When I was a kid, my dad would frequently pack up the car and tell us we were going on a trip. More often than not, we’d end up near the outskirts of Cincinnati at an amusement park called Kings Island, or 10 miles east of Downtown at Coney Island, another old-school amusement/waterpark. As kids, this was about as cool as a road trip could possibly get.
But what do you do in the Queen City once your craving for coasters has been quelled, and you want to partake in a getaway that your parents would be jealous of? Luckily, just like us, Cincinnati seems to have grown up and gotten substantially cooler over the years: Here's all the stuff you need to do when you're in town.
France's Fête des Lumières Is a Light Festival Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen
Clevelanders will be familiar with the canned brews coming from Rhinegeist Brewery, like the “Bubbles” rosé ale, IPAs, and ciders. Take a VIP tour of operations at the 25,000-square-foot facility, where you can sample the drafts, play corn hole and pingpong, or bring lunch from the historic Findlay Market a block away and enjoy it on the rooftop patio. The market boasts more than 40 indoor merchants selling meats, cheeses, and even multicultural fare like pho, housed in a vibrant and colorful setting.
In addition to Rhinegeist, Cincinnati has been brimming with breweries since the 1840s. Take the Cincy Brew Bus for a spin around three or four of the nearly 30 unique local breweries at a time, with stops at hotspots like MadTree Brewing Company in Oakley and Urban Artifact located in the basement of a former church.
Move it to a music festival
The music industry has been steadily growing thanks to an abundance of record shops, Shake It Records and Mole's Record Exchange among them, as well as brand-spankin’-new Herzog Music located in the same spot as Cincinnati’s first R&B studios downtown. Another reason the industry has really been popping off, though, is the addition of national music festivals to the local scene. Bunbury and MidPoint Music Festival both call the banks of the Ohio River home, attracting thousands to the area to watch acts like Charles Bradley, Walk The Moon, and Noname.
If you’re into classical music, check out The Cincinnati Music Hall home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, ballet, and opera. Built in 1878, the already gorgeous venue just got a complete renovation and will reopen this October.
Get some goetta in your system
Goetta, an ethnic German-inspired creation of ground meat, steel-cut oats, onion, and spices shaped into patties, is extremely popular at diners and dives throughout the area. It's pretty much the textbook definition of a regional food, lovingly referred to as “Cincinnati’s caviar” -- grab brunch at a greasy spoon like Tucker’s Restaurant, or the more upscale Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, and you’ll find goetta on the menu at both.
Glier’s Goetta is the largest regional wholesale supplier, located right across the river in Covington, Kentucky. The company produces Goettafest, a four-day festival with goetta cooking contests and live music that draws over 150,000 people to Newport on the Levee each year. You'll even find Glier's on sale at Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Cincinnati Bengals)!
Enjoy breathtaking (and historic) riverside views
Downtown Cincinnati sits in a valley on the Ohio River, which means the views from surrounding 'hoods are jaw-dropping enough that you'll want to hunt for the best one. Price Hill was one of five in the city to build its own incline attractions, in addition to the Elm Street Incline, Fairview, Mount Adams, and Mount Auburn, all of which have since closed (the last in 1948), but their construction led to the growth of bustling business districts in each destination. Incline Public House offers arguably the best sightline from its patio -- and it also helps that the kitchen’s smells were featured on Michael Symon’s Burgers, Brew & ‘Que on the Food Network. Clevelanders will feel right at home at this restaurant representing Cincy’s hilly history.
Discover Cincinnati's underground (in more ways than one)
Cincinnati is a REALLY old city; incorporated in 1819, it was the first major city founded after the revolution, and a hotbed of activity on the Underground Railroad as the first stop for slaves crossing the Ohio River. Thus, you can (and should) visit the Freedom Center, also known as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, to learn about abolitionism in the past as well as the present.
Cincinnati’s heritage isn’t just metaphorically underground, though: In the early 1900s, citizens petitioned the city to build an underground subway to ease travel through its center, using the drained Erie Canal as framework. The subway was never finished; instead, 2.2 miles of tunnels were completed and left dormant since 1928, becoming a favorite of urban explorers and ruin-porn photographers alike later on. You can take an official tour and see it for yourself through the Cincinnati Heritage Program.
Say "Hello" to Fiona the hippo
If you don’t make it a point to go see the cutest celebrity hippo baby in the United States... well, you're not an awful person, but you're probably not a great one either. Born at The Cincinnati Zoo six months ago, Fiona's perhaps the most well documented baby zoo animal in social media history. Visitors may catch sight of her splashing around in the outdoor pool, but she does not yet have a set schedule for playtime -- either way, take a chance and go check her out!
Do some historical drinking
Located in historic Brighton in a building from the 1880s, The Mockbee is a perfect place to cheers inside tunnels built into the hillside (thanks to a German method of naturally chilling beer). The underground bar, once owned by brewer Georg Fredrich Klotter, has been repurposed as a DIY art and music venue with programming seven days a week.
