1) Cleveland Museum of Art It’s not every day you get to commune with creative masters like Renoir, Monet, Dali and Picasso for free. A cultural anchor of the University Circle district, this powerhouse museum underwent a massive $350 million expansion-renovation which was completed in 2013. The Gallery One interactive learning center holds touch screens called “lenses” where you can access information about the diverse collections, imitate a sculpture pose or create a virtual painting. And because you’re not paying anything for admission, you can justify a meal at Provenance—the locally sourced, globally inspired food on the plates rivals the art on the walls. (216) 421-7350; clevelandart.org
Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Larry E. Highbaugh Jr.
2) West Side Market This century-old foodie paradise is Cleveland’s oldest public marketplace. Back in the day, Polish and Italian immigrants flocked here to find food products of their homelands. Today, more than 100 booths and stalls teem with vendors and artisan producers selling everything from soup to nuts. The pierogis here make an excellent lunch, if you haven’t already filled up on all the free samples. (216) 664-3387; westsidemarket.org
West Side Market. Photo courtesy of Larry E. Highbaugh Jr.
3) Amish Country Bucolic scenery, home-cooked goodies and handmade crafts make the 40-mile drive east to Geauga County’s Amish Country worthwhile. Exploring this territory feels like stepping back in time. A self-guided driving tour cruises past Amish businesses, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts; plan on frequent stops to browse rustic wares at the shops and pick up some penny candy at the End of the Commons, a general store that’s been around since 1840. (440) 632-1538; tourgeauga.com
4) Happy Dog At this casual Cleveland dining institution, $6 scores you a quarter-pound hot dog with as many toppings as you can load on. The list of 50 options ranges from basic ketchup and mustard to offbeat additions like chipotle hollandaise sauce, vegetable chow mein, bourbon baked beans and even housemade chunky peanut butter. We recommend forking over an extra $3 for a side of tater tots. Wash it all down with a cold beer and stick around for live music in the evenings. Three words—polka happy hour! (216) 651-9474; happydogcleveland.com
Happy Dog. Photo courtesy of www.positivelycleveland.com/Scott Meivogel.
5) Third Fridays at West 78th Street Studios On Cleveland’s west side, the 1905 building formerly known as American Greetings Creative Studios now holds an enclave of artists working in a gamut of styles and media. Among the 40 or so tenants, you’ll find not only the expected array of painters and sculptors but also music studios, auctioneers, a clothing line and an architectural design firm. Check them all out for free on the third Friday of each month during an indoor gallery crawl complete with live entertainment, great food and a pop-up market. (440) 503-5506; 78thstreetstudios.com
6) Lakeview Cemetery Lakeview is so scenic that it feels more like a sculpture garden than a final resting place. Founded in 1869, this 285-acre property bordering University Circle was inspired by counterparts in France and Victorian England. Famous people buried here include U.S. President James A. Garfield, John D. Rockefeller and Elliot Ness. From the highest spots, you’ll catch great views of Lake Erie and the downtown Cleveland skyline. (216) 421-2665; lakeviewcemetery.com
7) Mama Santa’s Celebrating Cleveland’s rich Italian heritage, Mama Santa’s dishes up old-world Sicilian favorites and to-die-for pizzas. A local tradition since 1961, this family-run eatery makes all the pastas, sauces and dough from scratch using traditional Italian recipes. Spaghetti, ravioli, cannelloni, manicotti, fettuccini, rigatoni—mamma mia! Best of all? A steaming bowl of pasta or a large pizza with a couple toppings will set you back only about $10. (216) 231-9567; mamasantas.com
8) Wade Oval Wednesdays The sound of music is even sweeter when it’s free. Pack a picnic and head to University Circle on Wednesday nights during the summer for concerts on Wade Oval. Or hang out in the beer and wine garden with a cold beverage and a great view of the stage. Check the website for the performance schedule. Bonus: Neighborhood cultural attractions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Botanical Garden stay open late during these family-friendly evenings. (216) 791-3900; universitycircle.org
9) Rockefeller Park Greenhouse This stunning four-seasons garden spot is a breath of fresh air any time of year. Created to grow and supply plants for landscaping Cleveland’s public parks and gardens, the 1-acre facility now also welcomes the public. Displays include all sorts of flora, including cacti and roses, and the outdoor “talking garden” is a thoughtful feature for the visually impaired. (216) 664-3103; https://www.facebook.com/RockefellerGreenhouse
10) Cleveland Airport Marriott This renovated westside hotel is ideal for travelers who want amenities at a reasonable rate. Staffers go the extra mile to make sure you’re comfortable, and touches of luxury include details like hardwood flooring, plush bedding and granite countertops. Plus, downtown attractions and restaurants are just a quick drive away. (216) 252-5333; marriott.com