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Kid-Friendly Zones: Cleveland, Ohio

by Elaine Sosa Labalme

The city of Cleveland may have had its golden moment on January 10, 1870, when John D. Rockefeller established Standard Oil.  But it wasn't exactly downhill after that.  Enterprising Clevelanders created Life Savers (1891) and Superman (1933) and coined the phrase "Rock 'n Roll" (1952).  Face it, Clevelanders are both smart and fun.  Bring the kids here and you'll feel much the same.

A Rollicking Good Time     No, your first stop will not be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though that's definitely on the agenda.  Head 45 minutes west of Cleveland to the town of Sandusky, Ohio, a veritable mecca of amusement and water parks.  Make a bee-line for the Kalahari Waterpark, soon to be the largest indoor water park in America.  Indoor water play, you say?  Surprisingly, the indoor amusements here far surpass the outdoor fun, so you'll find yourself happily splashing inside even if it's a gorgeous day outside.  Our six-year-old son was grinning from ear to ear the entire time he was here, and your kids will be, too -- it's that much fun.  Get ready to be squirted, sprayed and generally soaked as you work your way down water slides with Africa-inspired names like Swahili Swirl and Zig Zag Zebra.  At Victoria Falls, you'll take a family raft down an enclosed slide and plunge into a large pool.  The Flow Rider creates a five-foot ocean-like wave for your surfing pleasure while the Zip Coaster is a wet and wild roller coaster-style ride.  And then there's the Lazy River, an oasis of flotation where everyone can catch their breath.  While your kids will NOT need a break from all this, you probably will, so take them to the upstairs Candy Hut mid-afternoon for an unnecessary yet exhilarating sugar rush.  Resident baker Robin Nelson makes the most gorgeous caramel apples west of the Kalahari and the ice cream, supplied by the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. of Madison, Wisconsin, is amazing.  The Kalahari Resort invites you to spend the night in a room done in the colors of the savanna while Spa Kalahari is a chocolate-colored confection and oh-so-appealing.  Your kids will say that Kalahari is the most fun thing they've ever done and you might, too.  Who knew?  kalahariresort.com

I Like That Old-Time Rock and Roll     In an ingenious bit of urban planning, the folks in Cleveland placed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right next door to the Great Lakes Science Center.  Why is this so significant?  Because your kids will almost surely be bored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Face it, rock and roll as presented here was big in YOUR day, not theirs, so don't expect them to relate.  Your best bet is to tag-team with your spouse or other responsible adult and take turns enjoying the Rock Hall while the kids are happily playing at the Science Center.  Let a couple of hours pass and switch places.  This way, everyone will be happy.  The Rock Hall is chock full of musical memorabilia so don't dawdle -- there's a lot to see.  First up and right in front of the main exhibition hall are Jerry Garcia's guitars, including the iconic "Rosebud."  My husband swoons at being in the presence of such greatness.  You'll stroll down a memory lane of rock and roll in this hall-in-the-round, experience rock's finest moments decade by decade from the 1950s into the 21st century.  Note John Lennon's report card -- his teacher didn't seem to see much promise there -- and Jimi Hendrix's outfits, as outrageous as he was.  On your way to the upper floors, catch the photos of rock gods near the restrooms -- George Harrison jamming with Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney kibitzing with Bruce Springsteen are especially touching.  A special exhibit on The Doors traces the development of the band and mixes somber notes (Jim Morrison's demise) with lighter moments (Morrison's cub scout uniform!).  An hour-long film showcasing all of the Rock Hall inductees is a toe-tapping, finger-snapping dance while the "Highlights from the Induction Ceremonies" film reel playing continuously in the theater lobby makes for a very sentimental journey.  rockhall.com  Back at the Great Lakes Science Center, the usual assortment of "kids do science" exhibits are punctuated by a series of sensational traveling exhibits.  A recent exhibit titled "Baseball as America" traced baseball's evolution as the symbol of the American spirit.  Among the memorabilia were a Ruthian bat, no small swat at 54 ounces, and a far more delicate charm bracelet given by Lou Gehrig to his wife.  The self-styled "luckiest man alive" was a real romantic, seeing as how he had each of the bracelet's charms etched with one of his Yankees milestones.  Exhibits on tap include "Chocolate," a detailed and fanciful primer for the kid in everyone and "Einstein," which will give equal time to science and the man himself.  The latter exhibit comes from the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.  The Science Center's IMAX Theater showcases educational, entertaining films, among them "Hurricane on the Bayou," a much-lauded feature on the disappearing wetlands of southern Louisiana and their role in the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  glsc.org  Back outside, you may find yourself wondering what all those fantastically painted, larger-than-life guitars are all about.  No, the city of Cleveland is not providing curbside guitar lessons -- it's GuitarMania, an every-other-year fundraiser for the United Way.  While the guitars are auctioned off to raise money, most businesses choose to display them publicly.  Make a mental list of your top picks as you stroll around the city center.  cleveland.com/guitarmania/

