Having a kid changes everything. Especially traveling.
Now that you've got a family in tow, you're in need of fun family-friendly experiences that get those little brain juices running, giggles a' flowing and pictures that will have Grandma jonesing for more.
And, chances are, you don't have the time, patience or extra cash lying around to gamble on attractions that may not be fit for the fam.
So, in no particular order, I share with you 15 year-round kid-friendly experiences in Cleveland:
1. Get cozy with tigers at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
There are zoos. And, then there's the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo & Rainforest--183 acres filled with more than 2,000 animals representing 600 species from six continents. Don't miss the Rosebrough Tiger Passage, a totally renovated sanctuary in which you'll come within inches of Amur tigers who'll literally walk above your head (yikes stripes!).
2. Ride a train through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Not many destinations can boast a national park just minutes outside of a major city. Cleveland can. Add to that, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers rides aboard its vintage rails through 33,000 acres of Mother Nature's finest. In warmer weather months, enjoy biking on the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail.
3. Encounter sharks up close at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Whether they're still in diapers or preparing for prom, kids of all ages (ahem...adults, too) can get that OMG-look-at-that-shark's-teeth experience inside the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. The historic building is home to more than 5,000 sea creatures and the nation's largest underwater walk-through tank.
4. Conduct an experiment at the Great Lakes Science Center
Do you just know in your heart that Junior is the next Einstein? Put him to test at the GLSC where his hair will stand on end, he'll make shadow photographs, play with pulleys and even help make things explode--all in the name of SCIENCE!
5. Star gaze at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
For reals, there's a TON for kids to do at the CMNH. But, be sure to make a show at the Shafran Planetarium, which will blow your kids' minds with a cool nighttime sky that'll teach them about the universe. Afterward, make way for the recently renovated outdoor wildlife center featuring bald eagles, foxes, bobcats and other live animals.
6. Convene with butterflies at the Cleveland Botanical Garden
In between exploring the numerous gardens at the CBG, make a stop at the institution's two indoor glasshouses. Kids inevitably go bonkers inside the rainforest glasshouse where hundreds of butterflies--many of which land right on your shoulders--swarm the gorgeous interior. Added bonus: The Hershey Children's Garden offers hours of outdoor fun in the summertime.
7. Sample the world at West Side Market
Cleveland's oldest public market will have your kids craning their necks in all directions checking out the local vendors' offerings (if they can keep their eyes off of the 44-foot-high vaulted ceiling). From fresh and local fruits and veggies to delectable hand-made desserts to meats and cheeses, even the pickiest eater can get their fill. Originally built in 1912 to serve the growing immigrant population in Cleveland, the West Side Market continues to delight shoppers with specialty cultural dishes as well as local favorites in a gorgeous setting.
8. Milk a cow at Lake Metroparks Farmpark
You can hand-milk an actual, legit dairy cow at this agriculturally focused science and cultural center. Crazy, right? Other activities perfect for city slicker (or suburban) kids include wagon rides, wheat grinding and the opportunity to greet the farm's pigs, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas and chickens.
9. Swim year-round at an indoor waterpark
With kids, factoring weather into your travel plans is such a pain. So, don't do it. Head west of Cleveland to Sandusky, Ohio, home to several family-friendly indoor waterparks like Great Wolf Lodge and Castaway Bay, to name just a couple. The oh-so-excellent bonus is that they offer an all-in-one experience so that you can swim, play, eat and stay overnight in one location.
10. Cheer on the home team at a sports event
Experience spectacular theatrics and pyrotechnics during a Cleveland Cavaliers NBA game. Run the bases and take part in plenty of kids' activities at a Cleveland Indians MLB game. Or, give the team your best "WOOF WOOF WOOF" during a Cleveland Browns NFL game.
11. Burn endless energy at Swings-N-Things Family Fun Park
Looking to burn off that endless energy your kid's been harboring in the backseat of your minivan all day? Get to Swings-N-Things, which offers year-round fun like a huge indoor playground, laser tag, video games and air hockey. During warmer months, enjoy go-karts, bumper boats and mini golf.
12. Learn about money at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Get this: There's a money tree you can visit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Before you book your ticket on a space voyage with Richard Branson, let us tell you that it's actually an educational exhibit inside the Learning Center and Money Museum. (Sorry to crush your dreams.) But, it's a great attraction where kids learn about money and currency.
13. Indulge your sweet tooth at b.a. Sweetie Candy Company
Here's a quick and easy way to become the Best. Parent. EVER. Take ‘em to b.a. Sweetie Candy Company, a massive candy warehouse featuring 400,000 pounds of different types of candy including everything from classic Snickers bars to chocolate-covered crickets.
14. Get your Vitamin D at the Cleveland Metroparks
Cleveland wears an emerald necklace. And, no, it's not because we're so fancy. This is a term we give to the Cleveland Metroparks, 23,000 acres of greenspace encircling the city. Warmer weather brings hiking, biking, fishing, swimming and paddleboarding at its dozens of reservations. In wintertime, experience toboggan chutes, sledding and snowshoeing. Did I mention there are lots and lots of playgrounds?
15. Ride the carousel at the Cleveland History Center
So, your kid probably isn't psyched to hear she's going to a history center. Instead, tell her she's going to ride the historic Euclid Beach carousel; check out airplanes and cars from eras past; and learn to cook over a fire, hearth, range and microwave oven. While they're busy doing all that, you'll be exploring the fascinating history of Northeast Ohio.