The definitive visitors guide to Columbus (from people who live there)

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

First things first: 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 the Arch City. That's just sorta what happens when people visit us. (Maybe they expect to find our parking lots graced with grazing bovines or something?)

To lead you on your path to enlightenment, we've compiled a (fairly) comprehensive visitors guide, with more than 48 of our favorite things to drink, eat, buy, look at, play, whatever. Most reside in the Downtown, Arena District and Short North neighborhoods, because, well, that's where you'll most likely be, but some might require a quick bus or cab ride. Even if you only get to a few, we're positive you'll leave joined in a chorus of, "Flyover-smyover!"

Including contributions from G.A. Benton, Justin McIntosh, Abernathy Miller, Andy Downing, Jesse Tigges andBrad Keefe.

Never leave the Short North

Look, you could never wander from the Short North, that artsy High Street strip that stretches from Downtown to Ohio State's campus, and have an absolutely ridiculous good time. In fact, most of your free time should probably be spent exploring this neighborhood anyway. You'll find art galleries, boutiques, bars, restaurants, music venues, coffee shops, stores for geeks, stores for jocks, stores for pets. It's like Wal-Mart for the hip and adventurous.

#catchtheCBUS

One of the best ways to traverse the city's urban core is COTA's free - yes, free! - CBUS 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 and farmers, is a bounty of tastes, scents and experiences. Everything from experimental pop-ups to handcrafted coffee, ethnic food to artisanal donuts, microbrews to primo wine to the highly addictive and wildly popular Hot Chicken Takeover.

The North Market

59 Spruce St., Arena District

northmarket.com

Best Arena dining just off the eatin' path

Want more flavor and fewer crowds? Flatiron (barbecue, charcuterie and Southern-inspired fare) is a 10-minute walk from the restaurant-chain-heavy Arena area, but Flatiron's hip, sophisticated and jazzy-casual. Nearby 89 Fish & Grill is a steakhouse-y place with excellent seafood, a killer "oyster" happy hour (even offered on Saturdays) and free valet parking.

Flatiron Bar and Diner

129 E. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District

flatironcolumbus.com

89 Fish & Grill

89 E. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District

89fish.com

Best Short North restaurant

Rigsby's is often cited as the best restaurant in the entire city. It's an urbane yet versatile place where jeans-clad foodies and dressed-up art patrons sip terrific wines and amari-spiked cocktails while enjoying great, affordable bar snacks (fried olives, Sicilian meatballs, serious burgers) and/or dining on elegant Italian fare.

Rigsby's Kitchen Restaurant

698 N. High St., Short North

rigsbyskitchen.com

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. On the flipside is Betty's, a good-burger-and-fries-serving politically incorrect ("Thong Thursday" is a thing) creaky dive frequented by insiders and townies.

Nada

220 W. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District

eatdrinknada.com/columbus

Betty's Bar

435 W. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District

Start your day with a latte at Café Brioso

Enter 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 the Ohio 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's One Line, Impero and Mission.

Café Brioso

14 E. Gay St., Downtown

cafebrioso.com

One Line Coffee

745 N. High St., Short North

onelinecoffee.com

Mission Coffee

11 Price Ave., Short North

missioncoffeeco.com

Impero Coffee

849 N. High St., Short North

imperocoffee.com

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.

Southbend Tavern

126 E. Moler St., Merion Village

facebook.com/SouthBendTavern

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 by Brothers 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 the Watershed distillery.

Brothers Drake Meadery & Bar

26 E. Fifth Ave., Short North

brothersdrake.com

Watershed Distillery

1145 Chesapeake Ave., Grandview

watersheddistillery.com

Middle West Spirits

1230 Courtland Ave., Short North

middlewestspirits.com

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 (on a recent visit this included Land-Grant's easy drinking Greenskeeper Session IPA) and plenty of beer-geek faves (Mikkeller! Brasserie Dubuisson!). 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.

Yellow Brick Pizza

892 Oak St., Olde Towne East

yellowbrickpizza.com

Eat, drink and play video games downtown

The block rebirth that started with a hot dog restaurant (the original Dirty Frank's) got a cherry on top with the opening of the wildly popular 16-Bit Bar + Arcade, but do not miss Little Palace for one of the best little pub grub menus in the city. Get the fried cheese curds. Seriously.