Take Me Out To The Ballpark     At Cleveland's Jacobs Field, home to the Cleveland Indians baseball team, the ballpark tour feels like a real, live game of Trivial Pursuit, with knowledgeable tour guides holding the winning hand.  Pretend you're five again and simply soak it all in -- it's what your kids are doing, anyway.  During the 90-minute tour, you'll visit the press box and party suites, ogle the largest scoreboard in the American League (three million LEDs!) and kick up some dust in the dugout, just like the pros.  It's this last stop that brings you closest to the field, something of a dream for wannabe sluggers as they grow wide-eyed at the mere thought of it.  Satchel Paige, Bob Feller and Cy Young were all Indians and they were no doubt thrilled if they played on one of the Indians' two World-Series-winning teams, in 1920 and 1948.  cleveland.indians.mlb.com/cle/ballpark/tours.jsp

More Outdoors     Less than half an hour from downtown Cleveland is Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The Cuyahoga, or "crooked," River snakes its way through rolling hills, deep forests and open farmlands and is at the heart of this play land for nature-loving children and adults.  nps.gov/cuva  Board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for an enchanting ride into the Park.  The historic railway, in operation since 1880, is especially welcoming to bicyclists, offering a $2 "Bike Aboard" fare for those willing to ride the rails in one direction and bike back (feel free to flag the train down along the way if you could use a lift).  cvsr.com  The biking is along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, an easy, flat trail once used by the mules that towed canal boats loaded with goods and passengers.  For those in need of a bike, Century Cycles, at the Peninsula train stop, rents cruisers as well as tag-along wheels for kids.  centurycycles.com  Stop for a bite at the Winking Lizard Tavern, also in Peninsula, if hunger strikes, then wind up your day with a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  One of many worthwhile cultural institutions in the city's University Circle area and arguably the most kid-friendly, the museum houses dinos indoors and a mini-zoo out.  The planetarium shows should also be on the agenda along with any of the museum's high-quality rotating exhibits.  cmnh.org

Where to Stay     The Marriott Cleveland Downtown at Key Center is blessed with an unbeatable location, overlooking Lake Erie and the architecturally impressive Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The modern, spacious lobby is a great place to start, and plan, your day and it's likely you'll be walking to many attractions from here since they're close by.  Newly-renovated guest rooms are burnished in dark woods with touches of red and gold.  Request a corner king, where the flat-screen TV is fun and the refrigerator is downright useful, perfect for everything the kids didn't eat today but will surely want tomorrow.  Kids will groove on the bedtime air mattresses that fit snugly into the room's many corners; parents will revel in a down-covered bed so comfortable you'll want to bring it home.  In-room wireless Internet is available for multi-tasking parents.  127 Public Square, Cleveland  (216) 696-9200; clevelandmarriottdowntown.com.  Doubles from $149.00.

Where to Eat     At Melt, musician-turned-chef Matt Fish is indulging two of his favorite passions:  beer and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Don't you love this guy already?  Tucked into a small storefront in the residential Lakewood district, Melt offers over a hundred different beers, local brews as well as an eclectic collection of domestic and global offerings.  The real reason to bring the family here, however, is the food.  Look past the hipster-bar vibe and concentrate on the menu, where the Kindergarten is a primer on gooey cheese and perfect for young children.  The Westside Monte Cristo is a mix of meat and cheese stuffed between lightly-battered hunks of bread and served with a delectable mixed berry dipping sauce while the Mushroom Melt is a medley of portabello mushrooms, caramelized onions and provolone cheese.  There are over a dozen grilled cheese sandwiches to choose from, and each is served with a heaping side of hand-cut fries and a sweet slaw that is blissfully devoid of mayo.  The kids will be clamoring to eat here every night, and you'll probably agree.  14718 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood  (216) 226-3699.  That said, save a night for Little Italy, a compact district not far from University Circle.  Dinner is at La Dolce Vita, where an outside table is a must...ah, a bottle of Chianti and thou.  Wait, the kids are here!  No matter, get that bottle of Chianti anyway and order the polenta and zucchini appetizer, which everyone will fight over.  Six-inch pizzas make perfect meals for the kids, with the quattro formaggi pizza a real winner.  Mom and Dad should share the Pasta Firenze, a confection of mushrooms, tomatoes and anchovies tossed with tender tagliatelle -- a sublime dish.  12112 Mayfield Road, Cleveland  (216) 721-8155.  Repair for dessert to Presti's Bakery across the street, where the tiramisu and gelato are fine and the many outdoor tables inviting.  The Waterstreet Grill makes for a solid urban breakfast stop.  Snug against the city center in the historic Warehouse District, the restaurant is done in upscale pub decor and populated with the twenty- and thirty-somethings who are snapping up the neighborhood's loft-like living spaces.  The Waterstreet omelette is both filling and delicious and the bacon and eggs are spot-on; avoid the pancakes and overpriced, frozen o.j. and be prepared to indulge your waitress, who may still be learning her way around.  1265 W. 9th Street, Cleveland  (216) 619-1600.

What Else?     The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Rainforest is a good place for the kids to run around and learn something in the process -- at a minimum, they'll ooh and aah at the wonderful wildlife  clemetzoo.com...The Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the premier art institutions in the country, is in the midst of a multi-year renovation and expansion designed by internationally-recognized architect Rafael Vinoly.  Special exhibitions and events have been scheduled in the meantime, with the first of the new galleries scheduled to open in 2008  clevelandart.org...Big Fun is a novel toy store chockablock with new and vintage items, and not far from Little Italy.  It's something of a local institution and definitely worth a stop if time allows (open late Friday and Saturday nights).  1814 Coventry Road, Cleveland  (216) 371-4386.


Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and six-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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