Debate: Is Cincinnati better than Cleveland?

This post is a follow-up to my Saturday, January 19th post on the top 19 reasons why I love Ohio. It’s been pointed out that my favorite places are very Cincinnati and Cleveland heavy, which would make sense considering those are the two areas I’ve lived closest to in the state of Ohio. My wife is originally from Northeast Ohio, and I am originally from Southwest Ohio, so the debate comes up quite often, “Is Cincinnati better than Cleveland or is Cleveland better than Cincinnati?” It’s funny because I recently was a part of a conversation where Cleveland folks were downplaying what Cincinnati brings to the table, but when I was growing up that is exactly what people from Southwest Ohio always said about Cleveland. Cleveland always had the not-so-nice nickname, “The mistake by the lake.” I’ve lived in Cleveland for about 8 years and in Southwest Ohio for about 20, so with that being a relatively decent time-split I do think I’m able to be a bit more objective than most. So, let’s breakdown the tape as we debate the tale of two cities: Cincinnati and Cleveland edition.

  1. Which city has the better sports? I figure this is a great place to start the debate, because I’ve noticed people from both cities seem to think they are sports towns. Cincinnati boasts one of the most storied baseball franchises in the nation while Cleveland has a rabid fan-base… Let’s breakdown the tape further.
  • Better baseball? This one is fairly straightforward because of the Big Red Machine and the number of prep players who went on to be Hall of Famers (like Griffey and Larkin). Cleveland has certainly been better than Cincinnati in recent years, however, their lack of championship earnings can’t compare with the Reds. Furthermore, the Reds Hall of Fame is one of the best Hall’s I’ve ever seen. I have to give the baseball edge to Cincinnati
  • Better football? Neither city has enjoyed a good professional football team. Neither city has a Super Bowl to be proud of. The Bengals were abysmal in the 90’s and the Browns have been abysmal ever since their team was taken away from them by Art Modell. When you examine the prep situation it’s like apples and oranges and both cities are relatively good. Cleveland has Glenville, St. Ed’s, St Ig’s, and Mentor, but Cincinnati has Elder, Moeller, St. X, and La Salle. I’m calling this a wash.
  • Better basketball? This is clearly Cleveland. Cincinnati has no professional basketball team so this is relatively straightforward. Plus, Lebron is from Northeast Ohio and is the second greatest basketball player of all-time.
  • Better college sports? Cleveland doesn’t have a good college sports scene at all, so this one goes to Cincinnati. Cincinnati has a solid program, but also has Xavier to help boost their college basketball cause. University of Dayton and University of Miami are also two nearby schools that help boost the college sports scene in the Cincinnati area. Cleveland has Cleveland State, but beyond that the next closest school with much college sports relevance would be Akron, or Kent State. Kent State has produced some nice football talent, however, they’ve never fielded a team that has generated much buzz-edge to Cincy here.
  • Better fans? This might be controversial for my Southwest Ohio friends, but Cleveland has better fans. I’ve never seen a fan-base embrace misery as well as the Cleveland fans. I’m impressed by their ability to be such homers even when their Browns have been so bad for so long. I totally respect the fans in Cleveland and I think Cincy fans can be very lame in comparison. As a Bengals fan myself, I really wish our fans were stronger and more committed. Edge goes to Cleveland.
  • Hockey: Neither town can call themselves a hockey town-neither town gets the edge here. Cincy has the Cyclones and Cleveland has the Monsters, but neither fan-base is all that impressive.
  • Soccer: Cincinnati folks seem to care more about fc Cincinnati these days than anything else in the city, and meanwhile Cleveland doesn’t have a team, so Cincy wins this category.
  • OVERALL: This is a total wash. Cincinnati has better college sports and a pro soccer team, but Cleveland has the Cavs while Cincy has no pro-basketball team, and the Cavs are the last team to bring Ohio a Championship.

2. Which city has the better food? I’m going to break this down into categories.

  • Better barbecue? This has to be the most obvious food choice– Cincinnati has Montgomery Inn. Montgomery Inn is objectively awesome. Edge here goes to Cincy
  • Better pizza: Some of my Cincy friends will be upset with this but there are 2 places near Cleveland that are delicious. In Lakewood there is a pizza place called Angelo’s and it is wonderful. My favorite pizza in the state of Ohio is found in Akron and it’s called Luigi’s. The combination of Angelo’s + Luigi’s gives this edge to Cleveland.
  • Better tacos: In Over the Rhine you will find a Bakersfield, but Cleveland has a slew of Barrio’s so I will give this edge to Cleveland also.
  • Better groceries: When comparing Findlay Market to Cleveland’s West Side Market the truth is they are basically the same thing so this has to be a wash. Clevelanders who have been to the downtown Heinen’s know how cool it is, but Cleveland can’t offer a match for the grocery experience that is… Jungle Jim’s. Because of Jungle Jim’s Cincinnati wins this battle.
  • Better original restaurants: Cincinnati has been made world famous for chili, thanks to Skyline and Gold Star. Cincinnati also is the only place in the world you can really find goetta. Having said that though, remember that Cleveland produced Slyman’s and Barrio and Townhall and Market Garden. Yes, Cincinnati has Rhinegeist, but Cleveland has Great Lakes.
  • OVERALL: I’m sorry but this is a wash too!

