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Disclaimer: I know we didn’t include every possible bucket list item for Greater Akron in this article.
That said, consider this just a starting point of the things you need to see and do in Akron before you die. Hopefully, you’re not actually looking to seize the last six weeks you have left on this earth but, rather, just looking to seize next Saturday.
If you’re a longtime Akron resident like me, you may be thinking that you’ve pretty much been there, done that.
Not so fast. As Buddhists like to say, you’re not bored, you’re boring.
The problem isn’t Akron.
So grab your keys, your wallet and your sense of adventure, and let’s get to it, shall we?
Be a (local) culture vulture
#1 Roll down the windows, enjoy a starry night and TAKE IN a double feature at Blue Sky in Wadsworth, Magic City Drive-In in Barberton or Mid-Way Twin Drive-In Theater in Ravenna. Few vanishing American venues evoke as many nostalgic memories as drive-in theaters — and we’re lucky enough have several to choose from, right in our backyard.
#2 LEARN to dance. Local dance institutions like Martell School of Dance and Sharon Rae Dance Studio offer a range of traditional dance classes from jazz to hip hop. If you’re suffering from “Dancing with the Stars” envy, Riverfront Ballroom & Latin Dance Center in Cuyahoga Falls offers everything from waltz to tango and salsa to swing. And if you really want to get your groove on, give Visions of the Nile Belly Dance School a call.
#3 ATTEND a concert over the valley at Mapleside Farms — a 100-acre apple orchard in Brunswick that was voted the most beautiful farm in the America by chooseoutdoors.org.
One of the most picturesque hilltops in Ohio, overlooking a valley of 4,000 apple trees with a 50-mile view of the Northeast Ohio landscape? Checkity check.
#4 CULTIVATE your appreciation for the performing arts at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, honoring the legacy of the founding artistic director of Ohio Ballet with free public performances by respected dance companies. Beautiful dancers, balmy weather, fireflies … It’s a perfect summer evening.
#5 Cultivate your appreciation for rural Ohio, and LEASE a sheep. For $250, a Dorset ewe from The Spicy Lamb Farm in Peninsula can be yours — from November through May. Visit your sheep any time throughout the season, attend special events at no charge, get photos and reports on your ewe and the rest of the flock via email and, come spring, help shear her. Though you can’t keep your sheep, you will receive an heirloom queen blanket made from your ewe’s wool to remember her by.
#6 GET LOST in the labyrinth of Don Drumm Studios & Gallery during the holidays — when it transforms into a magical winter wonderland, with a touch of twinkle lights and colorful menorah candles throughout. (Take a respite from the visual chaos by stepping out onto the covered terrace, where whimsical garden sculptures sit quietly amid the clanging of wind chimes.)
#7 EXPERIENCE life on the canals of yore in Canal Fulton aboard the St. Helena III, a replica cargo canal boat pulled by two work horses and manned by a crew steering with a rudder and poles. Themes for the river boat cruise include wine and cheese, the Underground Railroad and ghostly tales. Check out disovercanalfulton.com.
#8 MAKE a difference. As a Greek proverb states, “A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit.” One of the most significant things you can do is volunteer your time and skills. Whether you have only a day to devote or several hours a week, there are plenty of opportunities locally to give back. Check out volunteermatch.org to get started.
#9 ROOT for the home team at an Akron Aeros Game at Canal Park. Summertime baseball and fireworks. Throw in some apple pie, and you have an All-American Trifecta.
#10 MIND your manners. Whether you want to feel more confident at your next fancy dinner party or simply want to feel more superior through the display of elegant table manners, learning the difference between a salad fork and a Spork is truly an underrated skill. Lucky for us, we can learn from Trinka Taylor (trinkataylor.net) and her team of etiquette experts at Professional Protocol Consultants of Akron. Drawing upon her experiences as a runway model, public relations professional and author (“Common Sense Manners for Today’s Youth”), Taylor offers courses to help us avoid common etiquette pitfalls.
#11 REVEL in the majestic power created at the annual Gospel Meets Symphony concert — performed by the heavenly combo of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and some 200 gospel voices.
#12 APRENDER un segundo idioma. Whether you want to make yourself more recruitable to the international firms coming to town or want to woo your sweetheart in a romance language, learning a new language is great way to make your brain — and your world — a little bit bigger. If a language degree is too much of a commitment, consider: The University of Akron’s Workforce Development & Continuing Education offers noncredit conversational language classes, ranging from Beginning Japanese and Spanish to Sign Language to Conversational Chinese to Italian for Tourists (classes vary by semester; call 330-972-7577). Stark State’s Corporate Services and Continuing Education Center in North Canton offers noncredit language courses in Conversational Spanish, Chinese and French; Beginning Arabic; and Sign Language (languages vary by semester; call 330-966-5455). For everything Italian, check out La Gazetta Italiana’s website at www.lagazzettaitaliana.com, and click on Educational Classes on the left for noncredit Italian classes offered in Summit County.
