This week's post is taking a turn for the interesting... I honestly never thought that I would be giving culture/tourist advice about Cleveland. When I tell people I am not a native Chicagoan, but in fact was born and raised in Cleveland OH, I get one of three reactions: "Oh, you mean the mistake by the lake?", or "has the river caught on fire recently?", or "what else you got besides Lebron?" My answer - No, No, and A TON! I know many of you are coming for Gallery One, but please - stay for the friendly locals, easy-going midwest vibes, and some of these highlights from a local's perspective below.

Firstly, Cleveland (very much like Chicago) is a city of neighborhoods. Some of my best recommendations are not in fact downtown, or around University Circle, where I am sure most of you will be spending your time, given the location of the CleMoA and the Conference Center. However Uber is thankfully a thing, and a ride to any of the places below will be extremely affordable.

First and foremost, FOOD. Eat until your heart's content this week at:

Great Lakes Brewing Company - Milwaukee is not the only Midwest city with local breweries... not only is the beer fantastic, but the restaurant is everything. With classic midwest german/eastern european inspired fare, this may be my #1 favorite spot to go when I come back to "The Land". I highly recommend the sausage platter, fish and chips, bread pudding, and beer cheese soup. After dinner, head to the basement for lowkey vibes in the bar cellar and try as many of their brews as your hangover tendencies allow... (if you really love beer, take a brewery tour!)

Michael Symon Restaurants - Local Celebrity Chef and Food Network star Michael Symon has a plethora of restaurants to choose from, all at different price points and vibes. He knows how to put a high-end twist on midwest favorites, as well as give you exactly what the Dr. ordered after a long day at the conference: a vanilla bean, apple pie, bourbon milkshake. Yes, you read that right. (@ B Spot) B Spot also has a pickle bar. I think I've said enough. 

West Side Market - Cleveland has a long and diverse history of immigration, and that has not changed. The vast diversity of my beautiful city can be witnessed at the West Side Market, where the best of fresh vendors put their best foot forward. Pastries, produce, charcuterie galore. Operating since 1912 (though it replaced the older Pearl Market, which was established in 1840) the WSM has been a staple of Cleveland food culture for over a century. Also, it is in one of my favorite neighborhoods Ohio City (while there be sure to stop at Mitchell's for the best local ice cream around!)

Mama Santa's - Right by University Circle is Cle's Little Italy Neighborhood. All the bakeries and restaurants are amazing, authentic, and ages old, but if you are there be sure to stop by Mama Santa's. This no frills family run Italian eatery will have all your favorite Sicilian classics, mine being the best meatballs I have ever had the pleasure of ingesting. You will not regret it. 

Butcher and Brewer - Located in the heart of downtown on East 4th, Butcher and Brewer is great for shared plates, farm to table style dishes, home brews, and the Tribe/Cavs game. Simply put - if you want something from a butcher, and something from a brewer, come here. It's a must. 

Secondly, DRINKS. Conferences are for networking, learning, and collaborating. In my mind, those three things are best done over a drink. 

The Winking Lizard Tavern - 375 beers from around the globe to choose from. Cheap bar food (the wings!). Live lizard onsite. Downtown on E. 7th. I could've stopped after the 1st statement, that's really all you need to know. 

Society Lounge - Speakeasy-style cocktail lounge underground on E. 4th - no password needed. This is one of the newer bars in Cle, and it quickly became one of my favorites. Relax and order a classic cocktail, a spinoff of a classic, or the best route to go is to tell your server or bartender your ideal taste profile, and leave it to them. They will absolutely astound you with exotic ingredients combined by master mixologists, for the best cocktail you will have all week. The SL may look a bit pricey if you aren't from a major city, however the atmosphere and quality make it 100% worth it. Treat yourself!

Chocolate Bar - This one made the list because it is conveniently located, and let's face it - after a long day at the conference you may not want to go far, so how does a chocolate martini sound?

Last but definitely not least, CULTURE. As I originally stated, there is a lot more to The Land than our infamous reputation, and (now resurgent) world class sports teams. Not featured on the MW program list are some of my favorite spots:

Lakeview Cemetery - It is springtime in the Midwest, and Cleveland has started to blossom. The amazing horticulture at Lakeview will be sweet smelling, and provide beautiful scenery as you explore the memorials to Cleveland's founders, descendents, titans of industry, immigrants, and former slaves, all of whom not only built this beautiful city, but shaped the entire Midwest and Nation. Some highlights include: John D. Rockefeller, Zelma George, Dr. Harvey Williams Cushing, Carl B. Stokes, Eliot Ness, and the 20th President of these United States, James A. Garfield. Do NOT forget to scope out the Haserot Angel, it's beautiful, chilling, iconic, and not to be missed. 

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens - Ever-evolving since the early 1900s, the Cultural Gardens are dedications created by, and for, each ethnic group that has contributed to making Cleveland what it is. If you haven't sensed a theme yet, we are quite diverse up here, and proud of it. Stroll through this ravine and find the garden you identify with ethnically! Then reflect on the garden's mission of "Peace through Mutual Understanding" at the Peace Garden of the Nations, under which lies a crypt of soils from historic shrines all over the world. 

Cleveland Metroparks - Referred to by locals as "down in the valley" or the "Emerald Necklace," (since it quite literally wraps around Cuyahoga County, as Cleveland's necklace) If you love to hike, fish, catch crawfish, golf, go to the zoo, birdwatch, check out a never finished castle, or go geocaching, the valley is your kind of spot. 

The Flats - Recently resurgent, the flats are becoming a hot-spot for nightlife in downtown Cle. Down in the flats is the old cargo and warehouse district from back in the day. Now this area is being transformed into a hip spot to eat, drink, dance, party, etc.! It is really interesting to take a quick walk during the day, and see how these old warehouses are being revitalized in a very 21st century way. 

The Cleveland Orchestra - The Cleveland Orchestra has been consistently rated within the top 10 (and typically top 5) orchestras in the world, and only 1of 2 stateside (Chicago is up there too!). It is no wonder I grew up learning and loving the violin with this resource at my fingertips. If you don't have plans for one of your nights here, I highly suggest going. You will not be disappointed, and even if you do not go see Don Quixote, at least take a walk and see the Orchestra's historic home, Severance Hall

Gordon Square Arts District - The LGBT Center, boutique and artisan shopping, community theaters, art galleries, and more. This District entered into a strategic plan to revitalize this part of the city 10 years ago, and excites me more and more every time I come back for a visit. Located on the West Side of Cleveland, this could be bundled into a trip to the West Side Market, and Great Lakes featured above in the Ohio City neighborhood. 

There is a ton more to do in Cleveland, including some other amazing museums and landmarks including the CleMoA, the Rock Hall. The Great Lakes Science Center, Botanical Gardens, Maltz Museum, African-American Museum, Cleveland History Center, Museum of Natural History, Contemporary Art Museum, the City Greenhouse, and Public Square are all really well done and great ways to better understand the rise, fall, and continued evolution of our amazing city. 

So have fun! And do not hesitate to tweet me @MstandsforMary if you are looking for extra advice, or opinions on anything you are hoping to find... I really do hope everyone has a great time at the conference, and gains some appreciate for Cleveland along the way.