealing enough to substantially grow the downtown population. There aren’t that many densely concentrated hot spots in Cleveland. I won’t let my next stint in Cleveland pass by without checking out The Flats.

Kayaking the Cuyahoga River

Yes, the river that caught fire and earned Cleveland the “Mistake by the Lake” nickname. That was then. And in the forty-plus years since, the river has cleaned up and the water sports lovers are not looking back. For about $30, you can rent a kayak for an hour, which is an activity that I’ve wanted to try for many years. It looks peaceful and challenging at the same time. Of course, this is probably the one item on my list that least lends itself to dragging along an eighty-two-year-old mother! Her fitness and her swimming skills are not exceptional, and I would have to recruit a younger person to join me – a niece or nephew. But perhaps we could drop my mother off at a riverside café and join her afterward. She’d actually get a big kick out of seeing me paddle by.

Observatory Park

Never heard of it. Never knew it was there. Probably because it’s actually in the Geauga Park District. But that’s close enough.

No matter where I am in the world when some astronomical occurrence is announced, I typically find myself out after dark, straining to see these historical sky events through clouds, smog, and city light pollution. I can usually convince myself that, Yeah, I sort of saw something. But it would be fun to see things from behind the big powerful telescopes here. And if the weather is disappointing, then I’m also up for a great planetarium show. My mother has been a science fiction fan since the 1950s. I have no doubt that this trip would get a very enthusiastic two thumbs up from her.

Blossom Music Center

This is another Cleveland thing to do that’s technically twenty-five miles south of Cleveland. It’s an enormous concert venue, which has premium, sheltered seating around the performance stage. But most people will be lounging in a sprawling, grassy, outdoor space, enjoying picnics and fresh air and terrific music. This would actually be my second trip to Blossom. The first happened on my sixteenth birthday as a gift from my father. I got to choose and a Linda Ronstadt concert was my reward! But that was over forty years ago and is now a pretty hazy memory – so hazy that Blossom feels like a fresh new destination.

Cleveland Museum of Art

No matter what country I visit, I always manage to investigate the local museums. Which makes this blind spot all the more glaring. I have absolutely no memory of ever checking out the Cleveland Museum of Art (although, there’s every possibility that it was a long-forgotten childhood field trip). Apparently, it has one of the largest Egyptian relics collections in the world. As well as boasting art from Picasso, Caravaggio, Rodin, Monet, and other heavy hitters. No, you don’t have to go to the Louvre to see the good stuff. Some of it’s right in your own backyard. And I can see it for free – what have I been waiting for?

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Zoos are becoming a controversial institution. Is it a good life for the animals? There’s no doubt they’d be better off in a huge nature preserve, where they would keep their distance from the human gaze. Or are we helping to save some species from extinction? Do zoos help to arouse concern and commitment to protecting these animals? That’s a long argument and I won’t take it up here. I can say that the zoo would not normally be on a list of my top priorities, were it not for my mother. She’s been talking about going back to the zoo for years. And since she’s eighty-two, her bucket list is a bit more urgent than mine. So, off to the zoo, we go.

Those are the major items, but I’ll make time to revisit favorites

Of course, I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I’d gladly go again. And play another poker tournament at Jack Casino. And walk through the East Fourth street eateries and stop by to soak up the atmosphere.

After all, I’ll have two months to dig into the mother of all staycations. With my mother. Cleveland, I can’t wait!

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At the moment, I'm highly interested in the ways in which we can cope and thrive during, after, and despite a global pandemic. My background is in sociology, education, and creative writing. If you were to scroll through the tabs on my laptop, you'd find music, travel, politics, longevity, and brain health.

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