Cleveland with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
Start your tween-time off right with a breakfast at the West Side Market Cafe. Cleveland's West Side Market is a local institution that's won national praise as a model for an affordable, urban farmer's market that manages to bring people from all walks of life together - all in the name of deliciousness.
West Side Market Cafe, 1995 W 25th Street, Cleveland, 216.579.6800. Hours: Mon, Wed 7AM-4PM, Fri, Sat 7AM-6PM.
After breakfast and a stroll through the diverse crowds that visit the Market, head across the Cuyahoga River to downtown Cleveland's East Side for a morning of engaging fun at the Great Lakes Science Center, a hands-on science museum that is a must-see when on a family vacation in Cleveland with tweens.
There's an OMNIMAX theater that shows a range of exciting documentary adventure films in IMAX (so you'll feel that you really are underwater or climbing Everest), plus a ton of interactive exhibits that manage to be both educational and fun. Learn about everything from electricity to optics, check out spectacular science demonstrations, and discover what they're up to at Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Facility (named after Cleveland native John Glenn). It'll be more than enough to occupy any tween, and it might even give them a head start on some of their science classes!
The Science Center is open daily from 10AM-5PM. Ticket prices are $9.95 for adults, $7.95 for children 2-18 and $8.95 for seniors. Insider's Tip: The Great Lakes Science Center is right next door to one of Cleveland's biggest attractions, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and it might be tempting to take your middle-schoolers on a tour. However, the Rock Hall is not nearly as interactive as the Science Center, and is definitely designed more for teenagers and adults.
Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Avenue, Cleveland, 216.694.2000.
For lunch, drive out of the city proper to one of its adjacent suburbs, Cleveland Heights, a diverse and middle-class area that's popular with young people moving to the Cleveland area. The heart of Cleveland Heights is Coventry Road, where hippies made their home in the 1960s and which continues to house a variety of eclectic shops and eateries. Tommy's is one such old standard. Tweens will love this funky, predominantly vegetarian restaurant with a fiercely loyal following and a reputation for the best milkshakes in the area. In addition to more challenging fare like falafels, there are also kid-friendly menu items like chili and pizza - and of course, the milkshakes, malts, and smoothies will keep any tween happy.
Tommy's, 1824 Coventry Road, Cleveland, 216.321.7757. Hours: Sun-Thu 9AM-9PM, Fri 9AM-10PM, Sat 7:30AM-10PM.
After you've eaten it's time to hit the street. Visit shops like the funky City Buddha at 1807 Coventry Road, or if it's a pretty day, walk over to the Coventry School playground, which is widely regarded as one of the best playgrounds in the Cleveland area (and exciting enough for older kids to have fun, too!).
The one stop that can't be missed is Big Fun, a Coventry staple that features a diverse and frequently ridiculous array of toys and trinkets from the last fifty years - everything from Star Wars figurines to JFK paper dolls to talking lunch boxes, and everything in between. It's guaranteed to bring out some laughs and provides a great opportunity for parents and kids to let loose and have a great time together.
Big Fun is open Tuesday-Thursday 11AM-8PM, Friday and Saturday 11AM-9PM and Sunday from 11AM-6PM. Give yourself about an hour at Big Fun to really explore their inimitable mixture of goodies and gags.
Big Fun, 1814 Coventry Road, Cleveland, 216.371.4386.
Once you've had your fill of Coventry, head down Mayfield Road to another cultural anchor of the city, Little Italy, on Cleveland's eastern edge. The streets of this gallery-filled neighborhood are usually host to a crowd of people sitting outside enjoying a good meal, and it's a perfect place to do a little relaxed wandering and grab an authentic slice (and a cannoli) before heading off downtown to one of the best things to do in Cleveland with tweens - going to a professional sports game.
No matter what LeBron James does, Clevelanders are impassioned fans of their teams, and there are a lot of them to be excited about: from the big three of the Cavaliers, Browns, and Indians down to the Lumberjacks hockey team, the Crunch soccer team, or the WNBA's Rockers. Get ready to cheer long and loud, because no matter what happens, the fans' enthusiasm is the one thing that can always be counted on.
Conversely, if your tween would rather watch "Glee" than ESPN, there's always Playhouse Square, Cleveland's theater district at 1501 Euclid Avenue. The Cleveland theater scene is lively, with performances including plays, musicals, and ballets from a huge range of companies throughout the year. Call 216.771.4444 for details.
All the stadiums and Playhouse Square are conveniently located in downtown Cleveland, easy to get to from anywhere, and always full of fun. No matter where you're from, Cleveland is a great place for family vacations.