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Best Things To Do in Cleveland

AOL PICK from our Editors

Because Cleveland is an easy city to navigate, it’s possible to hit many historical and cultural attractions in just a couple of days. To best encapsulate Cleveland’s beat, don’t limit your stay to just Downtown. Explore a bit. Cleveland’s neighborhoods are diverse, visually interesting and offer an amazing array of excellent food. Most attractions are kid-friendly. Historical plaques are a common feature on prominent buildings. Read them.

Progressive Field

Neighborhood: Downtown

Not a baseball fan? Come to Progressive Field anyway. This is where the Indians—the team with Chief Wahoo as its controversial mascot—play. The stadium, formerly called Jacob’s Field, opened in 1994 to great fanfare and hoopla. After President Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch in the first game against the Seattle Mariners, the Indians won. Since then, Progressive Field—which many still call Jacob’s Field, out of habit—has been witness to both winning and losing games, but mostly the latter, dashing hopes. Still, from the top-row cheap seats, you’ll get the best view of Terminal Tower against a sunset. And, the seagulls visit you. Psst…For cheap ballgame eats, go to Kidsland, Section 117 on the main concourse. Kid-sized food is available at kid-size prices.

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Lake View Cemetery

Neighborhood: Little Italy

A trip to Lake View Cemetery is a walk through a Cleveland history book. The mucky-mucks and prominent folks who created Cleveland’s industrial rise are buried here. So are more current notables. Read the markers explaining which important person is buried close by. Carl B. Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major metropolitan city, is one of them. Other prominent folks are Eliot Ness and John D. Rockefeller. The most impressive burial spot is James A. Garfield’s, the 20th U.S. president. A mausoleum-style monument was built to honor Garfield after he was assassinated in 1881. Look at the sandstone reliefs along the top of the building to see one that depicts him on his deathbed. The monument is only open April 1 to Nov. 19, between 9AM and 4PM.

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West Side Market

Neighborhood: Ohio City
At West Side Market, the 1912 landmark in Ohio City, you’d better love food; love the way it smells, tastes, sounds when sliced, stirred, wrapped, and slid into bags—or eaten on the spot. For a foodie, this is heaven. For people who eat like birds, not so much. As the oldest public market in Ohio, this is a multi-sensory, multi-ethnic cacophony of the best cuisine passed down through generations. Gaze down at the maze of stalls from the second floor. Polish pierogi and Mexican chorizo might be neighbors and Russian blintzes and Italian pasta could be kitty-corner to Swiss cheeses. Some businesses like Dohar Meats have been here for decades, while Kim Se Cambodian Cuisine is a recent arrival. Pick up a map to navigate the 100 stalls. Note: It’s closed on Sundays.

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Cleveland Museum of Art

Neighborhood: University Circle

Three cheers for wealthy industrialists named Huntington, Hurlburt, Kelley and Wade, who paired grand art with a neoclassic, Beaux-Arts building in white Georgian marble. The Cleveland Museum of Art is a stunner and it’s only getting better. Toward the middle of a six-year expansion project, much of the original museum has reopened and new additions are being built. The museum’s long history since 1916 means it’s had years to amass one of the world’s best art collections, spanning each continent, each time period and each type of art. Picasso, Monet, Rodin, Pollock, Van Gogh and Cassatt are a way to test your artist know-how, but look for George Bellows’ work to heighten your Cleveland experience. He’s an Ohio artist who lived during the time of the industrialists. Bellows’ paintings and drawings depict the working class and satirize the elite. Of note is the boxing scene titled “Stag at Sharkeys.” Tours and/or gallery talks take place every day at 1:30PM and various other times.

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A Christmas Story House

Toss together eBay, passion and a movie about a boy in Cleveland who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, and you might get a tourist attraction. That’s what happened when Californian Brian Jones went online. Jones bought the house that was used as the exterior set in the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” and went with his muse. Even though the inside of this Tremont neighborhood house wasn’t featured—a set on a soundstage was—Jones’ version looks identical. He re-created each room to reflect the scenes. What’s the most popular item on display? If you didn’t say the leg lamp, you didn’t see the movie. If you didn’t see the movie, do. It’s a pitch-perfect combo of childhood, Christmas and mid-1940s America. Original props, behind-the-scene photographs and movie-set items are across the street in another house. Be warned: During the holidays, people line the sidewalks waiting for a guided tour.

