Everywhere in the world has its own little claim to fame, or something that makes it unique. Sadly, many of those things become tourist traps or become the victim of destruction due to the high traffic of visitors it receives. But then there’s just some places that are not worth the hassle when you’re visiting. As a long time Cleveland resident myself, I often try to find fun things for us to do whenever a friend comes to visit; but there’s just some of our infamous landmarks and places that you might just want to skip when visiting Cleveland, Ohio.
Located about 45 minutes outside of Cleveland is this cute little “castle” in the Cleveland Metroparks. Let’s start off by saying that Squire’s Castle is less of a castle and more of a hollowed out manner. Due to vandalism and erosion, the upstairs of the castle is no longer accessible or even much of a viable thing anymore. As you approach the castle, it looks rather lovely and can be very charming to a first time visitor. But any local photographer will roll their eyes at you as soon as you tell them you want to go shoot your photos there.
Because of how easy it is to access this castle, and the fact that you don’t have to jump through any hoops to shoot there (looking at you Lakeview Cemetery) it’s become a very popular spot for just about everyone and their extended family to get photographs taken here. During nearly any day you can happen upon someone shooting some sort of photos or taking videos at the castle often times making it too crowded to even enjoy. The fact that the castle is basically just 3 empty stone rooms and a hallway doesn’t make it any more interesting either.
If you’ve never been to Squire’s Castle it might be worth the trip just to say you’ve been there and took the Instagram-able photo. But over all, you will probably notice that your trip there will be quite boring and over with in less time than it took you to get there. If the weather’s nice, be prepared to have a wedding party chasing you out of the castle too since it’s a ridiculously popular spot to get married in. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself dodging photographers doing prom photos, senior portraits, a wedding party, band photos, and even cosplay pictures all on the same day. If you do choose to take the trip out to the castle, wear your hiking shoes and go behind the castle and into the woods, the hiking trail back there is far more thrilling than the stone walls.
The Great Lakes Science Center
Okay, the OmniMax Theater is pretty cool, but definitely not for anyone with a weak stomach or sensory sensitivity of any kind. Unless you have children who are able to give their attention to something for more than a couple seconds, you will probably find the Great Lakes Science Center to be a waste of a trip. It has a lot of cute little lessons designed to teach children and it has some fun pop-up events which can be enjoyed by everyone but on any normal, given day it’s just a very large building with toys in it.
In the most recent years it’s been more popular among Pokemon Go players than by any other locals. In fact, the only time I ever hear locals talk about going to the Science Center is if there’s a good OmniMax movie playing or if they are hosting an interesting event (like the Titanic display). You will likely find more local Clevelanders at the Cleveland Museum of Art than at the Great Lakes Science Center. The large steamship, permanently docked just behind the Science Center, the William G. Mather is also only open between May and October with primarily weekend only 11am – 5pm hours of admission making it rather inconvenient to plan a trip with.
If you want to get into the Science Center you’re also looking at a rather large admission price, especially if you want to actually see everything. Be prepared to pay well over $20 just to walk around and look at plastic toys, encased space tools, a large dome theater, and an old steamship. This place was designed with great intentions, unfortunately if you’re over the age of 12 you’re probably not going to enjoy it too much.
The Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Oh boy, where do I start with this one. . .
If you’re looking for a guilt trip coupled with a higher admission price look no further. Located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by industry and housing is the Cleveland Aquarium. . .a waste of the city’s time and money. (Yep, I went there.) Getting to the Aquarium is a bit annoying on its own since it’s placed inside a historic brick building on the river for the FirstEnergy Powerhouse. You might encounter the bridge being out for that day or time and will have to find an alternative way to the building. Or you can park on the East bank of the river then take the water taxi to the West bank to get into the building. . .in case it wasn’t already complicated enough for you. Oh, and there’s no obvious signs out front that you’ve arrived either. You will simply see a parking lot with a guard box out front with a vague stone building set back in the lot.
I will admit, from an architectural stand point, the building inside is very lovely and neat looking! But the aquarium that they shoved into it just does not fit that building. I wanted to explore the FirstEnergy side of the building more than the aquarium! Once you’re inside and you pay your $20 to walk around and look at the fish, let me warn you that reading anything in that building will send you on a guilt trip the likes of which you can only compare to spending time with your monther-in-law. While the aquarium has good intentions with promoting awareness of the pollution being caused to our waterways and oceans, it comes off more as a public shaming than being informative. While their website says you should allot yourself about 90 minutes to complete the tour, my friend and I found that we made a complete walk-through (including getting turned around at one point) with a very, very casual stroll in around an hour. If you have children with you who are easily bored, I doubt you will make it that long.
Like nearly all aquariums these days, there is a lovely tunnel to walk through in which the fish can swim around and above you. You know. . .for your Instagram photo of course.(In fact I might add a photo of it to this post if I ever return.)
I left this place with a desire to explore the other half of the building to take in the historic architecture and also feeling like I just got scolded for being human. My friend and I both left that place in a more somber mood than we had entered and we questioned how exactly the museum helps to fix the problems that they are preaching about.
I’m not sure how this area became a point of interest for tourists, but none the less it has. Granted, there are some neat things in and around this area. You can access Little Italy from here, see the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, The Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and visit Severance Hall for the Cleveland Orchestra but in doing so what you’re also going to run into is a lot of crowds, traffic, and confusing streets with nowhere to park.
