First Night Akron has been ringing in the New Year in regret-free fashion — sans booze — since 1996. It's where 30,000 people flock to see steel drum bands, dragons, a "Land of Ice and Snow," and a dazzling fireworks display. Best of all: The $15 button — available now! — that gets you into this year's fest is also good for free access to other Akron events throughout the holiday season. That means Fairy Tale Holiday at the Hower House is all yours, and so is the teen skate party at Lock 3. The fun spills into 2011 with gratis rides on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and other happenings taking place all the way into April. First Night Akron: It's the only New Year's bash that's still with you after the year is old.
Consider the Akron Aeros nothing less than the defenders of the American way of life. This year, the cash-strapped city of Akron canceled its Fourth of July fireworks. But Aeros fans got their aerial explosions for no additional charge every Friday, all summer long. For no more than $10 a ticket, you'll see the Tribe of tomorrow slug it out in beautiful Canal Park, a 14-year-old showplace modeled after Baltimore's glorious Camden Yards. And don't forget to seek out specials like two-for-one ticket Tuesdays and discount family packs that will make you feel like tipping your box office cashier. And did we mention these boys bring home the hardware? The Aeros were Eastern League champions in 2009, 2005, and 2003. Now if they can rub some of that good luck on their big-league brothers, we'll all sleep better every summer.
300 South Main St., Akron, 330 253-5153 or 800-97-AEROS, akronaeros.com
This annual fave (which takes place the second week in August) is loaded to bursting with all the summer-fair fun you could hope for: carnival rides, cover bands, games where the top prize is a SpongeBob plush with one messed-up eye. Of course, the real draw here is the food. You'll find a funland of fried everything, yet it's the fest's star vegetable that gets the royal treatment. Among the lineup of popcorns and even candy corns, the biggest thrill comes from North Ridgeville's golden bounty gobbled straight off the cob. Some vendors grill it in the husk, some shuck it and serve it on a stick smothered in butter. No matter how you prefer it, North Ridgeville sweet corn is the ultimate taste of Northeast Ohio summer. Best of all, unlike many county-size fairs, this one won't cost you a penny for admission. Which leaves you plenty of cash to spend on, y'know, corn.
Off State Route 83, North Ridgeville, 440-218-9802, nrcornfest.org
One of the great things about Cleveland is that you don't have to drive far to be swallowed up by nature. At the Mentor Marsh Nature Preserve, a swath of 673 acres designated a national natural landmark back in 1966, you can spot more than 250 species of birds and other wildlife during spring migration. The marsh and its inhabitants were recently afflicted by invasive Eurasian phragmites (that's "reeds" in English), but a recent reclamation project headed by Cleveland Museum of Natural History botany curator Jim Bissell has successfully fought off the attack. That's why birds and other creatures have been flocking back to the marsh of late. You'll see black rails, Le Conte's and Helson's sparrows, American bitterns, and sedge wrens, among other varieties. A pair of American bald eagles have even been spotted renovating a red-tail hawk nest for their new digs.
185 Corduroy Rd., Mentor, 440-257-0777
The dozen or so independent groups that planned this inaugural event were surprised — thrilled, of course — when more than 5,000 people showed up for a taste of Cleveland's first-ever Asian Festival in May in and around Asia Plaza, at East 30th and Payne. Though an early thunderstorm loomed, the sun shone on festivalgoers, many of whom had never before visited Cleveland's Chinatown. By any measure, the event was a rousing success, with people of all ages enjoying the sights, crafts, cuisine, music, dance, and culture of the many nationalities that make up the city's growing Asian community.
Asia Plaza, East 30th St. and Payne Ave., clevelandasianfestival.org
You can't escape the snow and ice in Northeast Ohio, so why not celebrate it? There's no better place for it than the idyllic square in Medina's historic downtown district, where the annual Medina Ice Festival has delighted locals for the past 16 years. Traditionally held in otherwise gloomy February, the three-day event features ice artists from across the country. Ice-carving demonstrations, competitions, and displays dominate the proceedings, and the 2010 festival also included an outdoor skating rink. The entire winter wonderland is free, and area businesses on the square all court your browsing, shopping, and noshing throughout the weekend.
