Brimming with kind people, green spaces, an impressive array of activities and delicious food, Columbus has all the energy and culture of a big city while retaining the laidback, hometown feel of the Midwest. It’s America’s 14th largest city, and it didn’t gain its reputation as the biggest small town in America for nothing.
We were hosted in our visit by Experience Columbus; all opinions 1000% our own (we seriously want to move to Columbus now.)
1. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the area’s best-known destinations, and it is 100% worth the fame. The shows are stellar and the exhibits excellent. Jungle Jack’s Landing has loads of rides ideal for kiddos, and the adjacent Zoombezi Bay waterpark is expansive, with something for all ages—perfect for cooling off on a hot day.
Our kids loved the camel and pony rides, I wanted to adopt every pet featured doing tricks in the Surfin’ Safari show, and all of us could have taken up permanent residence in the manatee and polar bear exhibits.
The new Dinosaur Island area of the zoo has a boat ride that takes you on a ride through prehistoric times, with awesome animatronic dinosaurs and atmospheric effects. The dinos were so lifelike that our kids got a little freaked out—but as soon as the ride was over, they wanted to go again :).
2. German Village
The German Village neighborhood, near Columbus’s downtown, is brick-paved, local business-filled and utterly charming. A perfect evening in Columbus would involve dinner and a stroll through the Village, with stops at Jeni’s for ice cream and The Book Loft for some literary perusal.
The Book Loft was a huge hit with us—winding halls and passages reveal more and more rooms, and every last inch is lined with books. So basically, it’s heaven.
3. Scioto Audobon Metro Park
The Scioto Audobon Metro Park boasts 120 acres of riverside green space, with trails, bird habitats and the largest free outdoor climbing wall in America. Even if you’re not a climber, set up at the playground near the climbing wall and let the kiddos be inspired by the athletics they see there. There are miles of path to explore here, and it’s all connected by the Scioto pathway from downtown.
COSI—the Center of Science and Industry—is a massive facility full of hands-on STEM demonstrations, models and educational exhibits. Lose yourself inside for a day—you won’t regret it.
The dinosaur exhibit was a particular hit with our family—huge models and engaging exhibits kept us all enthralled. The ocean exhibit had a bunch of hands-on play areas for the kids where we all got to build our own fountains, see how water molecules stick together, form waves in a tank, and shoot arcing streams into King Triton’s ship. This is my dream spot as a parent, a place that keeps my kids engaged and entertained while also teaching all of us a bunch! If we lived in Columbus, we’d be here all the time—from the outdoor playground to the live science demonstrations, this place is absolutely stellar.
The emerging food scene in Columbus is full of energy, fresh ideas, and seriously scrumptious bites. At Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, the plating was so pretty we almost didn’t want to ruin it by digging in—but it all looked so good we couldn’t resist. This place has some incredibly inventive menu items and we loved everything we tried. The asparagus was served with toasted hazelnut, brioche puree, lemon marmalade and egg yolk jam, a combo so delightful that I’m pretty sure we were moaning in delight as we ate it. And after a bite of the goat cheese croquette, I was worried I’d be ruined for all other foods.
Our palettes got more pampering as the weekend went on. From what I’m convinced is the world’s best breakfast sandwich at Fox in the Snow to the fresh veggie-based tapas at Cosecha Cocina, we were in food paradise in Columbus. And as vegetarians (except part-time omnivore David), we were spoiled for choice at places like Northstar Cafe and Pistacia Vera (if you’re in Columbus, don’t miss the veggie burger at Northstar—even meat-eaters will be impressed!)
6. River Views
In recent years, the city has done a major overhaul of the area along the Scioto River; it’s now a gorgeous space with walking paths and park area, and it’s a lovely spot to watch the sunset. Our hotel, the LeVeque, had views over the river and the Scioto path, and we loved watching the colors reflected in the river every night.
7. North Market
With loads of food and snack options, a vibrant industrial vibe, and a farmer’s market on the weekends, North Market is an excellent spot to kick off a day exploring the city. We sampled from a bunch of shops for breakfast, and salivated over the lovely cheese, homemade pastas and other fresh ingredients on offer.
8. Franklin Park Conservatory and Children’s Garden
Outdoor gardens and a gorgeous indoor conservatory, plus a brand-new 2-acre children’s garden with art, interactive spaces and natural features from around the state.
The one low point of our Columbus trip was that Graham got the flu while we were there, so he and I had to stay behind at the hotel while David and Margie went to explore the Conservatory. After seeing David’s pictures and hearing his report, we’re dying to get back with more time (and better health!) to explore.
A standout art museum, featuring a varied permanent collection and traveling exhibits, plus a stellar hands-on space for kids called the Wonder Room. Bonus: it’s always free on Sundays.
10. Local Architecture
If you, like us, are a fan of classic American architecture and quintessential Midwestern buildings, Columbus’s streets will have you feeling all kinds of patriotic. Many of the cities inner historic neighborhoods have been lovingly restored. There’s also a ton of seriously cool vintage neon!
Bottom line: Columbus is not only a super livable city that local residents raved about, it’s also a fantastic travel destination. We’re already planning a return trip to catch some of the things we missed while poor Graham was feeling sick. We can always tell how much of an impression a place has made on us by how long we spend browsing online real estate listings in the area after we’ve left—and let’s just say Columbus’s housing market has become very familiar to us ;). But until we find a reason to move to this terrific town, we’ll just keep coming back for visits and to dream of a cozy life in the Midwest.
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