Why Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio Is the Coolest Suburb for Hikers

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: DaShaunae Jackson/Apartment Therapy

Cuyahoga Falls was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

Home to the expansive Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cuyahoga River, the Cleveland suburb of Cuyahoga Falls has scenic overlooks and sweeping waterfalls within its borders. CVNP has more than 125 miles of hiking trails, according to the National Park Service, and Cuyahoga Falls, which is close to the University of Akron and Kent State University, is a hub for young families. The wooden riverfront boardwalk constructed along the Cuyahoga River is perfect for a leisurely stroll, or for watching the annual Cuyahoga Falls Kayak Race, which attracts competitors from all over the country, thanks to Class II waves, a Class III waterfall, and Class V rapids. For this reason, Apartment Therapy has awarded it with the 2019 Suburb Superlative, “Best for Hikers.” Of course, there’s much more to this suburb as well.

In the 1970s, the city decided to close off the main downtown thoroughfare adjacent to the river, creating a pedestrian mall. The idea was to have a shopping area that would rival the malls, which were pulling customers away from downtown retail areas, but the plan backfired and businesses struggled there for nearly 50 years. Recently, forward-thinking city leaders executed their plan to reopen the street to cars, creating a bustling downtown retail and leisure district, alongside historic architecture. The Falls—as locals call the suburb—has also become a heavy brewing city, with three breweries operating in the city limits, and several others operating close by, and additional breweries slated to open soon. HiHO Brewing Co. is a natural choice for hikers and trail runners, since the entrance to the Glens Trail at the Gorge Metro Park is attached to a nearby parking lot.

As suburb of both Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Falls is a great community for young families.

Median rent price:

$787, according to RentCafe.

Median house price:

$131,000, according to Zillow.

Price per square foot:

$107 in Cuyahoga Falls vs. $100 in the Akron metro area, according to Zillow.

Walkability score:

43, according to Walk Score.

Median household income:

$52,936 in 2017, according to Census data.

Population:

Estimated at 49,247, according to Census data.

Hidden gem:

Chowder House Cafe is the gem to end all gems. Fine dining with an emphasis on seafood—and of course, the eponymous chowder—makes Chowder House a must-try for foodies and casual diners alike.

Place that makes you happy to live there:

Falls River Square is the place to be in the summertime. The Falls Downtown Fridays series rounds out summer weeks with live music, festival food, and vendors, during which the little ones can go crazy on the splash pad, or water playground, and dogs can play in the pop-up dog park.

Credit: DaShaunae Jackson/Apartment Therapy

Favorite activity for families:

The yearly Halloween Spooktacular at Keyser Park Barn is a fun-filled (and cheap!) fall event for the little ones. Featuring a petting zoo, costume contest, and more, it’s the best way to celebrate fall and Halloween!

Why the burb deserves its superlative of “Best for Hikers”:

Cuyahoga Falls, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the Cuyahoga River overlap at every corner. Scenic overlooks and sweeping waterfalls can be found throughout the city. CVNP offers miles of hiking trails, and city and county parks like Gorge Metro Park and Babb Run Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary have their own vistas and trails. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is partly within the city’s borders, and nearby establishments like Sarah’s Vineyard and Blossom Music Center make Cuyahoga Falls a destination city.

Favorite hangout for young professionals:

Burntwood Tavern is the perfect spot for young professionals, and it doesn’t hurt that the tavern is housed in a beautiful building, with a rustic interior, overlooking the Cuyahoga River. Friday and Saturday nights draw crowds, and live entertainment adds to the hip vibe.

Credit: DaShaunae Jackson/Apartment Therapy

Favorite place to catch a movie:

Cinemark Cuyahoga Falls and XD is a state-of-the-art theater with huge screens, comfy seats, and every must-have moviegoing amenity—and then some.

Favorite teen hangout:

The Cuyahoga Falls Library has plenty to offer area teens in search of a spot to hang out. Learn valuable skills for the future like typing or have fun playing board games or crafting. Wi-Fi? No problem. There is even a teen advisory board to select books and media for the teen collection and plan programming.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot:

Water Works Park is well-known for its pool and water park, and also includes great picnicking options alongside the Cuyahoga River. Ducks and Canada geese wander near the river and in the beautiful, wooded areas. Picnic tables are set up on decks overlooking the river, and there are reservable picnic shelters, complete with barbecue grills. A huge playground nearby, complete with a sandpit and toy backhoes for digging, will please young kids.