Downtown Medina, 440-717-1940, elegantice.com
Twitter has shrunk the distance between sports fan and the stars they adore, and no Cleveland athlete collapses the fourth wall like Mo Williams. Unlike a certain former teammate, who used his Twitter account for stale-toast inspirational quotes and celeb pics, the Cavs guard's feed is a ticker tape of personal info and insight — the good, the funny, and the ugly. His day-in-the-life updates paint the picture of a regular guy making his way in the world, and more than 70,000 followers tune in. Witness Mo on consumer frustration: "I'm at fed ex n it's 3 people in the store and I'm waitn cause it's only 3 damn workers. All the money they make shouldn't nobody have to wait." Mo on politics: "Man that Mexico stuff is out of control. USA, make sure that don't cross that damn border now." Mo on
Gray's Anatomy: "I don't care how tuff u think u are. Watch 1 show u hooked." And Mo on life's great mysteries: "U ever took a #2 in a public bathroom and when u sit someone comes in rt when u bout to let it go and u know this one will be pretty loud. Lol. Just asking, never happened to me before. Wink."
Yes, the heroes of Tribe Yesteryear Part II — C.C., Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, etc. — are all leading mightier teams to victory these days. But that doesn't mean there's no sun on the horizon — especially not when Carlos Santana is suiting up behind the plate every day. The kid has been the gem of the Tribe's minor leagues since Mark Shapiro fleeced the Los Angeles Dodgers to get him for the not-so-kingly fee of Casey Blake. Santana finally arrived in the bigs this year and immediately showed the hitting prowess that's had forlorn fans counting the innings until his call-up. He's here now, ain't going anywhere soon, and should help put thoughts of old Victor behind you sooner rather than later. Now if we could only forget José Mesa so easily...
Alcazar is the Spanish word for "fortress," and this historic edifice is a true citadel of Cleveland bed & breakfasting. For only $89, you can spend a night in a private chamber, exploring the majestic five-story pentagon structure, which surrounds a lush botanical courtyard complete with a large fountain at its center. Imagine a posh 1923 residential hotel where guests step into the natural stone of the Spanish-tiled lobby and are greeted by these welcoming words written over the doorway: "Esta es su Casa de Usted" — which, if two years of public school Spanish serve us correctly, means "this is your home." A stop on the National Register of Historic Places, the Alcazar is an architectural gem of Spanish Moorish design, replete with a grand ballroom full of shimmering chandeliers and the Kulas Music Room, with its magnificent grand piano. It's just minutes from the action at University Circle and Little Italy, and a great end to a fabulous night.
2450 Derbyshire Rd., Cleveland Heights,
If having a one-stop shop for weightlifting, cardio, fitness classes, tanning, and massage therapy is a good thing, then one that also offers pizza — nutritious pizza — is a slice of fitness heaven. It's actually a slice of Prospect Ave., right here in Cleveburg. Titans Gym is 22,000 square feet of treadmills, free weights, and machines in a facility that's clean, spacious, open 24/7, and conveniently located on the atrium level of the übercool Residences at 668. Monthly and yearly memberships are available, but the daily walk-in rate of $15 with no strings attached makes the club a standout in an industry that's notorious for hard selling. The TitanUp Café (open to the public with daily hours) is located right in the gym. Everything from the Boykin turkey burger to the Chocolate Thinny Mint smoothie is made fresh on site and guaranteed to fuel your workout as well as an afternoon at the office.
619 Prospect Ave., 216-574-2875, titansgym.com
Remember group sports? Motivation came easy with competition, right? Try that theory out with a group workout session at CrossFit of Lakewood. Placed in a group of two or ten — or even more — your 40-minute workout regimen will be laid out in front of you like a field of hot coals. And this place keeps score, logging times and weight at every turn. When is the last time you hit an oversized tire with a sledgehammer for your workout? If that's too overbearing, owner-trainers Staci and Bill will gladly help you set up a solo program for you and your iPod. Membership doesn't come cheap, but neither does inspiration.
17140 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-812-7841, crossfitcleveland.com