50 must-do local experiences
Some are typewritten and framed, others scrawled on a napkin and shoved in a cluttered desk drawer. I haven’t committed mine to paper, but it would involve, among other things, riding a vintage Triumph motorcycle and making a birdie at No. 11, Augusta National Golf Club.
I write, of course, of the bucket list; the “I must do this before I die” items to which we all aspire. But before you BASE jump off the Space Needle or ascend Mount Everest (have you actually read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air?), why not start in your own backyard.
Whether you’ve lived here four days or four decades, there are plenty of bucket-list experiences available right here in Cincinnati USA, all of which will exponentially bolster your Queen City street-cred. Consider the pride you’ll feel recalling that time you consumed an entire square of Goetta fudge. Your chicken-dance moves? Smooth enough to make any fräulein’s heart melt. So get going, Oktoberfest only comes around once per year. Mount Everest, on the other hand, is available all year long.
1. Hear a whisper in Union Terminal
Even a first-day Cincinnati resident will immediately notice Union Terminal, with its 200-foot-diameter half dome rising above Western Avenue just northwest of downtown. Built as a train station in the 1930s, today the iconic building serves as home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, an assemblage of three museums, as well as an Omnimax Theatre. On each side of the building’s main rotunda stand drinking fountains tucked in corners. Thanks to the building’s unique shape, sound waves are carried up and around the rotunda where they can be heard at the fountain on the other side. Thus, someone standing on the other side of the massive building can hear a mere whisper. While you’re visiting Union Terminal, see if you can score a behind-the-scenes tour, during which you’ll glimpse hundreds of the building’s unique details including the restored President’s Office in all its Art-Deco opulence.
2. Ice Skate on Fountain Square
3. Attend opening day
Cincinnatians take their baseball seriously, and why shouldn’t they? After all, the beloved Reds were baseball’s first professional team. And though you wouldn’t know it from the last decade, the Redlegs have a long track record of success the zenith of which came courtesy of the Big Red Machine, a team that appeared in four of six World Series between 1970 and 1976. Each April, thousands of kids play hooky from school and parents cash in a vacation day to watch a baseball-themed parade make its way through downtown, followed by a sell-out crowd at Great American Ball Park.
4. Do the chicken dance at Oktoberfest
5. Late-night noodles
Cincinnati has never been a 24-hour metropolis the likes of New York, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, where divisions between night and day mean little. But, we’re getting closer. A flurry of new downtown restaurants and bars mean the region’s center is more bustling than ever, later than ever. For example, wood-fired pizzas can be devoured at Via Vite until 1 a.m. And., of course, Camp Washington Chili serves up its famous coneys and double-decker sandwiches 24 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. Classic diner fare is available 24 hours a day at The Anchor Grill in Covington, which also features a jukebox and mechanical band sure to delight any late-night patron. And then there’s Shanghai Mama’s on East Sixth St., downtown, where partygoers can munch on Chinese food until 3 a.m.
6. Eat a sack lunch at the Mercantile Library while catching up on your magazine reading
7. Ride The Beast at night
In Warren County, 20 minutes northeast of downtown Cincinnati, rests Kings Island, an amusement park to rival all others in the Midwest. This year the park is making headlines for its new steel mega-coaster Diamondback, but it’s the classics that bring thrill seekers coming back to the park for generations. And no ride is more classic than The Beast, arguably the world’s greatest wooden roller coaster. The coaster’s speed, length and design make it a thrill any time of day, but at night, with the scene alternating between pitch-black forest and the whirling lights of the surrounding theme park, the effect is positively mind-altering.
8. See the Cincinnati Ballet perform The Nutcracker
9. Run the Flying Pig
The region’s annual marathon, The Flying Pig, has developed a nationwide reputation for its weekend-long combination of fitness-oriented events, which culminate in a hilly, yet scenic marathon course through downtown, Covington, Newport and a string of near-east side neighborhoods. Not ready for 26.2? That’s ok, you can walk the 5k or volunteer to hand out water to the runners. Either way, get down there at least once. You’ll be surprised how inspired you feel watching runners cross the finish line in exhausted exaltation.
10. Ponder the cosmos at the Cincinnati Observatory Center (Hyde Park) or Wolff Planetarium (Burnet Woods)
11. Stroll Findlay Market
Whether you’re an uber-conscious eater leading the “back-to-the-Earth” trend or just want to people watch with coffee on a Saturday morning, Findlay Market is ideal for both. Each Cincinnatian needs to visit the market at least once. Once you’ve made the initial trip, the aroma of artisanal bread or the allure of farm-fresh produce is sure to call you back again—it’s easy to get addicted to the urban market experience; Cincinnatians have been doing it since 1852.
