Our travels this year have been dominated by the middle states, and I’m a fan of what I’m seeing by way of urban revitalization outside of the coastal corridors. People are moving from rural areas to the cities in droves, relocating to places like Columbus that offer job opportunities and a more comfortable way of life. Heck, it’s why SVV and I found our way back to Tennessee seven years ago this week.
Neither of us admittedly knew a thing about the Ohio capital until we were there for a wedding five years ago; the flight from Nashville to Columbus was a quick, easy and cheap 48 minutes each way, and when we touched down we had enough time to spend an afternoon in German Village on the front end before heading to the Hocking Hills, then a day hitting up the the city’s botanical garden and as many Jeni’s locations as we could on the way out. And ever since, we’ve both been wanting to get back to Columbus for a full weekend experience.
That weekend finally happened recently when we arrived in July for a full four days of glorious summer weather, long days with the sun grazing the horizon as late as 10pm, free-flowing craft beer and some of the best farm-fresh food we’ve had in ages. Here’s a snapshot of what those four days looked like:
To follow our play-by-play itinerary, I put together a long weekend guide to Columbus for you to use on your next trip to Ohio.
We arrived just after lunch in enough time to make it to the North Market, which was the perfect introduction to Columbus’ past and present. I’d heard all about the North Market by listening to Jeni Britton Bauer’s interview on NPR’s How I Built This, but couldn’t have been prepared for the smorgasbord of tasty bites that awaited us.
The North Market has been a downtown Columbus fixture since the building first opened in 1876. More than 35 vendors sell their food-related items from within the airy 44,000-square-foot warehouse. Best of all, the market is open seven days a week, except for major holidays, so no matter when you go to Columbus, you can drop in for a bite or simply some great people-watching.
Once we entered this food paradise, we each went our separate ways, sussed out the scene, then reconvened to make a game plan—as all good dining adventures should go. That plan entailedw a sriracha pretzel from Brezel, grain bowls and sweet potato hummus toast from the produce-heavy Little Eater menu, strawberry lemonade from Bubbles Tea & Juice Company and, of course, buckeyes from Yoder’s. The North Market was sensory overload, and I wanted to try everything; we’ll definitely be back to sample their Vietnamese fare, donut goodness and Tibetan dumplings, among other things.
That afternoon was stormy, so we checked into our hotel and chilled indoors—OK, took naps, I confess—until it was time for dinner at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. This massive space with a living wall has a taproom in the back and a dining room upfront, and open seating at a large bar-top right by the window.
We opted for the chef’s tasting menu to take a tour of his offerings and were not disappointed by the shaved mushrooms and beef jerky plate, the burrata with mint and peas, the peppercorn-encrusted beef tenderloin or the goodness of the strawberry donut situation with which we closed the meal. The cuisine was surprisingly elevated for a brewery, and we’re definitely into making this a trend!
Wolf’s Ridge was, by far, the best meal of our trip and it set the tone for delicious days to come. Pro tip: Take the front seating by the window if it’s offered. The floor-to-ceiling windows and gorgeous brick bungalows on the leafy street outside makes for a dreamy backdrop. If no tables are available out front, rather than wait, consider the back taproom, which serves the restaurant’s lunch menu all day.
Our first full day in Columbus was dedicated to exploring the colorful Short North Arts District, but first we made a breakfast stop at Fox in the Snow, which had been recommended to me by no fewer than a half-dozen locals.
If the line was any indication, this is the only place locals eat breakfast; we arrived between meals around 10am on a Monday and there wasn’t an open seat in the house. I’m normally not one to order an egg sandwich for breakfast, but we were told it is the thing to get at Fox in the Snow, and I was immediately regretting my decision to split one with SVV as I wanted my own within a single bite. But, I also had a cream-filled donut and latte so was winning either way.
Note: Fox in the Snow has a roomy patio on days when it isn’t a scorcher like on our visit, so there is more seating out back, but there’s no Wi-Fi so don’t go there intending to work.
