I know, I know. Of all the places you could go, you’re wondering, why would anyone pick Cincinnati? I felt the same way. But then my brother and his family moved to a nearby suburb and had a new baby and obviously we had to visit.
I’m soooo glad we did!
It’s got a great blend of historic and modern, a big city feel with a slightly slower pace, friendly people who really seem to care about their hometown, and plenty of delicious food…you know, just a whole heap of my favorite things.
The best thing about Cincinnati, though, is how family-friendly the city is. Between my brother and me, we have six kids age seven and under, yet somehow it felt manageable. Most of the time, anyway. Six kids is still a lot of kids!
Despite some cold, rainy weather, we saw some of the best the city had to offer. In no particular order, here were our favorite kid-friendly things in Cincinnati.
The Purple People Bridge
Since Cincinnati is right on the Ohio River, a lot of people live on the other side in northern Kentucky. The city built this bridge for pedestrians only, meaning people can commute to work in another state on foot. (Or by bike, which is what my brother prefers.) It’s brilliant. It’s also purple, which is super fun. There are a few stops along the way for various exercise breaks and a photo op on the KY/OH border right in the middle. Bonus: a little strip of chainlink fence for love locks. These guys thought of everything.
Right along the river is an enormous stretch of public park. There are grassy areas, picnic tables, and tree-lined sidewalks, along with dozens of fun ways to play. One length of sidewalk is lined with big porch swings. Another area has giant checker- and chessboards. We found a small garden labyrinth, a set of huge slides, and hanging chimes you can play by stepping on each note. There’s even the flying pig in that photo at the top; not only can you climb into it, but if you pull on it from the bottom, it flaps its wings. The kids thought it was the best place EVER.
The top floor of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center is dedicated to the UnMuseum: a museum that is completely interactive. The kids could climb on, poke at, rearrange, and otherwise play with everything. Considering my toddler wants to do that wherever we go anyway, it was a mom’s dream come true. There were lights to dance with, nests to snuggle in, music to make, and more. And the best part? Admission is free!
Unfortunately, the market was closed when we went. (It’s not usually open on Mondays, by the way, so plan accordingly.) However, while we didn’t get to browse the produce and other farmer’s market offerings, we did get to walk around the adorable square where it’s held. For anyone who likes colorful buildings, this is a must see.
Tom + Chee
It’s ostensibly a grilled cheese + tomato soup restaurant, but guys. Never in my life have I seen so many varieties of grilled cheese! We wound up trying the Brisket + BBQ, the Grilled Mac + Chee (which is literally macaroni and cheese in a sandwich), a s’mores donut, and a sampler of grilled donut bites with dipping sauces like marshmallow and peanut butter mascarpone. Lemme tell you, we all left fatter and happier.
(Incidentally, they’ve franchised and are now in several other states. Which is good because I need to try one of their salads with grilled cheese croutons. YUM.)
Riding the streetcars
Technically not a “place to go” but definitely one of our favorite activities, the Cincinnati Bell Connector is such a fun way to get around town. It makes sort of a figure-8 loop through the heart of the city. We rode it from Tom + Chee to Findlay Market, then down to the main city library (there’s a taxidermied polar bear in the lobby!), and we could’ve taken it all the way south to the various stadiums and ballparks by Smale Park. Not only was it easy to navigate and fun for the kids, but it’s a great way to check out a lot of the street art around town. So many cool murals, so little time!
The Cincinnati Zoo
This was the one thing I knew I wanted to do while we were in town…mostly because of Fiona the baby hippo. Alas, it was too cold for the hippos to be out on the day we went. It was not, however, too cold for the flamingos to take their daily walk through the zoo, so we got to follow along with them as they pranced and strutted along. Fiona’s not the only baby at the Cincinnati Zoo, either. We saw a baby black rhino, a pack of African wild dogs, baby manatees, and some adolescent tigers. I was amazed at the variety they have: red pandas, sea lions, polar bears, snow leopards, and an entire pride of lions, to name just a few. As zoos go, this one is pretty dang rad.
Bonus Day Trip: Dayton, OH
Once of the reasons I was able to convince David to come to Cincinnati was the fact that it’s only an hour and a half away from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It’s long been somewhere he’s wanted to visit, so we arranged to drive out one day to check it out.
Oh. My. Goodness.
If you are at all interested in aviation, or the military, or space, or technology, or history, or anything like that, you need to visit this museum. Four giant hangars, jam-packed with every relevant aircraft since aircraft were invented. And it’s totally free to the public. David kept geeking out over rare or weird or just really cool planes like a little kid. It was awesome.
I was a little nervous that the kids would be bored but I needn’t have worried. There are plenty of interactive exhibits to keep little ones entertained. They practiced landing a toy plane on a toy aircraft carrier, climbed into an actual fighter jet cockpit, toured a few retired Air Force Ones, and so much more. Even though we walked a TON and were there for almost three hours, they were happy and engaged.
On our way back to Cincinnati, we made a couple pit stops. First, we went to Dorothy Lane Market for some killer brownies. Definitely worth a slight detour for the brookie: cookie dough, fudgey brownie, and caramel sandwiched in between. Droooool.
Then we stopped at Jungle Jim’s International Market, which is technically back in Cincinnati. There are no words for this place. It used to be a theme park, I think? And they kind of built this enormous market around it? I don’t know. It was huge and weird and, again, worth the detour to see the band of animatronic cereal mascots, the dead monorail, and the creepy white-eyed giraffe statues.
Next time we visit, I hope we can make time for the Aquarium and maybe a ballgame, depending on the time of year. I’d love to visit more museums and hit up Findlay Market when it’s open. There’s so much to see and do!
Cincinnati, of all places. Who knew?