Once known as the Rubber Capital of the World, the revitalized city of Akron, Ohio, makes for an easy city getaway—and it’s just a train ride away from a national park.

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Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
| Credit: BOB STEFKO

From my vantage point on the balcony at the wine bar formerly known as Uncorked (now it's Baxter's Speakeasy), I watch the sun set over downtown Akron. My friends and I discuss the documentary we just saw at The Nightlight, a retro theater specializing in art and indie films, while we wait for our husbands to join us. The guys are down the street watching the Akron Rubber Ducks, a minor league farm team for the Cleveland Indians, play ball at Canal Park. When the game is done, they'll pop in to say hi, but most likely forgo the Pinot Gris and instead head to the adjoining High St. Hop House for craft beer and more baseball.

I know, because we've done this before—or at least a version of it. My husband and I have been visiting friends in Akron, a city of nearly 200,000, for years (though we missed out in 2020). Our trips are a good barometer for how the city is changing. What used to involve a suburban hotel and lots of driving has become an easy park-and-walk. A burst of development has introduced hotels, restaurants, breweries, arts, sports, film and music to the city's core.(And as a bonus, we can catch a lift to Cuyahoga Valley National Park on a train stationed behind our favorite downtown hotel.)

A supporting player in Detroit's auto boom, Akron became known as the Rubber Capital of the World in the early 1900s. But the industry's decline in the '60s and '70s led to a desolate downtown. Thanks to the vision of enterprising local leaders, a two-decade-plus revitalization has brought energy, vitality and pedestrian-friendly attractions to the city. Danny Basone, owner of downtown restaurant The Lockview since 2008, has watched it happen. "Twenty years ago there were abandoned buildings in a broken downtown," Basone says. "But now the city is a destination where people come to hang out in parks and enjoy concerts and art."

Luigis
Luigi's
| Credit: SHANE WYNN

Once we pull our husbands away from the game, we settle in to a late meal at Luigi's restaurant, an old-school, cash-only Italian joint in a vintage 1949 setting. (And they serve until 2 a.m. on weekends!) Strolling back to our hotel after dinner, it occurs to me that Akron and I have something in common—we no longer need to depend on cars to reach our next destination.

Stay

Yes, it's a chain, but hear us out: Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Akron isn't your typical highway-exit hotel. The nine floors have a sleek, contemporary vibe, and the location can't be beat. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's Northside Station is right out the backdoor. Take a round trip to the national park, or load your bike on the train and cycle an easy 10 miles back on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. For happy hour, check out the hotel's Northside Speakeasy. (Hint: Look for the "hidden" entrances by a phone booth or newsstand.)

Taste

Adjacent to the Courtyard, Dante Boccuzzi Akron (DBA to the home crowd) is the namesake restaurant of the Michelin-starred chef and his only outpost beyond Cleveland. The energetic atmosphere pairs well with big flavors (like Hong Kong mussels and mushroom risotto) and an adventurous libation list. Steps from the old Erie Canal, The Lockview offers rooftop dining, a huge craft beer selection and next-level grilled cheese. (Try #6 with cheddar grilled apples and applewood-smoked bacon.) Enjoy live music and sophisticated cocktails at BLU Jazz+, named one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world by DownBeat magazine, and now featuring an on-site bistro and jazz-themed BLU-tique Hotel. Cyclists can hop off the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail and onto the patio at Lock 15 Brewing Company for cold beers and a hearty bite.

BURGER AT t LOCK 15 BREWING COMPANY
Lock 15 Brewing Co.
| Credit: RYAN DONNELL

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Akron Art Museum
Akron Art Museum
| Credit: RYAN DONNELL

Akron Art Museum houses a collection of contemporary and modern art in a repurposed 1899 post office building. Lock 3 Park offers plenty of green space for concerts (and, in typical years, festivals like a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza). Find more music at Goodyear Theater, a state-of-the-art venue crafted from a multimillion-dollar renovation of the former Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company headquarters. Tucked between Baxter's Speakeasy and High St. Hop House, 22 High Street Gallery showcases art exhibitions as well as book and poetry readings. The Nightlight Cinema is an outlet for indie and art films in an intimate setting with a bar. Cheer on the Akron Rubber Ducks at Canal Park, a brick-walled ballpark with skyline views.

CANAL PARK
Canal Park
| Credit: DAVID MONSEUR

DETOUR NOW It's not in downtown Akron, but don't miss Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens. F.A. Seiberling, co-founder of Goodyear and a city benefactor, once lived in the 65-room 1915 Tudor Revival. The estate has extensive formal gardens, plus vistas of the Cuyahoga Valley. En route there, stop for breakfast or Sunday brunch with waterfall views at Beau's on the River in the Sheraton Suites Akron Cuyahoga Falls hotel—a uniquely scenic spot for eggs and bacon.

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
| Credit: BOB STEFKO

Small but Mighty: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

At just 51 square miles, Cuyahoga Valley is one of the smallest national parks in the U.S. But its accessibility to Akron and Cleveland is a huge asset.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
| Credit: BOB STEFKO

From downtown Akron, you can take a 45-minute ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for hiking and more at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

EXPLORE YOUR WAY More than 125 miles of hiking trails wind through the park. Bike along 20 miles of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail (rentals available) or spend time picnicking, fishing or kayaking. Brandywine Falls can be viewed from an easy-access boardwalk or via the 1.5-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls
| Credit: Bob Stefko

LEARN A CRAFT Hale Farm and Village, an 1800s-era living history museum with crafting exhibitions (broom making, spinning) and farm animals, is operated by the Western Reserve Historical Society.

VISIT A MARKET Take home edible souvenirs from the Countryside Farmers' Market, one of the first in a national park. Everything sold is produced by the Countryside Initiative farmers who live and work within the park, while adhering to strict sustainable farm management guidelines.