Fox in the Snow is just a hop, skip and quick drive from the Short North Arts District, which is hands down my favorite part of Columbus. The street is jam-packed with vintage and secondhand stores like Flower Child and Smartypants; had we driven to Ohio, we would have undoubtedly headed back to Tennessee with a car full of midcentury modern finds.
However, my favorite part were the indie boutiques, specifically Tigertree, Cub Shrub, Rowe and Red Giraffe Designs, where I could have poked around for hours—and we did.
We also did not leave empty-handed, needless to say. I bought a piece of art for our rental property and a couple prints for our own house. I could have walked out of Happy Go Lucky, which has both homes and women’s stores, with one of everything, too, if I hadn’t been traveling with just a carry-on (a blessing and a curse). Good thing they sell a lot of their items online!
If you like art galleries, Short North has that, too. Check out Joseph Editions, Hammond-Harkins and Brandt-Roberts.
We located a striking mural on the side of the Short North Jeni’s location—the American Gothic mural, which was painted in 2002—and were excited to read all about Art On High, a city-funded initiative to spend $420,000 of city money on public art along High Street. Obviously, I’m planning a return for as soon as those new installations all go in!
Brassica is right in the heart of the Short North, so we didn’t have to wander far for lunch. With healthy, vegetable-focused Mediterranean fare—and plenty of local beer to boot—we were in lunch heaven with the option of so many lentil or rice bowls or falafel/shawarma combinations.
Brassica is one of those restaurants that I’d eat at every day if it were located near my house; everything just felt healthy and there’s such a wide variety of ingredients available that you can always mix up your order and make it something totally new. We dined indoors because of the extreme humidity, but if the weather is pleasant, you can also order your food to-go and have a picnic near the elephant fountain in Goodale Park.
After having a North High Brewing Co. wheat beer at lunch then promptly realizing the brewery was just a few blocks up North High Street, our next stop was an obvious choice. With more than 30 beers on tap, there was plenty to try and also Wi-Fi, so we were able to knock out some work as we sipped (the ultimate multitaskers, you see). One thing I absolutely loved about the Columbus brewery scene is that so many are pet-friendly, something we don’t see often in our travels, sadly, but North High is welcoming of the nation within. Is there anything better than a taproom that serves delicious beer, offers free Internet to its patrons and allows cute pups through the doors? No, no there is not.
The plan for dinner was to go to Service Bar, but it happened to be closed that night, so we made a game-time swap and hit up the Sycamore in German Village instead. That wound up being a fine idea indeed. There were no tables available when we arrived, but we grabbed one of the communal high-tops upfront, and I filled my stomach with a cheese board and veggie stir fry bowl I’ll dream about for years to come.
First thing on the morning of our third day, we made our way straight to the Scioto Audubon for some time with Mother Nature. This thriving wildlife sanctuary turns 10 years old next year and was positively alive with birds and butterflies of all kinds. The park also comprises a two-acre dog park, a boat ramp to the Scioto River and the largest outdoor climbing wall in the nation.
We rented CoGo bikes for $8 a day to investigate the full breadth of the Scioto Mile, which spans 175+ acres and connects to more than 20 miles of trails, as well as attractions like the COSI museum and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. It’s been awhile since either of us had cycled and made us both realize how much we need to add bikes to our repertoire of toys back home.
After our fun at Scioto (pronounced sahy-oh-tuh, I learned), we drove to German Village, adjacent to the riverfront area. Most of German Village was built between 1830 and 1890, and we had planned to stop by the German Village Society Meeting Haus to learn the full history—from settlement to post-war downturn to revitalization—but somehow ran out of time.
It’s one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, and if you can’t find something among these stacks that interests you, well, then girl, you’re crazy! It was quite the sight to behold, and we got separated on more than one occasion as I headed for the literature section upstairs and SVV made his way to the history department down.
When in German Village, eat all the German food, am I right? We’re huge fans of Bavarian cuisine, and Valters at the Maennerchor hit the spot with all our favorite German beers and sausages. Plus, I got an entire plate of spaetzle to myself, so I left the village a very happy lunatic indeed.
