Top Things to Do on a Budget in Cleveland
A 24,000-acre "emerald necklace" surrounds the city with many ways to play for free. Cleveland MetroParks encompasses more than 100 hiking trails, five nature centers, beaches, playgrounds and more.
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 to help visitors enjoy and appreciate the art even more.
Related: Top Things to Do in Cleveland
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.
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.
At this casual Cleveland dining institution, $7 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 the more unusual like Brazilian chimichurri sauce, bourbon baked beans and even housemade chunky peanut butter. We recommend forking over an extra $5 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!
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.
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.
Celebrating Cleveland's rich Italian heritage, Mamma 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 spaghetti or a pizza with a couple toppings will set you back only about $10.
Cleveland Cultural Gardens
More than 30 gardens designed and cultivated by different nationalities line Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for about 1.5 miles within Rockefeller Park. Visiting is free. Statues and sculptures add to the appeal of the gardens. Special free events include live music from cultures around the world, folk dancing and other performances.
Rockefeller Park Greenhouse
Also in Rockefeller Park, this greenhouse 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 for free. Displays include all sorts of flora, including cacti and roses, and the outdoor "talking garden" is a thoughtful feature for the visually impaired.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Thirty minutes from downtown, forests, waterfalls, bike trails and a scenic train promise a family-friendly retreat—and admission is free.
Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve
Birders will love this 88-acre preserve that was once a dredge impoundment for excavations from the Cuyahoga River but now is a birding haven, with 280 species seen so far. Spring and fall migrations can bring huge waves of birds. The free preserve includes hiking trails.