12. Hear the world’s best choral performances at May Festival
13. Navigate the river
No river, no Cincinnati USA. It’s that simple. So pay homage to our region’s genesis by doing what the area’s first settlers did: navigate the Ohio River. You can book a seat on a paddle wheeler, charter a spot on a high-end yacht or simply borrow your buddy’s kayak. No matter how you achieve it, your Cincinnatian’s resume isn’t complete without spending a sunny afternoon or a misty morning on the Ohio. Better yet, plan a trip for dusk and watch the river transition into a twinkling mirror of the city skyline.
14. Tailgate at Lot D before a Bengals’ Game
15. Try Goetta
Sure there’s Cincinnati-style chili, Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter’s Ice Cream and Busken Bakery. They’re all unique Cincinnati trademarks with a special appeal. But if you want to claim you’re a Cincinnatian’s Cincinnatian, you must try Goetta. Comprised of ground meat (usually pork) and steel-cut oats, this sausage-like peasant food dates back to Old-World Germany. True culinary adventurers will want to sample Goetta fudge, which can be found at Goettafest—held each summer in Newport.
16. Flower feeding frenzy
The Cincinnati Flower Show is a sight to behold each April, even earning a mention in the popular book, 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A & Canada Before You Die. But the real spectacle begins at the after-show sale when wagon-toting patrons buy plants at a discount directly out of the displays as they’re being deconstructed.
17. Stuff yourself on local fare at Taste of Cincinnati
18. Boggled by books
Spend a rainy afternoon exploring five floors of new, used and rare books at the Ohio Book Store—a true treasure for bibliophiles.
19. See Cincinnati step by step
Get the book Walking the Steps of Cincinnati by Mary Ann Dusablon and walk all the city’s hillside stairs.
20. Celebrate Riverfest
Cincinnati USA’s annual summer send-off festival, which includes the WEBN Fireworks, a pyrotechnic display of mammoth proportions set alight from barges on the Ohio River with the downtown skyline and bridges as backdrop. Arrive early to get the choice seating along the riverbank, or buddy up to someone who has a boat or a residence with views of downtown and the river.
21. Be a butterfly landing pad
Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park hosts an annual butterfly show during which exotic butterflies fly freely among equally exotic flora. Occasionally, the vibrant-colored insects even land on those perusing the exhibit. Local tradition alert: While at Krohn, make sure you lock lips with someone (preferably someone you know) under the privacy of the Conservatory’s signature waterfall tunnel.
22. Visit St. Mary’s Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption
Inspired by Notre Dame de Paris, this 1915 structure bears a striking resemblance to the world-famous cathedral on the Seine. Make special note of the murals by local artist Frank Duveneck (1848-1919).
23. Watch the horses run at River Downs or Turfway Park
24. Buy a hat at Batsakes
For more than 100 years this downtown shop has kept Cincinnati heads stylishly covered, as well as the domes of U.S. presidents and celebs.
25. High school football at The Pit
High school football is big in Cincinnati, arguably on par with the vaulted varsity enclaves of Texas and Western Pennsylvania. So even if the idea of sitting out in the cold surrounded by thousands of hormone-charged teenagers seems an altogether ridiculous notion, you must, just once, join the fray. There are plenty of options across the region—just follow the Friday-night florescence—but you can’t go wrong by visiting The Pit, Elder High School’s 10,000-seat stadium. In 2001, USA Today named it one of the 10 best places to watch a high school football game. FYI – walk-up tickets are often unavailable, so score a seat in advance, and be sure to arrive early, very early, or you’ll find parking non-existent.
26. View the region from the observation deck atop Carew Tower
27. Attend the Crosstown Shootout
Second only to opening day in the Cincinnati sports hierarchy is the annual contest between the Cincinnati Bearcats’ basketball squad and their cross-town rivals, the Xavier Musketeers. Both teams have had stretches of national success, most recently Xavier, which imbues the rivalry with a sense of national importance and media coverage.
28. Take a Spring Grove Cemetery Ghost Tour
29. Ride the Anderson Ferry
30. Sing karaoke and ride the bull at Bobby Mackey’s
Ever since country music singer Bobby Mackey opened his nightclub in Wilder, Ky., in 1978, it’s been a playground for those seeking a foot-stompin, honky-tonkin good time. The club’s reputation for hauntings and ghost-sightings draw curiosity seekers, but it’s the karaoke, mechanical bull and live music that keep partygoers endlessly entertained year after year.
