Melissa Kossler Dutton

For Hilliard residents and business owners, the community's small-town feel combined with its big-city offerings make it an ideal place to live, work and play.

"It seems to be growing and growing and growing," said Jordan Smith, who makes donuts the old-fashioned way at his shop, the Little Donut Factory. "Yet, there's still that feeling of 'I know you and you know me.' "

Visitors to the bustling suburb, which was founded as Hilliard Station in 1853, will find a variety of family activities, interesting shops and tasty dining options. There also are a number of opportunities to explore the city's rich history.

"There are things for all different interests," said Christy Clark of Destination Hilliard, the city's tourism bureau. "It's a small-town community but we have things you can come and see and do."

The free tour of the Anthony Thomas Chocolates factory, which can produce 35,000 to 50,000 pieces of candy a day, is a fun stop for the whole family. Visitors can watch the creamy confection be poured into molds, placed in colorful wrappers and packaged for delivery to stores. They also will learn how the family-run company gets such a smooth top on its trademark buckeyes.

The factory makes about 3 million of the chocolate-and-peanut-butter treats annually. The tour ends on a sweet note with every participant receiving a buckeye. (Tour guides ask visitors about peanut allergies and will provide nut-free treats for those who need them.)

In warmer weather, children will definitely enjoy the Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, the city's award-winning water park with five pools, a lazy river and two 30-foot slides.

More outdoor fun can be had at Homestead Park, a 44-acre retreat. The park offers a stocked pond, event shelters and great play spaces for the kids, including a water-play area and playground equipment suited to children with developmental issues.

Older children might appreciate a visit to First Responders Park, which was built to honor the emergency personnel who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. The names of the nearly 2,800 Americans who were killed as a result of the terrorist attacks are etched into granite walls. Pieces of twisted metal from the wreckage of the World Trade Center and its subway station are displayed at the park, which was dedicated last year.

The park is located near the city's Historic Village, an enclave of historic buildings that offer a glimpse of what life was like in the city in the mid 1800s. Check their website for days and times that the village, which includes a church, school and train depot, is open.

For a bit of modern history, visit the Early Television Museum. The museum has more than 200 TVs on display.

Theater fans should check out the family-friendly offerings of the Bread and Circus Theatre Company. Movie buffs will enjoy a trip to the Movie Tavern, which serves meals with movies. Kids will love the Tavern's Saturday morning Flapjacks and a Flick special.

Moms on the prowl for deals should check out Little Darlings, Kloset Kraze and New Uses General Store. The three second-hand stores, located in the same strip mall, are a thrifter's delight. And fuel up for the bargain hunt with a flavorful cup of java from the city's newest coffee shop, Kitamu Coffee. The warm and welcoming shop offers a nice array of hot drinks.

No trip to Hilliard is complete without a visit to the Starliner Diner, where the menu is as interesting as the dcor. The diner features funky wall clocks, space-themed murals and fabulous Cuban and Mexican-inspired meals.

The restaurant is one of the best parts about living in Hilliard, said resident Nancy Colvin.

"The sweet-potato-and-corn tamales are just to die for," added the mother of two. She also appreciates Hilliard's big-city amenities and small-town feel.

"From the July 4th parade to hanging out at the Dairy Queen, there is just a warm, welcoming atmosphere throughout the community," Colvin said.

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