Sometimes, you just need to get away. And, sometimes you need to do that getting away on your own. Sure, some folks call it “self care.” But we call it slipping-into-a-new-identity-where-no-one-knows-you-and-you-can-do-whatever-the hell-you-want.
Thankfully, Cleveland is a big teddy bear of a city with great food, happy locals and more than enough booze to make you forget you have another life back home. Here’s how to do 48 hours in The Land — sans a travel companion.
Image © Larry Highbaugh, Jr.
Clevelanders are known for being a friendly bunch and there are few places that serve up good ol’ Midwest chatter as well as an unassuming diner. Wait for a bar stool to open up at Big Al’s on Larchmere and kick up a conversation with a local over a plate of eggs. Chances are you’ll hear about one of three things: the weather, the sports teams or, most importantly, opinions on how you should spend the rest of your 47 hours in this fine city.
Interaction Meter: 8 of 10. If you’re up for a chat, you’ll likely find it here.
Breathe in deeply. Ahhh, the smell of books wafting into your nose holes is unparalleled at Loganberry Books, one of the coziest bookstores in the city. Loganberry is shockingly large and stocked with a solid selection of books, old and new. The best part is the adjoining reading area — with couches! — that’s often completely empty during the weekday.
Interaction Meter: 2 of 10. Unless you ask the store clerk a question, chances are you’ll be free to browse and contemplate in silence.
A neighborhood bistro and wine bar, Gigi’s is the perfect place to curl up with a glass of vino and that book you just snagged. During the warmer months, the patio is an ideal hangout, but a spot at the comfy window seat has its own allure in the winter. The paninis come pressed to order and the bruschetta boards have a cult following — both can be done gluten-free.
Interaction Meter: 5 of 10. You could strike up a conversation with the server, but they’ll just as happily leave you alone.
With over 7,000 feet of trails and 20 acres of greenspace, the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes is one of the best ways to experience Cleveland’s beautiful landscapes. And if you’re into bird watching, you’ve come to the right place. BirdLife designated the center as an 'Important Bird Area’ because of the diverse habitats and wildlife that live here. #VIB
Interaction Meter: 0 of 10. Unless you count the animals, of course.
Walking into Zhug transports you to somewhere in Europe and the food lands you down sideways in the Middle East. One of the newest restaurants in town, Zhug’s named for a fiery chile sauce from Yemen, but the menu caters to diners of all flavors, including vegetarian and gluten-free. Sit at the intimate bar and order up a unique cocktail while diving into a discussion on the origin (schmaltz potato tostones, anyone?) of every delicious menu item.
Interaction Meter: 7 of 10. It’s loud and lively with great people watching.
At historic Cedar Lee Theatre, the prices are right ($10 or only $5 on Mondays) and the shows are varied. You’ll get the best new releases and Oscar nominees alongside underground, indie flicks. If it gives you any clue as to the type of place you’re venturing into, the theatre screens “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at midnight on the first Saturday of every month.
Interaction Meter: 0 of 10. Sink into your seat and chow down on your popcorn in peace.
Image © Larry Highbaugh, Jr.
Kick it off with a real-fruit smoothie and a coffee from Smooth Rider in Ohio City. Throw in some protein, hemp seeds and kale for a well-balanced start to the day and grab a muffin for later when you’re on the go.
Interaction Meter: 4 of 10. They’re friendly here, so if you want to stay for a chat, feel free.
No visit to Cleveland is complete without a spin through the iconic West Side Market. Home to a multi-cultural collection of food stands, you could walk out with everything from a pound of pierogies or a Mexican salsa, to a falafel sandwich and a smokie sausage. Just a few blocks down is a newer, modern market take at Ohio City Provisions. Half grocer, half butcher shop, everything here is grown and sourced locally, including breads, eggs, flours and canned goods.
Interaction Meter: 7 of 10. The best part about market-hopping is asking questions of the purveyors. Plus, the produce vendors at the West Side Market will be begging you to swipe a sample.
It’s probably time to pour up a libation, so get thee to Forage Public House, a classy gastropub in Lakewood. Pair one (or three, no judgement!) of their 14 drafts with a crispy Lake Erie walleye sandie or a set of Ohio Wagyu sliders before really going for the gold with a bourbon pecan tart. Nothing says “traveling to my own tune” like the lack of side eye you’ll get for eating fried food and loads of sugar ‘til your heart’s content.
Interaction Meter: 3 of 10. Could you make it happen? Sure, but the ball’s in your court.
Ommmmm. Sacred Spa takes inspiration from global travels and bills itself as an escape from the everyday, which sounds right up a solo adventurer’s alley. The spa’s services are travel mementos in their own right: from a Korean scrub experience that’s the only one of its kind in Ohio to 23 different types of massage, including Thai, Indian and something called the “Drunken Lotus” — which is how you may feel after that boozy beer lunch!
Interaction Meter: 1 of 10. Tell them where to put the pressure and then melt into la-la land.
Guac, taco, taco, tamale. This should be your ordering strategy at El Carnicero, a hip taqueria in Lakewood with a daily happy hour from 4-7 p.m. Since your spa treatment definitely sobered you up, you’re also going to need a margarita - and make it one with mezcal. Detox-to-retox, baby!
Interaction meter: 6 of 10. Sit at the bar for happy hour and you’ll find your way to a conversation.
Feeling good after that marg? Keep the train rolling right into LBM, a cocktail bar in Lakewood with a “Viking aesthetic,” which basically means really loud metal music and people with long hair. Not really your flavor? Humble Wine Bar, also located in Lakewood, is the literal opposite of LBM and features a laundry list of wines from around the world.
Interaction Meter: 10 of 10. You’re liquored up and it’s late: interaction awaits, especially if you’re feeling frisky.