A weekend in Columbus, OH

Iconic street art in the Short North District of Columbus

Columbus, Ohio, the state captol, 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). 

Friday Night:

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.  

Saturday:

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 and Dos Hermanos for tacos. 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. 

Sunday:

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! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Ann Arbor, MI or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Christy for sharing some of your favorites with me!

A weekend in Ann Arbor, MI!

Ann Arbor, this vibrant college town (actually a city) is home to the flagship University of Michigan. Go Blue! Don’t expect to walk down a block without seeing at least ten people in Michigan Blue and Gold. I went to visit some friends who were going to University of Michigan for graduate school, but this can be a great pals getaway, family destination, or couples retreat. The idyllic Huron River traverses the city and adds a beautiful backdrop to admiring nature during the fall foliage season. The people are friendly, but a weekend getaway is definitely ideal for a college football fan or those interested in looking at midwest college towns. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the Fall, when the weather is mild, the foliage is beginning to change, and the Michigan Football season is in full swing. If possible, try to align your visit with a Michigan football game. Timing wise, it is nice to have an evening game, so you can explore the city during the day. Yet, later in the season (Late October on) the weather can get very cold, so I would recommend an afternoon game if you are going in the late Fall. If you are not a fan of the Fall, summer is a great season to go for the great weather!

Getting there: there is an easy 45 minute bus called Michigan Flyer or the Air Ride that comes from the airport. Up to date schedules and booking can be found here

Friday night:

Arrive into Ann Arbor and get settled into your accommodation. I was visiting friends so this involved many laughs and lots of catching up. Grab dinner at the wine shop and restaurant, Spencer (113 E Liberty St), which provides a seasonal menu and picnic-style seating. Santer on over to Bill’s Beer Garden (218 S Ashley St), which turns the parking lot of the century old Downtown Home & Garden and turns it into a beer garden featuring local brews! 

Saturday: 

For those who enjoy getting a workout in the morning, I would recommend going for a run in the U of M’s Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights). Head back and get ready for the day (which includes a game, so get some Wolverines apparel on!) Head to the Saturday morning Ann Arbor Farmers Market (315 Detroit St). Make sure to eat something hardy before the game! Take an hour to windowshop some of the downtown stores, while there are many small businesses they mostly cater to outdoorsmen, college students, or birkenstocks wearing hipsters. 

Spend much of the afternoon at a University of Michigan game and tailgate. Tickets can be sold on stubhub or if you know a Michigan student there is a student marketplace where you can get tickets a few days before. University of Michigan has the largest stadium in the country (this includes professional stadiums). I went to a lively tailgate at the MBA Bus before the game! Legend has it that the land the stadium was built on was originally a lake and resulted in consistency similar to quicksand which caused an early crane to be engulfed under the stadium, where it remains today. Fact or fiction? We still don’t know!

For those who need a post game pick me up, I recommend coffee from the funky Roos Roast (117 E Liberty St).

In the evening, get dinner from Aventura (216 E Washington St), which has lovely decor, great tapas and tranquil outdoor seating on the back patio. Get a night cap while recapping the game at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery (311 S Main St) which is a brewery offering high-end bar food and has a great upstairs deck. 

Sunday:

Start your morning off with some breakfast sandwiches from The Jefferson Market (609 W Jefferson St). Then head to campus. If you have a friend who is a student at the Law School, get a brief tour and walk around the law library (801 Monroe St) which was the filming location for Harry Potter! Head over to the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S State St) to peruse some of the rotating artwork. 

Don’t forget to grab a sandwich from Zingerman’s Delicatessen (422 Detroit St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104) before heading to the airport! 

Cheers to a fun Wolverine filled weekend in Ann Arbor!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Olga, Eli, and Josie for showing me around Michigan!

A weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capital building!

Madison, Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland”, is known for their warm people, cold winters, and seasonal ales. Home to the Wisconsin State Capital and the flagship University of Wisconsin, similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence. As you may guess when looking at the Green Bay Packers mascot, the state is known for the dairy and specifically cheese production. While it may not be your cup of tea, I recommend trying some cheese curds while in town. The city is situated between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and 4 hour drive to Minneapolis, which make Madison a great weekend getaway, or a destination among a larger midwest vacation. 

When to go: The best season to go (in my opinion) is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet walking everywhere is still pleasant. The food and beer festivals in September located in capital square are one of the highlights. My favorite thing about Wisconsin is that when the weather gets cooler, dive bars have crock pots full of melted cheese with crackers. It feels like a party at someone’s house, all the locals seem to know each other but are friendly to visitors. Not to mention that Fall, you can coordinate with a college football game to really see Madison at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. 