We had more breweries on the evening’s agenda, but when I found out that Columbus has a very active AcroYoga scene and that there was a three-hour jam that night, I canceled all drinking plans in favor of fitness. (I know—who have I become?)
The great thing about Acro is that it doesn’t require any equipment, just a partner or two and a grassy knoll on which to play. The Columbus Acro Play group gets together a few days a week depending on the weather, often at Bicentennial Park, for free jams of all levels (beginners welcome, and no partner necessary). They announce all their upcoming events via their Facebook group page.
After Acro, we took in the sunset over the river from Bicentennial Park, then headed over to the original location of Harvest Pizzeria in German Village for a late dinner, al fresco. SVV declared his fennel sausage pizza “the best pizza I’ve ever had!” and I was stoked I finally got to tuck into a Hawaiian pie with jalapeño, which I’m usually forbidden to order if we’re sharing (but not today, SVV!). Our server was also a peach who gave us a long list of places to investigate on our final day, some of which we were able to check off and others that we’ll save for our next visit.
It was 10pm by then, but we had one more stop to make: Jeni’s for ice cream! Somehow we made it nearly our entire trip without an ice cream break at Jeni’s in the city that birthed my favorite ice cream ever, and I wasn’t going to stand for it a moment longer. Lucky for us, the Short North location is open until 11pm, so I got my peach-buttermilk-and-sweet-cream combo and SVV indulged in a lavender cone.
Our final day in town began hopping around some of the area’s gardens and green spaces; what might surprise you about Columbus is that, despite it being the largest city in Ohio, it’s absolutely brimming with public gardens. And I’d be an awful wife if I didn’t let my green-thumbed husband bop around a couple of them to garner inspiration for his own gardens at our Victorian.
We had meant to go for breakfast at Kolache Republic, but wound up skipping a meal and hitting up Dan the Baker for lunch in Grandview instead, then looping back downtown for an afternoon at the Columbus Museum of Art. Now, given that Columbus is the 14th most populous city in the country, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see it lay claim to such a marvel as the CMA, but I was nevertheless. Would you have expected Ohio to house works from Picasso, Chihuly, Cézanne and more?
SVV’s been on a quest for truth and justice this year, so the “A Measure of Humanity” exhibit was especially fitting. Me? I was more drawn to The Force of Fandom, an exhibit dedicated to Star Wars. (Don’t judge our levels of intellect based on our artistic preferences alone!)
We would have visited more breweries, but our trip overlapped on a Monday and Tuesday when many were closed, and we found that 4pm was the opening hour of most rendering a lunchtime brewery stop a no-go. Luckily, Platform Beer Co. opens at 3pm daily, and we were literally sitting outside the taproom door before they opened up shop for the day. So we spent our last few hours in Columbus tasting an array of sours and goses, berliners and saisons, and got two hours of sipping and work (they also have Wi-Fi!) in before our airport departure. Though headquartered in Cleveland, Platform’s Columbus location opened in 2016 and turned out to be the ideal closing of our Ohio adventures.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This part of the United States—the Midwest and Southern regions—are so alive with cities like Columbus that are often overlooked by travelers, but shouldn’t be. They’re more affordable than visiting the coasts and usually offer better—and healthier—dining and brewery scenes. In fact, Columbus boasts 41 breweries in its metro area alone!
My only regret is that we hardly whittled down our list of recommendations, many of which were sent to me by locals via Instagram and Twitter. (Another Columbus trait I love: So many natives were stoked to see us covering their city that they sent laundry lists of eating and drinking recs, ensuring a return trip is imminent.) But all the more reason to return next summer, right?
If you’ve never been to Columbus, let me ask: What’s stopping you?
I enjoyed this. As a Midwesterner who loves road trips, I often don’t know much about some of the cities that aren’t as well known for tourism, so it’s nice to see something about a city I might be passing through. It makes me want to stop and spend a day there. It made me laugh at how much locals wanted to give you suggestions. I’m in KC and we do the same. Midwesterners are always itching to show off our cities and prove that there is more to do than out of towners think.
