It's January. Next month is February. The soggy unpredictable chaos of March looms thereafter. Don't even get me started on the rollercoaster that is April. Yes, it's that time of year when the weather is a fickle beast that can't make up its mind about whether or not to rain, snow, sleet, or jump 30 degrees in a single day in either direction. Scheduling activities more than two days in advance in Cincinnati during post-December winter and early spring is a game of Russian Roulette.
Much to everyone's delight, advances in modern technology means the only thing we can rely on is a climate-controlled building. So, let's find things to do indoors.
1. See a movie at an independent, local theater
The Esquire Theatre in Clifton and the RJ Cinema in Eastgate are two great places to absorb the latest Oscar-contender or mindless blockbuster if you feel like chilling quietly with a drink and a bag of popcorn for a couple of hours. Choose the Esquire if you love the old-school movie-going experience of decades past. Choose RJ if you want a craft beer instead of a Diet Coke.
2. Go Fowling
It's football bowling. As in, you throw a football at bowling pins. The Fowling Warehouse in Pleasant Ridge is a 47,000-square-foot facility with more than enough "lanes" to play while a bar sits off to the side if you feel inclined to wet your whistle. I know what you're thinking: fowling sounds too easy. You are incorrect. It is actually pretty challenging.
3. Relish the amazing collection of art we have right here in Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum of Art are two extremely good museums brimful of classic works from around the world. Centuries of talent sit within the walls of both storied establishments just waiting to be appreciated. The Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park is free every day, and the Taft Museum of Art is free on Sundays.
4. Pick up rock climbing
Mosaic Climbing in Loveland and RockQuest in Sharonville are two great options for this. You never know if you're going to be great at it until you give it a go. And if you haven't been rock climbing in a while, now would be a good time to try it again. Also, if you need good athletic clothes, you can get them at Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford—the best local sporting goods store in the region!
5. Walk Fairfield/Forest Park's spooky, nearly abandoned mall
If you've lived in the area for years, you've undoubtedly been to Forest Fair Village at some point in its lifespan. Personally, I remember it in its heyday in the late-90s and early-2000s. Some remember it as Forest Fair Mall. Others remember it as Cincinnati Mills. Today, it's this giant, almost entirely abandoned mall held on life support by a handful of small businesses that continue to operate within it. Mall-walkers love it because it's vast and quiet, with hardly any people around. It's weird and wonderful and worth the trek if you want to spend an hour wandering through dimly lit corridors of empty storefronts.
6. Visit Downtown's oldest book store
Portland has Powell's Books, and Cincinnati has the Ohio Book Store. This book store is so old, it's been open on Main Street since the beginning of World War II, filling four floors of the building from floor to ceiling with used books. You never know what you'll find buried in the stacks, nor will you find anything like it elsewhere in Cincinnati. It's truly the last of its kind, and I hope it stays there forever.
7. Ride the Bourbon Bus
Cincy Brew Bus, best known for its beer and wine tours, offers a dynamite distillery tour. Appropriately entitled The Cincy Brew Bus Bourbon and Distillery Tour, the bus shuttles riders around to several distilleries and bourbon bars to learn how its made, how to taste it, and why each brand is significant. The tour runs a total of about five hours. I did it during a miserable, wet day and stayed perfectly dry with an umbrella to get me from the bus to the bourbon bar's door.
8. Do an escape room
The definitive local escape room has to be the one at the Banks. The Escape Game is next-level, primarily because the high production value of each room—which, at times, feels more like a movie set than an escape room—elevates it above its competitors. When I say you can’t find an escape room like this in the city, I don’t mean you can’t find something like it. I mean you won’t find one dialed to this level of physical quality.
9. See what's new at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
You know this place even if you're not from here. It's a museum set within an old Art Deco train station and it absolutely rules. From the IMAX to the natural history museum, artificial cave to the gift shop, there's no shortage of stuff to see and do there. It's all under one big dome, so you're out of the elements and comfortable. You can eat (and drink!) there, too. Essentially, you could spend a whole day there and not blink an eye.
10. Play some old-school arcade games
If you wander Forest Fair Village, you'll inevitably run into Arcade Legacy— an arcade where you pay an entry fee and play all the free games you want. There's also a Northside location where you can enjoy an adult drink while you beat your high score in Q*bert. If you're in OTR and don't feel like driving, check out 16-Bit Bar+Arcade to get your Marvel Vs. Capcom fix.
11. Try your hand at duckpin bowling
Duckpin bowling is just one of the many things you can do at PINS Mechanical Co. on Main Street in OTR. The squat little pins and tiny, grapefruit-sized bowling balls are a novelty you will not find in other bowling alleys in the area (except this one). In addition to duckpin bowling, PINS has other table games as well as pinball and bars on two of the three floors.
12. Get some chili, folks
No, we're not saying go to Skyline or Gold Star. Everyone does that. Go to Camp Washington Chili, Chili Time, Pleasant Ridge Chili, Price Hill Chili, or any of the other local, smaller chili parlors you've been meaning to try but haven't gotten around to yet. What's better than biting into a hot cheese coney on a cold, grey, January day?