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodation. Then start your evening at the gastropub, The Tipsy Cow (102 King St), where you can get a burger, beer and a side of cheese curds! If you are interested in the gastropub scene, walk the one block to Great Dane Pub (123 E Doty St). The Great Dane has pool tables and outdoor beer gardens, which make for a relaxed setting for a Friday night. 

Saturday: 

Enjoying at beer at New Glarus brewery!

Start your morning with a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building (2 E Main St) afterwards peruse the Dane County Farmers market called “Saturday in the Square”. Coming from an East Coast city, I have a great appreciation for anyone who has worked in the agriculture industry.

For those who are interested in architecture, take a quick sidetrack to Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr), which is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed waterfront building. Return to the capitol building before window shopping State street west to the University. State Street is a vibrant street with a number of shops, restaurants and art galleries. It terminates at the university campus along with the Wisconsin Historical Society (816 State St) and Chazen Museum of Art (800 University Place). 

Spend your late afternoon in the Swiss Village of New Glarus and eponym brewery.  New Glarus was established as a Swiss Colony in 1845 and incorporated as a Village in 1901. The town retains its Swiss architecture and culture with chalet style houses and lovely quaint stores. 

Sunday:

Don’t underestimate the amount of effort it took to get up there!

Work up an appetite walking around the large and tranquil University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Then get a well deserved hearty brunch from Mickies Dairy Bar (1511 Monroe St). 

For those who have additional time, I would recommend a day trip to either Mount Horeb, the Norwegian village that has become the “Troll Capital of the World” or head to Taliesin Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright’s picturesque former home and the location for a grisly mass murder. 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Ann Arbor, MI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Kelly and Chris for showing me around your city!

A weekend in Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, VA is a quaint college town (actually a city) surrounded by rural Virginia. Considered the Gateway to the Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville has a beautiful mountain backdrop and much of the city is centered around the flagship University of Virginia. Having historic roots in early colonial days, the area boasts home to the estates of Founding Fathers (and early American Presidents) James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. 2.5 hours south of Washington D.C, Charlottesville is a fun country getaway and as the slogan Virginia is for Lovers gives way, the people are warm and welcoming.  

Timing: Charlottesville is best visited in the Fall and Spring for the weather. Both in the spring and the fall are Foxfield Races, or steeple races which has become a University of Virginia tradition. You can coordinate with the time of the race if you wish to attend, if you do not wish to attend, I would recommend avoiding this weekend since everything will be far more crowded.

Friday Night:

Arrive into Virginia and get settled into your accommodation. Charlottesville is easily accessible by train, but for many of the sites you do need a car to get around. I had a couple of friends who were either going to school at UVA or working at the hospital and were great hosts when I visited! Get some dinner and explore the Downtown Mall. Centered around Main street, the Downtown Mall is an 8 block pedestrian mall with a number of restaurants, bars and shops. 

Saturday: 

Before leaving grab some grub and coffee to go from Paradox Pastry (313 2nd St SE #103). Then start your morning off by visiting Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA). Ironically, the same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal”) was also a slave owner. The museum is not skittish of Jefferson’s controversial past. Historic Michie Tavern (683 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy) is a five minute drive from Monticello, for those who may be interested in a glass of wine.  Fun fact: the current Nickel depicts Monticello on the back of it. 

Both James Monroe’s Highland (2050 James Monroe Pkwy) and James Madison’s Montpelier house museums are local, too. If you have a preference as to which early president’s home you are most interested in! Maybe I should give my home a name and I will become a president!

After getting your fix of history, get your wine tasting on. My favorite vineyard is Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard (1616, 5022 Plank Rd, North Garden, VA 22959). It is great to sit outside and enjoy wine tasting with a few snacks. If you want to continue, I would recommend Blenheim Vineyards (31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA 22902). For those who wish to pack a sandwich for picnic at the vineyards, Ivy Provisions (2206 Ivy Rd) is an upscale deli offering many options. 

Come back to town and refresh before going out to dinner at the Ivy Inn Restaurant (2244 Old Ivy Rd), The restaurant serves elevated American food in a charming 19th century home, and I recommend sitting on the patio. The Belmont Neighborhood of Charlottesville also offers many culinary delights. Local (824 Hinton Ave) is another favorite restaurant where you can get great mac and cheese and malbec! You can get a slop bucket from Belmont BBQ (816 Hinton Ave) or Mas (904 Monticello Rd) for some great tapas.