3. Which city has the better body of water? Now, here is where the debate gets interesting… What is better-the toxic Lake water surrounding Cleveland or the flowing water of contaminates circling Cincinnati? Well, I wouldn’t recommend swimming in either, and I wouldn’t eat the fish from the river or the lake. Both have been pretty important in terms of historical significance, but both have certainly lost their luster surrounding their respective cities in more recent decades. Again, this is a wash (excuse the pun).

4. Which city has the better museums? Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland also has a historical center and a Museum of Natural History. In comparison, Cincinnati has their own art museum (Cleveland’s is better IMHO), they have the Reds Hall of Fame, the American Sign Museum, the Freedom Center which memorializes the Underground Railroad, and the different Taft monuments and museums. Cleveland has better museums and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame carries a lot of the weight for Cleveland earning this recognition.

5. Which city has better outdoor activities? Well, if we compare the big things I’d say the Browns have a better stadium than the Bengals, but the Reds have a better one than the Indians so that’s a wash. Riverbend and Blossom Music Center are essentially the same thing and bring in basically the same acts so that’s also a wash (although Riverbend is closer to the city than Blossom is to its city so I might prefer Riverbend just a tad). I prefer Cincinnati’s zoo over Cleveland’s, however, for those of you who know me you know that my zoo experiences are always judged on the presence of sloths and komodo dragons. Cleveland’s zoo doesn’t have komodo dragons, meanwhile Cincinnati’s zoo allows the sloth to hang free unaccompanied by a trainer, which is awesome! The metroparks surrounding Cleveland are gorgeous, but the city of Cleveland itself is not as aesthetically pleasing as the rolling hills and the river-crossing bridges of Cincinnati IMHO. Cincinnati has two important things Cleveland does not: 1. an outdoor amusement park and 2. A large tennis venue which hosts Wimbledon events. The combination of these two things really sets Cincinnati apart from Cleveland. Cleveland has Edgewater Park, but Cincinnati has Smale Riverfront Park. Cincinnati has Fountain Square, but Cleveland also has University Circle and Garfield Memorial. Cincinnati has the River Boats, but Cleveland also has USS Cod Memorial. All in all, it seems Cincinnati may have a little bit more to offer for outdoor activities, but that would make sense considering in my experience the weather in Cincy is significantly better, and therefore, Cleveland needs more indoor activities than Cincy anyways.

So, what else does Cleveland have that Cincinnati does not? Cleveland has a world-class orchestra for people who are into music. If you’re into theater, Cleveland also has a great theater district. One of the cool things Cleveland has that Cincinnati does not is a Little Italy which is very pleasant and has some of the best Italian food you’ll ever taste. The movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed in Cleveland and the house from the movie actually has a museum you can go visit!

And what does Cincinnati have, which has not already been mentioned, that Cleveland does not? I think Newport Aquarium can be added to this list, because it’s a quite nice aquarium without much of a Cleveland equivalent. Cincinnati has Mount Adams and Over-the Rhine which are landmarks the city can be proud of. The suspension bridge is extremely cool! Coney Island should probably make the cut for being a cool attraction Cincinnati has to offer.

At the end of the day, I hope this article shows how I feel about these two cities and about this debate… I think they’re pretty similar and the debate is one that will go in circles forever, because I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer. At the end of the day, the city you think is better is probably the one you have more subjective attraction to; it’s probably the one that makes you feel nostalgia when you’re there. If you have memories and friends in Cincy and you favor the Northern Kentucky/Southern Ohio bit of Appalachian charm then you’ll like Cincinnati. If your memories are based around what goes on in Cleveland and you’re more a fan of the more Northeastern feel of things then you’ll like Cleveland more.

To conclude the argument, I think both Cleveland and Cincinnati are pretty cool and I think people should be willing to visit them both! Some of you will read this and have strong opinions, and that’s great! Go ahead and add to the debate in a civil way if you’d like. At least we can all agree Ohio is a great state to live in, and we meet in the middle and land on the Ohio State Buckeyes!

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