One of the best things about visiting Columbus is the chance to explore its fascinating and fun-filled neighborhoods. Few cities around have such a mix of diverse neighborhoods, all within a short walk of downtown, which makes a great epicenter for your Columbus visit. Head south to check out the historic charm and hot dining scene of German Village. To the west, you’ll find the emerging arts epicenter of Franklinton with its industrial vibe. To the north, the Short North Arts District delights with boutique shopping, outstanding nightlife and distinctive dining.
Columbus’ downtown is undergoing a decades-long resurgence in both visitor interest and local residents. A hub of hotels, ranging from ritzy to limited-service, make downtown an ideal place to stay and explore Columbus’ neighborhoods. Downtown is a large neighborhood, but the free CBUS downtown circulator and CoGo Bike Share make it easy to get around quickly.
You’ll find cultural institutions like the incredible Columbus Museum of Art with its brand new modern wing, the Columbus College of Art and Design and its free galleries, the best-in-the-nation Columbus Public Library and the Topiary Park, a recreation of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Grande Jatte in shrubbery. Numerous art galleries, theaters large and small, and parks make downtown an appealing destination. Historic highlights include the Ohio Statehouse, the stunning art-deco Ohio Supreme Court and the Kelton House, where you can relive the experience of the Underground Railroad. The Columbus Commons park hosts concerts, free exercise classes, a cute carousel and special events like an every-Thursday food truck rally during the warmer months. At the southern end of the breathtaking Scioto Mile, Bicentennial Park hosts summer concerts and is home to a huge set of popular play fountains.
Peppered throughout the neighborhood are stellar places to eat and drink. If you start your day with coffee, look no further than One Line, Cafe Brioso and The Roosevelt Coffeehouse. When the mood strikes, find a downtown-brewed beer at Wolf’s Ridge or The Elevator. Culinary treats range from the causal, like alley-side Venezuelan hot spot El Arepazo, to the upscale, like the modern Italian trattoria Due Amici. Views from Milestone 229 compete with its locally inspired cocktail and beer menu. Monthly events like Moonlight Market on lively Gay Street make for special surprises.
The Scioto River and its 33 new acres of trails and parklands separate downtown from Franklinton to the west. Franklinton, first settled in 1797, is experiencing a renaissance as a new center for the city’s maker culture and independent art scene. Arts collectives like 400 West Rich Street, the Columbus Idea Foundryand Glass Axis are open to visit, and often host late-night events in their industrial spaces. Dining options veer toward the causal, with Strongwater Food and Spirits and Land-Grant Brewing Companyleading the way. COSI, one of the nation’s top science museums, graces the west bank of the Scioto, and across Broad Street, work has started on a brand new Ohio Veterans Memorial, set to open in 2017. Events like Independents’ Day and Urban Scrawl bring Columbus’ local arts and music scenes to the forefront.
Directly north of Downtown Columbus and the large cluster of hotels near the Greater Columbus Convention Center is the fast-paced Short North Arts District. As soon as you see distinctive lighted arches over High Street, you’ll know you’ve entered this creative neighborhood filled with art galleries, local boutiques and hip restaurants and bars. Accessible via CoGo Bike Share, the free CBUS downtown circulator, several local and express bus lines and best explored on foot, the neighborhood stretches a mile and a half along High Street from Nationwide Boulevard to King Avenue.
Starting in the 1980s, the Short North Arts District became a hub of the local art scene. Filled with numerous galleries, theaters, shops, hotels and restaurants full of local art, this is a great place to find the next masterpiece to hang in your living room, or to window shop through some outstanding galleries. Hammond Harkins Gallery features the work of present-day local artists, and the alley-way Joseph Editions features limited-edition prints exclusively from Ohio artists. Brandt-Roberts Galleries specializes in mid-century works from local and international artists, and Lindsay Gallery works with local nationally acclaimed folk and outsider artists. The recently opened Pizzuti Collectionfeatures rotating exhibitions of modern works. Le Meridien, The Joseph Hotel, the neighborhood’s newest place to stay, and the 532-room Hilton Columbus Downtown are both full to the brim with original local artwork. The Garden Theater features performances and cabaret shows year-round, and local drag phenomenon Nina West performs incredibly entertaining original shows at Axis Nightclub.
In addition to its iconic arches, the Short North Arts District’s public art includes some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. The famous Short North Gothic mural, which is painted on the outer wall of the beloved Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, turns art on its head to embody the spirit of the neighborhood. Though not visible from High Street, the nearby Mona Lisa mural is another important symbol of the area, and is similarly intriguing for its sideways depiction of its subject. The Short North Arts District’s popular mural series is called BLANK SPACES to acknowledge the murals’ temporary occupation on, and beautification of, otherwise blank brick walls.
