The (updated) Insider's Guide to Columbus
First things first, 2018 Women's Final Four visitors: You're going to love us. We're not braggarts or anything, but we feel safe in saying you'll be surprised at how much you enjoy your time in Columbus. That's just what happens when people visit us.
To lead you on your path to enlightenment, we've updated a (fairly) comprehensive visitor's guide that we first published in 2015, highlighting dozens of our favorite things to drink, eat, buy, look at, and so on. Most of those activities reside in the Downtown, Arena District and Short North neighborhoods, because, well, that's where you'll most likely be, but some outings might require a quick bus or cab ride. Even if you only get to a few, we bet you'll walk away impressed.
One of the best ways to traverse the city's urban core is COTA's freeCBUS Circulator bus route, which runs from the Short North to the Brewery District. With buses hitting 20-plus stops every 10 to 15 minutes, visitors can get around the city's most popular nightlife areas and avoid any parking inconveniences. The CBUS Circulator runs until 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 6 p.m. on Sundays.
All the tastes under one roof
The North Market, Columbus' most popular home for unique, independent merchants, is a bounty of tastes, scents and experiences. Everything from experimental pop-ups to handcrafted coffee, ethnic food to artisanal doughnuts, microbrews to primo wine to highly addictive (and wildly popular) spots such asMomo Ghar andHot Chicken Takeover.
The North Market
59 Spruce St., Arena District
Best Arena dining just off the eatin' path
Want more flavor and fewer crowds?Flatiron (barbecue, charcuterie and Southern-inspired fare) is worth the 10-minute walk from the restaurant-chain-heavy Arena area. It's hip, sophisticated and casual.
Flatiron Bar and Diner
129 E. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District
Eat your way through the Short North
The eating options in the Short North are copious to the point of paralysis. So here's a start: For breakfast or brunch, head toTasi for coffee and cinnamon-challah french toast or huevos rancheros. For lunch, don't missBrassica, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant unlike any you've ever visited (from the folks behindNorthstar Cafe, another good option). And for some unfussy fine dining at dinner, check out the eclectic American cuisine at theGuild House.
680 N. Pearl St., Short North
680 N. High St., Short North
The Guild House
624 N. High St., Short North
Best dining and drinking within eyesight of the Arena
Nada is a frequently slammed but wonderful upscale Mexican restaurant with fire pits outside and pretty appointments inside. Try the salsa sampler, spicy al pastor tacos and top-shelf “Suprema” margarita. (But don't forget your wallet; dining here doesn't come cheap.)
220 W. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District
Start your day with a latte at Cafe Brioso
Enter either Downtown location of this hip shop bleary-eyed and exit awake, hopped up on caffeine and rearing to tackle the day. The local institution pours a great cup of coffee, but if you want something richer, spring for one of its ridiculously creamy lattes, which range from traditional to theOhio Maple Latte, which comes with just a hint of syrupy sweetness. One small heads-up: the store is closed on Sundays. Hit up other hotspots on Columbus' official coffee trail, like the Short North'sOne Line andMission.
14 E. Gay St., Downtown
One Line Coffee
745 N. High St., Short North
11 Price Ave., Short North
Drinking is a drag at Southbend Tavern
Dubbed “the best little show bar in Columbus,” Southbend Tavern is the drag bar off the beaten path. Most nights of the week you can find the city's top performers and up-and-comers alike decked out in their best tiaras on the Southbend stage. Add in cheap booze and a friendly wait staff for a “Cheers” experience with a queer twist.
126 E. Moler St., Merion Village
Sample Columbus liquor
Whether your taste of choice is whiskey or gin, vodka or mead, you can try it all in Columbus. In fact, two of them are within walking distance of each other. If you're in the Short North, stop byBrothers Drake Meadery & Bar for the mead and hop over to its next-door neighbor,Middle West Spirits, for a distillery tour and sampling of whiskey, vodka and more. Jump over to Grandview to tour theWatershed distillery.
Brothers Drake Meadery & Bar
26 E. Fifth Ave., Short North
1145 Chesapeake Ave., Grandview
Middle West Spirits
1230 Courtland Ave., Short North
Sample interesting beers (and eats!) at Yellow Brick Pizza
This artsy Olde Towne East pizza shop sports one of the city's best and most diverse beer lists. Taps change often, but you'll always find selections from a handful of local breweries and plenty of beer-geek faves (Mikkeller! Off Color!). Also take some time to browse the local art hanging on the walls, including the latest special board chalk drawing from artist/musician/co-owner Bobby Silver. Plus, upstairs isArcade Super Awesome, featuring the best video games and pinball machines from the '80s and '90s.
