Two impressive new downtown parks, Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, make their debuts in 2011, joining a host of other top-notch attractions.
COSI, an interactive science center downtown, brings science to life through more than 300 interactive experiences and exhibitions.
Ohio’s capital city has something to offer every visitor and resident, from nature buffs to urban trendsetters. Animal lovers can enjoy unique underwater views at the Columbus Zoo’s Polar Frontier. Flora enthusiasts will find everything from bonsai to exotic orchids at Franklin Park Conservatory. Art aficionados will appreciate the diversity of exhibits at the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Columbus Museum of Art. Sports fans can catch hockey or baseball action, depending on the season, in the downtown Arena District. Shopaholics can give their credit cards a workout at funky boutiques or top national stores. And those seeking an urban oasis will delight in Columbus’s brand-new downtown parks, Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile.
Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of the top tourist attractions in Central Ohio, as selected by the editors of CityGuide.
Northwestern edge of downtown, between Neil Avenue and High Street
The focal point of this downtown neighborhood is Nationwide Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets. It also serves as a venue for concerts and special events. The appropriately named Arena District is a Columbus hotspot, attracting tourists as well as locals. Following the arena’s opening in 2000, the area quickly filled up with 17 restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, including Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, an indoor/outdoor concert facility, and the luxury Arena Grand Movie Theatre.
The Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball team—and Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians—debuted its $50 million, 10,000-seat stadium, Huntington Park, in 2009. The diamond sits six feet below the sidewalk, with a section open to Nationwide Boulevard so passersby can take in the action for free. Across the street, the Dispatch Ice Haus skating rink offers the chance to watch an official Blue Jackets practice, or take a spin yourself during public skating hours. McFerson Commons, a park lined with maple trees, adds some green space, with the historic Union Station Arch serving as its entrance. Visit arenadistrict.com.
At the southern end of the district, North Bank Park is a nine-acre green space along the Scioto River. It includes boating opportunities, walking and cycling trails, an interactive fountain and a glass pavilion that’s available for public rental.
Capitol Square/Ohio Statehouse
Downtown, bordered by Broad, State, Third and High streets
Capitol Square is dominated by the refurbished Ohio Statehouse, a Greek revival building begun in 1839 and built entirely by prison labor over the next 22 years. A $114 million renovation project was completed in 1996. Among the don’t-miss sights are the 64-foot-wide Statehouse rotunda, which features a stained-glass skylight with the state seal at the top of the interior dome; the chambers of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate, with reproductions of their original ornate chandeliers, desks and carpets; the Map Room, with a marble map of Ohio and its 88 counties inlaid in the floor, and the Senate building’s Grand Staircase, with its original mosaic tile floor, skylight and ceiling murals. The Ohio Statehouse Museum encompasses nearly 15,000 square feet of exhibition space on the ground floor and features interactive multimedia exhibits depicting the democratic process, the workings of Ohio’s government and the Statehouse’s place in history. The Statehouse often features free events on the lawn, including concerts and live cannon firings.
Hours: The Statehouse is open Monday through Friday 7 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. Free guided tours are offered weekdays on the hour from 10 am to 3 pm; weekends noon to 3 pm; closed holidays. Visitors should arrive at least five minutes before the hour. Groups of 10 or more are asked to schedule a tour in advance; call 728-2695 or (888) 644-6123. All tours depart from the Map Room, accessible from the Third Street entrance. Audio tour signs are at the base of each monument on the Statehouse grounds; use your cellphone to listen to free descriptions. The Statehouse Museum is open Monday through Friday 9 am to 5 pm and weekends noon to 4 pm; the gift shop closes a half-hour later and all day Sunday. The Capitol Café is open Monday through Friday 7 am to 3 pm. For special events, distinct tours and group tour opportunities, visit ohiostatehouse.org.
Downtown, bordered by State, Third, Rich and High streets
Located just south of the Ohio Statehouse on the former site of City Center mall, the new Columbus Commons makes its official debut in July. The park features nine acres of green space in the heart of downtown, with room for future residential units and office and retail space. The grounds include a handmade carousel decorated with artwork depicting Ohio State University, the Ohio Statehouse and other landmarks; an amphitheatre for outdoor performances by local groups; and a unique outdoor reading room, with books supplied by the Columbus Metropolitan Library, free Wi-Fi and space for literary events.
