A Little Star Wars in Cincinnati

February 8, 2022

As much as we love our city of Columbus, we’ve adored all the time we’ve gotten to spend in Cincinnati over the years. We love its restaurants and breweries, giant historic district, easy streetcar transportation, big attractions like museums and zoos and aquariums. (You can read past itineraries on our Cincinnati travel page.)

Just before the end of 2021, we scheduled an overnight as a family down to Cincinnati. The impetus was seeing the Cincinnati Symphony perform the soundtrack to Return of the Jedi live at Music Hall, and we built a fun trip around the show!

We arrived around lunch time and headed straight into Over-the-Rhine to Zundo Ramen & Donburi, located a couple blocks west of Washington Park. It’s a long, narrow space with a bar up front and dining room in back. It was perfect for a cold December day: edamame, chashu buns, steaming bowls of ramen.

Afterwards we parked the van near Findlay Market, another of our favorite stops in Cincinnati. The market is open year-round, and features both an indoor hall and seasonal outdoor booths.

Then it was over to Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway for a quick afternoon pick-me-up. Coffee Emporium has two locations in the city: this one in Over-the-Rhine and one in a Victorian house up in Hyde Park (which has been open since 1973!). The OtR location is long and spacious; in addition to a full coffee menu, they whip up a variety of baked goods.

Then it was time to check in to the 21c Museum Hotel downtown. The 21c hotels are often built out of older properties, and the Cincinnati branch makes its home in the historic Metropole Hotel, located on Walnut Street across from the Aronoff Center and next to the Contemporary Arts Center.

I knew the hotel doubled as a museum, but I was absolutely floored to walk in and see a giant Kehinde Wiley piece behind the front desk.

In addition to a full-service restaurant and bar, the 21c hotel has a full art gallery of contemporary work in the lobby, adjoining rooms, and second floor. It’s open to the public, and includes more pieces from Wiley, Bisa Bulter, and other artists. The artwork is threaded throughout the hotel, too, with pieces in the hallways upstairs, and even funky details like shaped tiles in the bathrooms.

One of the reasons we love downtown Cincinnati is the easy availability of transportation thanks to the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar. It runs in a 3.5-mile loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and in late 2020 the streetcar was made free for all riders. Our boys are just like their father in that they love riding trains, so we could have spent the whole day on the streetcar. But it was handy getting to and from our meals, coffee shops, the market, Music Hall.

We rode the streetcar up to one of our favorite Cincinnati spots, Rhinegeist Brewery.

Rhinegeist is housed in an old brewery building that dates back to Cincinnati’s pre-Prohibition heyday. I love that their front entrance is an unassuming doorway leading two floors up a narrow staircase, before landing you in the massive taproom and brewery. There are two bars, long picnic tables, cornhole and ping pong tables, TVs – they even have their own Cincinnati-style chili stand now!

The adults sipped a beer, the kids got some snacks, we played a few games at Rhinegeist, before heading over to Sacred Beast Diner in Over-the-Rhine for dinner.

Sacred Beast is a hip and modern eatery that works to capture the classic diner vibe. Deep booths line the walls. Records spin. Bartenders shake cocktails behind the bar. The menu lands on the pricey side for the portions, but everything we tasted was well done: deviled eggs, a diner breakfast with lemon ricotta pancakes and pork belly, a roasted beet and quinoa salad, breakfast burger, and the Dirty French – essentially French onion soup in burger form.

After dinner, Beth headed back to the hotel while the boys strolled through Washington Park to…

…the stunning Cincinnati Music Hall!

Music Hall sits in Over-the-Rhine next to Washington Park. It was built in 1878 and renovated in recent years. It’s home to the symphony, and is just such a beautiful venue.

We arrived about 45 minutes early to see all sorts of costumed characters: Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, stormtroopers, TIE fighter pilots.

They even had a speeder bike you could sit on!

The experience of the symphony itself was just delightful. We’ve taken the boys to see the Columbus Symphony perform the soundtrack live to A New Hope and one of the Harry Potter movies. In these programs, they show the full movie (with subtitles) while the orchestra plays John Williams’ iconic score live. They usually add an overture, take an intermission, and play through the full credits.

For anyone like myself who grew up with these movies, and knows the music so well you’ve internalized it, it’s an incredible experience. It’s fun to see those familiar themes and motifs played live, curious to see which instruments cover certain moments. Hearing it all live brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me how DIFFICULT it is to play that score! Those musicians really got a workout.

Afterwards we took the streetcar (surprise) back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

The next morning we toured the hotel’s art gallery, checked out and got the car through the valet, then drove to B&A Street Kitchen in Over-the-Rhine.

B&A is a cozy corner space serving Tex-Mex favorites. We sipped espresso and nitro cold brew, sampled churro pancakes, biscuits and gravy, a biscuit sandwich with chorizo gravy, fried chicken and gravy. All delightful.

We stole a last few looks at Over-the-Rhine – I’d like to come back and spend a month here – before we hit the road.

On the way out of town we passed through Camp Washington on the northwest side to check out Mom ‘n ’em Coffee & Wine, a coffee shop that was named #5 in the country by Food & Wine in 2019. I was a little obsessed with seeing them, and I’m glad we visited; read about our visit to Mom ‘n ’em here.

Our final stop was a jaunt north to Jungle Jim’s! I mean, if you’re within half an hour of Jungle Jim’s, it seems rude not to go, right?

There’s always something new at Jungle Jim’s. This time we discovered a new toy section shaped like a big top tent, plus a recording studio for their podcast. We explored the store – which always seems busy – spying out international foods in particular. We stocked up on some proper English bangers, and I picked up a few Dutch favorites like windmill cookies and De Ruijter chocolate sprinkles. And then it was the drive home!

Planning your own Cincinnati trip? Use our Cincinnati travel guide for loads of ideas in food, coffee, beer, museums, markets, and other attractions! Or reach out to me for help in picking a few spots.

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I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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