Columbus, Ohio, the state capitol, seems vastly underappreciated. As a college town, it has many cultural offerings, a substantial downtown and is the third largest fashion hub in America (after the well-stilettoed New York City and Los Angeles). The Sciota River traverses leisurely through the downtown and offers much natural beauty for exercising. Probably most famously, Columbus is home to The Ohio State University, the flagship public university in the state. Similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence and expect to see many locals in Buckeyes apparel. As a native Bostonian who now lives in NYC, I also observed that Columbus is notable for its characteristic warm people. The city is situated in the middle of the state of Ohio, and is a 3 hour drive to Ann Arbor, a 2 hours and 45 minutes drive to Indianapolis, and 3 hours to Pittsburgh which make Columbus a weekend getaway for many midwesterners, or a destination as part of a broader midwest tour. I personally went to Columbus for a wedding and tacked Cincinnati (a 2 hour drive south) onto my Ohio vacation. The city is very manageable for a weekend getaway as a couple, a group of friends or a family.
When to go: The best season for a visit is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet outdoor activities are still pleasant. Of course, you may want to include the experience of attendance at a big time college football game to see Columbus at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. The city has once-a-month gallery hops, which would be a great time to coordinate your trip (more info here).
Start your evening in the Short North Arts District. The name comes from a time when the neighborhood was a little rougher and police would call it just short of the north district in downtown. Like many neighborhoods with a similar history it is now a Bohemian enclave. The Short North centers around High Street and has interesting boutiques, restaurants and bars. A few of my favorite stores are Prologue Bookshop (841 N High St), where the owner, Dan, is the nicest guy and very helpful with book selections. Rocket Fizz (944 N High St), is a fun soda pop and candy shop and Homage (783 N High St) is a vintage tee shirts and hipster sportswear store. Being a hipster haven, Columbus also has a number of stores that sell vinyl records, such as Magnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St). Grab some dinner from one of the many restaurants in the area! Two especially enjoyable features of the Short North are the steel archway over the public way and the street art, which is open and free. The city of Columbus has created a downloadable map of the public murals.
Start your morning with some form of exercise along the Scioto Mile, a picturesque downtown grouping of public parks and trails on the east bank of the Scioto River. There are many options for sightseeing in the area, including the use of rental bikes available at a reasonable cost at the CoGo bike stations. As a runner, I enjoyed an invigorating early morning jog while taking in the beautiful downtown riverviews. I love the iconic Main Street Bridge which is an inclined single-rib-tied arch bridge which opened in 2010 and the Rich Street Bridge which looks most glorious when lit up at night.
Based on the timing of the OSU football game, go for breakfast or lunch at the North Market (59 Spruce St), a classic downtown public market and food hall with a variety of restaurants. The original location of Jeni’s Ice Cream is here. Jeni’s has expanded throughout the midwest and is a crowd favorite. Rumor has it that the shop opened during an OSU/Michigan rivalry game and Jeni completely sold out of her ice cream! A few other favorites are Lan Viet Market for Vietnamese food, Dos Hermanos for tacos, and Hoyo’s Kitchen for Somali food. Columbus has the second largest Somali population in the U.S., so try it while in the area. The North Market Spices is another shop worth browsing.
If the schedule permits, plan on attending a big time Big Ten football game at Ohio State, and try to get there early, as parking is limited. You will get caught up in the art of pre-game tailgating on the way to the game. If you are not tailgating, another option is to try the vendors. The stadium is called the horseshoe or the “shoe” and seats over 100,000 enthusiastic fans. Get inside before kickoff so that you can get acclimated and check out some of the pageantry such as the band, the cheerleaders, the teams entering the stadium to raucous fans, and the singing of the National Anthem. The OSU campus also houses a modern art museum, Wexner Museum (1871 N High St). You can get a tour of the stadium (info here).
For those who are not in the least bit interested in college football, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium (4850 W Powell Rd) or Center of Science and Industry or ‘COSI” (333 W Broad St) are great alternatives especially when travelling with children, and it has a dinosaur gallery. The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium complex includes an 18-hole golf course, a water park and an amusement park. The famous long time zoo director, Jack Hanna, has authored children’s books and hosted syndicated animal television shows. For those not travelling with kids the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1777 E Broad St) is another great non-football option!
In the evening, grab dinner at Thurn’s Speciality Meats (530 Greenlawn Ave) a specialty meat purveyor since 1886. Then make an appearance at a couple of the gastropubs in the Brewery District.
Start your morning in German Village, south of downtown. This historic neighborhood features old brick roads and German specialty restaurants founded after the arrival of the original European immigrants who made a community here. Get a jump-start on the day at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters (627 S 3rd St #1060) and then walk over to the Book Loft (631 S 3rd St), a 32 room bookstore which makes this the nation’s largest independent bookstore. (I do love bookstores!) The most famous German restaurants are Valters at the Maennerchor (976 S High St), Schmidt’s Sausage Haus (240 E Kossuth St) for a German hotdog, and next door, Schmidt’s Fudge Haus (220 E Kossuth St) for dessert. For those looking for a more upscale meal, Lindey’s (169 E Beck St) has great food and a lovely outdoor patio. Lastly, the former speakeasy, the Old Mohawk (819 Mohawk St) is worth a trip! Don’t forget to walk off all the German food with a stroll through quaint, Schiller Park.
After German Village, make your way north to the downtown area. The Statehouse is a Greek Revival style building with what looks like a birthday cake on top. You can get a guided tour of the Ohio State Capitol Building (1 Capitol Square, tours start in the Map Room which is easy to access from the 3rd street entrance). Walk by the Ohio Theater and a few other downtown buildings. Make your way to Topiary Garden, which depicts figures from Georges Seurat’s 1884 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, at the Old Deaf School Park.
Cheers to a fun weekend getaway in the understated Columbus!
Thank you to Christy for sharing some of your favorites with me!