#13 MARCH to the beat of a different drummer — the University of Akron Steel Drum Band. Nominated for a Grammy Award for its CD, “Live at E.J. Thomas Hall,” this ensemble of percussion students has performed for everyone from President Clinton to your neighbor’s Aunt Martha, bringing a taste of tropical Trinidad right here to NEO.
#14 Are you a poet, but no one knows it? Go public, and ENTER your work into Kent State University’s national Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize competition. The annual contest is open to poets who haven’t previously published a full-length collection of poetry, and the winner receives $2,000; publication of his first full-length book of poetry by the Kent State University Press; a reading on the KSU campus; and bragging rights. Manuscripts for this year’s contest must be postmarked between Feb. 1, 2012, and May 1, 2012.
Take a bite out of Akron
What we lack in skyscrapers or classical architecture, we make up for in calories and the infinite ways you can consume them.
#15 EAT your way through the ethnic church food fairs — Greek, Slovak, Lebanese, Italian, Russian. Once bustling with ethnic neighborhoods, Akron sadly has seen the graying of its Italian, Slovak and other local ethnic suburbs as these first- and second-generations pass on. Thankfully, a dedicated few hold true to their traditions and share them with the rest of us, offering up something that many of us just don’t have — the time, skills or grandmother to make us homemade spanikopita and pierogies.
#16 CELEBRATE summer with a steaming plate of locally grown sweet corn from Szalay’s or Graf Growers. Whether you like it grilled, roasted or dripping in salted butter, sweet corn from Ohio just tastes better.
#17 PLAY tooth or dare with your palette. Chicken feet, anyone? (Yes, they are edible.) If nibbling on avian toes is way too wild for you, start easy with a little dab of fish eggs (aka caviar) on a water cracker. Local specialty food store West Point Market sells shelf-stable caviar and beluga caviar (on special order). Next, belly up to the bar at Sakura Sushi in Montrose or House of Hunan downtown, for all manner of super-fresh sushi (bonus points if you try the tentacle-laden squid salad). If you’re extremely daring, or just want to freak out your kids, grab a pound of head cheese from the Giant Eagle deli. Terrifyingly true to its name, head cheese is a traditional European cold cut made from meat from the head of a four-legged animal, such as pig, sheep or cow, set in aspic (gelatin).
#18 Barter and MUNCH at the Hartville Farmer’s Market. Where else can you haggle on a 10-pound bag of Vidalia onions for a buck at one table and buy a $5 vintage concert tee at the next? It’s a bargain hunter’s delight. Don’t leave without getting some tasty Amish treats and some jerky from Duma’s for the car ride home.
#19 TOUR wine country. Rent a RetroRider party bus, complete with sober driver and a stand-up service center for serving cheese plates and drinks. Now you’re ready to weave your way through the fields of fruity orbs. Not to be missed: Viking Vineyards (Kent), Sarah’s Vineyard (Cuyahoga Falls), Maize Valley Winery (Hartville), Gervasi Vineyard (Canton) and The Winery at Wolf Creek (Norton). If you hate planning itineraries, send RetroRider a “trip request” via their website, and they’ll plan the tour for you.
#20 TOIL in the fields at Walnut Drive Gardens in Mogadore. Since 1862, six generations of the Saal family have worked on their 230-acre produce farm. And you can, too. Pick everything from beans to raspberries to strawberries to green, yellow, sweet, cubenelle, banana and jalapeno peppers to canning and paste tomatoes to eggplant. When in season, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe and cabbage also are available at their farm market.
#21 From Luigi’s to Skyway to Belgrade Gardens to Strickland’s to so many notable others, ENJOY our local food experiences, places you go not just for the food, but for the uniquely Akron — where the secret sauce is our own sentimentality. Experience the little things that makes eating Akron-style a subtle joy, a hidden perk, like the brown sugar in a Swensons burger.
Frankie says Relax
#22 STEP BACK in time at Queen Right Colonies, a nostalgic century farm where you can witness the science of apiculture (beekeeping) and buy naturally delicious NEO honey. Owners Sheila and Denzil St. Clair also host an annual Field Day the second Saturday of May that includes tours of the bee yard and kids’ activities. While you’re there, check out The Beekeeper Shop, where you can purchase candles, hand cream, lip balm, fragrances and more. The farm is located at 43655 State Route 162 in Spencer. FRANKIE SAYS RELAX
Now that your belly is full, it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy the stunning scenic views this area has to offer.
