I was raised by artsy folk, who instilled in me a general disregard for child centered places that catered only to children. Chuckie Cheese like establishments being only the beginning of the madness, everyday it seems there are more and more expensive places willing to take your money or

 host your child’s birthday party.

My children get invited to many of these artificial events, some are worse than others. Cattle like prodding to get through the precisely laid out schedule, smile and for goodness sake, have fun.

I selfishly want to enjoy taking my kids on adventures, open their eyes to a bigger world and do it in a way that doesn’t sacrifice a week’s pay. If you are with me so far, check out these little known gems Cleveland has to offer families. Not all are free, but they all offer world expanding culture geared to children without shutting the adults out of the fun.

Playhouse Square tops my list for two reasons. Not only do they have an excellent children’s theater program, four shows for $40. Their membership package offers even better deals and gives kids a connection to the theater, meeting cast members and preshow parties.

It is also a little known fact that they offer free backstage tours. Children and adults will be enthralled at the grand inner workings of the theater. This is something that will inspire both you and your children. This is a great place to start; if your kids are sparked by the magic of the theater, then you can go back for more. Playhouse Square has a lot to offer.

Another off the beaten track tour that you can take your kids happens twice a year. On the Saturdays of Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Cuyahoga County Engineer’s Office opens the lower deck of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge to the public.

The self guided tour is free and very cool. Walk over an open steel grid, 100 feet in the air. Not a tour for the youngsters, but this would be loved by preteens on up, especially if you hand them a camera to capture all the fantastic images of Cleveland.Now, for some relaxing fun, take the kids to the Hershey Children’s Garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. This is another place where it pays to become a member. The Children’s Garden is full of amazing natural discoveries, a tree house, interactive fountain and so much sheer

beauty. Adults: $7, Children (3-12) $3, under 3 are free. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10-5pm and Sunday 12-5pm. Wednesdays they are open until 9

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Note: They are also open Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day

Another magical place to visit nearby is the Rockefeller Greenhouse (750 E.88th Street Cleveland) nothing flashy or fancy here, no giant ball pits or giant talking animals to entertain you, just a lovely place to walk around and soak in all the beauty. Without spending a dime, the Rockefeller Greenhouse is free, as well as the parking. It is open daily, weekends and holidays from 10 am – 4 pm.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden also offers some interesting programs such as the Great Lake Erie Boat Float. You can register to build a boat out of plastic bottles. Admission is your own plastic boat to float in Lake Erie. Go to their website for more info and boat building instructions.

Of course there is always the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. I say that with love, we have been members of the zoo since my kids were very little. 2 trips in a year paid for itself, and since we try to go once a month a membership is more than worth it. http://www.clemetzoo.com/ $60 a year isn’t bad at all for twelve trips with a large family.

They offer a number of fun events throughout the year and now that they opened the Center for Zoological Medicine, my kids are even more interested to go and see what animal the veterinarians are working on that day. Last time we visited, a bat was having its blood drawn for testing.

Cleveland also has a wide variety of ethnic and artsy festivals year round. Such as Parade the Circle, a free June University Circle event that is an explosion of creative fun. I personally know a teenaged stilt walker that participates every year, for the past 9 year. She’s a wonder to behold as her stilt’s get higher and higher each time.

The Hessler Street Fair is another University Circle event that occurs in May. Both draw large crowds and have loads to see, do and experience.

The Waterloo Arts Festival located in the Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, also draws a crowd and offers kids plenty of hands on activities free of charge.
There are so many more festivals and parades check out the weekly paper for local listing and get out there! Clevelander’s need to take advantage of all the amazing cultural opportunities we have in our city.

Finally if you really feel like offering your kids to an indulgent treat….take them to b.a.Sweetie Candy Company, 7480 Brookpark Rd. Cleveland , the largest candy store in the US. You’ll find every sort of candy imaginable here, a real Willie Wonka experience. Watch their eyes

 light up.

Open Monday – Friday 9-7 pm, Saturday 10 – 6 pm and Sundays 11-4 pm

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