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Discover USA: Columbus, Ohio

By BT Editor
September 8, 2021
Downtown Columbus Photo by Randall L Schieber
Downtown Columbus - Photo by Randall L. Schieber

Join Budget Travel as we continue our series Discover USA. Discover USA explores states, counties, cities, and everything in between. We will be exploring US destinations to help you find things to do, itinerary ideas and plan where to go next.

This week, we invite you to Discover what Columbus, Ohio has to offer. When people think of Columbus, they think of contributions to history, parks and shopping destinations. It’s also home to The Ohio State Buckeyes, most popular for football and basketball. Columbus is also famous for its food scene. Many popular chains started in Columbus, and the city is often a test hub for new food concepts. Discover what else they are known for.

Columbus, Ohio is the 14th largest city in the U.S., one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest and Ohio’s capital city. Columbus is vibrant and alive, known for its open attitude, smart style and entrepreneurial spirit.

Outdoors

Metro Parks
Green spaces abound in Columbus. There are 20 Metro Parks in Columbus and Franklin County featuring more than 230 miles of trails and more than 28,400 acres of land in seven Central Ohio counties. Quarry Trails Metro Park is the newest Metro Park that opened in November 2021 and features a 25-foot waterfall. Coming to the park in fall 2022 is the country’s first urban via ferrata. The route will be on a 150-foot-high cliff face in an abandoned limestone quarry and access will be free.

The Scioto Mile

Scioto Mile Downtown Columbus_Photo by Randall L. Schieber
Scioto Mile Downtown Columbus - Photo by Randall L. Schieber

Located in the heart of downtown Columbus with more than 175 acres of lush parkland stretching along the Scioto River, the Scioto Mile is one of the most popular areas to get outdoors and was named one of the 21 Best Urban Parks in the country by Men’s Journal in 2022.

Bike Trails
Columbus also has several popular bike trails. The Scioto Greenway Trail is an urban greenway at its best. A segment of the Central Ohio Greenways trail network that covers more than 120 miles throughout the state, the 12.2-mile multi-use trail hugs the banks of the Scioto River, connecting several parks and offering fabulous views of downtown Columbus. Other popular trails include the Olentangy Trail and Alum Creek Trail.

Water Sports
With the Scioto River and Olentangy River, water sports are also popular with residents and visitors alike. Windrose Outdoors offers kayak and standup paddleboard rentals downtown. Columbus is also home to unexpected outdoor adventures such as ziplining at Zip Zone Outdoor Adventures and mountain biking at parks like Quarry Trails Metro Park.

Arts & Culture

Literature

Book Stores
Columbus boasts 14 independent bookstores, including the iconic Book Loft, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores with 32 maze-like rooms of bargain books located in historic and picturesque German Village. Other bookstores include Prologue Bookshop, Gramercy Books and Two Dollar Radio Headquarters, a family-run independent publisher. .

Library

Columbus, OH Library
Courtesy of Columbus Metropolitan Library

Columbus boasts one of the country’s most beautiful libraries. This library features original Beaux-Arts-style architecture and Vermont marble dating back to 1907. This spot was once the official residence for several Ohio governors, including former president Rutherford B. Hayes.

Authors
Columbus is also home to numerous authors like 2021 National Book Award nominee and MacArthur 'Genius' Hanif Abdurraqib, author Saeed Jones, who has written perhaps the most widely read love letter to the city, and bestselling poet Maggie Smith. Columbus has a history of producing writers too. Famed New Yorker writer and humorist James Thurber was born here, and is memorialized in the Thurber House museum.

Visual Arts

Short North Arts District 2_courtesy Experience Columbus photo by Levi Ely
Short North Arts District 2 - Courtesy Experience Columbus /photo by Levi Ely

Museums
Columbus Museum of Art - holds one of the country’s best impressionist and contemporary art collections, and frequently hosts traveling exhibitions that earn national acclaim, such as a recent one focused on Van Gogh, and another on the ancient Dresden Tapestries.

The Wex - The Ohio State University's contemporary art center was named by The Washington Post as having “one of the most dynamic contemporary programs in the country.”

