Weekend getaway: Cincinnati's popular attractions and hidden gems

Published: Aug. 7, 2018 at 12:13 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2018 at 5:37 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (WAVE) - School starts in just a few days and the family and I wanted to get away for some last-minute fun. We decided to check out some popular Cincinnati attractions, and some that are off the beaten path.

Our first stop was the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. It was a hot and sunny day, so we put on our sunscreen and headed out. My main goals for the zoo were to (1) See Fiona the baby hippo and (2) see a sloth. I knew they had one. I looked it up. Some of the indoor exhibits, like the Night Hunter exhibit were so dark it was really difficult to see where you were going. Or to see anything, really. Maybe it's just my old eyes.

As my family has been taking little trips to museums and zoos, we've started collecting the flattened pennies from the penny machines. Here's a rule that always happens. There's somebody using it, and they're letting their kid turn the crank. And the kid takes FOREVER. Or there's just a kid standing there, cranking it. Just for fun. Just for days.

When we got to the hippo exhibit, it was jam packed. There were actual Fiona fangirls there. They were sharing their knowledge of all things Fiona with the rest of us. They said that the one hippo we did see was Fiona's mom Bibi, and that Fiona is a bit of a recluse hippo (or maybe a diva? LOL) and she sometimes went into her space and wouldn't come out to see the well-wishers. Way to let fame go to your head, Fiona. Anyway, moving on.

On to find my sloth. I reeeeally wanted to see one. We made our way to the exhibit in the P&G Discovery Forest, only to find a sign where my beloved sloth should be sitting (hanging around?) that said, "I am off habitat for a behind-the-scenes experience." Well, heck.

I did get to see some manatees and that made me really happy. Family favorites included the giraffes, gorillas and sand cat.

After the zoo, it was time for Mom to go to her happy place and visit IKEA. I didn't need anything, but that's not the point. I just love it. It's a must for me every time we go to Cincinnati, whether the boys like it or not. They survived.

With 11,000 steps on the old Fitbit, we were all worn out, so we went to check into our hotel. Now, hotels in the downtown area can be a bit pricey for my taste, so we chose to stay outside of town a little bit. We found a really nice Hampton Inn in Wilder, Kentucky, which is about a 15 minute drive from downtown. The room was HUGE and super nice. Mom got major props for finding such an awesome place (with a pool!). And as always, because I'm cheap, we love the free breakfast. Another way for you to save some money. You're welcome.

We hit LaRosa's for dinner. If you've ever spent any time at all in the Cincinnati area, you've probably sampled it. My family lived in the area for a couple of years and it's always on the must-eat list. Always.

We managed to save room for dessert, not sure how, so we headed down to Silver Grove to the Dari Bar. Small, out-of-the-way, very affordable, and loved by everybody who has ever been there, it's worth the drive. The boys got some ice cream and we headed back to the hotel for some time in the pool before everybody collapsed for the night.

The next morning, we demolished that free breakfast buffet and then headed downtown to see the Carew Tower Observation Deck. What you need to know before you get all the way up there, it's cash only. We did not know that, and only had enough cash for two of us. My husband gladly gave up his spot, as he is not a fan of heights at all. The wonderful lady at observation deck desk allowed my youngest son in at a steep discount, as she could see the impending meltdown coming a mile away. This was one of our favorite stops on our weekend trip. You can see for miles and miles. If you've been to the Willis Tower or the Hancock Building observation decks in Chicago, you may be thinking that the Carew Tower would be something like that. But this is more no-frills. You take the elevator up 45 floors and then take either a tiny elevator or metal stairs up the rest of the way to the 49th. If you're claustrophobic or afraid of heights, maybe skip this one. And it's an open-air observation deck. You're basically on the roof. The observation deck and gift shop are open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. It's very affordable - $6 for ages 12 and up, $3 for ages 3-11, and ages 5 and under are free. And remember, it's cash only. It's right there on their website, which I looked at, and missed that part. Maybe I should start reading things more carefully, and start carrying more cash.

Next stop was The American Sign Museum. This place was AWESOME. Their website describes it this way:

"The American Sign Museum is 20,000 square feet of more than a century of American signage.  From early, pre-electric signs adorned in goldleaf, to the earliest electric signs, to beautiful art-deco neon, to the modern plastic-faced sign, the museum covers it all. Expect to spend at least an hour exploring the history of this always-seen, but virtually unnoticed, industry. Optimize your American Sign Museum experience by taking one of our guided tours. A knowledgeable guide will regale you with the stories behind the signs, and answer any and all questions. Stroll down your personal memory lane!"

The American Sign Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m. and closed on Monday and Tuesday. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and military, and kids 12 and under are free. Don't forget your camera for this. The pictures are amazing.

For more on The American Sign Museum, check out the video below.

We had a delicious lunch at Wahlburgers downtown. My chicken-finger-loving eldest son decided to try something new, gasp! He ordered a burger and loved it. Go figure.

And for the last stop, we went grocery shopping. Yes, I know. It doesn't sound very exciting. But Jungle Jim's International Market is no ordinary grocery store. They have EVERYTHING. Did you know that an ostrich egg costs $80 bucks? I know that now, because Jungle Jim's sells them. I had never seen one up close before. We wandered the aisles for a good hour+, just looking at products from all around the globe. There are sections featuring Asian, Indian, Hispanic, European, Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African foods. One whole corner of the store is dedicated to hot sauces. And don't forget to check out the bathrooms. Sounds weird, I know. But they're award-winning in their design and they will blow your mind.

So if you need a weekend away, just head up I-71 and hit some of Cincinnati's hidden gems.

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