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Public Square

Neighborhood: Downtown

Public Square is a history bonanza. When Moses Cleaveland arrived, he deemed this spot suitable for a city center. He picked right. In the 1790s, the space was a swell pasture for settlers’ animals. By 1879, the animals were gone and electricity was in. The world’s first electric street light was lit here. The grander Terminal Tower opened in 1928. At 708 feet high, it was the tallest building in the U.S. outside of New York (until Boston’s Prudential Center surpassed it). The lobby has been restored to its neoclassic, Beaux-Arts magnificence. Another significant landmark is the Old Stone Church, a Romanesque Revival-style beauty that’s the square’s oldest building. The Sailors and Soldiers Monument is the one with the column topped by the Goddess of Freedom. This 1894 tribute to American Civil War soldiers serves as a mini-Civil War museum.

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Great Lakes Science Center

Neighborhood: North Coast Harbor

When the weather says, “Stay inside you fool,” the Great Lakes Science Center next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a worthy response. The more than 400 hands-on exhibits offer a diverse approach to all things scientific. Of particular note is the BioMedTech Gallery that highlights medical advances and research. Considering that the city is home to Cleveland Clinic, one of the top medical centers in the world, this is only fitting. Also fitting is the new NASA Glenn Visitor Center. Heard of John Glenn? He’s that Ohioan who was the first American to orbit the moon, and who returned to space at age 77. The center named after him focuses on all things having to do with space travel. Phase One, with the real-deal Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module and 50 other exhibits, is open, but the center won’t be complete until 2011.

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Playhouse Square

Neighborhood: Downtown

Five theaters—the Allen, the State, the Ohio, the Palace and the Hanna—make up most of PlayhouseSquare, but don’t expect a square. They’re shoulder-to-shoulder along Euclid Avenue, except for the Hanna, which is half a block away on 14th Street. Their marquees shine with incandescent bulbs, just as they did in 1921 and ‘22, the years they opened. Vaudeville acts, silent films and high-end theater drew patrons back then. These days the entertainment includes Broadway touring productions and big-name acts like Blue Man Group. Classic movies are a summer staple and year-round regional companies also take the stage. This is the home of The Great Lakes Theater Festival. With the closeby 14th Street Theatre, Kennedy’s Cabaret and Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre included in PlayhouseSquare’s holdings, it’s the second-largest theater complex in the U.S. (New York’s Lincoln Center is first). Imagine this: In the '70s, due to disrepair and neglect, three venues were scheduled to be torn down. Instead, this glittering real estate is considered the U.S.’s most successful restoration project and comeback story—ever.

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Goodtime III

The Goodtime III’s two-hour narrated cruise highlights Cleveland’s past and industrial roots as you glide by landmarks like Moses Cleaveland Landing. Head to the top deck—the fourth —for the best views. The contrast of Lorenzo’s cabin against the highway overpasses and downtown skyscrapers is a unique visual. Plus, you get a first-hand tutorial on how several of the Cuyahoga’s 21 bridges move to accommodate river traffic. The Goodtime III runs from Memorial Day through September. Lolly the Trolley tours are another overview of Cleveland’s history and highlights, on a 38-seat bus-cum-trolley. In the summer, consider a combo of Goodtime III and Lolly the Trolly. The trolley station is at the Powerhouse at Nautica Entertainment Complex in The Flats (216-771-4484, www.lollytrolley.com).

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Neighborhood: North Coast Harbor

1950s disc jockey Alan Freed first coined the term “rock-and-roll” over Cleveland’s airwaves, ensuring that, decades later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be built here. The Rock Hall tosses childhood, adolescence and the decades since the 1950s into a tumult of sound and memories. The museum—and the I. M. Pei-designed building—are the real draws. The museum covers the history of rock-and-roll from its blues beginnings to current trends, and I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid is architectural poetry. The view of the lake from the lobby is whimsically contrasted by a Phish-concert rocket ship suspended from the ceiling. Take time for the movies on the ground floor and to slip on headphones at the listening stations. Plus, don’t miss Jim Morrison’s Boy Scout uniform and letter home to his parents. At some point, you might be startled to see your life in a display case. You might feel old then, but you’re not. Really.

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