Columbus is also a cartoon capital, being home to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics, including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings.

Arts Districts
Columbus is home to two thriving arts districts. The Short North Arts District features art galleries alongside independent boutiques and some of the city’s best restaurants. For nearly 40 years they have hosted Gallery Hop on the first Saturday of every month.

Just a few miles away, the Franklinton Arts District is an emerging arts district where you can find art galleries like ROY G BIV, The Vanderelli Room, Wild Goose Creative and more. Many artists have studios at 400 West Rich, a collaborative community housed in a 100-year-old warehouse. Top events include the monthly Franklinton Fridays, a neighborhood-wide celebration of art, performance, and community, and Scrawl, an annual event where dozens of artists create 50 mobile murals over the course of two days.

Public Art
Colorful and elaborate murals are on display throughout the city, including the massive 11-story mural, “The Journey.” in the Short North.. Located on the side of the Graduate Columbus, the mural was painted by artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes and incorporates virtual reality. Otherworld is another must-see art experience. In fact, it was just named one of the country’s 10 best immersive art experiences by USA Today 10 Best.

Music

Columbus Record Stores_courtesy Experience Columbus
Columbus Record Stores - Courtesy Experience Columbus

Twenty One Pilots, Caamp, O.A.R., Rascal Flatts, Willie Phoenix, Dwight Yoakam and Bobby Floyd are just some of the musicians who got their start in Columbus. Before they were household names, they played on stages in Columbus, from outdoor venues to dive bars and from sold-out arenas to indie record stores. With a reputation as one of the country’s best undiscovered music cities, visitors and residents can experience Columbus’ thriving music scene with the Columbus Live Music Trail that is a guide to more than 40 venues devoted to live music, including Newport Music Hall, America’s longest continually running rock club and other venues like Dick's Den, a famous jazz venue, and KEMBA Live!, a large outdoor/indoor venue featuring national acts.

Columbus Symphony is the city’s flagship musical performance organization and is known for bringing international stars such as Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming to perform with the orchestra.

Performing Arts

Shadowbox Live - is a groundbreaking and inventive theater troupe performing original rock operas, sketch collections and seasonal stage performances.

Columbus Association for Performing Arts (CAPA) - keeps Columbus’ three historic downtown theaters booked with touring Broadway productions and other stage shows of all kinds. As the city’s leader in theatre rehabilitation and redevelopment, CAPA is responsible for maintaining the Ohio Theatre, the Palace Theater and the Southern Theatre, and promotes performances in all of them.

BalletMet - is Columbus’ premier dance performance organizations, producing the annual Nutrcracker performance as well as a season of other classical and contemporary ballets, in addition to running an academy for ballet students of all ages.

Culinary

Budd Dairy Food Hall rooftop_courtesy Experience Columbus
Budd Dairy Food Hall rooftop - Courtesy Experience Columbus

Columbus’ food scene has been drawing the attention of top national outlets.

Chapman’s Eat Market in German Village one of the 50 best restaurants in the country in 2021 (New York Times)

Lox Bagel Shop in the Short North Arts District - one of the best bagels in America in 2021 (Food & Wine)

Budd Dairy Food Hall - by celebrated Columbus restaurateur Cameron Mitchell is one of the 10 best new food halls in the U.S. in 2021 (Fodors) 

Food Halls

Columbus has seen several new food halls open recently, all with their own unique mix of restaurants.

East Market opened in April 2022 in Columbus’ new Trolley District and is housed in a historic trolley servicing station. The market features nine vendors currently with three more coming soon. Visitors can also enjoy their bar, Railhouse, and speakeasy, Switch, as well as expansive outdoor seating.

Budd Dairy Food Hall in Italian Village opened April 2021 and features eight unique kitchens plus a revolving pop up and a buzzing rooftop patio.

North Market - the 145-year-old public market , where numerous successful restaurateurs have launched from a humble stall to local and even national stardom. Some of North Market’s most prominent vendors include Hoyo’s Kitchen, Momo Ghar and Hot Chicken Takeover.

