Why Cleveland? Why not? This is the town where DJ Alan Freed first coined the term rock 'n' roll, where Chuck Berry played his first public gig; it's the hometown of musicians from Phil Ochs to Chrissie Hynde to Trent Reznor. And what's more, it's within a day's drive of 50% of the U.S. population, so this high-profile shrine can be visited by as many music lovers as possible.
Designed by I. M. Pei, the museum building is an all-shook-up mass of porcelain-tiled geometric shapes, piled up like a guitar and amps in the back of a roadie's van, with a glass pyramid jutting out from one side over Lake Erie. Inside is a cool collection of pop-culture memorabilia to browse through. Even if you and the kids don't listen to the same artists, there's plenty here for everyone to groove on. Exhibits display programs, posters, photos, instruments (from Junior Walker's lovingly shined saxophone to a smashed guitar from Paul Simonton of the Clash), and stage costumes (James Brown's red rhinestone-studded tuxedo coat, Neil Young's fringed leather jacket). But what really grabs kids are the artifacts from rock stars' childhoods -- things like Jimi Hendrix's baby picture, Jim Morrison's Cub Scout uniform, John Lennon's report card, Joe Walsh's high-school football jersey. Not to ignore current chart toppers, on the plaza level a rotating exhibit features today's artists, from Phantom Planet to the Jonas Brothers. For those of us who actually remember the 1950s, the Rave On exhibit displays mementos from such rock 'n' rollers as Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers on a curved wall evoking a chrome-and-neon diner.
Still, rock 'n' roll isn't about artifacts, it's about performance. Up in the Hall of Fame, a video collage of all the 200-plus inductees is mesmerizing. The Hall of Fame includes mostly musicians (eligible 25 years after their first record release), as well as a few producers, DJs, and journalists. Though displays near the entrance focus on the most recent class of inductees, huge "virtual jukebox" stations let you access just about any song recorded by any Hall of Famer; their autographs are etched in glass on a great wall projecting over the lake. As with all such ventures, the list of who's in and who's not is controversial, but then that makes for great dinner-table arguments.
Nearest Airport: Cleveland Hopkins International, 10 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center, 127 Public Sq. (tel. 888/236-2427 or 216/696-9200; www.marriott.com). $$ DoubleTree by Hilton Cleveland Downtown/Lakeside, 1111 Lakeside Ave. (tel. 800/222-TREE [222-8733] or 216/241-5100; www.doubletree.com).