Favorite date spot:

Beau’s on the River—located inside Sheraton Suites—is a lovely, fine dining restaurant overlooking the Cuyahoga River. Chef Beau Schmidt and Executive Chef Billy Thurman prepare award-winning New American cuisine that’s sure to make any date night special.

Average commute/traffic report:

Commuters headed to downtown Cleveland from Cuyahoga Falls are looking at a 40- to 45-minute trip, but downtown Akron is only 15 to 20 minutes from Cuyahoga Falls. Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority serve the area’s public transport needs reliably and effectively.

Favorite local bookstore:

If you’re looking for a bookstore, Books-A-Million has you covered. The bookstore’s wide selection and cafe combine for a cozy bookworm experience.

Favorite place to get coffee:

Sadly, Cuyahoga Falls doesn’t have a hip independent coffee shop yet, but there are plenty of chains to satisfy your caffeine fix.

Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:

Breweries are taking over the Falls! Three great breweries operate in the city, with two more set to open any day. Locals debate which brewery is best, but HiHO Brewing Co. is arguably the most social of the bunch.

Credit: Courtesy of HiHO Brewing Co.

Favorite alone spot:

High Bridge Glens is a great spot for alone time, since it doesn’t draw many visitors. Grab a seat on the bench near the bridge across the Cuyahoga River, which has beautiful vistas on either side of the bridge. Enjoy a secluded lunch with the sound of the rapids below, but keep in mind that the park holds a farmers market in the Falls on Friday afternoons during summer months.

Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:

The Cuyahoga Falls Library has lots of free programming, including author talks and local historical presentations.

Signature food:

Boulevard Tavern‘s Lake Erie perch fish fry on Friday nights is worthy of a weekend meal, especially since the rest of the menu is so good—including the drink selection. The Boulevard also serves excellent Lebanese specialties, like fattoush salad and shish kebabs.

Favorite boutique:

Since the reopening of Front Street to vehicular traffic, boutiques have popped up, chief among them Celia’s Boutique. Featuring gifts, jewelry, clothing, accessories, and home decor in addition to locally-made items, boutique brands, and specialties, Celia’s has quickly become a city favorite.

Most walkable area:

Although the pedestrian mall has been converted back into a vehicular roadway, downtown Cuyahoga Falls is still a great area for a stroll. Eclectic shops sit next to snack spots like Metropolis Popcorn, Yum Yum Sweet Shop, and Pav’s Creamery, while restaurants like Crave Cantina and Flury’s Cafe draw peckish walkers in for a meal. Add in the nearby riverfront boardwalk and Glens Trail of Gorge Metropark, and you’ll find that any type of walk is served well on Front Street.

Credit: DaShaunae Jackson/Apartment Therapy

Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor activities:

Gorge Metro Park features paved trails in addition to rougher terrain, but the real attraction for outdoorsy types in Cuyahoga Falls is Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Portions of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail are within city limits, and offer bikers, hikers, walkers, and runners room to roam and a history lesson.

Favorite spot for an Instagram:

The riverfront boardwalk on the Cuyahoga River provides plenty of vistas for you and your selfie stick. Pack a picnic and make an afternoon out of it.

Favorite brunch:

On State Road, there are a couple of gems for breakfast or brunch, but none quite so beloved as The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery. What began as a small bakery, quickly turned into a full-service eatery, and one that was so instantly well-known that it doesn’t even need a sign, just a blue door.

Favorite free activity:

Flicks on the Falls is a free Friday night movie experience outside in the downtown amphitheater. Cartoons are shown around dusk, followed by a family-friendly movie at dark.

Favorite grocery store:

The jewel of the Portage Crossing Shopping Center is the Market District grocery store, which carries specialty food items alongside organic produce and grocery store mainstays. Market District also features a bar, a restaurant, and a chain coffee shop.

Favorite place for a workout:

The Natatorium health and fitness center is a state-of-the-art, 116,000-square-foot fitness facility with an indoor pool and a waterpark, racquetball and volleyball courts, a weight room, a track, fitness classes, and aquatic classes. The membership is affordable, and there is a babysitting area where you can drop the kids off for up to two hours while you work out.

Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:

The charm of downtown Cuyahoga Falls is enough to make any out-of-towner wish they were a local. This is especially true during the summer, when the Falls Downtown Fridays series transforms the area into a festival, complete with live music, vendors, food, and alcoholic beverages.

