Three cities with totally different personalities lie within driving distance of each other, offering surprising experiences within Ohio. Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland represent middle America with a different take on the culture of the state.
A city which has been called Porkopolis, as well as the Queen city, must have an interesting story. Cincinnati, indeed, is packed with history reflected in its architectural structures and rich background. The Flying Pig is an homage to the city’s past as the nation’s leading pork-packing center and is the inspiration for the city’s annual marathon festivities.
There are references to the winged swine throughout the city, including a large mechanical sculpture in the middle of Smale Riverfront Park, a family-friendly site the kids will love. While in the area, check out Taste of Belgium where the motto is “Waffles, Chickens, Beer. Eat Like a Belgian, Drink Like a Belgian, Live Like a Belgian!”
Sports play a big part in Cincinnati’s culture with the Reds, Bengals, Bearcats, and Cyclones fulfilling every sports lover’s dream. The Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park are located within walking distance of each other on the Ohio River.
The downtown area is centered around Fountain Square, site of festivals, art shows and home to the famous Cincinnati-based ice-cream giant, Graeter’s, still family-owned while sold in 46 states. For a special meal, go underground to Sotto, a trattoria featuring in-house made pasta where you can see the delectable products being made…try the Short Rib Cappellacci for an incredible gastronomical experience.
While walking around the city you’ll notice amazing murals adorning the walls of historic buildings, from grocery stores to government offices. ArtWorks has been transforming the city into a virtual art museum since 1996 by employing and training local youth to create amazing creations. Their credo, “We believe our city is a gallery,” is proven around every corner of the arts district and beyond.
For a classy stay in the historic Burnham Building, choose the Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown Hotel, housed in an example of neoclassic architecture. Within walking distance of the ballparks, downtown shops, bars and restaurants, the location is perfect. Their D. Burnham restaurant is known for its namesake burger. Who knew Cincinnati could offer such sophisticated options?
Moving on to Akron, the drive from Cincinnati provides a look at vast stretches of farmland that defines Ohio’s heartland. In stark contrast, once known as the Rubber Capital of the World, Akron was once the home of four major tire companies until the late 1990’s when the industries experienced a major decline. However, this once struggling city is also the home of the University of Akron which has contributed to the distinction, “City of Invention” with its polymer research gaining an international reputation. Now home to the Goodyear Polymer Center and National Polymer Innovation Center, the city is experiencing a come-back and worth a visit.
Along with its close neighbor, Canton, the region offers wineries, like the Gervasi Vineyard and Boutique Hotel, along with tours of historic homes such as the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, a 65 room Tudor Revival Manor House and Gothic Revival Conservatory. This National Historic Landmark was built for F.A. Seiberling who co-founded the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The home and grounds are now available for public tours as well as special events.
The sports fan will find the Akron/Canton Pro Football Hall of Fame, where you’ll find everything you’ll ever want to know about football enshrined in one place. Their mission is to “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence EVERYWHERE.” The NFL was founded in Canton so it makes sense to place its museum in this location.
The Fairlawn section of town is home to the Akron Hilton, the longest, continuously owned and managed Hilton franchise in the country. This fact is obvious in the perfectly maintained hotel, which also houses a courtyard pond to a family of ducks. For over 10 years the quackers have returned to the courtyard to nest and hatch ducklings. Guests can watch the little family through a glass wall until the group is big enough to head to nearby Vesper Lake. The staff escorts the family through the lobby and across the street, blocking traffic to ensure they make it safely to their destination.
The Akron Hilton is also home to Beau’s Grille for steaks and seafood, or just for a drink and appetizers at the bar. One item you will not find on the menu is roast duck! If you’re in the mood for Italian, head downtown to Luigi’s for pizza and pasta or BLU Jazz for live music. For a look at an architectural masterpiece, walk on over to the Akron Civic Theater, built in 1929, in a Mediterranean décor with medieval-style carvings and alabaster sculptures.
If you’re ready for some music culture, make the short drive to Cleveland where, on the shores of Lake Erie, lies the infamous Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Immerse yourself in your favorite music, whatever your favorite year, and take in the sights and sounds of rock. They have a huge collection of clothing from numerous rockers, as well as interactive opportunities to seek out your favorite performers. Recently the Power of Rock Experience opened offering a glimpse into the many induction night performances, crammed into a 25-minute jam fest. Whether you’re a young rocker or an old wannabe, this movie is worth admission.
Similar to Cincinnati, Cleveland loves its sports teams with the Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium located adjacent to the R&R Hall of Fame. Quicken Loans Arena, or “The Q” hosts the Cavaliers, and Progressive Field is home to the Indians. All are within walking distance through downtown.
If you’re a fan of the movie A Christmas Story, you’re in luck. The house from which the movie was filmed sits a few blocks from downtown and has been restored to its original movie set. Most of the items are interactive and can be handled so the kids will love it. Just don’t try to taste the LifeBuoy soap! Across the street from the house is the museum with even more artifacts from America’s favorite Christmas movie.
Located in the center of Cleveland’s cultural district, sits the Kimpton Schofield Hotel. It’s a great spot to land, especially if interested in Playhouse Square which not only houses the largest outdoor chandelier in the world, dangling 24 feet over an intersection, but is the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York.
The Kimpton brand is fast becoming a favorite among travelers who are looking for something different. The Schofield boasts the largest walk-through shower you might ever come across, not to mention the funky (in a good way) interiors and lobby. Each night the staff welcomes its guests in the living room lobby for a hosted wine hour. Or perhaps you’d like to try out your inner rock star, after visiting the R&R Hall of Fame, by taking advantage of their complimentary guitar loaner program. These are the kinds of amenities that make Kimpton unique.
Directly across the street from the Schofield, you’ll find Heinen’s, the local grocery store extraordinaire. Located in the old Cleveland Trust Bank, one must look up at the back-lighted stained glass dome, then down to the lobby’s marble floor with the gold-plated Cleveland Trust logo still intact. All manner of groceries is on the main floor but head up to the mezzanine for an ample selection of 400 craft beers and 1,000 varietals of wine. Treat yourself to a taste test with their Self-Serve Wine (or beer) by the glass. The handy stations offer a choice of simply a 1-ounce taste or 3 and 5-ounce glasses. The choices are vast and prices for a 1 oz. taste range from $1.25 to $20.50.
For a taste of Cleveland’s famous breweries, stop by Masthead Brewing Co. for a creatively crafted beer and a pie, cooked in their very own wood-fired pizza stove. Originally a 1921 automotive dealership, this repurposed taproom is now listed on the National Register of Historic Place. Their beer is barrel aged, which utilizes exclusively allocated whiskey barrels from top-rated distilleries. A full menu is available along with other drink options.
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