The only reason I ever considered visiting Cleveland was to see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Period.
It turns out there was a lot more going on the weekend we visited this down-but-not-out city. Still struggling economically after the Great Recession, Cleveland ranks as the number two economically distressed city in the US (after Camden, NJ). Empty downtown office buildings. Abandoned housing projects. Unfinished retail landscapes. Polluted rivers and lake. Old city charm vs. reality.
So they brought in LeBron. Great move. The NBA Finals drove airline ticket prices up two-fold, according to my Google Flights alert. Luckily we had purchased our seats before the Cavaliers made it to the finals. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by a sea of burgundy and gold T-shirts, hats and jerseys. Go Cavs! Merchandising opportunities galore. No doubt revenues all around the city have benefited from the team.
Crowds were bustling with excitement when we arrived at Progressive Field for the Indians game against the Chicago White Sox on Friday night. Located right next to Quicken Loans Arena where the finals were held, the collective fan base was impressive. Despite a 30-minute rain delay, the stands were close to capacity by the time the first pitch was thrown. When we left at the bottom of the 7th inning, (CLE 4 vs. CHI 3), we were delighted to see many baseball fans had spilled onto the plaza between the stadium and arena to watch the large screens set up to broadcast the in-progress game four against the Golden State Warriors.
Despite our good timing, I felt I could have improved my Cleveland experience and left with a more positive view of the city had I planned better. There was much more to see and experience. Here's a short list of Do's and Don'ts that apply to visiting any new city. These seem like no-brainers, but I guess I was must have short-circuited this time around.
DO your research. Learn in advance about upcoming events and key attractions. Had I realized that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with guest Joe Walsh, were scheduled to play on Saturday night, I'd have bought $59 tickets in advance. Although there were plenty of seats left when I realized the event was taking place, we needed more than one hour to mobilize and get to the arena. It would still have been worth it, if not for Marshall's reluctance to leave his friends out of the plan. At $150 per ticket, it was hard to insist we all act on my spontaneity.
DO stay within walking/public transportation distance of main attractions or areas you want to visit. As previously noted, if we had been staying closer to the city center, we could have enjoyed the concert, plus East 4th Street, Asiatown, and more of the Cleveland City and The Flats neighborhoods. While we drove into the city several times, the 45 minute drive from Solon made it less than desirable to explore further. We used Rapid Transit from Shaker Square to Progressive Field, a good way to alleviate traffic and parking headaches.
DO read local and recent reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp for food and places to visit. One of the reasons I love to travel is to explore new restaurants and local fare. We almost missed a trip to the historic West Side Market on Saturday morning, a cornucopia of locally grown vegetables and fruit, fresh meats and fish stands, ethnic specialties like Polish kielbasa and peirogi, freshly baked canolis, tiramisu, breads, chocolate peanut butter filled "buckeyes", and novelty items like Dr. Assburn's Fire Roasted Habanero Pepper Sauce. I especially enjoyed the new Piccadilly Creamery, which serves made-to-order ice cream of fresh ingredients and liquid nitrogen. I ordered mint chocolate chip, which was undoubtedly the BEST ice cream I've ever eaten.
DO enjoy dinner/drinks on one of the restaurant terraces along river front in the The Flats. This industrial neighborhood is divided East and West by the stunning Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, a homage to better times in C-town. Now called the Hope Memorial Bridge, the bridge in flanked by art deco statues titled the "Guardians of Traffic" on either end. We sipped $8 glasses of wine and nibbled on the best Brussel sprouts at Collision Bend Brewing Company, while watching commercial ships, sightseeing and leisure boats coming in from Lake Erie.
DON'T stay with family or friends that live more than 15 minutes from the action. This is the recurring theme. On this unseasonably warm weekend, it would have been delightful waking up somewhere like the Aloft Cleveland Downtown, perched just above the Cuyahoga River and near the Erie's West Basin, to take a leisurely stroll or deploy a local action plan that incorporated more of Cleveland Metropark's water taxis and cleaned up beaches and amenities.
DON'T rely on family or friends to suggest venues and/or eating establishments. Their tastes may not be yours. We were "treated" to a trip to Middlefield, in Geauga County, for typical Amish fare at Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen, where we were served glorified cafeteria food. Other mediocre meals included Yours Truly Restaurants in Shaker Square, and take-out at Boston Market. Not very memorable.
DO visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if you're a baby boomer. While there are some more contemporary artists honored (Beyonce, Bruno Mars), you'll have a much greater appreciation of the exhibits if you've lived through the times. I especially loved the Rolling Stone Fifty Years exhibit, which chronicles the magazine's relationship with politics, pop culture and music. My alter-ego is Annie Leibovitz (I studied journalism and photography, AND I love Rock & Roll). This fulfilled my only expectation of visiting Cleveland.