It was cold. Miserably cold. The kind of cold that manifests only in places inhabited by tall, dark, looming buildings that funnel the wind down gusty corridors to chill the very bones of intrepid urban explorers who may well be questioning why they ventured out in the first place. But then again, what did you expect? It’s winter in Cleveland.

A heck of a winter, too.

We were trekking to an arguably meaningless Cavs game, given that the team had little chance of actually making the playoffs at this point. My wife glanced at me from the corner of her eye as she held a scarf over her mouth, shuffling down the chipped sidewalk. She muttered the muffled words, “Why are we doing this, again?”

I began to deliver my reply, which likely would not have been overly convincing, when something else caught my attention… Two people standing on the sidewalk before us looking what can only be described as “lost.”

“Excuse me,” the male half of the duo said as we approached. “Could you help us find the Cavs game?”

For a split second, I was confused. “Who doesn’t know how to find the arena? It’s not exactly hidden… This guy must be from Akron or something,” I thought to myself.

“Sure,” I replied. “We’re actually headed there now. Follow us.”

“Thank you!” his female companion replied. “We’re from Buffalo visiting the city and haven’t completely got our bearings yet.”

Erin looked puzzled. “Are you here visiting family? Or on a work trip?”

“Oh no,” the woman replied. “We wanted to see the Knicks play, but New York is too pricey… We’ve always wanted to see Cleveland, so tonight’s game seemed like a great reason to visit. We love the city so far and can’t wait to keep exploring tomorrow!”

If Erin looked puzzled before, now she looked like she’d seen a phantom. Which she may as well have… She’d just found something she had no idea existed.

Cleveland tourists. And thrilled ones, at that. We all but forgot about the cold.

Cleveland in winter

For the two of us, that moment was a wake-up call. After a few minutes of conversation with the visitors, we were as thrilled as they were, enticed by the notion that Cleveland has fans outside the region that were seeing our city with fresh eyes… And they were loving what they saw.

Our city has been making incredible strides these past few years… and it’s something worthy of good old-fashioned civic pride. Days ago, 20,000 people gathered in the streets to see the world’s largest chandelier lit outside the nation’s second largest theater district as part of a block party that will go down in Cleveland history. The past year or so has seen the opening of a trendy new hotel/restaurant/business area on the East Bank of the Flats and a major convention center that is bringing in expositions from around the country. Millennials are flocking to the inner city in numbers that would make most any urban planner envious. Tired old buildings are coming down or being renovated along Euclid Avenue and E. 9th Street, blockbuster movies are regularly being filmed along our boulevards and a well-respected grocery chain is opening a new location in the dead-center of the city.

Much of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s rise can be attributed to good planning and community engagement. Some can be attributed to good marketing, as well.

“We’ve never been flashy, trendy or perfect. And for that, you’re welcome,” states the newly unveiled Cleveland marketing campaign by Positively Cleveland—one of many great groups (like the Cleveland Plus Regional Marketing Alliance) that have done their part in building excitement about Cleveland recently. If you haven’t seen Positively Cleveland’s “Cleveland Anthem” video, check it out. Really, they’ve got it right. No, we’ll never be the shiniest, most famous city in the world. But we’ve got our charm, and we’re worth checking out.

Recently, I was talking with a couple of co-workers about “staycations” and threw out the idea of taking a couple of days sometime to embody the role of that progressively less-rare breed we encountered on the frigid streets a few months back—the Cleveland tourist. Where would we go? What haven’t we experienced that we should have as Northeast Ohio residents? If we’re going to be proud ambassadors of the region, what do we need to do? It’s one thing to know a stat; it’s another to be a part of it.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

So I throw it out to you. What is on your Northeast Ohio Bucket List?

• Visit the West Side Market on a Saturday morning and grab lunch on W. 25th street?
• Stay at one of the new hotels, have dinner at a foodie-friendly restaurant and grab drinks at Society Lounge or Velvet Tango Room?
• Take a ride on the Goodtime III and get to know Cleveland’s waterways?
• Bike (or hike) the region’s towpath trail or Cleveland Metroparks on a sunny weekend?
• Get your culture on at a local festival, whether the Annual Polish Festival in Slavic Village or the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy?
• Hit up IngenuityFest or the Tremont ArtWalk to experience the local art scene, or head to one of University Circle’s great museums?
• Immerse yourself in music and community by going beyond the Rock Hall, attending Burning River Fest in the summer or Brite Winter in the colder months?

We know that we truly have an amazing region. And, gradually, the rest of the world is coming to know it, too. What else is on your Northeast Ohio Bucket List? Share, explore and experience. Most importantly, let us know how it goes!