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Inspiration

Take an adventure in Door County, Wisconsin

There are fields upon fields of lavender, and orchards ripe for cherry picking. The root beer floats sold in the 1950s-era diner are known across state lines, and the beaches are some of the finest in the midwest. But to get to this spot in Door County, Wisconsin, you'll have to hop on a ferry and cross Porte des Mortes, AKA Death's Door. It's a stretch of treacherous water linking Lake Michigan with Green Bay, and it sits between Washington Island and the tip of the peninsula. Below the water - where your fancy ferry crosses - is literally an underwater cemetery. More than 250 ships sank on this short turbulent stretch of beautiful water, which today is home to the most stunning vacation cottages, lavender gift shops and historic hotels that money can buy. It all started in the 17th century, when a battle between Potawatomi Indians left the islands north of the Door County peninsula to attack the Winnebago Indians on the mainland. Poor weather and ridiculously strong currents capsized the ships, hundreds of people died and the stretch of water was deemed “Porte des Mortes.” But that’s not all. Legend has it that unpredictable weather and rough waters have capsized many a shipwreck since. The tally? No one knows, but it’s believed that thousands of ships have sunk on their short journey through Death’s Door. There's a tour for those interested in Door County’s deadly maritime history: the water here is so frigid that many of the sunken ships are still intact, and some can be spotted by snorkelers in the shallow depths. But if you want a less gruesome vacation - as long you don’t visualize the literal skeletons under the water - you can hop on the Washington Island Ferry which transports people year-round from Door County to the 22-mile Washington Island ($14 per person) in 30-minutes flat. In 75 years of operation, they haven’t had any near death experiences. Once you get to Washington Island, you’ll see why so many people attempted crossing Death’s Door to arrive. Continue your relaxing journey by heading to Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop (the island is tiny, so nothing is too far away). The lavender farm was created by Martine Anderson, who lived in the south of France and dreamed of one day owning a lavender garden. Dreams have a way of shifting and changing, so it wasn’t until she retired and moved to Wisconsin’s Washington Island with her husband, that she finally opened her lavender garden - which is actually a field containing 20,000 lavender plants, complete with a UPick lavender section. And yes, the scent is so heavenly, that if you look at the ground, you’ll see all the bees that are literally passed out drunk from it, no joke. About a minute away from the lavender fields by car or bike (cycling is a very popular form of transportation on the island) is the Stavkirke, a church inspired by one built in Norway in 1150 AD. This newer version was built by hand taking about a decade, and while it’s closed due to COVID, you’ll be at peace simply by wandering around the outside of the building, which is a work of art. Reward yourself post-ferry ride back to Door County’s mainland (you made it once again across Death’s Door!) with the most legendary root beer float in the midwest at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a classic since 1906. Lautenbach’s Orchard Country, you can snag all things cherries, along with cherry wine. Not sure which wine to buy? Here, they offer five wine samples for just $3 - or try a wine flight for $10. Cheers to Door County survivalists.