Columbus Museum of Art
480 E. Broad St., near the eastern edge of downtown
The Columbus Museum of Art boasts a permanent collection of works by master artists and serves as a major venue for national and international traveling exhibitions. During a recent renovation of the museum’s Elizabeth M. and Richard M. Ross building, the entire first floor was transformed into the Center for Creativity, a hub for experiences that foster imagination, creativity and innovation.
The museum features a broad collection of American and European paintings, including works by artists such as Degas, Renoir, Monet and Picasso. Special 2011 exhibitions include Street Talk and Spiritual Matters: Aminah’s Mt. Vernon Avenue, May 20 through Sept. 4; Fur, Fins, & Feathers, through June 5, and Currents: Stephanie Syjuco, June 24 through Sept. 4. Year-round events include lectures, gallery talks and family activities. The museum houses the Museum Store and Palette Express, which serves lunch Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Public tours are offered Thursdays at 6:30 pm, Fridays at noon and Sundays at 1 pm. Tours are free with admission.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5:30 pm, with extended hours on Thursday till 8:30 pm; closed Monday.
Admission: Adults $10, senior citizens and students $8, children 6 to 17 $5, children under 6 and museum members free. Admission is free for everyone on Sunday. Parking is free behind the museum. Call 221-4848 or visit columbusmuseum.org.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Along Rt. 257, about six miles north of I-270
The Columbus Zoo, recently named the No. 1 zoo in America by USA Travel Guide, is a top attraction for families. It continues to garner national attention through the promotional activities of its director emeritus, Jack Hanna. With more than 700 species of wildlife, the zoo designates its animals by geographic regions, such as North America, which features a wetlands area, songbird aviary and prairie dog habitat; the African Forest, with bonobo and gorilla habitats, and Asia Quest, which includes giant fruit bats, red pandas and Amur tigers. Other visitor favorites include Manatee Coast, a massive indoor habitat that serves as home to several of the endangered mammals, and Australia and the Islands of Southeast Asia, which features a tropical aviary, kangaroos and koalas. Polar Frontier, a major attraction that opened in 2010, is home to two polar bears, two Alaskan brown bears and a number of Arctic foxes.
For an up-close and personal experience, visit Animal Encounters Village and “Animals on Safari,” a 20-minute show in which trained animals perform impressive stunts set to music.
Zoogoers looking to escape the summer heat can cool down at Zoombezi Bay, a water park featuring state-of-the-art water slides, lazy and action rivers, a wave pool and other family-friendly attractions. The zoo also operates Safari Golf Club, a mature 18-hole course that includes a driving range and learning center.
Hours: Zoo hours vary throughout the year. Visit columbuszoo.org for current hours of operation.
Admission: General admission $14, seniors age 60 and up and children ages 2 to 9 are $10, children under 2 and members free. Parking is $5. Call 645-3550 or (800) 666-5397 or visit columbuszoo.org.
333 W. Broad St.
Columbus’s Center of Science and Industry—named the country’s No. 1 science center by Parents magazine—is a favorite destination for young visitors and their families. COSI, located on the Scioto peninsula downtown, brings science to life through more than 300 interactive experiences and exhibitions, including a seven-story Extreme Screen Theater, an outdoor science park, a special area for young explorers and the country’s only high-wire unicycle.
The $125 million museum park is housed in a 320,000-square-foot building designed by world-renowned architect Arata Isozaki and features live shows, special events and family programs. Themed areas include Ocean, Space, Gadgets, little kidspace, Progress and an outdoor Big Science Park. Visitors also can explore a working radio and TV station in the center’s WOSU @COSI.
COSI hosts traveling shows throughout the year, including Dinosaurs: Explore, Escape, Survive, May 28 through Sept. 5, and Dora and Diego, Oct. 8 through Jan. 22, 2012. The center also houses the AtomiCafé restaurant and Science2Go! store.
Hours and admission: Call 228-2674 or visit cosi.org for current hours and admission rates. Open until 9 pm the last Friday of every month for Family Friday Night.
Easton Town Center
I-270 and Easton Way
This hugely popular shopping, dining and entertainment center, which opened in 1999, is a city within a city. A grid of streets with parking meters (proceeds benefit various charities) sets the tone for a bustling neighborhood of shops, restaurants, a fitness center, three hotels and townhouses as well as the AMC Easton 30 movie theater. Details such as brick-lined streets, public fountains and a year-round outdoor train display add distinction to Easton’s community of more than 200 retail, dining and entertainment venues. Specialty stores found nowhere else in the city are located here, including Crate & Barrel, Tiffany & Co., Henri Bendel, Lacoste, Puma, west elm, the Container Store, C.O. Bigelow, Sur La Table and Nordstrom. Throughout the year, public areas offer free concerts and other special events. Dining options abound, from French, Italian and Turkish fare to seafood, sushi and steak. The center’s Station Building—designed to resemble a large train station—houses entertainment venues such as the Funny Bone Comedy Club and KDB, Kitchen, Den, Bar for gaming, spirits and food. Call 337-2200 or visit eastontowncenter.com.