13. Go skydiving
"Wait, what? That's an outdoor activity." Normally, yes. But you can also skydive indoors in Liberty Township at iFLY Cincinnati. After entering a powerful vertical wind tunnel, flyers ride the wind as if they were skydiving. It's a great way to blow through an hour of the day in a totally unique way. Plus, it's fun recording your friends as they flail about awkwardly in the tube.
14. Bullseye your buds
Archery Arena in West Chester combines the rules of dodgeball with archery using compound bows and heavily padded arrows to make for a totally unique 60 minutes of play. It's considered a family-friendly environment and no previous archery experience is required. Yes, Hawkeye is the most forgettable Avenger (sorry, Jeremy Renner), but it's fun to imagine you're him while you launch padded arrows at your best friend for an hour.
15. Go see *~experimental~* theater
You know Cincinnati Refined has a love/love relationship with Know Theatre in OTR. It's consistently the best, most affordable place to see live theater that doesn't stick to the classics you've seen before. It describes itself as "Cincinnati's theatrical playground" and there's no better description for it. It has regular mainstage and secondstage shows throughout the year, bringing loads of culture and weirdness to Cincinnati you just won't find in any other area theater.
16. Fill your eyeballs with contemporary art
There is no better time to go to the Contemporary Arts Center than now. Admission is completely free thanks to the Johnson Foundation and The 50, and the museum spans several floors, each filled with regularly rotating exhibits. We've seen a ton of great contemporary art over the years at this place. There's also an excellent restaurant on the first floor.
17. Rock out!
Cincinnati has several live music venues that regularly book shows. Check out who's playing at MoTR, the Woodward Theatre, Bogart's, Ludlow Garage, the Thompson House, Northside Tavern, NSYC, or a variety of other spots around town. Who knows, maybe you'll find your new favorite band tonight.
18. Split some wood with a Hudy in hand
Urban Axes next to Rhinegeist in OTR is a good way to spend an evening with friends. Book in advance to reserve a lane, get a beer from the bar, then see how well you can nail the bullseye with a one-handed hatchet. Don't worry—no experience in projectile lumberjacking is required. Instructors are on hand to teach even the meekest hatchet-hurlers how to safely and effectively stick it to the board. There's also an ax-throwing spot in Covington called Flying Axes.
19. Release your inner Van Gogh while sipping Pinot Grigio
Relaxing wine & paint places are the antitheses to the wild ax-throwing joints. There are several places around town where you can do an art project while enjoying a glass of the good stuff. Here's a helpful guide to six of them if you don't feel like Googling.
20. Go treasure-hunting
Antiquing is a hobby you either love or hate. For those who love it, there are many local antique malls worth checking out. On a rainy, cold day, it's a blast to dive into the wonders of secondhand stuff. Some malls we've visited and liked: The Ohio Valley Antique Mall in Fairfield, The Riverside Centre Antique Mall in the East End, and Ferguson's Antiques in Price Hill. For serious antiquers, though, you'll want to make an appointment and hit up The Antiques Warehouse.
21. Enjoy one of our million local breweries
Okay, there aren't a million, but there's something like 999,999 of them in the Cincinnati area. Pick one you haven't been to and experience a new brew in a new space. Unless you're some type of Cincy Cicerone, there's a very good chance you haven't been to them all.
22. Dive into an underwater world at the edge of the Ohio River
Thousands of sea creatures thrive at the top of the Levee within the walls of the Newport Aquarium. You'll see all kinds of fish, sharks, penguins, and more as you're guided through glass tunnels surrounded by underwater life. If you haven't been or haven't been in a while, it's time to revisit this unique attraction.
23. Use the incredible Cincinnati Public Library downtown
We have one of the best libraries in the country. Not only does it have multiple floors of every book you could possibly imagine, but it also has a killer Makerspace where you can 3D print, laser-engrave, large-scale print, record music or podcasts, and so much more. Additionally, there's the amazing Cincinnati Room which features rare books only viewable in that controlled space.
24. Hop aboard the Cincinnati Dinner Train
The Cincinnati Dinner Train will resume chugging along its tracks on March 14th (no January or February dates). Four vintage dining cars manned by period-themed staff transport diners to and from Roselawn (by way of Downtown) during a relaxing, three-hour trip every Saturday. Riders are served a four-course meal while they ride.
25. Explore Eden Park's indoor jungle
Krohn Conservatory is not only wonderful but also indoors. This is about the only thing you can do in a public park that isn't reliant on good weather. I always have a great time there taking photos (no tripod!) and breathing in all the smells and fresh oxygen. With the sound of the rain pattering on the greenhouse roof, Krohn feels both cozy and exotic simultaneously.
26. Play every game you can think of under a single roof
Rotolo at Newport on the Levee sports 16 bowling lanes, a VIP area with private bowling lanes, pool, foosball, ping pong, air hockey, shuffleboard tables, giant checkers, and a bocce court. There's a restaurant inside of it, as well as two full bars. You can easily eat up a significant portion of a rainy, cold day inside this place.