It's the most wonderful time of the year, and if you've got little ones, they'll likely want to join in the fun. It might sound cheesy, but experiencing the wonder of that first snowfall of the season from a child's perspective is at the top of just about every parent's wish list.
Cleveland's no slouch when it comes to winter magic. From the moment the city's Public Square becomes aglow with thousands of twinkle lights and a giant, bedazzled Christmas tree during Winterfest to the start of the new year, there are scores of holiday and wintertime happenings in Cleveland to warrant a visit to the city.
Bundle up, bring your little ones of all ages to The CLE and enjoy all the season has to offer. We'll get your started with these highlights.
Castle Noel, open year-round
You don't have to visit Hollywood to find the largest privately owned collection of Christmas movie props and costumes--a short trip south of Cleveland to Medina will suffice. Castle Noel, the largest indoor year-round Christmas entertainment attraction, features memorabilia from top holiday movies, including the original Buddy the Elf costume and the Grinch's sleigh from the 2000 film "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." While there, you can train to be Santa by trying to squeeeeeze down a chimney and slide down Santa Klaus Mountain, just like Cleveland hero Ralphie in "A Christmas Story."
A Christmas Story House, open year-round
Speaking of Ralphie, relive "A Christmas Story" at the actual house used in the film, completely restored to its movie splendor. After your walk through the house, stop by the gift shop across the street for memorabilia and collectibles from the movie including behind-the-scenes pictures and original props ...and don't forget to take home your very own "major award."
Boston Mills/Brandywine Ski Resort, open all season
As soon as the snow begins to fly and the snowmaking guns have helped stack up a base layer, head south to the twin peaks of Boston Mills/Brandywine for skiing, snowboarding and Polar Blast snow tubing. The winter hot spot, located in Peninsula among the hills of the scenic Cuyahoga Valley National Park, offers lift tickets, rentals and lessons for hitting the slopes, from green circle Easy Rider to black diamond Tiger and everything in between. Polar Blast offers all the thrills of sledding but without the hard work of walking back uphill. The cushy, comfy snow tubes--and their riders--are brought back up to the top of the hill by conveyors.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's Polar Express, select dates from Nov. 11-Dec. 21
Pajama-clad families board the train for an evening excursion that includes hot cocoa, cookies, and a reading of the classic "Polar Express" story. Ride the rails to the North Pole Village, filled with caroling elves and an on-board visit from Santa.
Kringle’s Inventionasium Experience, select dates from Nov. 18-Dec. 30
There's meeting Santa, and then there's the Kringle's Inventionasium experience. The adventure begins with a top secret assignment and a mysterious room of doors, behind one of which lies a portal to a very magical place. Alongside what's been hailed as one of the "Best Santas in the U.S." according to TIME.com, is an experience that includes secret tunnels and passageways, elves and magical creatures, and activities including a Watchamacallit Workshop and Brainstorming Department, which let kids get hands-on in the fun of Santa's workshop.
Lake Metroparks: Candy Land Has Gone Wild! Nov. 18-Jan. 1, 2018
The Wild Days of Winter game is played just like the iconic board game Candy Land, but with a natural twist. Kids can take a turn on the life-sized game board, move along from space to space through all the seasons, and interact with the many things that nature gives us year-round.
Thanksgiving at the Zoo, Nov. 23
Walk off that stuffing and mashed potato feast at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which offers free admission on Thanksgiving Day. Participate in special Meet the Keeper experiences throughout the park.
Holiday Performances at Playhouse Square
While Playhouse Square is abuzz with blockbuster holiday shows throughout the months of November and December, there are a few shows that cater especially to the kiddos. Check out The Singing Angels, a troupe of 200 of Northeast Ohio's young performers singing a range of holiday classics on Nov. 19. Or, relive several kid-friendly holiday classics at the Dec. 9 performance of Peanuts Meet the Grinch, which features "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "T'was the Night Before Christmas," and "A Charlie Brown Christmas," among other favorites.
Seas'N of Play, select dates Nov. 24-Dec. 24
It turns out humans aren't the only ones getting into the spirit of the season. Explore Seas'N of Play at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium to find out how hula hoops, fish-cicles and other toys and treats can keep aquatic friends active and engaged. Plus, see Scuba Claus dive underwater to visit the sharks, eels and stingrays on his “nice” list.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens' Deck the Hall, select dates Nov. 24-Dec. 30
See the Akron estate of rubber magnate F.A. Seiberling lit up for the season with more than 1 million lights inside and throughout the gardens. Kids will especially enjoy Dazzle, an outdoor light show choreographed to music, and Gingerbread Land, Stan Hywet’s popular Playgarden that is dressed up for the holiday season. Get there early for the nightly tree lighting and end your tour with fresh baked gingerbread cookies and hot cocoa by the fire in the courtyard.