#23 BE a beach bum. Options range from the dramatic setting of Nelson Ledges Quarry Park ($7 weekdays/ $10 weekends) — a spring-fed quarry nestled in 250 acres of woods in Garrettsville complete with quartz and sandstone cliff formations, sandy beaches and clear water that’s ideal for snorkeling and scuba (#38) — to the family-friendly Turkeyfoot Lake at Portage Lakes State Park on Manchester Road in Akron — where swimming is free and you’ve got 900 feet of sandy beach to wiggle your toes in. You can also get beachy at Silver Creek Metro Park Serving Summit County in Norton — where you can doggie paddle your way around a spring-fed, 50-acre lake set against a backdrop of a stately old dairy farm — and the 500-acre Clay’s Park Resort in Canal Fulton — featuring a 10-acre, man-made, sand-bottom swimming lake with sandy beaches, tanning docks, water hammocks, an island, 150-foot water slides, ring swings, zip lines and four white sand volleyball courts. Take that Hermosa Beach.
#24 WATCH the sun set at the Overlook in Virginia Kendall Ledges, and treat yourself to one of the city’s most spectacular views. If you squint, you can still see where our beloved Richfield Coliseum used to stand, off in the distance beyond the tree tops.
#25 SET sail. Rent a pontoon boat on Portage Lakes from Baine’s 619 Pier Pontoon Boat Rentals or Dusty’s Landing II, and explore our 2,000 acres of connecting lakes. Dock at The Olde Harbor Inn (self-proclaimed as “Akron’s Key West”), and soak up the tropical atmosphere. If you’d like to float but not drive the boat, plunk down the 20 bucks for a two-hour cruise on the charming Portage Princess Tour Boat, outfitted to look like an old-timey steamboat.
#26 RELAX to the sound of falling waters. Take an early morning drive to Brandywine Falls. Park in the lot on Stanford Road, and follow the boardwalk and steps that drop into a glen filled with maples, green hemlock, ferns and moss. When the boardwalk splits, one section leads to the top of the falls, and the other descends toward a platform at the lower part of the falls. Benches here invite sitting, giving you time to soak in the tranquil view.
#27 OOH and AWE over the spectacular display of icicles in January and February at the Cuyahoga River Gorge in Cuyahoga Falls. Visit the observation platforms at the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls on Front Street or Highbridge Glens Park (next to the hotel), which has an observation bridge over the river and a walkway to a viewing area halfway down the cliffs.
#28 ROUGH IT, in style. For many of us, camping is a bucket list item that can be problematic. Whether it’s our fondness for bathing or the wisdom that comes with age (along with aching joints and unexplained body pain), we’re self-aware enough to know we’re not hard-core backpackers. We could, however, be glampers. Glamorous camping is a wilderness experience complete with mattress and sheets. If you’re game, head to Clay’s Park Resort in Canal Fulton. These custom-built canvas cabins around the lake feature one queen bed, one set of bunk beds and a couch bed, all built by local Amish; electric outlets; a picnic table; a waterfront fire ring for toasting marshmallows; and a complimentary wine and cheese basket. Want running water? The shower facilities, steam room, hot tub and dry sauna are just a short walk. And right outside your front door is a stocked fishing lake (no fishing license required). You’ll also have unlimited use of the water park, water kayaks, miniature golf, indoor pool and, upon request, bicycles. Rates are $80 to $145 per night for two people.
#29 TAKE the train, ride your bike. Rent bikes at Century Cycles (or bring your own), hop on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad at the Peninsula Depot (Bike Aboard! $3 per person one way), unload at Rockside and pedal your way back on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.
#30 AWAKEN your childlike sense of wonder at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival’s Balloon Classic Invitational in Canton. There’s nothing quite like seeing the summer sky dotted with a rainbow-hued collection of hot-air balloons — and the lawn dotted with NFL-jersey-clad fans as far as the eye can see.
#31 SNOWSHOE or CROSS-COUNTRY SKI in the valley. The staff at the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park can provide you with updated weather forecasts, area maps, and snowshoe and cross-country ski instruction. (There must be at least 4 inches of snow for snowshoe rental and 6 inches for cross-country ski rental.)
#32 PLAY dead. Not since Vincent Price was alive has the macabre seemed so festive as it does at the Massillon Zombie Walk. Zombie lovers young and old gather annually at Duncan Plaza to put their best zombie face on and revel in all things ghoulish. The night kicks off at 6 p.m. with a choreographed corps of dancing zombies re-enacting Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, followed by the undead shuffling through downtown, children’s crafts and trick or treat. The evening wraps up with a screening of the 1968 cult classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Go to www.facebook.com/massillonzombiewalk for all the deadly details.
#33 RIDE in the Goodyear blimp. It’s by company invitation only, but isn’t part of the fun in the challenge? (Think silent auctions at charity events.)
#34 PINE for the holidays at Medina Christmas Tree Farm. As you wander the carefully constructed green maze to choose a pre-cut tree (or cut one down yourself), majestic blue spruces and Scotch pines scent the air as hawks soar overhead. While campfires burn throughout to keep everyone warm as the snow falls, families spend hours looking for just the right tree, strangers nod and say “hello” and holiday stress is temporarily forgotten.
