11 Fun Kid-Friendly Things to Do In Cleveland

view out over Cleveland downtown at dusk
(Photo: © Wil Lindsey courtesy of Destination Cleveland)

Hugging the shoreline of Lake Erie, Cleveland long ago outgrew its history as a blue-collar manufacturing area. These days, “The Land,” as the city is known, is packed with fun things to do for both kids and their adults. Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a massive selfie museum, and art and natural science museums that draw crowds from far and near, there are nearly endless kid-friendly activities in Cleveland.

Whether you’re in the city for a week or a long weekend, here are 11 fun things to do with kids in Cleveland (plus ideas about where to stay all the way down at the end of the story).

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

picture of the Long Live Rock Sign on the exterior of the Cleveland Rock and Roll Museum
Give your kids a music education at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Photo: Tim Trudell)

How about jamming with the family in a garage or maybe learning about a favorite band? It’s easy to immerse yourself among the stories and history of Rock and Roll, from its roots in gospel and blues music to the rockabilly days before emerging in its own right when local DJ Sam Phillips coined the phrase “Rock and Roll” when describing the music of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and others.

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The Hall of Fame’s museum packs so much about the music of each decade and genre that it’s a true school to educate younger people about the story of music. With interactive displays for people of all ages, adults will travel back to their youth and young children have an opportunity to have fun learning about the history of music. Each of the museum’s six floors features unique attractions, including “The Garage,” dedicated to people playing all types of instruments. 

Coco’s Chalky Powder

Peering into Coco’s Chalky Powder selfie museum.
Peering into Coco’s Chalky Powder selfie museum (Photo: Tim Trudell)

With more than 70 sets, Coco’s Chalky Powder is one of the nation’s largest—if not the largest—selfie photo museum. With backdrops such as the Wizard of Oz, a Barbie box, the Eiffel Tower, and a record shop, you’ll have a blast exploring the city-block-size gallery in the basement of a chalk paint shop.

Located at 5th Street Arcades in downtown Cleveland, Coco’s includes props, such as the head of the human-eating plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.” It’s easy to spend hours exploring the photo-opp museum, with plenty of sets for everyone to enjoy.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Medieval knights collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo by Tim Trudell
Medieval knights collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Photo: Tim Trudell)

Located at the historic University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Art features a walk-through history as you explore the 16 sets of collections that range from Egyptian artifacts (like mummy caskets and pottery) to contemporary paintings and sculptures. The medieval department features knights’ armor, weapons, and other historical pieces, while the Asian art collection includes paintings and sculptures of Buddha and others. The museum’s artwork includes paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Renoir, Andy Warhol, and Christo.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

A child plays in the fossil pit at the Museum of Natural History. Photo courtesy Museum of Natural History
A child plays in the fossil pit at the Museum of Natural History. Photo: Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

A short walk from the Museum of Art, interactive exhibits invite kids to be paleontologists and other scientists as they explore natural sciences. From digging for fossils to hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) displays, the Museum of Natural History combines fun with learning.

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In the Evolving Life wing dedicated to exploring animals from several time periods, kids will come face-to-face with exhibits featuring mammoth fossils, dinosaurs, and modern animals such as bears, elk, and large birds. The Museum of Natural History also features the outdoor Perkins Wildlife Center and Woods Garden, which is home to resident coyotes, badgers, eagles, and other North American animals.

Cleveland Botanical Garden

Cleveland Botanical Garden. Photo by Tim Trudell
Cleveland Botanical Garden (Photo: Tim Trudell)

With its Glasshouse conservatory bursting with the nature of Madagascar and Costa Rica jungles as butterflies flitter about, the Cleveland Botanical Garden will take your family around the world in gorgeous plant life. More than a dozen outdoor gardens give you the chance to stroll through wetlands and woodland gardens, or stop and smell the flowers in the rose garden. A children’s garden encourages young people to explore plants up-close. 

Great Lakes Science Center

John Glenn NASA exhibit explores American space travel at the Great Lakes Science Center.
John Glenn NASA exhibit explores American space travel at the Great Lakes Science Center (Photo: Tim Trudell)

Located along Lake Erie, the Great Lakes Science Center is home to the John Glenn NASA Center. Home to nearly 90 astronauts, Ohio has produced the most for the American space program. With a space module as the centerpiece, the space center focuses on the history of space exploration (as well as inventions related to it) along with interactive displays taking kids into space.