Right? They’re SO much friendlier in the lesser visited cities. Some of my favorite places are the ones of which you speak, that you can just stop over in and be pleasantly surprised, cities like OKC, Columbus, Sioux Falls, Fargo. Funny you mention KC, that’s on my want-to-travel-to list for 2019—I went in the dead of winter a few years back to shoot a Hampton ad and LOVED it despite that it felt like I was manning the wall in Game of Thrones 😉
I lived in Columbus super briefly as a kid and haven’t been back since, but Ohio has been on my list of places to visit for a the last few years. I really need to get back there and explore, especially if there’s craft beer involved!
SO MUCH CRAFT BEER. 41 breweries’ worth!
I LOVE that you’re covering lesser-known destinations around the mid-west area. I’m running out of cities to visit within a 500 to 600-KM radius (aka drive-able distance over a long weekend) around Toronto! Will definitely add Columbus to our list of weekend road trips. Thanks Kristin! Hope you’re enjoying Portugal 🙂
Aww, thanks, girl! I feel like those lesser-known areas that are still full of cultural gems are totally our sweet spot. We love promoting places that don’t traditionally get as much attention!
32 rooms with books? That sounds like it should be my future house!
It’s so big, I’m sure no one would notice if you squatted there for a while 😉
I’m glad that you enjoyed your visit to Columbus. Both my parents, and their 10 siblings (5 each) were born, raised and lived all their lives in Columbus and I was raised in a suburb of Columbus – I actually went to the same schools as Jeni Britton Bauer. I feel that Cincinnati and Cleveland receive many more accolades and attention than Columbus so it’s nice to see it shine a bit more lately. (My uncle worked his entire career at the Nationwide building in your photo, my cousin is a policeman in the Short North and I had my rehearsal dinner in German Village – isn’t it just the coolest place?)
Nice! Where in Germany Village? I LOVE that area! And jealous that you were classmates with JBB!
That there’s so much cool stuff to do in Columbus and that it’s such a big city are new to me. I lived near Columbus (Athens) and enjoyed a couple of day trips there but clearly I need to go back to Ohio and see what’s new. That food market and the museum are beautiful.
I had no idea it was such a big city either! I always thought of it more of a college town until this most recent visit. I’ve never been to Athens, but it’s also on my list!
It quite surprising that Columbus is such a big city, Kristin! And there are so many things we can do there! We are so looking forward to visiting these places; the museum looks lovely and the food market shows off an enticing vibe – we are guessing the foods would definitely suit our palette.
Did you go yet, Elizabeth? I was shocked how big it was! At the same time, it felt very manageable with a car, which was nice.
Loved reading your post and the photos lure me to arrange a trip there soon.
I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life but have never really had Columbus on my “map.” Thanks for revealing this hidden gem — I’m definitely planning on a road trip there!
Oh, you must get there! What other Midwest towns do you love? I’m making a list! Cleveland and Cincy are both on there.
I’d definitely recommend Detroit if you love arts, culture, and (of course) street art. There are some really funky bars that have kept their old vintage charm from way back when. Also a few others from Michigan (because I’m from there, ha): Grand Rapids for great breweries and art (Art Prize in Sept-Oct every year is a must), any of the tiny beach towns along the west coast (Saugatuck, Holland, Pentwater, etc.), and Traverse City for wineries, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and surrounding natural areas. Hope that helps!
I didn’t know you were here! I was probably out of town anyways… my summer was so crazy with travel.
From a locals perspective, you did a damn good job on this Columbus guide 🙂
Thank you, Steph! Always nice to hear. 🙂
And yes, it was kind of last minute and we had to squeeze it in right before two weeks to Portugal, so a very quick trip!
Enjoyed the virtual tour of Columbus. Portugal! We will be going in July. Do you have any pearls about Portugal?
I do actually! I have a “skip this, do this instead” post on Lisbon to only go to the tourist attractions that are worth it 😉
Love this..Planning a Family Reunion soon…will have plenty other things to do now that I thought was a boring city…off to the fun..