For most of my life, Columbus, Ohio, has meant one thing to this lifelong New Yorker: It's the home of Ohio State University. That Big Ten bastion of crazed sports fans decked out in a sea of red. My current neighbors are both from Ohio. They proudly fly the OSU flag and—without exception—organize their fall weekends around OSU football games. (Luckily, their three children had the common sense to be born in the spring and summer, so there would be no conflict of interest.)
Still, over the last decade, Ohio's capital city has quietly transformed into a hip and happening tourist destination in its own right. With an impressive art scene, a slew of new boutique hotels and a booming dining and drinking culture (yes, you can get your craft beer here!), Columbus is clearly nipping at the heels of cities like Ann Arbor, Austin, and Boulder to gain the title of America's coolest college town.
Where to Stay
After much anticipation, Marriott's boutique opened in March. Taking up six floors in one of the city's most prominent buildings, the 90-year-old LeVeque Tower (once the tallest building between New York City and Chicago), the 149-room art deco hotel oozes big-city sophistication from the moment you step into the renovated lobby where an extraordinary chandelier creates twinkling star patterns on the soaring ceiling. The celestial theme continues in the guest rooms, which all have their own telescope. At night, you'll return to a downturned bed as well as a mini projector for more star-viewing on your ceiling. Take advantage of your free welcome cocktail at the trendy onsite speakeasy, , which currently serves small plates but will be expanding to offer a full dinner menu this summer.
Opened in 2012, the doubles as a massive art gallery. The $1 million art collection, featuring mostly works from Ohio artists, is spread throughout the property, from the 15,000-foot high skylit atrium to every one of the 500+ guest rooms. You can't beat the convenience—you can walk to hundreds of attractions and eateries or walk on the enclosed skybridge to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Cleanliness is paramount too: it's continually voted the cleanest hotel in the Hilton family.
Built in the late 1800s and converted into a five-room hotel in 2005, the —a cross between a boutique hotel and an old-fashioned B&B, offers automated check in 24 hours a day and a well-stocked communal kitchen. (Consider it a bonus if the homemade banana bread has just emerged from the oven.) Step outside and you're immediately ensconced in the enchanting cobblestone streets and brick buildings of German Village, which routinely shows up on list after list of the nation's most charming communities. First settled by German immigrants in the late 1800s, the neighborhood is chock-full of historic homes, cute shops, and restaurants of all stripes, including the famous , where you can find brew, brats and the most talked-about cream puffs on the planet.
Things to Do
If you're visiting for our Ikaroo Fair, September 15-17, we know you'll want to spend every possible moment shopping with over 200 vendors, watching craft and food demonstrations, and chowing down on great eats, but alas, the gates do shut each evening at 5 p.m. Take that as your cue to explore the Buckeye State's cool capital city.
Completed late last year, did what every successful modern city strives for: it transformed downtown into a desirable destination. It also connected Columbians to a vastly cleaned up Scioto River. Comprised of more than 175 acres of lush parkland, the Scioto Mile is a stunning integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths. Along the pretty path, check out sculptures, a 15,000 square foot fountain (yep, feel free to cool off), the country's largest free outdoor climbing wall, and the Scioto Audubon, a blighted brownfield transformed into a bird-watching hotspot.
Once full of derelict buildings, the funky 14-block Short North Arts District is now home to hundreds of shops, restaurant and galleries. Walk along the arts trail to see murals and interesting sculpture, as well as the first new public artwork in a decade. The Messenger Wall, installed this spring, is made of carved and pigmented brick.
underwent a massive expansion and renovation two years ago, adding gallery space, as well as a popular sculpture garden. In addition to the famous Edward Hopper painting "Morning Sun,"(see below) it is known for its early modern American and European art. Or catch a flick at the Wexner Center for the Arts, a public gallery owned by OSU dedicated to contemporary art and films.
The enormous , which rose to worldwide prominence under the leadership of Jack Hanna, has more than 9,000 animals. The attached golf course and water park add to the fun. Dinosaur Island, featuring more than 20 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, returns this summer. Save money by packing your own lunch!
Where to Eat and Drink
Cowtown, as the city is affectionately dubbed, has an amazing collection of taco trucks; many of them serve up first-rate grub. The Al Pastor Taco at , which now has two locations, has a loyal and growing fan base. And no wonder. Your appetite is whet by watching the chef masterly slicing the succulent pork right off the spit; the resulting taco does not disappoint. Mondays mean two Al Pastor tacos for the price of one.
Several Columbus-based breweries have expanded to include extensive food offerings recently; the is one of the most exciting options. The attractive space—exposed brick, reclaimed Ohio wood, lots of steel accents and plenty of plants—helps you settle in for the surprisingly fine dining experience. The highly acclaimed Belgian-style ales have been wowing customers since 2010. Now celebrated chef Andrew Smith adds sophisticated American plates; everybody is talking about the spicy chicken sandwich.
Hard to find bourbons and whiskeys rule the roost at the ; in both creative cocktails and a nice collection of small plates, (ah, the bacon wrapped barbecue meatballs). Sip slowly in the gorgeous space inside the Residence Inn by Marriott while playing shuffleboard on one of two regulation tables.
Prohibition may not have been much fun at the time; but prohibition-style cocktails in a modern-day speakeasy? That's loads of fun, especially when it's as well done as , which opened earlier this year below Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music. Named after a fictitious book in the Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom, the speakeasy forbids cell phones and requests that you find the "secret menu." (Psst: Check the books!) The ever-changing menu is at the discretion of Chef Matthew Alter.
The Ikaroo Fair in Columbus, OH will be held September 15-17, where you can expect lots of great shopping, food and craft demonstrations, and great eats!. Visit to purchase tickets in advance.