Franklin Park Conservatory
On East Broad Street in Franklin Park, two miles east of downtown
A tropical rainforest, a cool Himalayan mountain and a lush Pacific Island water garden are among the diverse climates that can be experienced at the conservatory. Home to more than 400 species of plants and a dazzling collection of Chihuly glass sculptures, the elegant building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Set within the 88 acres of Franklin Park, the conservatory has extensive bonsai, orchid and palm collections. The Victorian glass-walled Palm House has a permanent light installation by artist James Turrell that uses colored LED lights to illuminate the historic space. A program of rotating exhibitions—including the Blooms & Butterflies exhibition every spring—features art, floral displays and visitor interactives. The Botanica gift shop and the Conservatory Garden Café are open daily. Lectures, workshops and family programs are offered throughout the year. The four-acre Scotts MiracleGro Community Garden campus, dedicated in 2009, serves as a community resource and a center for gardening, wellness, culinary and nutritional education. Call 645-8733 or (800) 214-7275 or visit fpconservatory.org.
Hours: Daily 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesday until 8 pm.
Admission: Adults $11, seniors and students $9, children 3 to 17 $6, members and children under 2 free. Parking is free.
German Village and the Brewery District
Just south of downtown, across Livingston Avenue
These adjacent neighborhoods are favorite tourist destinations for culinary treats and self-guided walking tours into old-time Columbus. Originally settled by 19th-century German immigrants, many of whom worked in nearby breweries, the area has been in a constant state of renovation since the 1960s. Today, German Village is a nationally recognized historic preservation district with houses, offices, restaurants and shops along brick streets and sidewalks. The village’s Schiller Park attracts picnickers in warm weather and hosts outdoor theater performances each summer.
While German Village is a quaint place to spend a relaxing day, the Brewery District, just to the west, offers nightlife options at its restaurants and bars. Shadowbox Live, a sketch comedy and rock-and-roll troupe, is moving into its new theater space in the Worly Building in mid summer. The nearby Whittier Peninsula, running along the Scioto River adjacent to the Brewery District, recently underwent major redevelopment and now includes the largest Metro Park in the state and an education center run by Audubon Ohio; visitors also can fish, bird-watch and hike along the park’s trails.
Tours: Several guided group tours of German Village are available through the German Village Society with two weeks’ advance notice. They include a standard tour and a deluxe tour that offers a peek into two area residences. The standard tour is $6, senior citizens and students $5. The 2011 Haus und Garten Tour, which gives participants a glimpse into homes and gardens, is scheduled for June 26 from 9 am to 6 pm. Complimentary maps for self-guided walking tours are available at the society office, where a 12-minute video about the history of the village can be viewed. The visitor center at 588 S. Third St. is open Monday through Friday 9 am to 4 pm, Saturday 10 am to 2 pm. Call 221-8888 or visit germanvillage.com.
Ohio State University
About three miles north of Broad and High streets
The Ohio State campus is a world of its own, and well worth a visit. With more than 56,000 students, it is the third-largest single campus in the country. At the center of campus life is a parklike area called the Oval, laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park. Around the Oval are the Wexner Center for the Arts and such venerable buildings as University Hall, Orton Hall and the Thompson library, with its bronze statue of former president William Oxley Thompson. A major renovation of the library was completed in 2009. The impressive, $118 million Ohio Union debuted in 2010.
Also on campus is Ohio Stadium—aka the Horseshoe, or simply the Shoe—which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Entirely filled when the Buckeye football team plays at home, the stadium also is used for graduation ceremonies and high school athletic championships. The South Campus Gateway along High Street features restaurants, bars, shops and a movie theater.
Tours: A student-led campus tour is bundled with an overview session for prospective undergraduate students and their families; it’s available most days, Monday through Friday and select Saturdays at 9 am and 1 pm. The overview and tour generally last about two and a half hours and begin at the Student Visitor Center at 154 W. 12th Ave. Reservations are required and two weeks’ notice is requested; visit campusvisit.osu.edu and click on Visitors or call 292-3980 to schedule a visit.
