City Cheat Sheet: A Travel Guide for Cincinnati, Ohio
An easy road trip away from many major East Coast and Midwestern cities, Cincinnati is an excellent, under-the-radar weekend destination. Thanks to its rich history and architecture, a market scene like none other, and reasons to visit every season of the year, the Ohio city has much to offer locals and out-of-towners alike. Here, The Scout Guide Cincinnati Editor/Owner McKenna Brooks offers insider’s tips for anyone looking to make the most of a visit to her area.
Plan Your Getaway
Cincinnati is truly one of those four-season cities that’s enticing any time of year. A popular draw is the famous Flying Pig Marathon, which takes place the first weekend in May, and ranks as the best Sunday of the year for many locals. In the summer, Cincinnati is an ideal, low-key destination for baseball lovers who want to experience a Reds game at The Great American Ballpark (yes, that’s really the name). Located right on the winding banks of the Ohio River, the stadium may be new, but it’s home to the oldest team in MLB history. In the fall, visitors can experience the city’s German heritage at the second-biggest Octoberfest celebration in the world (the first being Munich, naturally). Octoberfest-Zinzinnati is officially a three-day celebration of beer, food, and German heritage in late September, but according to McKenna, it actually goes on for weeks, so a visit at the end of September can include beer, pretzels, and the famous Running of the Wieners, when 100 dachshunds run to their owners donned in hot dog costumes. In the winter, locals flock to see the Holiday Junction miniature train display at Cincinnati Museum Center (1301 Western Avenue) and ice skate at O’Keefe’s Ice Rink (38 Fountain Square Plaza).
Meander among Museums
“I always take people to Museum Center when they come into town,” McKenna says of the complex that includes five distinct museums inside the city’s massive Art-Deco train station, Union Terminal. Visitors can purchase one Discovery Pass to have access to the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, and the Museum of Natural History & Science. (The Museum Center is also home to The Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater.) McKenna and her family are huge fans of the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, where kids can step inside a giant mouth, explore a magical indoor forest, or pretend shop in a kid-sized grocery store. And of course, the newly opened dinosaur hall at The Museum of Natural History & Science will delight children (and grownups) of all ages.
In addition to taking in the museums, McKenna recommends setting aside some time to walk (or run) with the locals. “There are so many beautiful—and hilly—paths and parks to explore by foot, and many Cincinnatians love to get their exercise this way,” she says. That means starting your walk at Eden Park (950 Eden Park Drive), a hilltop spot that overlooks downtown Cincy, the Ohio River, and Kentucky. Walk over to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum (953 Eden Park Drive), which boasts free admission every day and a massive collection with more than 67,000 works. (Pro tip: Taking a photo in front of the bronze sculpture of Pinocchio out front is a must.) Inside, you’ll find a real-life mummy dating from 332 BC as well as paintings by Monet, van Gogh, and an extensive collection of Frank Duveneck’s portraits. The cafe inside the museum is a great spot for lunch or a pick-me-up before continuing your walk.
Next, walk to the Krohn Conservatory (1501 Eden Park Drive) for an incredible selection of plants in an art deco setting—or, if you have little ones who need to let off steam, walk over to the park’s unique playground.
For a walk among Cincinnati’s most beautiful and historic homes, head to the East side of town. Ault Park (5090 Observatory Avenue) has a beautiful pavilion, gorgeous gardens, and playgrounds with fantastic views, too. Then, venture into the heart of Hyde Park and the Mt. Lookout neighborhoods, which are both full of tree-lined streets to meander down.
To Market, to Market
The Banks is where Cincinnati’s renowned stadiums live, but it’s also home to The Skystar Observation Wheel (I-49 E Freedom Way) until June 2019, as well as an historic carousel, riverfront walking trails, and plenty of entertainment. McKenna recommends enjoying this area early in the day, then hopping on the Cincinnati Bell Connector, a streetcar that operates on a loop, north to Findlay Market (1801 Race Street) for lunch. The oldest continuously operated market in Ohio, Findlay Market dates back to 1852. It is a cherished local institution with rich historical and architectural significance—plus meats, cheeses, and culinary treasures from local farms, vendors, artisans, and restaurateurs throughout. It’s also a great place to experience Cincinnati’s renowned local beer scene; McKenna’s favorite is Madtree Brewing Company’s version of a German Kolsch, called Lift. She also recommends the award-winning waffles and crepes at the Taste of Belgium stand, which has five restaurants throughout Cincinnati but began at Market.
For an afternoon of shopping, head to the East Side of town, where some of McKenna’s favorite shops are located. She recommends starting at Elizabeth Grace Home (7809 A Cooper Road), which has luxurious offerings, including exceptional linens. Next, head to Camargo Trading Company (7744 Laurel Avenue) for lovely candles, dishware, and plenty of decorating inspiration. Pomegranate & Lime (6804 Wooster Pike) has a little bit of everything, including the perfect baby presents, gifts for gents, and a fantastic selection of jewelry and accessories.
For clothing, McKenna’s favorites include Monkee’s of Madeira (6928 Miami Avenue) and Khakis (3445 Edwards Road) in Hyde Park. Next door to Khakis is one of the city’s best (and oldest) children’s apparel and gift shops, Castle House (3435 Edwards Road).
Eat (and Order) Like a Local
One of McKenna’s favorite restaurants in town is Maplewood Kitchen and Bar (55 Race Street), which has some of the best avocado toast outside of California, a West Coast vibe, and killer cocktails that are low in sugar and sometimes include green juice.
For a quaint evening with friends or family, The Birch (703 Indian Hill Road) offers some great chef-inspired comfort food in a family-friendly restaurant in the beautiful neighborhood of Terrace Park, situated on the East Side of town. If weather permits, pick up a game of bocce ball and enjoy their stunning patio surrounding a gorgeous birch tree (of course).
If you’re in the mood for an evening out in an intimate setting, make a reservation at Sotto (118 East Sixth Street), a cozy Italian place with an unassuming entrance, where the food melts in your mouth and the ambience elevates the experience. For a more casual vibe, try Jeff Ruby’s Precinct (311 Delta Avenue), where you can enjoy one of the best steaks in the whole state; McKenna recommends sitting in the bar area.
Skyline Chili, with multiple locations throughout the city, is McKenna’s family’s favorite local joint. This is a fast, casual, and super-friendly restaurant that serves up the distinctly local delicacy—Skyline is known for their sweet meat chili, served over spaghetti with cheese, called a “Three Way.” McKenna advises you order like a local to get it right: If you want to add onions, order a “Four Way.” A “Five Way” adds beans. If you prefer your chili on a hot dog, order a “Cheese Coney.”
Where to Stay in Style
Located in the refurbished Coppins Department Store just about two minutes across the river, the luxurious Hotel Covington (638 Madison Avenue, Covington, Kentucky) is a riverfront hotel that boasts a fantastic bar beloved by locals and elegantly appointed rooms to boot. Alternatively, if you’re traveling to Cincinnati for the parks and shopping, The Summit Hotel (5345 Medpace Way) is a contemporary, art-forward place close to McKenna’s favorite East Side haunts.
Photograph of McKenna Brooks at the Hotel Covington by Ross Van Pelt. For additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in Cincinnati, Ohio, browse or buy a copy of The Scout Guide Cincinnati and follow TSG Cincinnati on Instagram.