Prohibition killed many of Cincinnati’s early breweries, but it also gave rise to infamous bootleggers like George Remus (commonly referred to as the real-life Great Gatsby). Ask for a glass of George Remus-branded whiskey -- because of course that's a thing -- at Mt. Adams Bar and Grill, which is rumored to be the spot of one of his former speakeasies.
Eat your weight in Cincinnati-style chili
Skyline Chili is the most well-known purveyor of this cinnamon, allspice, and clove-heavy concoction, and with over 40 locations throughout the Downtown area, it's beyond easy to score yourself a bowl of the good stuff. Just don't forget: It wouldn’t be Cincinnati chili without a huge helping of shredded Cheddar cheese on top.
Of course, there are competitors -- Gold Star is hot on the heels of Skyline, and Camp Washington Chili is a James Beard Classics award-winner -- but most locals will tell you there's no replacement. Give them all a try and see where your loyalty lies.
Eat other, non-chili-based meals too
On the off-chance you're not fully satisfied by three square chili meals a day, there's plenty of variety to be had in the Queen City, from Mediterranean (Abigail Street) and Latin-influenced (Salazar and Mita’s) to Italian (Boca and Sotto) and vegan-friendly (Melt and Maribelle’s Eat + Drink). However, Orchids at Palm Court in the Hilton, led by executive chef Todd Kelly, should be at the top of the list if you’re looking for a truly upscale evening -- the Grand Tasting menu goes for $110 a pop, but everyone who's tried it would agree it's worth the hefty price tag.
Sports fans have plenty of options in town; there’s the Bengals pro-football team (celebrating 50 years this season), the Cincinnati Reds for your baseball fix during the spring, and at the end of October, Cincinnati Cyclones hockey. That said, the current unsung sports heroes of Cincy are none other than FC Cincinnati, a European-style futbol league whose home games take place on the field of University of Cincinnati in Uptown -- no matter how you feel about soccer, these wild matches are well worth their two-hour duration. If you can’t get into it for the love of the game, try exploring the architecture surrounding UC’s college campus on a scheduled tour, named some of the most distinctive in the world.
Canoe down the Little Miami
While the Ohio River is beautiful to gaze upon from the many bridges connecting the state to Kentucky, you’ll most likely want to canoe on the other river right outside of town, the Little Miami. Designated as a State and National Scenic River, you can spot many indigenous plants and animals including birds, turtles, frogs, and fish as you float your way downstream. Loveland Canoe and Kayak is located a half an hour from Downtown, but if you’re looking to tube then you’ll have to call Little Miami River Canoe Rental in Oregonia.
Graeter’s Ice Cream is a Cincinnati staple, known for using the French Pot method of production (which the place practically patented during its 145 years in business). Almost all the flavors contain Graeter's signature “chocolate chip,” which is made by pouring layers of chocolate shell into the pot as the ultra-creamy dairy churns, while bourbon pecan, black raspberry, and buckeye are among the Signature Chip flavors. Stopping at one of the 14 area locations is a perfect capper to a Cincinnati road trip.
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Rachel Hunt is the contributing food editor at Scene Magazine and likes to eat, a lot. You can see some photos of her "research" by following @workinggoth on IG.
Most Clevelanders make a show of being ambivalent about Columbus. “Sure,” we say, “Columbus is fun. But it’s NOT AS GOOD AS CLEVELAND” -- and all the while, we’re secretly planning our next road trip down 71 for a visit. While Columbus might be our seldom-acknowledged side piece, the state capital’s not a bad mistress (mister?) to have, all things considered: the arts, festivals, and abundant food and drink scene elevate what could have just been a college town run amok (O-H!) into a cultural hub of the Midwest. Make the most of your secret road trip with this guide to fun in the Arch City (bonus points for stopping at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn on the way back).
From Los Angeles to San Diego: Every Pit Stop You Need To Make Along The Way
With zero humidity and palm trees in the rearview mirror, cruising down the Pacific coast to San Diego from Los Angeles is summer. Of course, LA traffic can make it less cruiseworthy and more bumper-to-bumper. But with authentic taquerias, whale watching, and iconic surf breaks, there’s a quintessential SoCal pit stop just about every mile of the ride to distract you. Here’s seven summer getaways you can easily hit on the way to San Diego -- just don’t forget the sunscreen and a swimsuit.
Nothing says "vacation" quite like a terror-inducing thrill ride, and that's the specialty at Cedar Point, the self-proclaimed "Roller Coaster Capital of the World" -- it's kind of like The Hague, but with G-forces and lap bars instead of diplomacy and international affairs. Unless you're planning on spending an entire weekend in Sandusky, Ohio, though, you'll run into a snag: with an overwhelming collection of 17 coasters, and only so much time/intestinal fortitude to ride them, which ones should merit your attention?
To help guide you through the park, I've taken a hard look at each of Cedar Point's roller coasters and ranked them from "you can probably skip it" all the way up to "YOU GOTTA FREAKIN' RIDE IT." As for the intestinal fortitude, well, you're on your own.