Two must-see museums for families in Cleveland, Ohio

In the new Betty White sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” actress Valerie Bertinelli returns from a  night out in Cleveland and promptly announces this to her friends:

“He showed me all around Cleveland, and I’m telling you, it’s nothing like we think. They have symphonies and museums and light opera…OK, so nobody really likes those things, but they have ’em!”

I have to admit that I know the feeling, other than the not liking museums thing. I visited Cleveland this spring, and I think I said virtually the same thing in a phone call to my husband.

Sure, I knew Cleveland was a great sports town and that the culinary scene was on the rise. And, of course, I knew about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But world-class museums? In Cleveland?

Well, they have ’em.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is the ideal first art museum experience for families because of its encyclopedic collection. Rather than specializing in a handful of artists or eras, this museum seems to have one of everything.

I remember being aware of certain artists or styles when I was a child, visiting art museums and being disappointed that I didn’t see more of the art I was aware of. That’s what makes this museum ideal for families – your kids will see many names familiar to them throughout the Cleveland Museum of Art.

And if your kids don’t appreciate getting close enough to see the brush strokes in some very famous artists’ work, they’ll still be amazed at the suits of armor in the expansive galleries of the museum’s original neoclassical white marble building.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission to the museum is free; there is sometimes a charge for special exhibitions.

If artifacts are more your family’s style, there’s the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

At this museum, you’ll meet Happy the dinosaur, a 70-foot-long sauropod, and Dunk, a very old fish with a very big bite. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History also has a skeletal cast of human ancestor Lucy and an amazing collection of minerals and gemstones.

And then there’s Balto. The famous sled dog from the 1925 serum run retired to Cleveland in his old age. (He must have caught on to all the great things in this city much earlier than I did!) Now he’s perfectly preserved here at the museum to keep the story of his heroics alive.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for youth 7 to 18 and $7 for younger kids. Admission to the museum is free on the first Thursday of every month.

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