Myrtle Beach to Cleveland, Pittsburgh & More
Direct Flight Travel Ideas from Myrtle Beach and WilmingtonWhen my husband and I realized that our 15 year anniversary was a month away, we wanted to do something to celebrate. But we didn’t have much time to plan, or to be away since this was such a last minute idea and we already had most of our vacation time accounted for this year.
We still wanted to make it an adventure as much as possible.
We live in Wilmington, North Carolina, a beautiful vacation destination in itself but close to exactly nothing. You have to drive several hours if you want to change up the scenery and escape the heat and humidity of July in eastern NC. There are a ton of fun and adventurous things to do if we wanted a staycation or a trip within easy driving distance.
This time, we wanted something different.
Inspired by a recent trip with his friends to visit their hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, my husband had some ideas about how we could get out of town for a short trip that would be relatively inexpensive.
He and his friends had flown Spirit Airlines out of Myrtle Beach, SC and found it convenient and easy to travel that way.
The Myrtle Beach International airport is an hour and a half from Wilmington. It’s nice and new and pretty small so it’s easy to get in and out.
Spirit is a no-frills airline. It’s low cost but you pay for everything from your seat to your bags to the little on-flight drinks. It can be especially cheap if you fly on off-peak days like Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Spirit is perfect for taking a long-weekend trip. Nat looked into destinations where they fly direct in and out of Myrtle Beach. Then he looked into events that were happening at each of those destinations in July and August. He came up with some really cool ideas:
1. South Florida. Fly into Ft Lauderdale, drive down to the Keys, see a soccer match in Miami, etc.
2. Chicago. See some old friends, introduce the kids the city, etc.
3. Cleveland. Explore Cleveland and Pittsburgh, maybe see some family.
So, which of these was the unanimous winner?
It might sound like an odd place to travel to – from the beach – to celebrate your 15 year anniversary, and it is. But it gave us the opportunity to visit two cities – Cleveland and Pittsburgh – go to an international soccer game with family, and then have the kids hang with their cousins so Nat and I could have a full day and night to ourselves.
That last part may have sealed the deal for me. And did I mention that the cousins had a new puppy?? My kids were both wildly jealous and super excited about that part.
So we spent a couple weeks telling people we were going on vacation. To Cleveland. And then quickly explaining all the fun things we would do there.
The FlightOur flight from Myrtle Beach wasn’t until 5:45pm. This gave us leisurely time to pack, get the house in order, and even go for a 3 mile walk at Hugh McRae Park before picking them up and heading out at 2:15pm.
The airport is a 1 hr 40 minute trip from our house at that time of day. It’s easy to find, right off the Bypass at 501 S. Check-in, security, and boarding were pretty much a breeze. The plane was clean and new and the Spirit crew delivers the typical flight preparation messages peppered with silly jokes and good humor, mostly about how cheap Spirit is.
The flight itself was about an hour and half and we arrived at Cleveland Hopkins airport, got our bag, and boarded the shuttle to the rental car station with no issues.
Nat had spent several hours searching for hotels online about 2 weeks before our trip. He found that rates for most decent hotels more than doubled for the weekend. What was an affordable $150/ night to stay downtown became more than $300/ night on Friday and Saturday.
So he found a brand new Hyatt Place hotel in an area called Westlake, about 20 minutes west of Downtown Cleveland on 90.
The Hyatt Place was new with a nice lobby, clean rooms, good beds, and an above-average complimentary breakfast. It was part of a shopping center called Crocker Park. There are a lot of restaurants and shops along a sort of manufactured Main Street. It was really nice and fairly upscale.
Our first morning, we set out on the road for Wooster College. My husband hadn’t been back to the campus in 21 years and the kids and I had never been to the area at all. The drive was about an hour with views of lush, green, hilly landscapes. This was a nice change of scenery from Wilmington.
We arrived and walked all around the campus, starting in the student center and working our way through the new fitness facility and football field, the dorms, classroom buildings, and library. It was a trip down memory lane for Nat and a fun exploration for us. The school has Scottish origins and the buildings are like small castles. It made the kids think of Hogwarts.
It was fun to see where Nat had spent these formative years and met some of his best friends.
We drove through downtown Wooster on the way back which was really cute. Nat was surprised to see some of the same businesses there that he remembered from college, CW Burgerstein’s in particular. He also pointed out a lovely Days Inn where he bartended during his college days.