Yellow Brick Pizza
892 Oak St., Olde Towne East
Eat, drink and play video games downtown
The block rebirth that started with a hot dog restaurant (Dirty Frank's) got a cherry on top with the opening of the wildly popular16-Bit Bar + Arcade, but do not missLittle Palace for one of the best little pub grub menus in the city. Get the friedcheese curds. Seriously.
16-Bit Bar + Arcade
254 S. Fourth St., Downtown
Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace
248 S. Fourth St., Downtown
240 S. Fourth St., Downtown
El Camino Inn
238 S. Fourth St., Downtown
Imbibe with sophistication
A number of bars specialize in expertly crafted (classic and modern) cocktails. The mixologists at speakeasy-esqueCurio, fine dining extraordinaireM at Miranova and austerely modMouton are consistently on the cutting-edge while maintaining an extensive list of perfectly concocted vintage recipes. Recommendations? M's carbonated Aviation is as refreshing as it is potent. Mouton often has a couple stellar shrub-based cocktails. For something truly one-of-a-kind, try one of Curio's remarkable mezcal or Scotch creations; you'll love it even if these are liquors you typically don't enjoy.
491 S. Fourth St., German Village
M at Miranova
2 Miranova Pl., Downtown
954 N. High St., Short North
Be proud at Union Cafe
No matter what night of the week, Union Café should always be your pregame clubhouse. An inviting atmosphere, killer patio and specials every night of the week has made Unionthe unofficial flagship LGBTQ bar of the Short North. Sip on martinis or margaritas while you watch your favorite music videos (always playing on the TVs), check out a drag show, or just tip back a delicious Long (read strong) Island Iced Tea and settle in on the patio for optimal people watching.
782 N. High St., Short North
Get down at the dives
Every city has its indelible dive bars and juke joints.Mike's Bar and Grill is one of the area's most beloved hole-in-the-walls, and is frequented by longtime regulars and late night revelers alike.Dick's Den is the best place for a cheap drink, not to mention live jazz (usually only a small cover) and a pool table that only requires three quarters.Rehab Tavern in Franklinton is the newest of this group. Its titular renovations make it look more like a hip artist studio, but the drink prices and laid-back atmosphere fulfill the dive quotient.
2417 N. High St., Old North
Mike's Bar and Grill
724 N. High St., Short North
456 W. Town St., Franklinton
Hit up the hip hangouts
If you're looking to spend a night out among Columbus' tragically hip, there are a couple spots you must hit. With its extensive draft list and simple, yet scrumptious comfort foods,Bodega has long been one of the city's most popular hangouts.Oddfellows Liquor Bar has built an ardent following thanks to the robust whiskey list and cocktail menu that includes the well-executed Banana Painkiller.
1044 N. High St., Short North
Oddfellows Liquor Bar
1038 N. High St., Short North
Drink at one of the best bars in America
Grandview'sTree Bar once contained a real live tree within its walls. While the tree's no more, the hip, hard-to-find watering hole still contains all the dive-bar charm that once made it one ofEsquire's top bars in America.
The Tree Bar
887 Chambers Rd., Grandview
Drink Seventh Son right at the source
One of the shining stars of Columbus' continuing microbrew boom, Seventh Son not only produces some of the best damn beer in the city, they've also got one of the best spaces in which to drink — and two patios when the weather breaks.
Seventh Son Brewing Co.
1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village
Hangover cures aplenty
If visitors do it right, they're sure to wake up with a hangover. But don't worry, Columbus has a number of cure-all options, from greasy spoon diners to killer brunches.Jack's Downtown Diner has been serving Downtown with incredible diner fare for 60-plus years with all-day breakfast and a truly special cheeseburger special. Old North favoriteJack & Benny's is wildly popular (expect a wait on weekends) thanks to its infamous Gut Buster special and top-notch Huevos Rancheros. Clintonville hasNancy's Home Cooking, home of the Garbage Omelet ('nuff said) andWildflower Cafe serves brilliant eggs benedict dishes.