Farmpark Toy Workshop, Nov. 24-26 and Dec. 27-31
For kids who can't wait to see if they'll get what's on their wish list, it turns out they can build it themselves--provided it's not an Xbox. At Lake Metroparks Farmpark Toy Workshop, kids ages 2-11 can select a wooden toy to build with an elf, assemble the toy using drills, power screwdrivers, hammers and nails; and then paint and decorate their DIY toy.
Glow, Nov. 24-Dec.31
Cleveland Botanical Garden's winter spectacular transports you to a world full of seasonal cheer, where visitors can marvel at whimsical gingerbread houses--and decorate their own--hop aboard the Garden Express for a ride through the outdoor gardens, listen to live holiday music, admire decorated trees, and leave their own wish on the Wishing Tree. Glow shines extra bright on Wednesdays and Fridays, when the garden offers extended hours and seasonal dinner specials.
The Rink at Wade Oval, Nov. 24-March 4, 2018
Lace up your skates and enjoy the fresh ice on picturesque Wade Oval, smack in the middle of Cleveland's cultural mecca, University Circle. There's also a fire pit, refreshments and special offers at nearby museums.
Cleveland Metroparks Tobogganing, Nov. 24-March 4, 2018
For 50 years, the Metroparks has been making riders scream with delight as they plunge down one of two 700-foot refrigerated ice chutes. Slide over to The Chalet at Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville to experience the thrilling toboggan rides, which operate with or without snow Thursdays through Sundays, in addition to special holiday hours. Bonus: there’s a toboggan lift so you don’t even have to do the heavy lifting yourself; you just need to climb the 108 steps. (Fine print: riders must be at least 42 inches tall; gloves or mittens are required; and children ages 14 and younger must ride with an adult.)
Winterfest, Nov. 25
Help welcome the season at downtown Cleveland’s holiday lighting tradition, where lights, laughter, entertainment and activities fill Public Square. Take a free horse and carriage ride, grab some grub from gourmet food trucks, and peruse the pop-up shops--but don't shop 'til you drop, because you'll definitely want to stay for the evening's tree-lighting ceremony and fireworks show.
Great Wolf Lodge Snowland, beginning Nov. 25
Snowland transforms the indoor water park and resort in nearby Sandusky into a magical wonderland of twinkling lights, holiday trees and indoor snow showers--yes, they actually make snow indoors--that melt into perfect 84-degree basking weather in the water park. Stay overnight in a Snowland Suite to find festively decorated lodging that even includes milk and cookies at bedtime. You can also run, run, as fast as you can to make dining reservations for a table inside one of several life-size gingerbread houses.
Magical Christmas Light Show, every evening in December
After Halloween, the spirits are put to rest at Ghostly Manor Thrill Center and the Sandusky haunted house decks its halls with a rather spectacular Christmas light show. The free, 30-min. show is choreographed to music that you listen to over FM radio from the cozy comfort of your car. Beginning at 6 p.m., the show restarts every half hour. Also, on Wednesday in December, the Very Merry Family Fun Night event includes Christmas music, a $5 Jump, Climb & Skate Pass, and refreshments--plus Santa drops in for a visit.
Light Up Lakewood, Dec. 2
This free, family-friendly event on Detroit Ave. in one of Cleveland's coolest near-west suburbs features a holiday parade, lighting ceremony, winter fireworks, live music, ice carvings, hot chocolate, food trucks, children's games and much more. Stroll Lakewood's downtown district and get a leg up on your holiday shopping at one-of-a-kind local stores.
Holiday CircleFest, Dec. 2-3
University Circle’s holiday tradition expands to two days this year. Come Saturday for the Christkindlmarket holiday market, then skate with Santa at The Rink at Wade Oval. On Sunday, more than a dozen of University Circle’s museums, gardens, galleries, churches, and schools open their doors free of charge and offer an afternoon of activities, music, food, fun, and shopping. Outdoors, enjoy ice carving demonstrations, horse drawn carriage rides, and ice skating. The festivities end with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Winter Lights Lantern Procession.
Friends of the Maltz Museum Hanukkah Candlelighting, Dec. 13
Children of all ages and backgrounds come together to celebrate the Jewish festival of lights at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Kids and adults can join in the fun singing songs, playing the dreidel game, and learning the story of Hanukkah. Oh, and follow it up with an oh-so-sweet cookie reception.
The Cleveland Orchestra, Disney in Concert, Dec. 20
See the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra and keep the kids happy with Disney in Concert: Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas. Experience Tim Burton’s cult classic with the score by Danny Elfman performed live and watch Jack Skellington’s attempts to kidnap and replace Santa Claus.
Take Two! Double Features at the DOME, Dec. 30
Relive the great "Griswold Family Christmas" on the big screen--make that the colossal screen--and get that warm, fuzzy feeling by remembering Buddy the Elf's seasonal advice, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear," at the Great Lakes Science Center’s Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater. Wrapping up its first year, the Take Two! series turns festive for its last double feature, which pairs "Elf" (at 6 p.m.) with "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (at 8 p.m.).