Summer time is festival time, but NE Ohio has events that happen all year long. Here are our staff’s picks for the annual festivals and events that are so unique to NE Ohio that ever newcomer should experience them in their first few years in town. Most of them have no admission charge, are family friendly and a great way to explore your new hometown!
Blossom Time Festival – Featuring a hot air balloon glow and parade, live bands, a pie eating contest and carnival rides, this Chagrin Falls historic district festival is one of the kick off events for the summer. Held every Memorial Day weekend along the banks of the Chagrin River.
Blues & Brews – Ohio’s oldest craft beer festival is held every August in Akron’s Lock 3 park. More than 200 craft beers from 70+ breweries to sample along with food and live blues music for an afternoon of fun.
Burning River Fest – Created by the Conway brothers, the founders of Great Lakes Brewing Company, the name of this festival plays on Ohio’s major impact on the environment (after the river burned, we helped create the 1972 Clean Water Act) and is held along the Cuyahoga River at Wendy Park. The fest features live music, food and, of course, Great Lakes beer!
Cleveland Airshow – Typically Labor Day weekend at Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland, this is one of the nation’s oldest airshows and almost always has the Navy Blue Angels or Air Force Thunderbirds as the featured show. Thousands of boaters use this weekend to do a picnic lunch out on Lake Erie and partake in the free viewing of the stunt planes.
Duck Tape Festival – Held in Avon, home of ShurTech (maker of Duck Brand duct tape) every June, this three day festival features a duct tape fashion show and celebrates all things sticky. We all joke that duct tape is the go-to fixer upper item in a toolbox, but it can also be used to create a prom dress, make a Halloween costume or become costume jewelry, and this festival shows you how!
Father’s Day Antique Car Show – One of the oldest car shows in America is held at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron. This home, built for F.A. Seiberling – the founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, is a magnificent setting for the more than 300 classic, antique and collector cars on display (all manufactured between 1896 and 1978). In 2014, they are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Ford Mustang. Perfect way to spend a Sunday with your dad or a good friend.
Greek Festival – Every Memorial Day weekend, The Annunciation Church (the mother church in Cleveland for the Greek Orthodox community) celebrates the food, music and dance of Greece with a four day festival on the church grounds in Tremont. All the food is hand made by the parishioners!
Star Spangled Spectacular – A few days prior to the Fourth of July, the Cleveland Orchestra provides a free concert on Public Square in downtown Cleveland followed by spectacular fireworks and the Terminal Tower playing along with its own light and laser show. People begin showing up at 5 pm to plop their lawn chairs or blanket on a patch of grass or sidewalk square. All the restaurants and bars have their sidewalk patios in full swing, and every patriotic song you can think of is played in beautiful style by one of the best symphonies in the world. It’s a magical night.
Feast of the Assumption – Or “the Feast” as locals call it, as their eyes glaze over while thinking of the garlic, Chianti and pasta that turns Little Italy’s Mayfield Road into a pedestrian only food festival in early August every summer. Carnival rides, live music and all things Italian!
Hingetown Sunday Market – The 3rd Sunday of every month in the warmer months, the Cleveland Flea takes over this two block stretch of Ohio City and turns it into a Parisian outdoor market featuring antiques, fashion, handmade goods, food and cocktails all inspired by the French. At the intersection of W. 29th & Church. Best street food in town (think BLT gougères and oysters on the half shell).
National Hamburger Festival – As the story goes…the Menches brothers ran out of sausage at an outdoor fair in Buffalo, NY in 1885 and quickly substituted beef, and the crowd loved it so much they opened up Menches Brothers Original Hamburgers in Akron. So, every August the city pays homage to the “inventors of the hamburger” with a festival at Lock 3 Park in Akron, where dozens of restaurateurs fight for the title of America’s best hamburger. The burgers are deep fried, have crazy toppings and even offer vegetarian options. Worth it to bring at least four people so we you all have just a bite of each burger and judge for yourself!
Parade the Circle – A free summer event held every June in the University Circle neighborhood, it brings together Cleveland and national artists,school groups, families and museums to create the most unique parade in the country featuring a spectacular display of bright costumes, giant puppets, stilt-dancers, masks and colorful floats. Those in the parade work on their projects, in secret for months prior to the unveiling in June and often bring gasps from the spectators.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival – Held every August to celebrate the NFL inductees into the Football Hall of Fame for that year. This is a football fan’s fantasy weekend, offering chances to rub shoulders with current and former stars, a giant tailgate party and a rib cook-off are included.
