So excited to have LeAndra from Love & Flour here with a guide to her hometown of Columbus, Ohio!
I know. My home state is not likely found at the top of anyone’s list of travel destinations. I fled as soon as I graduated from college, seeking asylum from the cold, often gray winter days. Although I have not lived in the state since, I visit quite often. Today, I would like to share a few fun facts and favorites about the Midwestern gem that is Columbus, Ohio.
Click through for LeAndra’s Columbus travel guide!
EAT + DRINK
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams: Did you know that the James Beard Award Winning, Queen of Funky Flavors ice cream goddess calls Columbus home? Although I can now buy pints of this fine dairy goodness here in North Carolina, I still make it a point to stop by one of the scoop shops when I visit Columbus.
North Market: If you are looking for artisan foods from homemade pastas or sweet treats that you can enjoy or take home, carve out some time to peruse the North Market. The market traces its history of showcasing local businesses back to 1876. Saturday’s feature a farmer’s market (during the growing season), and tours are also available.
Katalina’s: This little restaurant perched on the corner of 3rd and Pennsylvania is a local favorite. Be prepared to wait in a line for food that is worth the wait. I order whatever my trusted friend tells me to order, which on this day was the award-winning Mazatlan Slow-Roasted Pork and Egg sandwich (topped with provolone, avocado, and roasted red peppers) and famous pancake balls stuffed with Nutella (you can choose dulce de leche or pumpkin-apple butter too).
Graeter’s Ice Cream – Although I touted the delights of Jeni’s earlier, I’d be remiss to say her splendid shops are the only ice cream in town. The Graeter family has been in the ice cream business since 1868, and while they did start in Cincinnati rather than Columbus, their ice cream shops are sprinkled throughout the city. You will never go wrong with a scoop of their black raspberry chocolate chip (it’s Oprah’s favorite too).
Schmidt’s: You will find this German restaurant in the heart of the German Village neighborhood. There is nothing unexpected on the menu – the schnitzel is my solid favorite – but one look at the dessert case, and your world will change. Don’t fret when there is a line out the door. You can wait next door at the Fudge Haus.
Thurman’s: I have not stepped foot in the cafe for years, but I can’t write a post about Columbus eats without mentioning the Thurmanator burger. The sandwiches here are serious. I am a member of the clean plate club everywhere I go, and I distinctly remember how difficult it is to eat an entire burger at Thurman’s.
As a PSA, no one will ridicule you if you ask for a to-go bag. In college, my roommates and our neighbors and I dined at Thurman’s one evening. I was told that if I did not eat my entire sandwich, the waitresses would come over to the table and sing.
This was a joke. I am not a gullible person. I am, however, a person who strongly believes singing wait staff have no place in a restaurant. I ate that sandwich in its entirety, and I do not recommend you do the same.
Like any post about food in a city, I cannot possibly write about all the good eats in Columbus here. Some other local favorites include Cameron Mitchell’s Restaurants and Elizabeth Lessner’s Columbus Food League.
Columbus Zoo: From giraffes to gorillas, there is a lot to see at the Columbus zoo and aquarium. I have it on good authority from the children in my life that the polar bears are by far the best exhibit. I, however, think the polar bears are about to face stiff competition from the two litters of lions born in mid-August. In case you still are not sold, allow me to name drop: Jack Hanna is the zoo’s director.
If you visit during the winter holiday season, you won’t want to miss the Wildlights nights where the zoo grounds are draped in millions of sparkling lights. In the summer, you can make a day of it and cool off at the neighboring Zoombezi Bay waterpark.
COSI: The Center of Science and Industry is another fun attraction the youngsters are sure to enjoy. It was a rite of passage to take a field trip there when I was in junior high school. The exhibits were fun then, as they are now.
Ohio Statehouse: History buffs might want to stop by the state capitol in downtown Columbus. I am not a history buff, but hey, the state capitol deserves mentioning.
Ohio Theater: Across the street from the Statehouse sits the Ohio Theater. Take in a Broadway Series play, listen to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, or watch a performance by the BalletMet.
The Ohio State University: Did you know Susannah almost attended college in Columbus? It’s true. [Editor’s note: Totally true.] Except it was this one that caught her eye, not the behemoth I attended. And because my alma mater is a behemoth, I can’t write a post about Columbus without mentioning this city of students that is orbited by a city full of great things.
Ohio Stadium: College football fans who find themselves in Columbus on certain fall Saturdays may want to check this place out. Non-fans will want to preserve their sanity and stay far, far away.