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:

Parking along Front Street is better than you might expect, and during busy times there are ample spaces available in adjacent parking garages. The south end of downtown has less parking than the north end, but plans are underway to expand parking on that end of the street.

What the neighbors say:

“My favorite part of living in Cuyahoga Falls is the community programs and the parks system. I grew up in a town that didn’t do any of those things and we had one park. I love being able to take my kids to all kinds of cheap, or even free, city events throughout the year.” —Jillian Kearns, stay-at-home mom and running enthusiast.

“A fantastic river that bisects the city provides opportunities for birding, hiking along its banks, or canoeing and kayaking.” —Cathy Basile, retiree and lifelong Falls resident.

“I would have to say the best thing about living here is the potential to make a return on an investment on a home, due to the rising property values, and decent housing market.” —Ralph McGrady, stay-at-home dad and college student.

“I love Cuyahoga Falls because it is a big city-suburban hybrid. It has the population size that gives it many of the benefits of a large city, including a vibrant downtown, extensive shopping, and municipal utilities. However, it still retains the benefits of a small town suburb, such as a great park system, and great quality-of-life programs.” —Drew Reilly, City Council member.

“I love the wide range of activities there are to do while living in Cuyahoga Falls, even with, and especially with, a young family: hiking in the amazing CVNP; swimming at the Natatorium and Water Works; enjoying local live music somewhere almost every night of the week; and participating in any of the fabulous family-friendly activities the Parks and Rec division has to offer. We never lack something to do!” —Sarah Banzhof, owner and operator of a natural beauty products company.

Favorite annual event:

It is simply impossible to choose between the Riverfront Irish Festival and Festa Italiana, each of which closes off Front Street, from Broad Boulevard to Oakwood Drive, for the weekend to celebrate two of the most historically prominent cultures in the city. Each features the cuisine of the festival’s respective culture and typical festival fare, plus live music, alcoholic beverages, games, vendors, and more.

What I miss about the city living in a suburb:

Frankly, there isn’t much to miss by living in Cuyahoga Falls, because the suburb has just about everything the city has, without the crowds, and the hustle and bustle.

What I never miss about the city:

Outside of crowded shopping areas around the holidays, particularly along Howe Avenue, there is very little traffic in Cuyahoga Falls.

Favorite local garden store:

Every spring, Stone’s Quality Environments Garden Center sets up shop next to Krieger’s Health Foods Market, to offer a wide selection of annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, soil, and fertilizer, plus garden fixtures, like statues and bird baths.

Favorite local diner:

There are lots of great diner-style restaurants in Cuyahoga Falls, but Molly Brown’s Country Cafe is a local favorite. Honorable mention is a tie between Flury’s Cafe and Lyla’s Family Restaurant. All three restaurants have homemade offerings and wide enough selections to please any patron.

Favorite neighborhood for yard sales:

The Cuyahoga Manor neighborhood organizes a yearly neighborhood yard sale, and lots of houses host their own smaller sales, effectively turning the neighborhood into a walkable flea market for the weekend.

Favorite house/garden walk:

There are about 20 blocks on Broad Boulevard, between Second Street and State Road, where interesting houses can be spotted. Cuyahoga Falls was settled in 1812, and there are many homes 100 years or older that are brimming with character. Look for the carousel horse fence. You’ll know it when you see it.

Favorite dog park:

Keyser Dog Park, the only off-leash dog park in Cuyahoga Falls, includes 2 acres of fenced-in space, a hydrant, trees, and benches for dog parents to rest on, while their furry friends exercise. Dog owners can rejoice, too, because a new dog park is opening at Water Works Park in 2019, giving residents on both sides of town easy access to public space for their pets.

Favorite salon/spa:

MC Salon, Spa & Studio has been the go-to high-end salon and spa in Cuyahoga Falls for years. The business has two separate locations, to serve both salon appointments and wedding parties, and they offer facials, haircuts, color, male grooming, extensions, and bridal services.

Favorite resale and antique store:

Abbey Ann’s is the best resale shop in the Falls, hands down. Though it is geared toward furniture and appliances, there is always a tchotchke you can’t live without at the State Road location. The business has been around for nearly 40 years and has multiple locations in addition to the Cuyahoga Falls store.

Why do you think your suburb is cool?

Cuyahoga Falls not only has something for everyone, it is a true community, where people are neighborly. The Falls has great parks, rich culture, and is a wonderful place to raise kids or grow old.

Credit: Apartment Therapy