Jack's Downtown Diner
52 E. Lynn St., Downtown
Jack & Benny's
2563 N. High St., Old North
Nancy's Home Cooking
3133 N. High St., Clintonville
3420 Indianola Ave., Clintonville
Sample Authentic Latin American Cuisine
One of our must-have dining experiences is theArepazo restaurants' Latin and South American dishes. Three locations — the original Downtown lunch spot, another in the Brewery District, plus one farther out in Gahanna — churn out delectable tapas and entrees. All feature excellent ceviche and perfectly spicy chorizo dishes. The empanadas are similarly amazing.
El Arepazo Latin Grill
47 N. Pearl St., Downtown
Arepazo Tapas Bar & Grille
515 S. High St., Brewery District
Peanut butter at its finest
Krema Nut Company makes its own natural peanut butter products and serves creative and classic sandwiches — try The Kicker, hot & spicy peanut butter topped with spicy raspberry preserves — in the cafe. Make sure to wash it down with Krema's scrumptious peanut butter milkshake.
Krema Nut Company
1000 W. Goodale Blvd., Grandview
How big sandwiches can be?
Katzinger's Deli is a German Village institution known for its great (free!) pickles, sides and oversized sandwiches. Pick from the dozens of signature creations or get 'em stuffed with your choice of meats and deli fixings.
475 S. Third St., German Village
Eat one of the best burger/fry combos in the city
Other burgers get more publicity, but for our money nobody in Columbus serves up the American classic better than the team atPreston's: A Burger Joint. The new-ish spot from chefs Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo (the team behind the forthcoming eateryAmbrose & Eve) is housed on the second floor of Brewery District barThree Sheets and offers updated, chef-ed up takes on junk-food classics such as Funyuns (served with Green Goddess dressing) and crisp, vinegary french fries. Pair either with the killer Ambrose & Eve Burger.
Preston's: A Burger Joint at Three Sheets
560 S. High St., Brewery District
Kick it up with a Spicy Pie after midnight
A late-night Old North haunt,Hounddog's Three Degree Pizza is one of the best places in Columbus to refuel when everyone else is sleeping. Don't miss the spicy sauce and the garlicky Smokin' Joe's crust. If you're looking for something closer to the Short North, try theMikey's Late Night Slice outpost near Oddfellows and Bodega.
Hounddog's Three Degree Pizza
2657 N. High St., Old North
Mikey's Late Night Slice
1030 N. High St., Short North
Find out what all the fuss is about Ray Ray's
One of the city's most beloved food trucks,Ray Ray's Hog Pit now slings its superlative barbecue from a trio of locales, including the parking lot ofAce of Cups, weekends atLand-Grant Brewing Company in Franklinton (which also sports a great outdoor patio, if weather cooperates) and at a standalone outpost in Westerville. If dining at Ace, make sure you pop inside for a drink to check out the onetime-bank-turned-killer-music-bar.
Ray Ray's Hog Pit
Get the famous veggie burger at Northstar Cafe
The best, heartiest, most-meat-like veggie burger you'll ever eat. We promise.
Get the vegan Reuben and a cup of soup at The Angry Baker
This hip, cozy Olde Towne East spot, located across the street from acclaimed beer bar/pizza jointYellow Brick Pizza, won best vegetarian restaurant in last year's Best of Columbus poll. We'd like to think the main reason is the made-from-scratch Reuben, but the various veggie-heavy bowls, wraps and soups can't be denied either.
The Angry Baker
891 Oak St., Olde Towne East
Vegan baked goods so mouth-wateringly soft, decadent and pleasure-inducing, you'll question your omnivore-ism. Or at least curtail your vegan jokes for a bit.
3009 N. High St., Clintonville
Try some artisanal donuts
Destination Donuts' offerings are every bit as inventive, delightful and must-try as the name suggests. This ain't hyperbole either. Destination recently won top prize in the Cooking Channel's “Donut Showdown.” You can find the donuts at any number of coffee shops and markets, such as One Line Coffee in the Short North and the North Market in the Arena District. If you're looking for donuts of the more traditional variety, check out Campus institutionBuckeye Donuts, which once hosted a famous guest when late-musician Prince stopped in for a late-night doughnut.
1998 N. High St., Campus
The. Best. Ice Cream. Ever.
