Columbus crackles with a creative energy that has transformed Ohio's capital city into a mecca for art, food, and fashion.
Visit the Scioto Audubon Metro Park at dawn or dusk for a chance to see bald eagles or osprey hunting for a meal in the Scioto River. "Recently someone saw a juvenile bald eagle fighting with an osprey," says Michael Goldman, the conservation and outreach manager for the Scioto Audubon Center. "It was a National Geographic moment in downtown Columbus. It's amazing to be able to see something like that, then go get margaritas and tacos."
Most of Columbus's natural beauty lies hidden in pockets of paradise only the locals know about, including Hayden Run Falls at Griggs Nature Preserve. Just west of the Hayden Run Bridge, stairs descend into a ravine with a 150-foot streamside boardwalk leading to the 35-foot-high waterfall. It may be small, but it's at its mightiest after a spring downpour.
Central Ohio's pre-Columbian cultures, known as mound builders, left behind thousands of earthworks, many of which were destroyed when American pioneers came to the region. Columbus's Mound Street gets its name from a burial mound that once stood at its intersection with High Street, but there are several undisturbed sites close to Columbus, including the 200-acre Newark Earthworks—the official prehistoric monument of Ohio located 45 miles to the east of Columbus.
On the city's south side, German Village is an architecturally rich neighborhood first settled by working-class immigrants in the mid-19th century. The thriving enclave consists of more than 1,600 lovingly restored redbrick homes with meticulously manicured lawns lining narrow cobblestone streets. Take a guided walking tour or request a map from the German Village Society to explore the area at your own pace.
Best Day Trip
An outdoor recreation mecca lies within an hour's drive of Columbus in Hocking Hills, Ohio's slice of Appalachia. Miles of hiking trails crisscross through a scenic wonderland of towering hemlocks punctuated by waterfalls spilling over the rims of weathered Blackhand sandstone recess caves.
Off the Beaten Path
The Topiary Park features the world's only known shrubbery version of a painting. Take a picnic or mingle with the eclectic cast of characters found in "A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte" by post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat. The overall view can be seen from a hill on the southeast side of the downtown park.
Most Iconic Place
North Market bustles on Saturday mornings when shoppers wander past dozens of stalls filled with produce, spices, prepared foods, meats, and treats. Grab a cup of Stauf's coffee then get a taste of the local flavor at places like Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream and Little Eater, both of which launched the careers of leading female food entrepreneurs in the city.
Between the Short North and the University District, High Street's diverse nightlife scene includes karaoke, craft breweries, burlesque shows, dance clubs, live jazz, and hole-in-the-wall hangouts. When the bars empty, head to Buckeye Donuts, a classic 24-hour joint serving piping-hot donuts, coffee, and gyros that help satisfy late-night cravings.
Take one of the free daily tours of the Ohio Statehouse, which took 22 years to complete after the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone in 1839. Most people are surprised that the building doesn't have a dome, but it was never part of the final Greek Revival design.
Before Ohio State Buckeye home football games, locals either go into hiding or head to The Shoe, the nickname for Ohio Stadium. If you want to get into the O-H-I-O spirit, even without a ticket to the game, gear up in scarlet and gray, head to a Lane Avenue sports bar, and never let the word "Michigan" cross your lips.