Cuyahoga Valley National ParkWe headed back to Cleveland by way of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Yes, we were surprised that there’s a National Park in the middle of Ohio. I think it was established more recently. It’s not like the National Parks you’re picturing. It has a train that runs through it and a few small towns including one named Boston which the kids thought was funny.
We stopped at a Visitor Center and spoke with a really helpful park ranger who suggested the best hikes and sites for our family. We wanted something off the beaten trail, relatively long (5 miles or so) and with cool aesthetics.
He pointed us to Brandywine Falls via a wooded trail that was fairly less traveled. Most people drive to the top of the Falls, a beautiful bridal veil waterfall with a few different vantage points accessible from wooden stairs and platforms. So it would be busy at the top but quiet on the way there.
The hike was exactly what we were looking for (approx. 5 miles). It was a hot afternoon but we got off the main towpath and into the woods pretty quickly. There were some up and down sections so we got some exercise in without anything too rigorous. And the Falls at the top were busy with visitors but beautiful and well worth the hike up.
The other trail the park ranger mentioned was called the Ledges. We still had some time and energy so we made our way over to that trail. We only saw a couple people over there. This was a really cool section of the park with huge rock ledges, slot canyons and caves.
The Ice Box Cave was fenced off in order to protect the bats from white nose disease, but you could walk up to the mouth of it and as you approached, the temp dropped by 10 degrees. The whole thing was like a real-life science lesson.
The kids loved climbing up and around the big rocks but we decided we had enough hiking for the day and did the short 1 mile loop instead of the full loop.
From there, we headed back the hour or so to Westlake. After a lot of discussion, we decided on a Mexican restaurant for dinner (Chips! Cold beer! Fajitas!).
Downtown ClevelandOn Saturday, we headed to downtown Cleveland. We knew we were going to be there for the long haul, all the way through the Gold Cup soccer game (US vs Nicaragua) that kicked off at 7pm. We were also packing the kids up because they were going home with their cousins after the game.
Our first stop was the store at Quicken Loans Arena. Our youngest is a Cavs fan so it was cool to see all the local fans (everyone in Cleveland wears Cavs gear) and Lebron painted larger than life – 10 stories to be exact – on the Sherwin-Williams building across from the arena. He got his discounted Defend the Land t-shirt from the 2017 championships and was very happy about that.
In researching things to do in downtown Cleveland, we stumbled on the West Side Market and decided to go explore it.
West Side Market
We made this into a bit of an adventure by taking the train. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether you’re an adult or a kid), West Side Market was only one stop from downtown. But it was still a cool train ride.
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect when we got off at the station, but we were blown away by the scope of this market. I wish we had something like this near us where we could do our regular shopping. It had a cluster of long, open buildings filled with stalls selling fresh produce, meats, pasta, bread, baked goods, and homemade, handcrafted everything.
It was like a year-round indoor farmer’s market and we loved it.
We ooohed and aaaahed over all the pastas, endless varieties of bacon, and baked goods. We treated ourselves to some exotic fresh fruit and delicious desserts before boarding the train and heading back downtown.
We then headed down to park at FirstEnergy Stadium (are you picking up on a sports theme here?) where the soccer games were being played. Nat found a lot with access to Rt 2 so that when we left, we could hop right on and avoid after-event traffic.
My husband is big into avoiding after-event traffic.
We walked along the river, watched some showboating wave runners, and waited for Nat’s sister, brother-in-law, and their kids to arrive. When we met up with them, we all went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Rock & Roll Hall of FameWhen in Cleveland, this seems like the thing to do. The museum is a super cool building along the river. When you first walk in, it’s not very intuitive about where to go to buy tickets and start the tour. But we asked around, figured it out, and got started.
They have a LOT of memorabilia, including outfits, instruments, concert relics, handwritten notes and original lyrics. They have 6 floors of music history, genres, origins, movies, and a good flow that brings you through the beginnings of rock and roll through different phases and up through today. The handwritten lyrics are especially cool and inspiring.
I loved the Rolling Stone magazine installation on the top floor. It brings together music, writing, photography, culture and politics.
If you’re at all interested in music and have some time to spend at the Hall of Fame, I definitely recommend it. We could have spent a lot more time there watching the movies and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Concerts but the kids were less interested in that stuff.