Summer Solstice – Held every other year on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice (mid-June), this over the top event at the Cleveland Museum of Art attracts several thousand to an all night party that spills into every conceivable space at the museum, both in the galleries and outside in the gardens. Food, drink, art, lightshows, live performances and bands representing every genre of music from all over the world make this part dance party, part see and be seen event and attracts attendees from ages 21+.
TwinsFest – The largest gathering of twins in the world (triplets welcome too!) is held every August in Twinsburg Ohio, named for twin brothers Moses & Aaron Wilcox. If nothing else, the Twinsday Parade on the Sunday of the festival is the best double vision as all 2,500+ sets of twins march down the street in matching outfits is a bucket list item!
Weapons of Mass Creation – Cleveland’s version of the nation’s premier art, design and music event, WOMC has been compared to TED and SXSW events. Speakers, creative professionals and entrepreneurs all gather at the Cleveland Public Theater in the Gordon Square Arts District to inspire attendees with a grass roots movement designed to share great ideas with the public to encourage innovation and change. Typically held in August.
Wade Oval Wednesdays – The green space in the middle of University Circle is known as Wade Oval. Every Wednesday in the summer it turns into a giant picnic with live bands, families with kids on blankets enjoying the people watching and al fresco dinners (if you don’t pack your own, there are plenty of food and drink vendors).
Chalk Festival – Held on the sidewalks that surround the Cleveland Museum of Art, participants buy a large or small sidewalk square and a box of chalk with eight colors and begin drawing for fun or to compete in various categories. Enjoyed by toddlers barely old enough to hold chalk all the way to professional artists sharing their love of art. Typically held mid-September.
IngenuityFest – A festival of art and technology held in a unique venue every year, Ingenuity celebrates passionate and engaged people and whatever they are interested in presenting. And, more than 40,000 visitors make this an annual pilgrimage to experience edgy and interesting performances, demonstrations and installations while enjoying live music and festival food. And, it’s always held in a super cool hidden spot every year that even locals are excited to see.
Sparx Gallery Hop – Free trolleys take visitors to a half dozen different arts-oriented neighborhoods in Cleveland (Tremont, Ohio City, Gordon Square, downtown) to explore galleries and working artists’ studios (many open only once a year for this event). A great way to begin early holiday shopping and support the local arts community by buying one of a kind arts and crafts.
Chagrin Falls Pumpkin Roll – Began as a class prank in 1969, this annual event, close to Halloween, is secretly planned by the juniors and seniors of Chagrin Falls High School. Pumpkins are “gathered” from front porches prior to the roll (residents often encourage this by writing student names on the pumpkins to be “stolen”; but if you are new to town, warning, don’t leave pumpkins on the porch until the roll is over!). On the date of the roll, the upper classmen meet at the top of Grove Hill that leads into downtown Chagrin Falls and let loose with hundreds of pumpkins, then they sled down the hill on the mushy remains. Police interference has had little effect over the years, so they basically hand out citations which cover the cost of the clean up the next day as well (students have held fundraisers all fall and pay on the spot).
Designer Dress Days – A shopping extravaganza organized by the National Council of Jewish Women and held every October. Donated new and gently used designer clothing, outer wear, purses, jewelry, etc. is collected all year long and then a mini department store is set up at The Mandel JCC in Beachwood. The Friday Preview Day is put on the calendars of hundreds of women as soon as it is announced (first dibs on a Louis Vuitton purse or a Chanel jacket at a fraction of the price).
Wooley Bear Festival – Legend has it that the thickness of the Wooley Bear caterpillar’s coat can predict the severity of the upcoming winter (probably just as accurate at Punxsutawney Phil predicting the arrival of spring). Legendary Cleveland weatherman, Dick Goddard, created the family friendly festival held every fall in the lakefront community of Vermilion.
Brite Winter Festival – Held in the Ohio City neighborhood in the dead of winter every year, this music festival, featuring cool acts you wouldn’t have ever known about unless you attended this festival, attracts 20,000 visitors to four outdoor and six indoor stages every year as Clevelanders fight off cabin fever in February.