16-Bit Bar + Arcade

254 S. Fourth St., Downtown

16-bitbar.com

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

248 S. Fourth St., Downtown

dirtyfrankscolumbus.com

Little Palace

240 S. Fourth St., Downtown

littlepalacerestaurant.com

El Camino Inn

238 S. Fourth St., Downtown

facebook.com/elcaminoinn

Imbibe with sophistication

A number of bars specialize in expertly crafted (classic and modern) cocktails. The mixologists at speakeasy-esque Curio, fine dining extraordinaire M at Miranova and austerely mod Mouton 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.

Curio

491 S. Fourth St., German Village

curioatharvest.com

M at Miranova

2 Miranova Pl., Downtown

matmiranova.com

Mouton

954 N. High St., Short North

mouton954.com

Be proud atUnion Café

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 Union the 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.

Union Café

782 N. High St., Short North

columbusnightlife.com

Getdown atthe 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 $3 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.

Dick's Den

2417 N. High St., Old North

dicksdencolumbus.com

Mike's Bar and Grill

724 N. High St., Short North

Rehab Tavern

456 W. Town St., Franklinton

rehabtavern.com

Hitup thehiphangouts

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 is a new addition to the Short North, but has already built an ardent following thanks to the robust whiskey list and cocktail menu that includes the potent Negroni Slushi and well-executed Pain Killer. If it's live music (and occasionally local standup comedy) you're looking for, The Tree Bar (more on that later) is one of the most beloved venues around and also features a top-notch whiskey list.

Bodega

1044 N. High St., Short North

columbusbodega.com

Oddfellows Liquor Bar

1038 N. High St., Short North

oddfellowsliquorbar.com

Drink atone of the best bars in America

Grandview's Tree 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 of Esquire Magazine's top bars in America.

The Tree Bar

887 Chambers Rd., Grandview

treebarcolumbus.com

Drink Seventh Son right at the source

One of the shining stars of Columbus' continuing microbrew boom, not only does Seventh Son produce 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

seventhsonbrewing.com

Dance the night away at Wall Street Night Club

Don't let the unassuming alley entrance fool you - this LGBTQ-friendly bar offers everything from burlesque, to drag and theater performances and boasts one of the city's best dance floors. The drinks are strong, the music is loud and there is never any shortage of dance tunes to keep you moving through the night.

Wall Street Night Club

144 N. Wall St., Downtown

facebook.com/wallstreetnightclub

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 Sandwich Shop has been serving downtown with incredible diner fare for 50-plus years with all-day breakfast and a truly special cheeseburger special. Old North favorite Jack & Benny's is wildly popular - expect a wait on weekends - thanks to its infamous Gut Buster special and top-notch Huevos Rancheros. Clintonville has Nancy's Home Cooking, home of the Garbage Omelet - 'nuff said - and Wildflower Café serves brilliant eggs benedict dishes. If you need some hair-of-the-dog, Surly Girl Saloon is the best bet. Besides serving mouthwatering brunch dishes (Sassy Sausage Gravy and Biscuits, Chuck Wagon Pizza) until 4 p.m., Surly Girl boasts one of the best Bloody Mary's in town along with a handful of delicious specialty brunch cocktails.

Jack & Benny's

2563 N. High St., Old North

jackandbennys.com

Jack's Sandwich Shop

52 E. Lynn St., Downtown

jacksdowntowndiner.com

Nancy's Home Cooking

3133 N. High St., Clintonville

facebook.com/nancys.cooking

Surly Girl Saloon

126 N. High St., Short North

surlygirlsaloon.com

Wildflower Café

3420 Indianola Ave., Clintonville

wildflower-cafe.com

Sample Authentic Latin American Cuisine

One of our must-have dining experiences is the Arepazo restaurants' Latin and South American dishes. Two locations, the downtown original lunch spot and the full restaurant and bar in German Village, churn out delectable tapas and entrees. Both feature excellent ceviche and perfectly spicy chorizo dishes. The empanadas - only at the downtown location - are similarly amazing.

El Arepazo Latin Grill

47 N. Pearl St., Downtown

Arepazo Tapas Bar & Grille

515 S. High St., German Village

elarepazolatingrill.com

Peanutbutter at itsfinest

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

krema.com

Howbigsandwichescanbe?

Katzinger's Deli is a German Village institution known for its great pickles, sides and oversized sandwiches. Pick from the dozens of signature creations or get 'em stuffed with your choice of meats and deli fixins.

Katzinger's Deli

475 S. Third St., German Village

katzingers.com

Kick it up with aSpicy 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 the Mikey's Late Night Slice outpost near Oddfellows and Bodega (and don't forget the slut sauce).

