Budget-Friendly Reason Not To Snub This Midwest City Known As 'The Mistake On The Lake'

For at least 60 years, people have been calling Cleveland, Ohio, "The Mistake on the Lake" — a reference to its location on Lake Erie. According to Belt Magazine, the earliest documented print usage of the city's unflattering nickname was in a 1964 letter to the Cleveland-based newspaper, Call and Post. In the face of industrial decline and waters so polluted they caught fire, the name provided a weary retort to the local electric company's slogan, proclaiming Ohio's second-biggest city, "The Best Location in the Nation." Since then, the "Mistake on the Lake" or "Mistake by the Lake" nickname has appeared again and again in the national news media so that it feels like Cleveland has never fully lived it down. Today, however, budget travelers might find Cleveland is a city on the rebound with much to offer in its affordability.

If you cross-reference Tripadvisor's list of the best things to do in Cleveland with its list of the best budget-friendly things to do, the top 10 traveler favorites are the same. This means you can take in some of the city's most popular tourist attractions, like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, without breaking the bank. Cleveland could be its own destination for a weekend getaway, or you could make it one stop on a cross-country trip down America's longest road. In the latter case, there's enough to do that Cleveland could keep you busy while giving your wallet a rest between cities like Chicago and Boston.

Get lost in Cleveland's museums

If you're ready to say, "Hello, Cleveland," the Spinal Tap way, a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will take you up through seven levels of music history, spread out across a 55,000-square-foot exhibition space. The museum, housed inside a glass pyramid, is currently undergoing an expansion that will double its size by 2026. Already you could spend three hours or more exploring its treasure trove of rock artifacts, with most exhibits being photo-friendly. For adults and kids 6 to 12, a one-day ticket to the Hall of Fame runs $35 and $25, respectively. That's the most you'll pay for any single attraction mentioned here, but admission is free for kids 5 and under, and if you spend the whole afternoon rocking out, it might offset the price.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is home to works by Caravaggio, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and more. Best of all, admission to this museum's permanent collection is absolutely free. It's another place where you could easily wile away a few hours in Cleveland. Elsewhere in the city, you can step into the world of "A Christmas Story," the classic holiday movie, by visiting the house where it was filmed. It's not cheap to stay in the house (unless you consider $545 to $665 a night cheap), but just visiting it and the museum across the street will only run you $18 for adults and $13 for kids aged 3 to 12.

Baseball, food, and a submarine and cemetery

If you're a baseball fan and don't mind using binoculars, you can take in a Cleveland Guardians game at Progressive Field for as little as $16 for adults and $10 for kids. This will put you in Upper Reserved seats (the nosebleed section), but it's better than standing-room-only (at $15). Food prices at West Side Market, Cleveland's oldest public market, vary, but everything on the menu at the West Side Market Cafe is $16 or under. You can also see some stunning architecture and do a $1 wine tasting while food shopping at Heinen's Downtown.

It's $14 for an adult to tour the USS Cod Submarine Memorial, a National Historic Landmark that remains the only completely intact fleet submarine from World War II. Lake View Cemetery offers free self-guided walking tours where you can see the final resting place of VIPs like President James Garfield, Prohibition agent Elliot Ness, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.

Despite these sightseeing options, Cleveland's reputation as "The Mistake on the Lake" may linger partly because it still ranks as one of the most dangerous U.S. cities (per Forbes). It's not the kind of place where a tourist would want to go wandering into the wrong neighborhood after dark. Areas with high crime rates like East Cleveland might best be avoided in favor of tourist spots in Downtown Cleveland during the day. Just be aware of your surroundings so you save money here (instead of losing your wallet).