Inspiration

Burlington, Vermont

After Birkenstock sandals, the most common accessory in Burlington is the coffee cup. Every third store on Church Street, the four-block pedestrian area up the hill from Lake Champlain, seems to be a coffee shop. If people aren't sitting and sipping, they're walking, riding extra-long skateboards, or even pedaling bicycles with java in hand. The thing about Burlington is, all that caffeine apparently never kicks in. No one ever seems in a hurry. Droopy-eyed shopkeepers, artists, and college kids always have the time to chat, play Hacky Sack, pet somebody's dog--or grab another coffee. The most popular coffee comes from Speeder & Earl's. The tiny Church Street branch (now moved to Pine street) offers around 10 brews that change daily, often with three or four from Central America alone. The roasting takes place at a bigger location a few blocks away. As with Bartles & Jaymes, there's no real Speeder or Earl; the name derives from a 1950s song by the Cadillacs. But the company's logo is a sort of metaphor for Burlington's split personality. On every cup is a cartoon of two men: a thin dude with slick black hair and a leather jacket, and a David Crosby type with a mustache and long hair. The mountain-man beard is alive and well in Burlington, but the town also has its edgier side--perhaps the result of the five area colleges, which attract tons of out-of-state students. You'll spot a fair share of tattoos and black clothing. Good music and good food are priorities, and big reasons why so many students stick around for years after graduation. On any given night, a handful of bands will take stages within a few blocks of Church Street, playing anything from Allman Brothers covers to hip-hop originals that are more hippie than gangsta. Red Square, a labyrinth of a place with multiple interconnected rooms, and Nectar's, stomping grounds for the jam band Phish, score points for reliably talented musicians who experiment to keep things interesting. For lunch, the Red Onion (moved to Charlotte, VT) Cafe's signature sandwich--hot turkey, thin apple slices, tomato mayo, smoked Gruyère, and red onion on your choice of homemade bread--is legendary. Vermont Pub & Brewery serves excellent bar food and the best pints in town. There's even homemade root beer. It seems like a waste to visit Vermont and not take in fresh air, green mountains, and lakes. Knock out all three by renting a bike at non-profit Local Motion, and go for a ride on the converted rail path that borders the lake. To really escape into the country, bring your bicycle on the scenic hour-long ferry and explore the winding mountain roads across the lake in Port Kent, N.Y. The country vibe continues back on the Vermont side at Willard Street Inn, despite the fact that the converted mansion is just four blocks from Church Street. Guests wake to breakfast in a handsome room with a piano and checkered marble floors, overlooking evergreens and a huge garden dotted with Adirondack chairs. For more information visit Vermont Vacation site.

Inspiration

There’s never been a better time to visit Alaska

With COVID-19 vaccines readily available across the US, there’s never been a better time to cross off your Alaska bucket list trip than now! Alaska is HUGE and that can be intimidating for visitors planning a trip. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you plan your Alaska vacation, using the beautiful Anchorage, Alaska as the best place to organize your adventure. credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage Getting there Flying: Anchorage boasts the biggest airport in Alaska, supporting around 240 flights each day from all around the world. Direct flights to Anchorage are available from most major airports across the US. A floatplane soars over Anchorage. Credit: JodyO.Photos | Visit Anchorage When to go Summer and winter offer very different experiences! Anchorage is so far north that in summer, the sun doesn’t set until midnight! Summer in Alaska leaves plenty of daylight hours to pack in as much outdoor adventuring as possible. Winter provides some great opportunities to see the northern lights, go dog-sledding, and experience the snow. We recommend at least a 7-day stay to fully appreciate the variety of things to do. Where to stay Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, and is our favorite jumping-off place for a ton of Alaska adventures. The city promises to offer plenty of things to do for city-dwellers, nature lovers and families. Anchorage combines the wild beauty of Alaska with all the convenience of urban comfort. Budget travelers can find affordable accommodations in several local hostels, and motels. There are also quite a few hotels and resorts for those who want to splurge or book with points. Hikers enjoy the view of Portage Glacier from Portage Pass Trail outside Anchorage. Credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage. Getting Around Anchorage is the central point for air travel in Alaska. Air travel is such a common way to get around this huge state, that there are more pilots per capita than anywhere else in the USA! Taking a sightseeing plane from Anchorage is the best way to visit Alaska’s national parks. The Alaska Railroad is also a great way to see the expanse of Alaska! The railroad operates year-round (though service varies seasonally), and connects almost 500 miles of track from Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north. Seasonally themed routes will show visitors the aurora borialis, or tour the glaciers that formed so much of the landscape. Watching a late summer sunset on the Coastal Trail. In summer, Anchorage gets up to 22 hours of sunlight per day. Credit: Roy Neese, Visit Anchorage What to do Alaska offers so many varied activities that it’s impossible to list them all! Using Anchorage as a jumping off point to explore the best that Alaska has to offer. Anchorage features 60 glaciers within 50 miles of its downtown core, six mountain ranges, and 300 miles of wilderness trails for outdoor adventurers to explore. Visitors can see bears, whales, and other native wildlife. In the summer, there is an urban salmon stream for some of the best fishing opportunities. In winter, go dog-sledding and see the aurora. Take a scenic drive into the mountains or down the coast to see some of the best views Alaska has to offer. The Chugach Mountains are Alaska’s most accessible natural area. Several of its top trailheads are located within a 20 minute drive from downtown. This huge mountain range is one of the largest state parks in America, and offers 9000 square miles of outdoor adventures. You can go hiking, rafting, biking, kayaking and fishing. Denali National Park contains the highest peaks in the USA. Credit: Ashley Heimbigner, Visit Anchorage National Parks Did you know that Alaska has more than half of all of America’s national park land? With over 33 national parks and wildlife refuges, it’s nearly impossible to see them all! Anchorage offers a way to see 4 of the 5 major National Parks in Alaska. Take a sightseeing trip to Denali National Park, the home of North America’s highest peak. See the glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park. Visit the fat bears of Katmai National Park (but don’t get too close!). Take a seaplane to the remote wilderness of Lake Clark National Park. Last but not least, explore the massive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island! In summer or winter, there's never been a better time to visit Alaska! This content was produced in partnership with Visit Anchorage.