Hounddog's Three Degree Pizza

2657 N. High St., Old North

hounddogspizza.com

Mikey's Late Night Slice

1030 N. High St., Short North

latenightslice.com

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 has been slinging its superlative barbecue from the parking lot of Ace of Cups. (Pro-tip: Get the grass-fed beef on Sunday.) Make sure you pop inside for a drink to check out the onetime-bank-turned-awesome-music-bar.

Ray Ray's Hog Pit at Ace of Cups

2619 N. High St., Old North

Get the famous veggie burger at Northstar Café

The best, heartiest, most-meat-like veggie burger you'll ever eat. We promise.

951 N. High St., Short North

thenorthstarcafe.com

Get the vegan Reuben anda cup ofsoup at The Angry Baker

This hip, cozy Olde Towne East spot, located across the street from acclaimed beer bar/pizza joint Yellow 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

theangrybakerote.com

Pattycake Bakery

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.

Pattycake Bakery

3009 N. High St., Clintonville

pattycakebakery.com

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, like 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' Buckeye Donuts.

Buckeye Donuts

1998 N. High St., Campus

buckeye-donuts.com

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 and your sticker shock at the price and however pretentious you find the term "artisanal ice cream." It's totally worth it.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Various locations

jenis.com

Best culturegulp/food on Campus

Designed by architectural button-pusher, Peter Eisenman, The Wexner Center is THE Columbus one-stop-shopping gem when it comes to edgy world class art, vanguard cinema, cutting-edge theater and against-the-grain music shows. And it houses wonderful Heirloom Cafe, a local-focused outpost of seasonal, creative and healthy cooking. Bonus: Wine and beer here.

Wexner Center for the Arts

1871 N. High St., Campus

wexarts.org

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 at Spoonful, a vinyl-only shop where you can find everything from local releases (Lydia Loveless, Connections, etc.) to one of the most complete selections of recordings from the killer, Chicago-based archival label Numero Group. Want to do more browsing? Venture directly up High St. and check out local institutions Magnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St., Short North), Used Kids (1980 N. High St., Campus) and Lost Weekend (2960 N. High St., Clintonville).

Spoonful Records

116 E. Long St., Downtown

facebook.com/spoonfulrecords

PayHomageto 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!

Homage

783 N. High St., Short North

homage.com

Take a picture withthe Governator

It's true. We have a statue 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 (sans feathered locks), and after seeing his bronzed beefcake-likeness posing in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, you might be inspired to return for the expo in March.

Get your learning on atCOSI

Take part in hair-raising science experiments at the super-fun-for-all-ages Center of Science and Industry. And don't miss rat basketball. It's exactly as fun and weird as it sounds.

COSI

333 W. Broad St., Franklinton

cosi.org

Free Art on Sundays

Lose track of time in the quiet but beautiful galleries and halls of the Columbus 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, will only enhance the setting when completed in 2015.

Columbus Museum of Art

480 E. Broad St., Downtown

columbusmuseum.org

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

bookloft.com

Explore Franklinton, the newest arts district

The Atlantic recently 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 at Land-Grant Brewing. Check out the sprawling artists enclave at 400 West Rich. Sip a hot-pepper-infused bourbon at the atmospheric and super hip Strongwater Food & Spirits. Take a lock-picking or welding class at the nation's largest makers space, Columbus Idea Foundry.

Land-Grant Brewing

424 W. Town St., Franklinton

landgrantbrewing.com

Strongwater Food & Spirits

401 W. Town St., Franklinton

strongwatercolumbus.com

400 West Rich

400 W. Rich St., Franklinton

400westrich.com

Columbus Idea Foundry

421 W. State St., Franklinton

columbusideafoundry.com

Up your movie-going game at Studio 35

Studio35 isn't your average cineplex. Of course you can find the latest flicks at the Clintonville one-screener, but its Studio 35's special programing that make it a must-see 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" like "C.H.U.D. II." For the movie-goer interested in an interactive affair - dance the "Time Warp" at the monthly midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Studio 35

3055 Indianola Ave., Clintonville

studio35.com

Gettropical at the Conservatory

The Franklin 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, like the "Orchids" and "Blooms and Butterflies" exhibitions, complement permanent glass collections from Dale Chihuly and James Turrell's architecture light installation "Light Raiment II."

Franklin Park Conservatory

1777 E. Broad St., East Side

fpconservatory.org

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 beer) and peruse the stash for your next favorite read.

Kafe Kerouac

2250 N. High St., Campus

kafekerouac.com