Wexner Center: The Wexner Center for the Arts is one of my favorite places on campus. Spend an hour or two perusing the latest art exhibit or check the events calendar for film, performance, and public programs.
Franklin Park Conservatory: Opened as a Victorian-style glass greenhouse in Franklin Park in 1895, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers visitors the opportunity to view numerous gardens and plant collections. Exhibitions rotate throughout the year, but one annual favorite is the Blooms & Butterflies exhibit featuring hundreds of colorful butterflies floating by on your tour through the tropical gardens. Take in a demonstration by a master glass blowers in the on-site Hot Shop for another unique experience, but be sure to check the schedule as availability is seasonal.
Scioto Downs: Billed as a “racino” (because a race track and a casino are on cite), Scioto Downs is the place to go with money in your pocket and leave with more money in your pocket. Actually, you’ll probably leave with just memories. Horses race from May through September, but you can gamble 365 days a year.
Gallery Hop – The first Saturday of the month is Gallery Hop Saturday in the Short North Arts District along High Street. Visitors can expect new gallery exhibitions, street performances, special events, and a general good time. If you find yourself wandering the area at another time, there are plenty of stores where you can pick up a souvenir and restaurants to grab a bite to eat.
In the warm weather months, you can also take a stroll in Goodale Park, which on one long weekend in June hosts one of my personal favorites, the ComFest community music festival.
Grandview Mercantile – If vintage is your shopping language, be sure to step foot in this antique market that has everything from art to furniture to vintage jewelry. To be perfectly honest, shopping without a purpose is not my idea of fun. Going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon when there is absolutely nothing I need to buy is a form of punishment. Yet, I happily peruse the aisles of the Grandview Mercantile. It’s like a fun treasure hunt. Oh, and did I mention they have a vintage jewelry section?
The Book Loft – Book lovers simply must peruse this independently-owned book store in German Village. The hallways are narrow, the 32 rooms are small, and you will probably feel like you are lost at least half a dozen times. It is fantastic.
Pierceology – If you are in the market for a non-traditional souvenir that has the potential to be with you quite a while, I recommend you check out this piercing-only studio. Standards are high; if someone blindfolded you and took you into a piercing room, when they removed your blindfold, you might very well think you were in a doctor’s office. In addition, the staff are knowledgeable, professional, and take the time to answer all of your questions. I have been pierced there three times, and if I ever decide to be pierced a fourth time, Pierceology is the place I will go.
Look Like a Local – No matter the time of year, if you are in Columbus, you are bound to see someone sporting scarlet and gray. If you too would like to add this color combination to your wardrobe, you will have good luck at any of The Buckeye Corner stores. Smaller stores like Conrads or the student bookstore SBX are also good options.
Anthony-Thomas Chocolates – If Buckeye T-shirts are not your thing, perhaps you can find joy in buckeye candies. Visit any of the Anthony-Thomas store locations to purchase as many chocolates as you like. Or, visit the candy factory location for a tour before you purchase your sweets.
Cleveland – Head northeast, and in less than three hours you can find yourself at the doors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Look for LeBron. Visit Great Lakes Brewing Company. Try to spot the Lake Erie monster.
Cincinnati – Head southwest, and in less than two hours you will find yourself in Cincinnati. Summer thrill seekers will have fun at Kings Island. Take a river boat cruise. Try a dish of Cincinnati chili. Eat more Grater’s ice cream.
The Wilds – A 90-minute drive east to Cumberland is all it takes to experience a safari adventure. In Ohio. This is not a joke.
A note worth mentioning as I wrap up this post is, with the exception of the zoo, everything I wrote about here is just blocks away from High Street. Also known as US 23, High Street essentially runs the length of Columbus from Worthington in the north down through Clintonville, the campus area, the Short North, downtown, and then borders German Village near the southern edge of town. I essentially neglected to mention anything north of the campus area here (again, with the exception of the zoo), which is unfortunate because there are plenty of other nearby areas, like Grandview, worth mentioning.
I love North Carolina, but my home will always be Ohio. If you find yourself in Columbus, please do check out a few of these fine things. O-H..! (Sorry, too soon?)
Big thanks to Melina – my boots-on-the-ground Columbus resource, Katalina’s restaurant guide, and witness to the Thurman’s incident – for editing this piece and suggesting additions I would not have thought to share on my own.
At Love & Flour, LeAndra used to blog about baking. She soon decided baking was too much work, so she decided blog about cooking. As it turned out, cooking was a lot of work too. She really likes to write though, so she is hopeful that when she does actually share a blog post, her readers view it as a pleasant surprise. A Buckeye at heart, LeAndra lives in Charlotte.