Holiday CircleFest – A great way to experience all of the cultural treasures in University Circle in one afternoon (usually a Sunday in early December). More than a dozen institutions open for a free, one-day family festival (Botanical Gardens, Natural History Museum, Art Museum, Western Reserve History Center, Children’s Museum, etc.) There are crafts for the kids, live animals, a gingerbread house competition, ice skating on Wade Oval and a winter lantern parade with horses and carriages. Great way to get into the holiday spirit!
WinterFest – Held the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year on Public Square in Cleveland, this winter festival kick off the holiday season and offers an outing (or escape, depending on how you look at it) to families who gathered for Turkey Day but now need something else to do! Live music, a parade of carriages with lanterns, food vendors, a spectacular fireworks show and the official “flip the switch” moment to light up the city with Christmas lights.
Buzzard’s Return to Hinckley – The Sunday after March 15th is when the the buzzards (common name for the turkey vulture) return to NE Ohio to roost for the summer. The Metroparks celebrate this first sign of spring with a buzzard sighting festival and pancake breakfast which encourages everyone to shake off their winter hibernation and return to the parks for a hike.
Cleveland Asian Festival – Held the weekend before Memorial Day weekend every year, this is one of the fastest growing festivals in the state of Ohio. Held in what was formerly known as ChinaTown, but now is home to immigrants from many Asian countries, this outdoor festival features the food, music and art of a dozen different immigrant groups and attracted close to 50,000 visitors in 2014.
Cleveland International Film Festival – The largest film festival in Ohio, this ten day movie-goers-paradise is typically held in late March or early April and features almost 200 independent films and attracts 100,000 visitors. The CIFF takes over all 11 screens in the Tower City Theater complex on Public Square in downtown Cleveland and has also expanded to include movies and events in various neighborhoods around the city as well.
Dyngus Day – The Monday after Easter, this Polish festival celebrates the end of the observance of Lent and the Easter holiday by extending the weekend one more day with live polka bands and a pierogi eating contest. A testament to the fact that Cleveland has many descendants with Eastern European roots! Held in the Gordon Square Arts District centered at W. 65th & Detroit Avenue.
Hessler Street Fair – A throwback to the 1960s, this weekend festival in the heart of Case Western Reserve University’s campus turns this one-way residential street into a pedestrian only festival with live music, vendors who sell tie-dyed apparel and lots of street food. Here is a fun factoid to note as you visit Hessler Street: it is the only remaining wooden block street in Cleveland (look like brick, but made of wood).
Multi-Season Events and Art Festivals
Boston Mills ArtsFest – A juried fine art and crafts show that sets up camp for two full weekends at the base of Boston Mills/Brandywine ski slopes in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Each weekend has completely different sets of artists and the Friday night of each weekend is preview night and includes live music, beer, wine and appetizers to add to your shopping enjoyment.
Cain Park ArtsFest – Typically the weekend after 4th of July, this huge city park is taken over by every kind of artist and craftsman in a beautiful setting in Cleveland Heights.
Cleveland Flea – Held in warmer months from spring through late fall, this flea market moves around to accommodate the number of vendors showing that month but is always in the Superior/St. Clair neighborhood just east of downtown Cleveland (lately it’s been at the Tyler Building – a huge brick monstrosity on Superior between E. 36th and E. 40th. This classic flea market features everything from architectural salvage to jewelry to food vendors and live music. Just the people watching alone is worth the trip, and if you like to negotiate for your purchases, this is your place! Only in its second year, it now routinely attracts more than 10,000 visitors each month.
Larchmere Boulevard Festivals – Just a few city blocks in length and close to Shaker Square, Larchmere is a mix of art and antique shops, independent restaurants and huge trees to provide shade for sidewalk and backyard patios. Twice a year they have a Sidewalk Sale (May and August), a Porchfest every June (live entertainment of every genre on front porches of homes and commercial buildings) and a Holiday Stroll every December.
Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios – Once the home for the Creative Studios of Cleveland Fortune 500 company American Greetings, this sprawling building with three floors has been re-purposed into an artists colony and the third Friday of every month features an after work happy hour atmosphere with all the galleries open to the public, live music, food and libations to enjoy as you explore the labyrinth that includes photography, glass, jewelry, fabric, wood, watercolors, etc.
Tremont Art Walk – The second Friday of every month (year round but much busier in warmer months) has all the art galleries and independent shops in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood open late and often serving refreshments to encourage socializing and shopping.
Every year Destination Cleveland (our convention and visitor’s bureau) puts together a listing of summer events – here is their list of 2015 summer festivals.
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