I’ll be honest, when my friend said we should meet up in Cleveland, Ohio, I replied, “Really, Cleveland?” Not a city on my travel list, but to be fair, also a city I didn’t know much about. However, Kat and I had a rare opportunity to see each other that I couldn’t pass up. We’re usually ships in the night, with me traveling for work and Kat following her military husband from post to post. She was in West Virginia, and I was in Wisconsin. Cleveland seemed to be the happy medium. I was hesitant at first, but Cleveland ended up being one of the best trips we had ever taken together.
A stylish place to stay
Our planes touched the tarmac around midnight, so our rideshare got us to the hotel by about 1:30 a.m. This late-night arrival ended up being a blessing in disguise, because we were staying in an architectural gem, and it was really cool to see at nighttime. The Hyatt in downtown Cleveland is a retrofitted arcade, or old-time shopping mall. Rows of elegant storefronts rose to a glass dome top, and it felt like I had walked into a luxury ship. Having never seen anything like it, I proceeded to take at least a hundred pictures of this building that could be aptly described as: industrial framing meets sidewalk cafe meets gilded woodwork and backyard twinkle lights atmosphere.
The next morning we set out to discover what was within walking distance. I had expected to see yet another concrete jungle of modern-ish office buildings. However, the streets of downtown Cleveland surprised me with its eclectic mix of old world churches, brick and stone buildings, Corinthian columns, and glassy skyscrapers dotted in between. This place clearly has history and it’s embraced.
We strolled the quiet streets each day, which were surprisingly never crowded. We found small gardens and many parks, plus sculptures and street art around almost every corner. And we found the action at the waterfront.
Snapping pics and shooting the breeze
North Coast Harbor is where the city meets the waterfront. Green lawns lined walking paths that snaked the edges of the lake. People jogged, some took in the water views from a bench seat, and, at lunchtime, we saw several picnicking. This was evidently the center that drew locals and tourists alike.
It was refreshing to walk along the sunny waterfront, and feel the breeze keeping us cool. We talked for hours, catching up on life events, stopping to take pictures of beautiful sculptures and buildings we kept seeing. Our walking tour soon gave way to something more radical when we approached the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Winding our way through exhibits that spiraled up a round building, we realized the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was more than a monument to rockers. It was a nod to music history from its roots in bluegrass and blues to 50s jams and its rise to practically mythic rock bands. We each got a chance to stand behind the American Bandstand podium, introducing America’s youth to the latest gyrating bands. Concert costumes, set lists, Les Paul guitars, and how music videos killed the radio star brought an unexpected perspective of the good and the bad that have shaped our music history. Kat went a little crazy in the gift shop, buying Grateful Dead gear for her hubby, and I couldn’t resist the drumstick pens. When we left the museum, I thought that was the last of our musical adventure. Wrong!
Each evening, Cleveland serenaded us as we walked to dinner. Local musicians claimed their street corners and played electric guitars, drums or mandolins. Some sang, and their notes resonated off the buildings, filling the streets with music like an opera house. On our second night, the sounds of the streets put us in the perfect mood for the House of Blues.
We entered the wood-clad theater right across from our hotel to hear a cover band bring the house down. We found a balcony tucked away on stage left, which we had all to ourselves. After moving chairs aside, we danced to the music without a care of anyone seeing our silly moves.
I can’t properly reminisce about this trip without mentioning the food. Chain restaurants be damned! Downtown Cleveland is a food city with everything from farm fresh to Iron Chef restaurants. Each had its own personality, but all set their patrons at ease with a casual atmosphere that begged you to hang out a while, and nibble and sip your way through the menu. Kat and I obliged.
East Fourth Street —the hub of Cleveland’s food scene—featured restaurants lining both sides of a cobblestone alley. Neon signs and white lights strung overhead continued the old meets new theme that seemed to run throughout downtown. Grabbing a quick drink here, dinner there, an after-dinner cocktail here, it was a playground for the senses, and a go-at-your-own-pace nightlife I could get on board with.
Of all the restaurants we visited, I have to say my favorite was off the main food thoroughfare. Right down the street from the House of Blues, Colossal Cupcakes was an adorable cupcake shop dressed in nostalgia and pink. Tufted pink chairs, starburst light fixtures and the sweet aroma of baked sugar immediately made me feel like a little girl again. Kat ordered a Captain Crunch cinnamon cupcake, while I had the decedent chocolate sea salt caramel cupcake. As it was the final night of our Cleveland getaway, we toasted our friendship by “clinking” our cupcakes while sitting on a pink loveseat. All we were missing were teacups, and our girlish tea party dreams would have been complete.
In my ignorance, I scoffed at the idea of vacationing in Cleveland. Now, I recommend it to others and still regale my friends with stories of how unexpectedly fun it was to explore. Something about Cleveland’s personality left me wanting to go back to discover (and taste!) the rest of the city.