31. Tour the abandoned subway
Politics and the Great Depression put an end to Cincinnati’s grand plans for a big-city subway system, but not before construction crews tunneled seven miles of the proposed line. Sporadically organized tours explore the abandoned rail line that was designed to run from downtown Cincinnati to Norwood. Don’t miss an opportunity to explore this man-made cavern if you get the chance.
32. Attend opening night at the Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
33. Jimmy Buffett at Riverbend
Hipsters and sophisticates will understandably cringe at mere mention of Jimmy Buffett and his parrot-headed-devotees. Nonetheless, you can’t deny that the Island-inspired songwriter has a special connection to Cincinnati, once routinely selling out multiple shows here. The tide has diminished since the heyday of the late 1980s and 1990s, but there’s still an appeal among a certain, Hawaiian-shirted crowd.
34. Bike, hike or rollerblade the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail
35. Relish in our roadside oddities
This item doesn’t even require exiting your car. On both the northern and southern borders of Cincinnati USA rise roadside oddities that you just can’t miss, literally: the 62-foot-tall Jesus statue off 1-75 North in Monroe; and, to the south, the red-and-white striped “Florence Y’all” water tower next to Florence Mall, viewable form I-71/I-75 South.
36. Enjoy our art
Cincinnati USA is home to three world-class art museums whose collections, when looked at as a group, represent the entire history, and future, of art. Before you die, or simply move away, you must visit The Cincinnati Art Museum, The Taft Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Center.
37. Take a picnic dinner to a Cincinnati Pops concert at Riverbend—make sure to sit on the lawn
38. Explore Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in Hamilton
39. Walk the bridges, experience a region
Here’s an easy walking tour that provides a snapshot of Cincinnati USA and an hour of fresh air. Start at Carew Tower (note Cincinnati’s tallest structure, at least for another year), and walk south down Vine St., where, as you approach the Ohio River, you’ll encounter the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where Vine St. turns into Rosa Parks St. Proceed over the John S. Roebling Suspension Bridge, from which you can peer into the mighty Ohio River. As you reach the bridge’s end, you are now in Kentucky. Look up to see The Ascent, the region’s latest architectural gem. (For an interesting detour, loop down to Covington’s Riverside Drive for a look at the street’s historic homes.) Cross the Licking River via the W. 4th Street bridge into Newport and walk on the path above James Taylor Park. Along the walkway you’ll be treated to views of downtown, eventually ending up at the Newport Aquarium and Newport on the Levee. From there, take the Purple People Bridge, a pedestrian-only path over the Ohio and back into Cincinnati. At the foot of the bridge are Sawyer Point and the Serpentine Wall, two noted public gathering spots.
40. Celebrate Mardi Gras at Covington’s MainStrasse
41. See the cute, cuddly Zoo Babies at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
42. Attend a fish fry or church festival
When it comes to fish fries and church festivals per-capita, Cincinnati USA must be near the top, with seemingly every neighborhood playing host. No matter your spiritual persuasion, there’s an undeniable appeal to fresh-fried fish, ample beer and carnival games.
43. Take the family to Zip’s in Mt. Lookout
You’ll love the burger and fries, the kids will be fascinated with the model train circling the packed eatery.
44. Swim in one of the nation’s largest pools at Coney Island
The legendary Sunlite Pool measures 401 feet by 200 feet containing more than 3 million gallons of water, including an acre of shallow area that’s ideal for children.
45. Attend a DAAP fashion show
The University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning has garnered a national reputation as a top school for aspiring designers of all stripes. Attend the school’s annual fashion show to join the cool crowd and get a preview of the fashion industry’s future icons.
46. See a band at the Northside Tavern
The Heartless Bastards, for example, got their start with shows at this intimate club. Now that the band has earned a national following, they periodically return for shows here. While in the neighborhood, be sure to soak in Northside’s artsy vibe.
47. See a race at Kentucky Speedway
48. Attend the Panegyri Greek Festival at Holy Trinity—St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
49. Take in the view of downtown from Mt. Echo Park
50. Visit Jungle Jim’s
You haven’t grocery shopped in Cincinnati until you’ve done it, at least once, at this foodie megaland.
*Content provided by Chamber partner Cincinnati Magazine