Possibly Columbus' greatest and most-beloved export,Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is the one thing you must try before leaving, regardless of the weather, sticker shock at the price and however pretentious you might find the term “artisanal ice cream.” It's totally worth it.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Best culture gulp/food on campus
Designed by architectural button-pusher, Peter Eisenman,The Wexner Center is THE Columbus one-stop-shop gem when it comes to world-class art, vanguard cinema, cutting-edge theater and against-the-grain music shows. And it houses wonderfulHeirloom Cafe, a local-focused outpost of seasonal, creative and healthy cooking.
Wexner Center for the Arts
1871 N. High St., Campus
Browse the stacks of vinyl at Spoonful Records
Columbus is awash in great record stores (take that, Spotify). Start your trek Downtown by flipping through the well-curated racks atSpoonful, a vinyl-only shop where you can find everything from local releases to one of the most complete selections of recordings from the great, Chicago-based archival label Numero Group. Want to do more browsing? Venture directly up High St. and check out local institutionsMagnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St., Short North),Used Kids (2500 Summit St., North Campus) andLost Weekend (2960 N. High St., Clintonville).
116 E. Long St., Downtown
Pay Homage to your sports heroes
This Short North (and now Easton) T-shirt shop oozes with nostalgia. Play a game of “NBA Jam” while perusing its selection of throwback, super-soft tees adorned with famous sports and culture icons and phrases. BOOM-SHAKALAKA!
783 N. High St., Short North
Take a picture with the Governator
It's true. We have astatue of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold's now-international sports fitness expo got its start in Columbus way back in his feathered-hair days of 1989. Arnold returns every year, and after seeing his bronzed beefcake-likeness posing in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, you might be inspired to return for the annual expo in March.
Get your learning on at COSI
Take part in hair-raising science experiments at the super-fun-for-all-ages Center of Science and Industry. And don't missrat basketball. It's exactly as fun and weird as it sounds.
333 W. Broad St., Franklinton
Free Art on Sundays
Lose track of time in the quiet-but-beautiful galleries and halls of theColumbus Museum of Art. The museum represents many mediums (painting, sculpture, multimedia pieces) and eras, from Impressionism to cutting-edge contemporary work. The museum's renovations, including an entirely new wing, only enhance the setting.
Columbus Museum of Art
480 E. Broad St., Downtown
The Book Loft
Thirty-two maze-like rooms make up this German Village book shop. You could, quite literally, get lost for an afternoon here.
The Book Loft
631 S. Third St., German Village
The Atlantic profiled Franklinton in a series about cities transforming once-forgotten-and-blighted neighborhoods. Franklinton's still on the come-up, but what's there now is definitely legit. Get a flight of locally made craft beers atLand-Grant Brewing Company. Check out the sprawling artists enclave at400 West Rich. Sip a hot-pepper-infused bourbon at the atmosphere-ladenStrongwater Food & Spirits. Take a lock-picking or welding class at the nation's largest makers space,Columbus Idea Foundry.
424 W. Town St., Franklinton
Strongwater Food & Spirits
401 W. Town St., Franklinton
400 West Rich
400 W. Rich St., Franklinton
Columbus Idea Foundry
421 W. State St., Franklinton
Up your movie-going game at Studio 35
Studio 35 isn't your average cineplex. Of course you can find the latest flicks at the Clintonville one-screener, but it's Studio 35's special programing that make it a must-visit destination. In addition to a craft-heavy beer selection, expect special engagement beer tastings (like the Dude-a-Thon, for die-hard “The Big Lebowski” fans), late-night screenings of campy favorites with Fritz The Nite Owl, and a special night dedicated to “bad movies” such as “C.H.U.D. II.”
3055 Indianola Ave., Clintonville
Get tropical at the Conservatory
TheFranklin Park Conservatory is a massive facility featuring multi-faceted, art- and nature-based exhibitions throughout the year, and is one of the best ways to escape the blistery winters. Annual highlights, such as the “Orchids” and “Blooms and Butterflies” exhibitions, complement permanent glass collections from Dale Chihuly.
Franklin Park Conservatory
1777 E. Broad St., East Side
Get your comics/indie press on at Kafe Kerouac
One of the best small-press comic shops is hidden in plain sight. At the front of Kafe Kerouac you'll encounter some of the hard-to-find comic picks. If you don't recognize any of the titles, don't fret; just grab a great cup of coffee (or a pint of beer) and peruse the stash for your next favorite read.
2250 N. High St., Campus