As it Turns Out, Cleveland Really does Rock

CLEVELAND (CBS) -- Once upon a time, Cleveland was a punch line. That came about because of a nasty fire on - that's right, on - the Cuyahoga River.

These days, though, most people associate the phrase "burning river" with a popular local light ale. Cleveland has cleaned up its act and is now considered one of the 100 most livable cities in the world. It's also got enough attractions to qualify it as a popular and worthwhile tourist attraction. That's right - a tourist attraction.

Things have certainly come full circle for this Ohio city.

It was almost 40 years ago that the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire. That embarrassing event actually spawned the Clean Water Act nationwide.

"They remember us as the mistake on the lake and the place we had the fire on the river," said tour guide Sherill Paul-Witt. "They think of Cleveland as a dirty, industrial city, and we are not. We are a very cultured, very developed city with a lot of wealth."

The architecture alone is worth spending time on. Les Roberts, a Hollywood producer-turned-mystery writer, moved to Cleveland because he found the city inspiring. He says the buildings are his muse. He showed The Early Show one of his favorite places.

"The Arcade has been around here for over 100 years," he explained. "I think it's an astonishing place. I used it in a book that I wrote in 1989 called 'Full Cleveland,' where the bad guy gets pitched off the fifth tier up there and falls all the way down to the bottom.

"I love everything about the city. I love the architecture, and it inspires me to write," he said.

There are other inspirations as well, for locals and visitors: the multi-ethnic menus and specialties that abound in the city's restaurants and in the West Side Market. Pirogues, sausages, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa are readily available and as good as they were back in the old country.

"Pirogues and kielbasa are kind of Cleveland heritage food," said Laura Taxel, a local food writer and author of "Cleveland's Ethnic Eats."

She says Cleveland's restaurant scene is a reflection of the varied immigrant mix in this area, with more than 100 nationalities represented. "And those, I think, are part of the real sort of cultural character of Cleveland. What makes it special."

There are several world-class museums in the city - including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, probably the city's prime tourist target - and beautiful parks and outdoor spaces.

Mary Krohmer, who works in Community Relations at the well-known Lakeview Cemetery, says visitors often come to stroll the grounds. "We actually have people who just come in to enjoy the beauty and people actually come in and picnic at Lakeview cemetery," she said.

In addition to excellent schools, universities, hospitals (like the world-famous Cleveland Clinic) and sporting arenas, one thing that makes it an attractive living place is the size and the cost.

"You don't have to spend hours in traffic, and you can actually afford to own a house without having to sell your first-born," said Taxel.

"You can do all the things that you do in a so-called big city for a lot less cost," said Sherrill Paul-Witt.

Posted by KO

The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.

It's enough to make you forget all about burning rivers - unless, that is, you're thirsting for a beer