Daycations: The Best of Northeast Ohio and Pittsburgh

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Earlier this week, I wrote my first ever guest blog post for Sam over at Once is Enough while she went on vacation. I focused on daycationing, outlining several tips to help you have a great time while being a tourist in your own town. Head over to her blog to read more about finding the best local spots to explore and save money — great for the college girl on a budget! While you’re at it, read posts from Sam and the other guest bloggers for the week. 

If you’re still in school, summer is pretty much half over already… unless you’re in graduate school, and you’re very likely still in class till very late at night or early on Saturday mornings. I feel your pain. I’m currently still looking for a job, and while I’m cutting back on unnecessary purchases, I still plan on taking a daycation or two. I’m lucky that I live in an area filled with hidden cultural jewels, right between two large metro areas with experiences totally unique to each of those cities. It’s unlikely that people from outside of the area plan to vacation in Northeast Ohio, there’s much to do for those who are willing to explore, and do a little research ahead of time. Here are four of my favorite day-trips for a quick weekend excursion. Click through on the links to each of the attractions for more information about hours of operation, admission, and directions. 

Youngstown, Ohio

Home of my alma mater and Ed O’Neill from Modern Family, Youngstown is in the middle of a cultural revival, working to rebuild itself from the fall of the U.S. steel industry and shed it’s image as hub of organized crime. It boasts a rich ethnic heritage, and on any given weekend in the summer, you can sample Greek gyros, Italian sausages, or Polish pyrohies at any of their popular festivals held each year. In the six years I spent living in Youngstown earning my degrees, I learned to love the area and discovered many of the gems of the city and surrounding area. 

First, visit the Butler Museum of American Art, the first museum of strictly American art in all types of media, dedicated in 1919. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, admission to this museum is free. Take time to reflect on paintings by Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, and Robert Rauschenberg. For lunch, take a very short drive over to Casesse’s MVR, one of the most popular restaurants in the Mahoning Valley. While you wait for a (massive) plate of cavatelli, or any of the other old school Italian dishes, look around at all of the Youngstown sports memorabilia, from the years the YSU Penguins won four national championships under Coach Jim Tressel (just before he went on to coach for Ohio State) and boxing greats, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Kelly Pavlik. Take your to-go box and head to Mill Creek Park, the second largest metro park in the United States. With over 4,400 acres for you to explore, its easy to spend an entire day here out on the hiking trails, paddling around Lake Glacier, or simply relaxing and enjoying nature. You might even happen upon a wedding in any area of the park, especially in the gorgeous Fellows Riverside Gardens and its visitor’s center. As the sun sets, head back into town for dinner and drinks at the Lemon Grove, part bar and restaurant, part performance venue, and part art gallery. Almost every night of the week, you can catch live music, poetry readings, or events like trivia games or karaoke at this lively downtown establishment. Don’t forget to check the schedules for the Dana School of Music and the Department of Theater and Dance at YSU, bringing top notch vocal, symphonic, and theatrical performances to the valley. 

Bonus Youngstown Sites
Charlie Staples’ Original Bar-B-Cue
Mahoning Valley Scrappers Baseball
The World’s Largest Pair of Drum Sticks, in honor of Warren native Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters 
Oakland Center for the Arts

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Geneva on the Lake has become one of my favorite weekend getaways for two simple reasons: there’s a beach and the wine is plentiful and delicious. The beach is on the shores of Lake Erie, and though I don’t think I would take a dive into it, it is quite beautiful to look at. Start your day at Geneva State Park, and don’t forget to pack your towels, sunscreen, and a good book. Bring a picnic lunch, too, and soak up the sun watching the waves coming in from the lake. After relaxing at the beach for a few hours, head over to Lake Road for food, drinks, and entertainment. For family fun, stop at the Adventure Zone for mini-golf, bumper boats, and go-carts. You can also rent bikes, golf carts, and surrey limos. To sample some of the area’s best vino, grab a map and choose your destinations. I recommend Ferrante Winery, Chalet Debonne Vineyard, and The Lakehouse Inn & Winery.  In the evening, park your car along the strand and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stands that line the road, or pop over to my personal favorite, The Old Firehouse Winery, for a breathtaking view of the lake and live music nightly. Don’t miss their Ferris wheel and the wine slushies! Find your favorite wine and bring a bottle or two home to enjoy for the rest of the summer.

Bonus Geneva-on-the-Lake Sites
Eddie’s Arcade (on Lake Road)

Laurello Vineyards
Old Mill Winery

Cleveland, Ohio

While you could easily visit their amazing visitor’s page, I thought I would highlight some of my favorite things to do while in Cleveland. Since Brian and I love going to zoos, the first place I would go is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo & Aquarium, featuring The Rainforest and the new African Elephant Crossing. It doesn’t matter how many times or how many different zoos I go to, I’ll always take pictures of the penguins and the bears. They’re just too cute. After a hot morning and afternoon wandering around the zoo, head over to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a uniquely “Cleveland” experience. Nowhere else in the world can you find such an expansive collection of rock n’ roll memorabilia and learn so much about the music and it’s roots. See tour costumes, handwritten lyrics, and other belongings of your favorite musicians and watch films featuring all of the inductees. In the evening, find dinner and drinks in the East 4th Street entertainment district. I prefer the House of Blues for dinner — their cornbread is nothing short of incredible — but there are plenty of great little restaurants in the area, including Flannery’s Pub and the Corner Alley Bar & Grill.