The museum’s STEM collection showcases groundbreaking developments involving prosthetics, as well as a deep examination of DNA. The Great Lakes Science Center also offers special exhibits, such as dinosaurs of North America.

West Side Market

View of the West Side Market from the second floor observation deck.
View of the West Side Market from the second floor observation deck. (Photo: Tim Trudell)

When you’re hungry, head to the West Side Market, the oldest public market in Cleveland. Started as an outdoor venue in 1840, the enclosed market house was added in 1912, designed by the same architects who created the Museum of Art. Grab a pastry or a freshly-made gyro and roam the market’s two buildings, taking in the sights and sounds of more than 100 merchants hawking fresh produce, sweets, and coffee. For a mix of people watching and snacking, take your drink and treat to the second floor observation deck for a great view over the international market.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo sign
The Metroparks Zoo has regular special exhibits (Photo: Destination Cleveland)

Focusing on wildlife conservation efforts for North America, Latin America, Asia, and Australia, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is home to spacious exhibits featuring animals like koalas, elephants, and the Andean bear, the lone South American bear that can trace its history to prehistoric times. With a small rainforest, Metropark Zoo even provides a look into tropical forest climates. The zoo often features special exhibits, including Asian lanterns and holiday programs.

Edgewater Beach

View of Edgewater Beach with Cleveland in the background. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Tourism
Edgewater Beach in Cleveland (Photo: aerialagents.com courtesy of Cleveland Tourism)

In the warmer months, you can head to the beach for a little fun in the sun. Edgewater Beach in lower Edgewater Park sits on beautiful Lake Erie. A short drive from downtown Cleveland—with magnificent views of the city’s skyline—Edgewater Beach offers about 2,400 feet of fun, with much of it dedicated to swimming and water sports. Spread out your towel and soak in some sun, or rent a cabana for a family picnic at this urban beach.

The Corner Alley

Enjoy a bite to eat while you bowl a few frames at downtown’s The Corner Alley. The upscale bowling alley in the East 4th Street Entertainment District features lane rentals by the hour for up to eight people. With colorful balls and arcade-style lighting, it’s a fun and a little bit wacky bowling experience. And with its state-of-the-art scoring system, you won’t have to worry about anyone “fudging” their score. Grab a bite to eat in the spacious restaurant or snack while you bowl. The Corner Alley also features arcade games, including air hockey.

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A Christmas Story House Tour

Inside A Christmas Story house during a tour.
Inside A Christmas Story house during a tour. (Photo: Tim Trudell)

On a visit to Cleveland, you can do your best Ralphie impression during a tour of the house used in the film “A Christmas Story.” The 1980s fan favorite takes visitors through each room of the house, with a tour guide sharing insights about the cast and film. During a stop at the gift shop, you can even purchase your own pink bunny pajama set (or maybe a leg lamp). A museum features actual and replica movie props, as well as fan submissions, including artwork.

Where to Stay

Here are a few (of the many) great spots to stay with kids in Cleveland:

  • The Crowne Plaza Cleveland at Playhouse Square offers a central location among downtown attractions. With large suites and guest rooms, with plenty of room for kids to rest and play, the hotel  is a few blocks’ walk from live theater, as well as major attractions, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Don’t tell the kids, but the Drury Plaza Hotel Cleveland Downtown is a former Board of Education building. It’s not at all like sleeping at school, though, and it has both a great location close to the city’s sports arenas and beautiful murals painted by artist Cora Holden in 1931.
  • The Kimpton Schofield Hotel is a kid- and pet-friendly hotel with a modern feel and kid-friendly perks like bikes and Micro Kickboard Scooters (and helmets) available to borrow, a borrow-a-plant program, and a guitar loaner program.

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Tim Trudell
Tim Trudell is a freelance writer based in Omaha, Nebraska, and an enrolled member of the Santee Dakota Nation. A US Air Force veteran, he has written for outlets such as The Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska Life, FamilyVacationist, Flatwater Free Press, Next Avenue, TravelAwaits.com, Extended Weekend Getaways, and Living Here Midwest.