At blogOrlando this weekend I took some good natured ribbing about living in Columbus, Ohio. It's a common opinion -- even amongst Columbus residents -- that this is "Cow Town, USA" with nothing to do. As a life-long resident, I disagree emphatically with that notion. Columbus is the 15th largest city in the United States, and the greater Columbus area has just under two million residents. Columbus is within a half-days drive of over half the U.S. population, making it easy to reach for many people, as well as making it a good layover for a long drive to another destination. Tourism related sales were $7.2 billion USD in 2007, and according to a Longwood's International Study the central Ohio region had 55.6 million trips in 2007: 44.3 million day trips, and 11.3 million overnight trips (so the answer is "Yes, people do visit Ohio!"). The Ohio State University, which has anchored Columbus for more than 130 years with a rich history, has more than 50,000 students, which brings a wide variety of activities to town, including arts and cultural events, and concerts at the Newport Music Hall and the Schottenstein Stadium. If you can't find something to do in Columbus, the shortcoming is your own, and not the city's! Be that as it may, I'd like to share a short list of my own favorite features around Columbus.
The Ohio Historical Society has a number of permanent and rotating exhibits showcasing various aspects of Ohio history. The Ohio Historical Society also maintains the Newark Earthworks State Memorial, "the largest system of connected geometric earthworks built anywhere in the world". Constructed 2000 years ago by the Hopewell culture, the Great Circle Earthworks is "nearly 1200 feet in diameter and was used as a vast ceremonial center by its builders." The mounds are all very cool, and definitely worth a visit.
Several famous figures were born in or near Columbus. The Thurber House offers a terrific literary museum dedicated to the author James Thurber. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, is an Ohio native, and if you don't mind a short drive, you can visit the Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, northwest of Columbus. Warren Harding, 29th president of the United States, was born in Ohio, and you can visit the Harding Home to learn more about the man and his life.
On the Scioto River in downtown Columbus is an authentic replica of the Santa Maria, the ship Christopher Columbus used on his search for a trade route to the Indies.
The Columbus Museum of Art is a nice, easy-to-visit museum in downtown Columbus. It's certainly not the Louvre, but it has a decent selection of artwork in a variety of mediums, and a variety of works produced by Ohio artists. You can easily visit the museum and still have time to do something else in town. Admission is free on Sundays!
COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, is a favorite for kids of all ages. With its terrific mix of hands-on activities, there's a lot to see, do, and learn at COSI. I can easily spend a couple hours here, even without attending any of the Extreme Screen theater presentations. Be sure to check the schedule for the various demonstration exhibitions -- they're a terrific and interactive experience.
The Wexner Center for the Arts, on the OSU campus, has an eclectic mix of exhibitions. Modern art, performance art, film and theater, even comics, have all been showcased at different times. There's almost always something going on at the Wex, and it makes a great showcase event for any tour of the OSU campus.
Columbus has a number of world-famous dining establishments, as well as a lot of local favorites.
Nancy's Kitchen is my own personal favorite for breakfast. It's a small, cramped diner with first-come first-served seating. On most weekends, the line waiting for a seat stretches out the door. The menu is simple, and the environment is extremely comfortable. Diners are welcome to get up to refill their own coffee, and long-time customers have been known to ring up their own meals on the cash register. It's cash only, but you won't pay too much, and you'll be plenty full when you're done.
Schmidt's Sausage Haus in historic German Village is a favorite spot for many tourists, as is The Spaghetti Warehouse. Both are a little more corporate than I usually prefer, but you're sure to get a good meal and have a good time at each.
The Thurman Cafe is the place I keep meaning to take all of my out-of-town friends when they visit, and almost always fail to do so. The place sits about 40 people, and has a waiting room that holds at least that many. The waits usually aren't too long, and they're definitely worth it.
The world-famous Thurman Burger absolutely has to be seen to be believed.