When the only reference to “extreme” in your life is next to the words “cheese” and “flavor” on your favorite bag of chips, it’s time for a little excitement. As First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
#35 PILOT a plane at Skypark in Wadsworth. Take flying lessons just for kicks, or get serious and earn your private pilot’s license and even your certified flight instructor’s CFI rating. As the saying goes, if you can drive a car, you can fly a plane …
#36 JUMP OUT of a plane at Canton Air Sports. If you’re afraid of heights, skydiving — and freefalling at 120 mph — is a great way to face your fears. Or die trying. Tandem skydives (i.e. with an expert diver strapped to your back) require only a brief training session.
#37 DIVE deep: Scuba dive at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Garrettsville. Depths average 30 feet, with several deep trenches — the deepest of which (known as The Abyss) is 70 feet. Visibility in the spring-fed quarry can average 15 feet or more, giving divers a great view of freshwater fish, turtles and catfish (with rumored sightings of behemoths in the 4- to 5-foot range), along with rare freshwater jellyfish. Don’t know how to scuba dive? Whiz’s Dive Locker in Ravenna will teach you. Classes begin in January (yes, right now!), and they hit the water at the Quarry the first week of May.
#38 DRIVE fast. Channel your inner Speed Racer at Barberton Speedway. The Barberton Karting Association offers 14 different kart racing classes (for ages 5 to 75) on kid karts, road coarse karts and oval course karts.
#39 SLIDE fast. Go “Extreme Tubing” at Polar Blast Snow Tubing in Sagamore Hills (next to Brandywine Ski Resort).These evening tubing adventures run till midnight most Friday and Saturday nights starting in January. Expect a faster ride once the sun goes down and temperatures drop.
#40 PERFORM for a live audience at The Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls. Bungee jumping? No problem. Standing up in front of a judgmental crowd and trying to get laughs? Now that is truly terrifying. Think you’ve got what it takes? Tuesdays are open mic night.
#41 RELIVE your childhood by sled riding in the Metro Parks, Serving Summit County. Hawkins Hill or Goodyear Heights? Decisions, decisions …
#42 RUN the 26.2-mile Akron Marathon. Thousands of spectators (many with cocktails) will cheer you on every step of the way — as you cross the All-America Bridge and enjoy views of the Little Cuyahoga River and the valley below; travel through parks, past museums and the old Firestone building onto the scenic Towpath; pound the pavement through West Akron, up “Heart Rate Hill” and back into downtown; pass the 25-mile mark near St. Vincent-St. Mary High School; and enter Canal Park in right center field for an Olympic-style finish near second base — your image on the scoreboard and your name called out by the public address announcer. Oh, and free beer.
#43 SNOW GOLF. Stir crazy madness is a good way to describe how NEO golfers feel about the forced hiatus that winter brings. If you’re one of them, you’d likely do just about anything right now to hit some balls. Who says you can’t? Grab your clubs (and an orange ball), and head to Hale Farm and Village in Bath on Feb. 4, where the grounds will be transformed into seven golf courses with nine holes each — distances ranging 65 to 125 yards — for the annual Wayne Homes Chili Open Golf Classic (www.chiliopen.net). You just might be able to make it to spring now.
#44 HUNT for ghosts with S.I.G.H.T. of Ohio, led by psychic and angel reader Laura Lyn. It’s your chance to finally say: “I see dead Akronites.”
#45 CLIMB a big rock. Located in the once quiet, little-known Hinckley Reservation Metropark in Medina County, Whipp’s Ledges has become a bastion of the local outdoors scene — a haven for climbers and hikers alike. The cliffs afford both a beautiful backdrop for a leisurely walk and a challenging climb for thrill-seekers. (For the required climbing permit, call Visitor Services at 216-635-3200). Like all great climbing locales, Whipp’s has clever pet names for its climbing routes like Angels Arete, Banana, Christ Died Crack, Buzzard, The Cave and Cigarettes After Sex. (For more info on the individual routes, go to mountainproject.com, and search for Whipps Ledges.). A few are low-intensity climbs; a couple are monster climbs. Once you get to the top, find another way up, then another way down. Repeat.
#46 PLUNGE into 32-degree waters for the annual Polar Bear Jump held in February at the Portage Lakes State Park beach area. The Portage Lakes Polar Bear club will cut a hole in the ice so you — and a few hundred others — can raise money for local charities and check an item off your bucket list.
/ Writer Amy Antenora Greathouse likes to chip away at her own Bucket List when she’s not writing, parenting or making handmade jewelry.
Additional reporting by Georgina K. Carson, William Teckmyer III and Abby Cymerman.
E-mail them to editor Georgina K. Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org.