Sunday:

For those who want to get outdoors, grab a coffee from Mudhouse Coffee or Shenandoah Joe Ivy before heading to Humpback Rocks Hike (Milepost 5.8 Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952). This hike on the Blue Ridge Mountains offers splendid views and can be really magnificent in the Fall. 


After returning to Charlottesville, get some well-deserved New York style bagels at Bodo Bagels (505 Preston Ave). Reserve a guided historical tour of the University of Virginia (sign up here). The University was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and the original Board of Visitors included Jefferson, James Monroe (who was the sitting President at the time) and James Madison. Do not miss the iconic and Jefferson designed Rotunda. Head back to your accommodation and off back home.

Cheers to a relaxing weekend getaway in Charlottesville, VA!

A day in…Berkeley, CA

U.C. Berkeley is associated with political activism and it gave birth to the Free Speech Movement, the Center for Independent Living (providing accessibility for people with disabilities), and environmentalism.

A day in Berkeley, California can be an exhilarating college town experience replete with interesting walks,  good food, and a taste of post-war political history. Any tour would have to include the acclaimed University of California at Berkeley campus (known as “Cal” to sports fans) as the college dominates the city. 

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Morning:

Start your day in the quaint Elmwood section of Berkeley. Enjoy breakfast at Bakers and Commons (2900 College Ave). Window shop through the main College Avenue area. Don’t miss Mrs. Dalloway’s Books (the store has a robust collection of gardening books) and Goorin Bros Hat Shop, or bring out your inner candy-loving child at Sweet Dreams Candy and Boutique. 

Incense for sale at bohemian giftshop, Annapurna on Telegraph Ave.

Walk northwest to the quintessentially grungy Telegraph Avenue. If you are interested in learning about Berkeley history you can download this interactive app. You can envision remainders of the anti-establishment Beat Generation which still linger along this street, along with social problems such as homelessness.

UC Berkeley has a free self-guided audio tour (PDF, Website) for a stroll through the campus.  Personal favorites are the iconic Sather Gate, the North Building, the Campile Tower (you can ride up it for $4), the Hearst Memorial Building, the Doe Memorial Library and the T-Rex. 

Take a coffee break and absorb the campus vibe at Caffe Strada or the Free Speech Movement Cafe, both of which are Cal students’ favorites. 

Afternoon: 

For those who want to accelerate their heart rate: you can walk one mile uphill from Normandy Village (photo above) to Rose Garden and then another mile to the Indian Rock Park and take in some interesting sights. 

From the campus, head north to the aptly named apartment complex, Normandy Village.

From Normandy Village take the 67 Bus to Indian Rock Park (which provides a view of the East Bay and San Francisco – or just the fog.) From there, walk one mile downhill to the Rose Garden (there is a tunnel to the cement slide, which is equally fun for adults and children.)

Evening: 

I would recommend Jupiter, a gastropub which provides live music. For the foodies, Chez Panisse caters to an upscale market (you can also get dessert and a glass of wine on the second floor). Comal is a great Mexican restaurant (fun fact it is owned by the former manager of the band Phish). If you go to the left you will be in the less-expensive taco section. 

The iconic Landmark’s California Theater.

Berkeley has an abundance of theaters: UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), provides free screenings during the summer. Within the downtown there are a number of cinemas (Landmark’s California Theater, BAMPFA, and Regal UA Berkeley) and theatrical performance locales (Berkeley Repertory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater, and Shotgun Players). The Greek Theater is beautiful (with great views of the city) and frequently has live concerts. 

A personal architectural favorite is the Berkeley City Club designed by Julia Morgan. You have to ring the bell to enter, just mention that you are on vacation and want to look around. They have a small “museum” dedicated to Julia Morgan, who also designed the Hearst Castle.

There are farmers markets at various Berkeley locations on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For those who like to shop, 4th St and San Pablo Ave (South of University Ave) provide a mix of both independent and large retailers. If you visit the west side, you should not miss a stroll through the Marina, nor sake tasting at Takara Sake. For hikers, Tilden Park provides beautiful views of the East Bay and, on good days, San Francisco. Those architecture lovers, note that Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck have left large footprints on the architecture around town. Sunday you can enjoy a dollar dog while watching horse racing at the Golden Gate Fields in Albany, just north of Berkeley (this could be complicated on public transit and is probably easiest via Uber.)

A huge thank you to Allison and Sean for showing me around their beautiful neighborhood. Another thank you to Shirin, Meghan, Alex, and Sarah for helping!

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Mission District.