FAMILY ACTIVITIES Yes, you're there, with help of guidebook
'Cleveland Family Fun' points the way to spots that will please the kids.
By LAURIE M. FISHER
"Are we there yet?"
That familiar whine fills the minivan. Thankfully, for Valley residents in search of family fun, the answer, "soon," is not just an empty promise.
Northeast Ohio is filled with venues that appeal to a wide range of interests and ages.
Beyond the wet and wild thrills of theme parks, visitors can splash in Lake Erie, canoe along the Cuyahoga River, create contemporary art at museums and discover the mysteries of science. And all these options are within a two-hour drive from home.
Travel guides: If too many choices boggle the mind, seek help in local travel guides.
"Cleveland Family Fun" is an excellent resource for age-appropriate activities. Author Jennifer Stoffel has done all the legwork short of filling the gas tank.
The guide lists 365 days of "parent-tested" and "kid-approved" activities, most screened by her husband, Stephen Phillips, and their son, Alex.
When Stoffel moved to Cleveland from Chicago, she wasn't satisfied with the quality of guidebooks that listed attractions and events around the city.
"The neighbors knew where to go, but I felt I was missing opportunities," she recalled.
So, in 1994 she began a two-year process to research seasonal and ongoing family activities around greater Cleveland.
Two editions later, in 1999, Stoffel added comprehensive indexing that gives readers an easy way to pick destinations by age range, interest and geography. In addition, she lists costs and directions to each site. Web site addresses allow families to check for the most updated information.
The clich & eacute; "Timing is everything" also appeals to family outings.
Age-appropriate: "Sometimes I see families at an event that is not age-appropriate," Stoffel said in a recent telephone interview. She noted that kids are bored and parents are disappointed they invested their time and money.
Stoffel hopes her penchant for details will help readers to evaluate the appeal of the events according to the age of the children.
Want an instant adventure without intensive planning? Stoffel lists 16 recipes for full days of fun. "This shows readers that they can do it on their own. You can put together an excursion to please whole families," she said.
The outings are grouped according to interests. The guide gives the appropriate ages, settings, cost, time and essentials to take along.
Example: For example, take your family to "A Walk in the Woods and a Ride Down the River." This day starts at the Holden Arboretum in Kirkland and the Camp Hi Canoe livery in Hiram for outdoor adventures for the 8- to 15-year-old set.
Younger children are sure to like a day of "History, Invention and Exploration." Start at Hale Farm and Village in Bath.
If you prefer indoor adventures, visit Inventure Place in downtown Akron for hands-on exploration.
End the day outside at the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreational Center.
Stoffel acknowledged that bribery and clock-watching provides trade-offs for siblings with opposite interests. Let each child choose an activity for a pre-set amount of time, she advised.
"It is always surprising what resources we have within a drive of home," she said. "Often we think we have to go out of town to find a quality destination. You don't have to leave town to take a hike in the woods. It's great that there is such city resources and nature that surrounds us too."
Favorite haunts: Some of her favorite haunts include the McKinley Museum in Canton, Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, and the marsh areas including Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve in Huron for nature hikes and bird watching in the spring.
Her son's favorites include hands-on exhibits geared to young children at the Children's Museum in Cleveland and Inventure Place.
For those who prefer to build their own itinerary, the directory lists activities according to interests. The "Fun and Games" section includes major destinations such as Cedar Point and Six Flags, as well as smaller venues such as Wildwood Water Park in Columbia Station.
For those who love dance and the arts, Stoffel suggests a tour of the rotating exhibits at major museums including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum and the Ashtabula Arts Center.
Discover hundreds of other options under the headings "History, Science and Technology," "Nature and Outdoors," "Festivals and Events," "Spectator Sports," and "Sports and Recreation."
X"Cleveland Family Fun" is available in local bookstores, or contact Gray and Company Publishers, (216) 431-2665.