On a side note, Nat and I both used to work for Phish and literally the first thing you see when you walk into the building is a larger-than-life, 15ft hot dog that Phish rode in on in Boston in 1994 and then again on New Year’s Eve 2000 in Florida (Y2K!).
CONCAFTA Gold Cup Soccer at FirstEnergyThe soccer game was at FirstEnergy Stadium where the Browns play. We had great seats midfield, one section up. It was a beautiful night and the we were ready to watch some soccer. We had been watching the tournament games on TV and were familiar with the players and knew the stakes of this game (not particularly high – they were definitely moving on but were playing for a better seed).
As with any live event, there was a good bit of drama in our section thanks to some day drinking fans, but nothing too bad and we enjoyed the game from our great seats.
All that aside, the game was great with 3 U.S. goals, 2 penalty kicks (both missed!), a couple yellow cards, and a successful stadium-wide wave.
The kids went home after that with their cousins and Nat and I went back to Westlake. Nat’s parking plan worked out great and we were home within 20 minutes.
We woke up Sunday morning, packed up, and hit the road for Pittsburgh about 2 hours away. During the drive, I downloaded the app for Nextbike and entered our payment info so we could tour around the city with bikes from Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bike share system. We used the app to find stations with at least 2 bikes and that were close to access to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a wide-paved riverfront trail system that navigates around the city.
We started in the Southside Flats, across one of the million bridges that connects downtown Pittsburgh to the suburbs and different parts of the city. I really couldn’t believe how many bridges there are in Pittsburgh. We biked across 3 of them.
Biking the city (without kids) was such a great way to explore, get exercise, and see parts of the area that you normally wouldn’t see. Doing it with kids would also be fun – but different.
We biked for an hour from the Flats to Point State Park and over the Roberto Clemente bridge near PNC Stadium where the Pirates were playing an afternoon game. We returned the bikes to a nearby station and went to a local brewery for lunch.
We had a pint with lunch, my ultimate definition of vacation.
We walked back over the bridge, to Market Square and around downtown. We picked up some different bikes at another station and headed back to where our car was parked.
Overall, I loved this way of exploring the city. And we spent a total of $8 for the 2 hours of biking.
We got back to our car and found where we were staying – the Renaissance Hotel right next to the Roberto Clemente Bridge. From the outside, this looks like an old, maybe dated hotel. But the lobby is beautiful and reminiscent of another time, when ceilings were tiled in mosaic and floors and walls were carved from marble.
Our room was beautiful – a real grownup hotel room. I loved it. It was especially luxurious after biking around the city all day.
That night, we walked to a Thai restaurant for dinner (spicy, delicious!) and then walked along the river to Point State Park where a lot of people were gathered to watch the sunset. I loved all the people, the boats, the bridges, and the beautiful night.
The next morning, we got up, packed up, and headed to Conneaut Lake to meet up with our kids and the rest of Nat’s family.
Conneaut Lake is PA’s largest natural lake. One that’s actively trying to become a swamp. Residents are diligent about mowing the seaweed. But it’s a really quaint, small town, seasonal community. Nat’s mom lives there 6 months of the year and she’s one house back from the lake with a dock and water access. She has kayaks and paddle boards and we took advantage of all of it.
It was a perfect summer day and night at the Lake.
The next day was Tuesday and it was time to go back home. We were 2 hours from the Cleveland airport. Our flight wasn’t until 2pm so we had a nice breakfast and took our time getting packed up.
The logistics getting home were pretty seamless. We drove to the car rental return, returned the car, took a shuttle to the airport. Checked into our flight on Spirit and had plenty of time to get to our gate and wait for the flight.
The flight home was on-time and uneventful. We arrived in Myrtle Beach, got our bag, got to our car, and started for home. I have to say that this was a big travel day. 2 hr drive, 1.5 hr flight, 1.5 hr drive plus all the lines and waiting that comes with air travel. We were beat when we got home.
Good news was that the next day was Wednesday and it was going to be a short – but intensely busy – week of work.
What started out to be a last minute, random little vacation turned out to be a really fun big adventure.
I credit Nat with researching, booking, and organizing the whole trip. He did a great job and we reaped all the benefits of a fun family vacation to some cool midwestern cities.
Happy 15th Anniversary!