And of course, Columbus is home to White Castle, where you can get their famous Sliders by the sack. White Castle hamburgers is one of those things that you either love, or hate: I've never heard anyone say "Yeah, they're okay". Personally, I love Sliders, and always have. I have fond memories of my dad and I holding competitions to see who could eat the most burgers.
I'm not much for night life, usually, and Columbus certainly isn't known for its club scene. That said, there are a number of watering holes I like to haunt with my friends. Bob's Bar, the Cultural Hub of the Midwest, looks like any other neighborhood bar from the outside. Inside, it still looks like nearly any neighborhood bar, but it offers a tremendous selection of fantastic beers. It also has a terrific jukebox. Bob's Bar has a special place in my heart because I used to go there over a decade ago, when it was a bland hole-in-the-wall. Roy, the bartender, would offer you a glass of their finest draft beer. It was Stroh's, which was, in fact, their only draft beer. But at a dollar a glass, one could hardly complain. Back then, they had the world's bumpiest pool table, but that didn't matter because they also had the world's most crooked pool cues. Today the pool tables and cues are in fine shape. Bob's gets busy on the weekends, and the crowds have always been friendly.
MoJoe Lounge is a relatively new venue, and I don't go there too often. The one downtown is pretty comfortable, with a number of great beers on draft. MoJoe makes a good half-way meeting point for me and a couple of friends, and their free WiFi makes drinking-and-coding extremely easy (albeit somewhat dangerous for the projects on which I'm coding!).
O'Reilly's, a joint about which I've written a number of times here, has always been one of my favorite establishments. It's your traditional Irish pub: unassuming with a simple menu and a reasonable selection of beers. It was convenient for me that it was literally a hundred feet away from my old house, so you can understand why it was my de facto choice. If you visit them more than two or three times, the bartenders should remember you, as well as your drinking preferences. That's the kind of personal touch that really sets O'Reilly's apart from many other places.
The Surly Girl Saloon is my favorite bar with a pirate-cowgirl theme. In fact, it's the only pirate-cowgirl themed bar I know! The beer selection focuses on women-brewed beers, and is sure to please any palate. The kitchen also offers a great selection of food. They host a variety of interesting events, like an open mic comedy night, and Punk Rock Aerobics.
The area between downtown Columbus and the OSU campus is known as the Short North. It's filled with a wide variety of bars, art galleries, and shops. The first weekend of every month sees the Gallery Hop, in which all the galleries stay open late and pedestrians wander down High Street into and out of the various galleries. This is a favorite event for many folks in town, and a great way to see some cool stuff.
ComFest is probably one of the better showcase events for Columbus. A weekend of local music, art exhibitions, and community coming together. It's been going strong for over 35 years, and really is worth attending if you can. Bring a blanket, hang out on the lawn, and listen to great local music. Or walk amongst the hundreds of booths showcasing local artisans and their crafts. Enjoy a variety of delicious food from local establishments. Or just walk around and marvel at the variety of people.
Every year, Columbus hosts the Origins Game Fair. If you're into games, this is the place to be. I attended for the very first time this year, and had a pretty good time. I'm seriously considering attending again next year, hopefully earlier in the weekend so that I can try a pick-up game or two.
2008 saw the first PodCamp Ohio. Hopefully this event will continue for a couple more years, as I think the unconference format will work well for Columbus.
One of the most joked about locations in the Columbus area is the Field of Corn in Dublin. It's a weird thing to see, and doesn't make much sense on its own. In fact, it's an art installation celebrating the development of hybrid corn in the area.
The Columbus Zoo is a fun way to spend a day. Many people are probably familiar with Jack Hannah, our zoo's emeritus director, from his many appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. My personal favorite is the reptile room, but just about everything is worth seeing, as is the case at most zoos.
If sports is your thing, Columbus is home to the Blue Jackets NHL hockey team; the Columbus Crew MLS soccer team; and the Columbus Clippers Triple-A baseball team. Plus, the Ohio State Buckeyes athletics programs have a huge number of collegiate sporting events and competitions every year. I particularly like the women's ice hockey.
For more Columbus information, visit the Experience Columbus website!