Polaris Fashion Place
I-71 and Polaris Parkway on the north side
One of Columbus’s major shopping meccas is Polaris Fashion Place, which has drawn hordes of visitors since it opened in 2001. A variety of premier stores—including Von Maur, Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, Sephora, J. Crew, Express, American Eagle and the Limited—make this two-level mall a bustling shopping destination. It houses more than 140 specialty stores, a children’s play area created with the Columbus Zoo and more than a dozen restaurants, including Brio Tuscan Grille and Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro. A $45 million outdoor lifestyle center opened in 2009, anchored by Barnes & Noble and Forever XXI and featuring patio dining at The Pub and the Cheesecake Factory.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 10 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to 9:30 pm, Sunday noon to 6 pm; restaurants and some department stores have extended hours. For information, visit polarisfashionplace.com.
Downtown along the Scioto River
Scheduled to debut in July 2011, Scioto Mile will connect the downtown area to the Scioto River. True to its name, the park will be a mile-long stretch of lush greenery, complete with a riverside promenade stretching from Battelle Riverfront Park to the newly renovated Bicentennial Park. Tables for chess and card games will line the promenade, along with benches, swings and interactive water features such as bronze sculptures. Visitors will enjoy free Wi-Fi on the Mile and in Bicentennial Park; the latter also will feature a new, intimate performance space, casual dining cafe and a stunning fountain with interactive areas and nearly 1,000 jets of water.
Short North Arts District
Just north of downtown along High Street
This bustling restaurant and gallery strip is Columbus’s version of New York’s SoHo neighborhood. Home to the funky, exotic and trendy, the Short North is packed with art galleries and one-of-a-kind clothing, home furnishings and antiques stores, plus a number of popular bars and restaurants. High Street sidewalks are jammed on the first Saturday evening of every month during Gallery Hop, when galleries, shops and eateries stay open late for a combination sale and party that brings out artists, patrons and revelers in full force. Visit shortnorth.org or call 299-8050.
The Cap at Union Station, built over the I-670 freeway, is lined with restaurants and provides a seamless pedestrian link between the Short North and downtown, including the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the bustling North Market. The 135-year-old public market, which occupies a prime location between the Short North and the Arena District, features more than 30 vendors selling everything from exotic ice cream and locally raised meat to vegan cookies and specialty salsas. An outdoor farmers’ market is held during the growing season (roughly April through early November), with fresh-picked flowers, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms and more for sale every Saturday. Visit northmarket.com or call 463-9664.
Wexner Center for the Arts
1871 N. High St. at 15th Avenue on the Ohio State University campus
With its distinctive gridwork, split brick turrets and dizzying floor plan, this Peter Eisenman-designed building has been described as a work of art. Inside, visitors will find contemporary art exhibits; eclectic film series and visiting filmmakers; dance, theater and music performances by international artists; programs for families; talks, tours and panel discussions; a store; a cafe, and more.
The galleries feature work by emerging and established contemporary artists, as well as occasional shows focusing on icons such as Andy Warhol. Its 2011 offerings include an Alexis Rockman exhibition in the fall, along with work by Paula Hayes and Elliot Hundley, all of whom explore or incorporate elements of the natural world. The summer cycle of shows includes a new immersive installation by Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist and work by the late Louise Bourgeois.
Other events include a free outdoor film series dubbed Wex Drive-In, with screenings June 16, July 21 and Aug. 18; a Charlie Chaplin retrospective in May; ROADTRIP, a multimedia show exploring the effects of the foreclosure crisis through the lens of The Grapes of Wrath in October, and ongoing series including Film History 101 and the popular “Next@Wex,” focusing on indie music. Check wexarts.org for the latest listings.
Hours: The galleries are open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 11 am to 6 pm, Thursday through Saturday until 8 pm. The center’s gift store is open Monday through Wednesday 10 am to 6 pm, Thursday and Friday until 8 pm, Saturday 11 am to 8 pm and Sunday 11 am to 6 pm. Abbondanza, the center’s cafe, is open weekdays 8 am to 4 pm; visit wexarts.org/cafe for menus.
Admission: Gallery admission is $5; free for students and members; free the first Sunday of every month and every Thursday from 4 to 8 pm. Admission to films typically is $7 (general public); tickets to performing arts and family events vary; public programs are typically free. Call 292-3535 or visit wexarts.org for more information.