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Inspiration

10 best LGBT+ bars across the United States

June is dedicated to Pride month in the United States and around the world to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Get in on the festivities at these 10 best LGBTQ+ bars in the country where queer people can be free to be themselves year round. Support these businesses to help maintain safe spaces for queer folks to gather and celebrate as they please. Unfortunately, lesbian bars have been closing up shop lately. In the 80s there were about 200 lesbian bars in the U.S., today there are fewer than 25. The Lesbian Bar Project aims to support the remaining lesbian bars across the U.S. Queer women and non-binary people need dedicated bars where they can be themselves since they may not always feel welcome at traditional gay bars geared towards men. The Stonewall Inn - New York City Pride honors the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests led by Black and Latinx trans women including Marsha P. Johnson, Zazu Nova, and Sylvia Rivera in June of 1969 after NYPD raided the gay bar The Stonewall Inn. The uprising was a catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. Today, the iconic gay bar partners with The Brooklyn Brewery to create The Stonewall Inn IPA which benefits The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative. The Lipstick Lounge - Nashville, TN What could be more fun than singing karaoke surrounded by queer women and non-binary people? All that magic and more can be found at The Lipstick Lounge in Nashville, TN. Karaoke kicks off every night at 7 p.m. Other weekly events include live music, trivia, and more.Stacy’s @ Melrose - Phoenix, AZ No list of LGBTQ+ bars would be complete without at least one epic spot for a drag queen show. Stacy’s at Melrose in Phoenix, AZ is often hailed as the best gay bar in town. The friendly neighborhood spot is known for the happy hour drag show Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. A League of Her Own - Washington, DC The U.S. capital is home to one of the most celebrated lesbian bars, A League of Her Own. Located in Washington D.C.’s queer-friendy Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, there’s never a cover at this queer drinking hole. Cubby Hole - New York City New York City’s Cubby Hole is a gay bar frequented by lesbians and queer women with a laid-back atmosphere. The epic happy hour special includes half off beer, wine, and well drinks Monday through Saturday until 7 p.m. The Loft - San Diego, CA Located in San Diego, CA, The Loft was rated the best gay bar in the country in 2019. It’s a relaxing spot to sit outside and enjoy the southern California weather with a few ice-cold beers and great company. Big Chicks - Chicago, IL Big Chicks in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, IL is a quirky spot adorned with artwork from local artisans. If you’re looking for a dance floor, go on the weekend when a DJ spins the best songs to groove to with your queer pals. Chill Bar - Louisville, KY As the name says, this relaxed gay bar in Louisville, KY is a chill spot to unwind offering trivia nights, show tune sing-alongs, and more. Chill Bar is also decked out with a beautiful mural declaring to everyone who walks by that love is all we need. The Stable - Providence, RI One of the best gay bars in Providence, RI is The Stable. Don’t miss the Sangria Sunday drag show from noon to 7 p.m. Ripcord - Houston, TX The second oldest gay bar in Texas is also the state’s oldest leather bar. Houston’s Ripcord has been the spot for gay men to gather and mingle since the 80s and is located in the LGBTQ+ friendly Montrose neighborhood.

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