Bonus Cleveland Sites
The Christmas Story House
CLE Clothing, Co. <– Stop here! The shirts are brilliant!
West Side Market
Great Lakes Brewing Company

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Ok, so this one isn’t necessarily in Ohio, but I live within 45 minutes of Pittsburgh, hence why I’ve always been a Steelers fan over the Browns. Recently, the city appeared as part of Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, and I won’t pretend that I didn’t get more than a little excited to see Bill Cowher’s face on the sidelines during the Heinz Field scene. I must insist that you take the Fort Pitt tunnel entrance into the city. There’s no other way to arrive, as Pittsburgh truly is the only city with an entrance, and it blows me away every time. Start at the Phipps Conservatory and immerse yourself in the beautiful botanical wonderland, featuring art glass hand-blown by Dave Chihuly. For lunch, make your way over to Oakland and stop in at Primanti Bros. for one of their famous sandwiches.  Take in the architecture of the University of Pittsburgh and other universities in the area as you head to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Admission gives you access to Dinosaurs in Their Time, the Hall of Ancient Egypt, Monet’s “Water Lilies,” the stunning Hall of Architecture (can you sense a pattern here?). Cross the river to Station Square for dinner at Bar Louie, and at sunset, take the Duquesne Incline to the observation deck for the most beautiful view of Pittsburgh.

Bonus Pittsburgh Sites
Warhol Museum
Carnegie Science Center, IMAX, Laser Shows, and USS Requin
The Mattress Factory Art Museum
Pittsburgh Public Theater <– Always check for Student ID discounts!

While I could go on for days about the cool things to do in Pittsburgh, I really recommend checking out this link for lots of free ways to explore the city. Let me know if you’d like more ideas about where to go!

Locals, did I miss anything? Have you been to any of these places? Add your must-see attractions in the comments, or give me the daycation of your city!

Nicholas Sparks is Pretty Much the Worst: My Most Unpopular Opinion as a Woman

I’ve made it no secret that I really just can’t get into reading books. I prefer to stick to my liberal-leaning music and entertainment magazines (to which I really do need to renew my subscription…) and humor books. The last two books I’ve read were Bossypants by Tina Fey (my new favorite) and William Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Nowwhich I can’t help but read in Shatner’s voice. I also enjoy the classics, and my bookshelves are inhabited by Vonnegut, Orwell, Huxley, Vidal, Albee, and Shakespeare, to name a few. I enjoyed the Harry Potter series immensely, but beyond all of those, I can’t get into those books that young women are “supposed to” like.

As a middle schooler, I wasn’t into those coming-of-age books that were so sacred. Sure, there were the ones we had to read for class, like Island of the Blue DolphinsHatchet, and others — those were ok. Then came high school, and we started reading edgier books. Where a lot of girls went the romance route, I went down the path of the dystopian novel, and I’ve never quite looked back. (I’ve been very “fight the power” from a young age.) However, when I shared with a girl in my class that I had never read or watched A Walk to Remember, I was called un-American. Pardon me? I can see where my choice of literature could have been considered subversive at the age of 15, but by no means does my failure to take in chick lit make me an enemy of the country.

I’ve never, ever understood the appeal of Nicholas Sparks, or any other book or movie basically designed to illicit tears from the consumer. I refuse to willingly expose myself to “entertainment” that makes others cry, whether it’s inspiring or sad. That’s why I hate videos and links that others post on Facebook with comments like “literally just cried reading that” or “what a touching story!” — I avoid those at all costs. Maybe I’m just not a very emotional person, but I think I’m fairly well-adjusted person when it comes to my feelings. I know that many readers will not agree with me when I say that I think Nicholas Sparks books kinda suck. But that’s just my prerogative, and you’re also quite welcome to yours. A source I turn to daily to read well-researched, informative, and hilarious articles probably summed up my feelings about these books best:

Read some of the articles on this site… I would love nothing more than to write for them.

I’d like to think that this man survives off of the tears of groups of lady friends going to the theater to see these movies together, or women of any age reading the books with a bottomless glass of wine. I have seen a couple of the movies, and just didn’t think much of them. However, I have learned a few things from these movies:

  1. You have to hold on to someone’s face if you’re going to kiss them and mean it. (Brian will probably think I’m attacking his head.)
  2. When you cry, still try to look as beautiful as possible. (I know for a fact that I’m an ugly, ugly crier, and no one should have to see that.) 
  3. Someone always dies. (Cliché.) <– I originally had something else as my third point, but I decided it actually was too harsh of a criticism of this genre, and stands to be the only thought I’ve ever omitted on this blog.

Who wants to cry? Am I missing out on some kind of female bonding experience? It’s just not for me. Sorry if I’m offending anyone, but I won’t be upset if you don’t get my particular forms of literature. I’m not the only one who has considered how cheesy these books and movies are: check out Anna Breslaw’s Reality Index Reviews of The Vow and The Lucky One from Glamour. (Anna is probably my new girl-writer crush.) This article on Cracked also outlines another reason why I think these books are straight up crazy: remember when Noah threatened to let go of the Ferris wheel if Allie didn’t agree to go on a date with him, while she was sitting there with her current date? That’s a form of domestic abuse, my friends; in no way is threatening to kill yourself a romantic gesture.

Can I take a minute to suggest a couple of alternatives to these movies?

I’m ok with shedding a tear or two to this movie. If you don’t know, it served as an inspiration for Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle.

Perhaps the most realistic romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, and the only one I’ve been able to get my boyfriend to watch.

A lot of people have probably seen the second one, but the first film is an absolute classic. I don’t judge women who read Sparks novels, but I don’t particularly get it, and subjecting myself to sadness on purpose is just not my thing.