Why visit Cincinnati? (Really, why?)

Man, we Cincinnatians love lists — especially when we’re on them. Ever since mega travel site Lonely Planet picked the Queen City as a top-10 US travel destination for 2012, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up with the news. The TV stations all had a bit on the announcement, as did the Business Courier.

“Is Cincinnati suddenly chic?” the Enquirer asked. “Lonely Planet thinks so.”

Lest this Cincy parade get too out-of-hand, I’m here with a fire hose.

Can I just say what we’re all thinking as we look at a list that includes the US Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Yellowstone National Park?

Cincinnati — really?

I let loose my cynicism on the guy who wrote the article, Lonely Planet US travel editor Robert Reid, and he came back with a response so smart and cheerful that I found myself nodding my head.

Top 10 lists are so subjective, and…the crew of editors in the publishing department butted heads over this one. The idea came from one who talked about how much Cincy has done in recent years to improve itself — the Underground Railroad museum etc — and the fact that the place is much more than a bowl of chili. He talked me into having it in there, and I was all for it: I always want to reward places off the main radar that quietly are changing things. I mean, that’s sort of what Lonely Planet is supposed to do! (A couple years ago we gave props to Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City, similarly.)

Yes, yes. This makes sense. This is good stuff. I cannot argue with this without sounding like a total jerk. And still, my inner Andy Rooney kept whining. Why did this bug me so much? I continued reading Reid’s e-mail.

Cincinnati works in this because it’s off the main cross-country interstates and more people should think of detouring an hour or two to spend a weekend there. It’ll never rival New York or San Francisco, but it can be a very pleasing, surprising weekend — skip at your own peril!

…and suddenly I figured out what was bothering me. Reid gives this story the perspective it needs.

Cincinnati is a surprise. I remember this from the day I flew here for an interview. I stayed at the gorgeous Hilton downtown and walked down to a river I’d only read about. I saw the expanse of bridges, the hills speckled with buildings, the bookend stadiums and I said to myself, “Wow. I never knew.” There’s plenty to love about this place. I live here and I’m happy. But I’d never recommend a person vacation here instead of Puerto Rico. Cincinnati is not New York or San Francisco, nor the Virgin Islands or Hawaii. It belongs on that list with an asterisk. And that’s fine.

It’s OK — in fact, it’s responsible — to admit that the Lonely Planet thing is, well, ironic.

Problem is, so few people are doing that. The earnest enthusiasm that’s greeted this list has almost been embarrassing. No other city freaked out about the Lonely Planet list the way Cincinnati did. No other city wondered aloud whether it was finally “chic.” I can’t even find a news item about it from Boulder, Colo., which was No. 7 on the list. We are the Sally Field of metropolitan cities!

Cincinnati needs to find its own inner confidence. It needs self-esteem. It needs to leave middle school for good and care a little less about what other people think about it. It needs to continue to work on itself and be proud of what it’s done. Accept the praise, accept the criticism, push forward.

I think Cincinnati will be in a great place if one day it shows up on a top 10 list and people shrug and say, “Cool. Now where are we going to dinner tonight?”

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5 thoughts on “Why visit Cincinnati? (Really, why?)

  1. Everyone was freaking out on my facebook too. The list did not state, ALL TIME VACATION SPOTS. Just for the year. Get over people, Cincinnati is a beautiful place.

  2. Fantastic article (as was your other one regarding “cheerleaders”) Cincinnati needs a nice push in the right direction by people who are willing to both critize what’s wrong and work towards something better. As mentioned other places I grew in SW Ohio and spent five years living in Cincinnati.

    I live in Chicago now, and yes Chicago made the list, and no there weren’t articles in the Tribune talking about this list, instead there are entire shows you can watch regularly devoted to the nightlife/restaurant scene the city offers (1), articles about how tourism is not where it should be on an international level and about the people and the initiatives to improve it (2) and while there is a fair amount of complaining its balanced out by bold initives where the city compares itself to international peers while maintaining its own style (3).

    Cincinnati needs pride in itself, its a pretty amazing city and should always aim higher. For instance, I wrote a review on yelp regarding how much I dislike the esquire theater because it sets the bar too low for what it should be. If people commented on yelp reviews I wonder if the review I wrote about the esquire being a terrible art house cinema would get comments like, “Oh this is a great movie theater, its in such a charming location” when in reality it should be compared to other art theaters that don’t edit their films and tend to show more esoteric films earlier than Cincy does.

    Good work, I hope to read more from you as this was my first time reading this blog!

    (1) http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=1,49,1
    (2) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-12-19/business/ct-biz-1219-tourism-outlook-20111219_1_city-sets-sights-overseas-visitors-warren-wilkinson
    (3) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-12-19/business/ct-biz-1219-tourism-outlook-20111219_1_city-sets-sights-overseas-visitors-warren-wilkinson

  3. I too have found the response a bit overwhelming, but I also think that certain personality trait of Cincinnatians is what makes it appealing to many others. People get excited in both good and bad ways, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    The thing that is shocking is that many Cincinnatians found it shocking that someone outside of their inner-circle of Cincinnatians has tracked and been impressed by the progress that has been made in Cincinnati over the past several years.

    This praise doesn’t come often for cities like Cincinnati. But how about we compare the relatively lack of coverage about Fountain Square’s transformation to the transformation of Times Square in New York City. There’s a huge difference in the amount, and perspective of coverage.

    The point I think is that Cincinnatians need to not get too caught up in this, and keep working to improve the city and region. Go out, celebrate, and keep surprising those who are looking to take a two hour detour on their road trip to New York.

  4. Hey Lori,
    I JUST texted Dave the other day about the underground RR museum. I was actually planning our next family vacation to Cincinnati. He said it was pretty heavy, and that’s what I was afraid of for the kids. I must say, I’d only be more surprised by that list if Detroit showed up next year. It sure makes me want to come visit you guys even more now though. Kids are out June 13th, so expect some company this summer…night 🙂

    Jen

  5. “Cincinnati needs to find its own inner confidence. It needs self-esteem. It needs to leave middle school for good and care a little less about what other people think about it.”

    -Cincinnati needs to stop asking what. high. school. ya. went. to!
    It is a big city with a small town mentality, period.

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