Best of the rest
If visiting the city’s top tourist attractions hasn’t exhausted your time or your energy, there’s a lot more to see in Columbus.
The Ohio Judicial Center, 65 S. Front St., overlooks the Scioto River downtown. The renovated building, known for its fine Art Deco details, is home to the Supreme Court of Ohio. Visitors may observe the proceedings from the gallery when the court is in session, usually Tuesday and Wednesday mornings beginning at 9 am. A Civic-Education Center offers free scheduled tours for groups of eight or more Monday through Friday 9 am to 4 pm, and self-guided tours also are available. (Visitors must present photo IDs.) Call 387-9223 or go to supremecourtofohio.gov.
For dramatic modern architecture, head four blocks north of the Statehouse to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, in the midst of the High Five entertainment district. The newer part of the facility is comprised of five sinuous rectangular shapes featuring a variety of muted colors. The convention center includes the Food Court & Shops, exhibition space, meeting rooms and Ohio’s largest multipurpose ballroom, the Battelle Grand, which opened in 2010. Call 827-2500 or (800) 626-0241, or visit columbusconventions.com.
Just east of downtown is the King Arts Complex, 867 Mount Vernon Ave., an African-American cultural and performing arts center. The avenue and surrounding area were established in the 1920s as a center for African-American culture. The complex—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places—originally was built as the Pythian Temple by African-American architect Samuel Plato and was renovated in 1989. Throughout its history, artists such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Roberta Flack have performed in the space. The center still hosts a full schedule of arts events, including regular performance series. For more information, call 645-5464 or visit thekingartscomplex.com.
There is no shortage of gorgeous theater space in downtown Columbus. The Ohio, Palace, Southern, Lincoln and Capitol theaters, plus the three Riffe Center Studio Theaters, all provide stages for artistic performances. They’re operated by the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (better known by its acronym, CAPA). For more information, call 469-1045.
A few miles north of downtown, just off the 17th Avenue exit from I-71, is the Ohio Historical Center. The unique cantilevered building offers exhibits on the history and geography of Ohio and houses the state’s archives and a major research library with extensive genealogical records. Under renovation until July 1, the museum and library are open to the public Thursdays from 10 am to 7 pm and Fridays and Saturdays until 5 pm. Museum admission is $8, children ages 6 to 12 $4, children 5 and under free; parking $4. Admission to the library is free. For information, call 297-2300 or visit ohiohistory.org/ohs. Adjacent to the center is Ohio Village, which re-creates a small 19th-century Ohio town. It’s open for special events, including Glorious Fourth, All Hallows’ Eve and A Dickens of a Christmas.
The great outdoors
A unique outdoor attraction is the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department’s Topiary Park, located in the Old Deaf School Park at the corner of Town Street and Washington Avenue just east of downtown. The garden reproduces Georges Seurat’s postimpressionist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” in topiary figures, some as tall as 12 feet. The only such re-creation in the world, it includes 54 topiary people, eight boats, three dogs, a cat and a monkey. A visitor center and store is open April through November on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm. The park is open sunrise to sunset and is free. Call 645-0197 or visit www.topiarypark.org.
There are 16 Metro Parks in the Central Ohio area, offering more than 26,000 acres of land and water and more than 200 miles of trails. Park visitors can enjoy nature up close as they hike, bike, rollerblade or jog through fields and woodlands. Metro Parks also features pet and bridle trail opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, fishing and picnicking. Each month, naturalists offer more than 200 free programs. For information, call 891-0700 or visit metroparks.net.
Metro Parks’ Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville once was a private estate and now offers more than 120 acres of forest and stream and around 2,000 species of plants. Located on South Hempstead Road just south of Schrock Road, the park’s well-tended paths wander through conifer, rock, flower and other gardens, which can be visited daily from 7 am to dusk for free. The 33-acre nature preserve features an extensive fern collection, and the Innis House displays works by Ohio artists. Free garden tours for groups of 15 or more can be arranged by calling 895-6216; two weeks’ notice is required. Visit inniswood.org for more information.
New to the Columbus landscape is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, located in the Scioto Audubon Metro Park. The park, a 10-minute walk from downtown, features a 35-foot-high climbing wall, a dog park, trails, picnicking, fishing and observation decks for observing waterfowl and wildlife. Visitors can spot thousands of birds migrating from Central and South America at this Scioto River stopover. Visit grangeinsuranceauduboncenter.org or metroparks.net for more information.