1) Great Lakes Science Center You can’t miss this place; just look for the 150-foot wind turbine on the lawn. (The center is also across the street from the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) The Science Phenomena displays let you play mad scientist by sticking your hand into a tornado and using static electricity to make your hair stand on end. Aspiring astronauts beeline straight for the NASA Glenn Visitors Center to peer inside a command module and get a feel for what it’s like to live on the International Space Station. (216) 694-2000; greatscience.com
Great Lakes Science Center. Photo courtesy of www.positivelycleveland.com / Scott Meivogel.
2) Cleveland Metroparks Zoo An expansion at the 180-acre zoo created an elephant habitat with two pools and a heated outdoor sandbox. You can get startlingly close to these gentle giants, and also to the giraffes, zebras, kangaroos and other animal residents. Kids will clamor to climb the Yagga Tree in the Australian Adventure area, and simulated tropical showers every 12 minutes lend a touch of you-are-there authenticity to the rainforest habitat. (216) 661-6500; clemetzoo.com
3) Lake Metroparks Farmpark If your family's interests run more toward farm animals than wild animals, head 25 miles east of Cleveland for this fresh-air adventure. The learning center is a working farm, meaning you’ll get to see animals, watch cow-milking and sheep-herding demos, and check out honey and maple syrup production. Hop on a wagon pulled by horse or tractor for a jaunty ride around the grounds enhanced by horse pastures and a lake. (440) 256-2122; lakemetroparks.com/select-park/farmpark.shtml
4) Melt Bar and Grilled Melt gussies up the humble grilled cheese sandwich with gourmet add-ons such as sauerkraut, smoked turkey, jalapeños, walleye, berry jam, pesto—even pierogis! Purists (or picky eaters) can always opt for a Kindergartner, the toasted classic with cheese and bread only. You should know going in: These sandwiches are ginormous. Come starving, or plan to share. Multiple locations; meltbarandgrilled.com
5) Greater Cleveland Aquarium The building housing Ohio’s only freestanding aquarium was once a 19th-century power plant. These days, the mazelike structure holds thousands of fish and marine life specimens from all over the world in a million gallons of water. Touch displays let you get your hands on green sea anemones, and walking though the SeaTube tunnel feels like you’re strolling across the ocean floor as sharks and stingrays glide overhead. (216) 862-8803; greaterclevelandaquarium.com
Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Photo courtesy of www.positivelycleveland.com/Scott Meivogel.
6) Big Fun Toy Store As the name suggests, browsing the goods at this quirky retro shop is indeed big fun. Among the vast inventory, you’ll find gag gifts and vintage playthings from the 1950s through the 1980s, like Davy Crockett toy watches, collectible lunch boxes, Star Wars action figures, Barbies and troll dolls. The candy selections are from a bygone era, too; think nostalgic stuff like Pez dispensers, wax lips, Chuckles and Necco wafers. Two locations; bigfunbigfun.com
Photo courtesy of Big Fun Toy Store.
6) Cleveland Museum of Natural History Founded in 1920, this University Circle fixture includes a Human Origins Gallery that traces 6 million years of evolution from fossils and primates to modern man. (Say hi to Lucy, a re-created 3.2 million-year-old partial skeleton and the centerpiece of the exhibit.) The hands-on Discovery Center and the dinosaurs are popular with younger visitors, and the digital-projection planetarium shows are interesting for all ages. (216) 231-4600; cmnh.org
7) A Christmas Story House and Museum For loyal fans, this cult classic is required viewing at least once during the holiday season. The restored Cleveland house where the movie was filmed stays open year-round for pilgrimages, and everything inside is fair game to try on, take photos of and touch. Want to see if you can fit into Ralphie’s Easter Bunny costume? Hide under the sink in Randy’s favorite spot? Pretend to shoot the coveted Red Ryder BB gun? Knock yourself out. Oh, and the leg lamps in the gift shop make ideal souvenirs. (216) 298-4919; achristmasstoryhouse.com
8) Noodlecat Slurp some noodle-y goodness at this Japanese-American fusion hotspot. Ohio City Pasta supplies all the ramen, soba and udon noodles that go into bowls with broth, meats, sauces, veggies and other yummy stuff. Kids nibble steamed buns stuffed with pork, chicken or fish and served with shoestring fries while grown-ups sip sake, craft beer and specialty cocktails with whimsical names like the Lavender Tide and the Bloody Jerry. (216) 589-0007; noodlecat.com
9) Cedar Point This destination amusement park is mecca for adrenaline junkies, boasting 17 roller coasters and other extreme rides. We dare you not to scream on the Top Thrill Dragster as it swoops down the track at 120 mph. Not quite that brave? The 50 life-size animatronic dinosaurs on Adventure Island offer a different kind of thrill. Elsewhere in the 365 acres, you’ll find plenty of tamer options, such as Snoopy-theme rides and attractions for younger guests, live entertainment and the Soak City waterpark. (419) 627-2350; cedarpoint.com
10) Kalahari Waterpark Resort About an hour west in Sandusky, the largest indoor waterpark in the country features a 12,000-square-foot wave pool, raft rides and an uphill water roller coaster. No matter what the weather’s doing outside, you can always grab a Boogie Board in here and catch some waves on one of two FlowRiders. Once you dry off, round out your stay with pampering Spa Kalahari services, on-site restaurants and mini golf. (419) 433-7200; kalahariresorts.com/ohio