Showing Off NEO: Family Visits to Kent and Cleveland

One of the best things about living in Northeast Ohio is getting to show it off. I have loved hearing my New-to-NEO classmates talk about the spots they’ve taken their families to check out when they were in for a visit. Even though my family is local, I still enjoy introducing them to new places around the region.

For those of you planning your own family visits, I’ve included below the must-sees (and eats!) for family visits in Kent and Cleveland.


Photo: My parents, Karin and Gary Kirtner, enjoy the recently restored Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel on a recent trip to the Western Reserve Historical Society in University Circle. 

Daytripping to Kent

Kent Visitor Center
Photo: A fall afternoon on the Kent State University campus, outside of Taylor Hall, home to the College of Communication and Information and the May 4th Visitors Center.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my alma mater Kent State and the City of Kent, but even without my personal love for the city, it would still be a fantastic spot for a family day-trip.

Just a forty-five minute drive from Cleveland, Kent is an adorable college town with a downtown that has blossomed within the past few years. The campus itself is also much more than classrooms and dorms – there are far more than a days worth of hidden gems to check out just on-campus alone. With that in mind, here are your top-three must-visit stops in Kent:


  1. The May 4 Visitors Center is a necessary stop. Added into Taylor Hall in 2012, the Visitors Center provides tremendous historical context to those taking in the hilly landscape just outside, the site of the 1970 tragedy. Outside the entrance of the Visitors Center, you can visit the May 4th Memorial and the field of 58,175 daffodils commemorating those lost in Vietnam.


  1. Just a short walk from Taylor Hall is the School of Art, which is currently undergoing a huge renovation. This is one of the many stops on campus with fantastic galleries and public exhibitions. At the School of Art, student exhibitions are often happening in some of the smaller galleries around the building, along with shows featuring the phenomenally curated School of Art Gallery collection. Walk over to Oscar Ritchie Hall for even more art in the Uumbaji Gallery, which features a broad range of shows throughout the year. The Hearing Aid Museum is located in the Speech Pathology department’s home in the Center for the Performing Arts, and the Kent State University Museum, home to a stunning collection of historic fashions, is located on Hilltop Drive at the Fashion School.


  1. If your family is anything like mine, no visit is complete without a shared meal, and Kent is home to a number of great spots that appease both my vegan diet and my family’s not-so-vegan tastes. Taco Tontos serves up some of the most delicious and unusual burritos I’ve ever eaten—I find myself unable to resist anytime the “ratatouillerito” is on special (stuffed completely full of roasted veggies), and Main Street Continental Grill is the long-standing campus favorite for Mediterranean eats. Stop at Tree City Coffee for a fun cocktail before dinner or a boost of caffeine for the drive home.

Taking in the Sights around University Circle (and Beyond)

Photo: My mom and I enjoy the gorgeous sculptures outside of Emperor’s Palace on Cleveland’s near-east side. This lot also transforms into the dazzling Night Market Cleveland hosted during the warmer months.


The joy of living in Cleveland is that I am always learning and experiencing new things. Because both of my parents grew up in and around the city’s west side, I love taking them around to see how things have changed in their old neighborhoods. I’ve also loved getting to know the area around CWRU’s campus and sharing that area with my family when they stop through. With that in mind, the essential, top-three stops on a family visit around University Circle include:


  1. All of the phenomenal museums. The more time I spend in University Circle, the more I have realized how insanely lucky we are to have so many institutions – large and small – in one condensed area. Of course, no visit to Cleveland is complete without a stop at the Cleveland Museum of Art, but don’t stop there! There’s the Dittrick Museum of Medical History (which also happens to run a really wonderful and informative Instagram account), and the Western Reserve Historical Society and its Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection, a personal favorite. I had no idea how many cars were manufactured in Cleveland before my family and I made the trip to check out the collection. Where else can you take in the history of furniture and housewares, learn about some of the oldest electric cars, and ride on a beautifully restored, antique carousel?


  1. University Circle is located in close vicinity to so many other wonderful neighborhoods and so much ridiculously good food. A visit from my parents is now essentially incomplete without a visit to Emperor’s Palace for lunch, and from there we are close enough to grab groceries and bubble teas from the wonderful shops in AsiaTown. University Circle is also just a short trip away from the East 55th area and Sterle’s Country House, as well as Empress Taytu’s Ethiopian cuisine on St. Clair Avenue. Uptown is also home to Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern and Coquette Patisserie.


  1. Just a quick hop from the main center of University Circle and north on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive are the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, perfect for a post-meal stroll in any season. Resources are available online to take a self-guided tour through the number of gorgeous gardens that run alongside MLK. Whether you pass through all of the gardens or just a select few, you are certain to see some gorgeous sculptures and public art.



I have provided here just a small sampling of my favorite family-visit destinations in NEO, but awesome new spots continue to pop up every day. I hope you enjoy treating your family and other visitors to your favorite NEO spots as well—tweet me @ellenkirtner with your suggestions!

Ellen Kirtner
Ellen Kirtner

Ellen Kirtner is a second-year law student at Case Western Reserve University and a Kent State University PRKent alumna. When she’s not studying, you can spot Ellen browsing local markets and shops, adventuring around town on the RTA, and eating as much vegan junk food as possible.