University Circle is the hub for Case Western Campus as well as the University Hospitals among numerous businesses and restaurants. People here are working, going to school, and just generally trying to go about their days all in this little rounded out area. The streets circle around the central hub of all of this “culture” making it a nightmare for anyone who’s never driven these roads before. Knowing exactly what lane you need to be in and what is turning-only and what’s not is crucial to navigating this part of the city. I would tell you it’s best to just pay for all day parking somewhere and walk to where you want to go, but you had better be wearing some comfortable shoes because you’re going to be hiking along large campuses, gardens, and crowds of people who have somewhere more important to be.
Don’t get me wrong, this area is lovely and I highly encourage visiting many of the points of interest in the area. . .But the circle itself is a nightmare and heaven forbid you are there anywhere between 4-6pm on a weekday! Even if you do just want to stop for a falafel or cup of coffee you’re going to be stuck waiting behind a line of busy college students, doctors, nurses, and business people who just want to get their food and go home.
The Free Stamp
Okay, let me just go ahead and clear this up right now, yes even we Clevelanders think this stamp is kind of dumb. This stamp is called the world’s largest rubber stamp and was erected in the 1980’s. It wasn’t until the 1990’s was it reviled that the stamp was supposed to represent the emancipation of American slaves during and after the Civil War. You would never get this nor understand that if no one had told you. It’s just a big red stamp that says “free”. No context. No plaque. Just an ugly red stamp. . .
Seriously, there is nothing interesting about this sculpture. It does nothing to educate people on slavery in the United States and it serves no purpose other than taking up space next to beautiful historic buildings with it’s garish red letters and handle. There’s nowhere really close by to park to see it either. You’re going to have to walk a mile or two (depending on where you manage to find parking in Downtown, good luck) just to see this monstrosity because it’s placed in a random patch of grass near the corner of E. 9th street. The calligraphy “Cleveland” signs placed throughout the city get more attention and serve more of a purpose than this stamp does.
Really, I think the context that it was supposed to represent the freed slaves was more of an after-thought considering the original design had been changed as well. The fact that it took about 10 years of people trying to figure out what it was about before the creator came forward to announce it’s meaning doesn’t help either. Unless you’re on a mission to see a lot of the “world’s largest” things, this is a definite skip!
Tower City Center
Tower City is a beautiful historic 1927 building that was once a jewel inside the city of Cleveland. Featuring an Art Deco design and beautiful marble with one of the largest excavation endeavors since the Panama Canal (at that time) Tower City Center truly has some of the most beautiful architecture in Cleveland, and it’s totally free to enter. . .assuming you’re ready to pay an arm and a leg for parking that is.
This building can be found in the literal heart and center of Downtown Cleveland where it’s a bustling point for transit. With the public buses and red line (RTA systems) all connecting right here it’s easy to navigate anywhere in the city from Tower City. With the newer Jack’s Casino and the hotel attached on opposing sides you would think Tower City would be a powerhouse of thriving city life. . .but you would be wrong. As a former employee within Tower City Center, I can tell you this place is nowhere near the glory it ought to be.
First of all, it’s been made into a shopping mall with not much to offer. Gone are the days of really enjoying the wonders of Tower City. I remember when I was growing up that they used to have automatons which looked to be floating over head under the beautiful glass domes, the fountains used to dance to music, and there was no shortage of things to do. Now, you can shop at the dollar store, visit Clair’s, GameStop, get a watch at a kiosk, and eat all the generic, over priced Chinese mall food you want (seriously, there’s basically nothing else to eat in there). With many of the shops now vacant and the general lack of tourist attractions within Tower City Center, there’s no reason for most people to go in. It’s typically used as a “passing through” area for those of us who work downtown or rely on public transit. The bars have been removed and the Hard Rock Cafè is gone, even the candy store has closed down.
During Christmas time, the building does gain some attraction with holiday themed events and an interactive theater with Santa Claus, as well as festive decorations and a large Christmas tree. However, this still means braving the cold Cleveland winter and being packed into a crowded shopping mall to wait in lines with other irritated people who just want to see the shows, get their photos, and get out. The biggest question I would often get from visiting families during this time was “Where can we go to eat around here?” and sadly that answer is to get back in your car and drive somewhere else, otherwise there’s a Taco Bell down the street or Chinese food in the cafeteria. But, you can still get your Starbucks at the kiosk on the main floor.
Once this little street, located just a couple minutes from Little Italy and University Circle, boasted a lot of unique shops and restaurants which attracted both locals and tourists alike. Now, many of the shops that we’ve grown to love are gone making this street just another basic shopping district just outside downtown Cleveland. While there’s still some boutiques and restaurants lining this street, they simply don’t have a strong enough draw to make this strip worth the hype it’s received over the years. Many of the restaurants located on Coventry can be found throughout other locations in the Greater Cleveland Area, and the same can be said for the shopping.
The majority of people you will find in walking this street are either teenagers with nothing better to do, hipsters who are looking to get some coffee and a sandwich, or Cleveland Heights locals simply trying to get their groceries for the week. Parking can be frustrating depending on your luck. You can opt to park in the parking garage provided you can find a spot, or you can pay a meter to park on the street or in the lot behind the large Marc’s food store (pictured above).
All in all, this street is always colder and windy with shops that close early and chain restaurants you can access for cheaper, and much more easily elsewhere within the city.
All this being said, this is simply my personal opinion. Some of these areas have their good qualities as well, but for what they are I think there’s much better places to visit if you want to get a real taste of what Cleveland has to offer.