Whether you’re in the market for some new clothes, home goods or baked goods, the Short North Arts District is a prime spot to browse. Boutiques like Rowe, Ladybird and Happy Go Lucky Her carry fashionable women’s clothing. Tigertree, Artisan Deluxe and Homage carry stylish men’s and women’s clothes, while Cub Shrub caters to the under-six set. Mid-century lovers will want to explore the vast vintage collections at Grandview Mercantile and Flower Child, while modern home goods can be found at Happy Go Lucky Home, Old World New Home and the T. David Collection. Laughlin’s Bakery offers delicious breads and pastries perfect for a picnic in nearby Goodale Park.
You’re never far from a great sip or bite in the Short North Arts District. At the neighborhood’s southern end, The Pearl offers oysters and outstanding chicken and waffles, Marcella’s has Italian bites and The Guild House offers an upscale menu. Further north, Hubbard Grille delights with modern American dining, Bakersfield serves up delightful tacos and margaritas, and Forno combines craft cocktails with delicious wood-fired pizza. Northstar Cafe serves up healthy salads, fluffy ricotta pancakes and the best veggie burger anywhere in a casual environment. Nida’s Thai, Condado Tacos and Lemongrass Fusion Bistro offer a more international take on dining.
A great time to visit is the first Saturday of every month for Gallery Hop, a 32-year-old tradition when galleries and stores stay open late and entertainers line the streets. HighBall, the nation’s most elaborate costume party, shows off the best of Columbus’ outstanding local fashion scene and brings national attention in each year just before Halloween. Neighborhood-wide sales happen at various points throughout the year, and are great times to snag some fashionable new clothes. Nightlife options abound, with craft cocktails at Mouton and Denmark on High, dancing at Scully’s, Union and Axis, and laid-back board games, complete with a full beer and wine menu at Kingmakers.
Directly east of High Street is Italian Village. New energy is transforming this spot into a nightlife hub. Little Rock hosts live music, Seventh Son Brewing uses its creative energy to craft category-busting beers, and Hoof Hearted Brewing combines heavy-hitting brews with a thoroughly mod taproom. In the daylight hours, check out The Market Italian Village for upscale picnic supplies and delicious pizzas, or the sunlight-drenched Fox in the Snow Cafe for an outstanding latte. To the west of the Short North Arts District, you’ll find the mostly residential Victorian Village. As the name suggests, there’s outstanding Victorian architecture, but also some standout destinations, like the huge Goodale Park. Tucked-away and crave-worthy dining includes Katalina’s for Latin-inspired breakfast and lunch items, including Nutella-filled pancake balls, and the cozy Basi Italia for ingredient-driven modern Italian fare with a relaxed and leafy patio.
Located just south of downtown Columbus, German Village is one of the most atmospheric neighborhoods in the Midwest. Originally built by German settlers in the mid-1800s, the lovingly restored brick houses, shops, streets and sidewalks are full of historic charm and modern swank. Once you get there with a short walk or drive from downtown, the CBUS circulator or CoGo Bike Share, you’ll want to explore the neighborhood on foot.
You will find a few remnants of German culture, like the popular Schmidt’s Sausage Haus, but the dining scene ranges from delicate French patisserie at Pistacia Vera, to Spanish paella and tapas at Barcelona, to low-country pork and seafood at G. Michaels, to laid back and delicious pizza and craft cocktails at Harvest and Curio. A little further afield, The Crest Gastropub on Parsons offers outstanding food and drinks, while Skillet is the hotspot for hyper-local, hyper-delicious and hyper-filling breakfasts and brunches. The Kitchen helps you cook your own dinner in a fun, participatory and stylish environment. The 32-room Book Loft has been a favorite location to wander for generations, Helen Winnemore’s carries modern American crafts and Caterina stocks fine European wares.
If architecture is high on your list, pick up a map at the German Village Meeting Haus and stroll Beck, Mohawk and Deshler streets to see some stunning homes. Tiny Frank Fetch Park provides a great spot to stop and sip a coffee from Winan’s or Stauf’s. At the neighborhood’s southern end, expansive Schiller Park offers trails, fountains and an amphitheater that’s host to Shakespeare in the Park performances on summer weekends. Accessible via Whittier Street from German Village and the Scioto Trail from downtown, the Scioto Audubon Center is a 120-acre respite for birds and people alike, with a stellar view of Columbus’ skyline. A nature center, complete with native fauna, natural ponds and the largest free outdoor climbing wall in the U.S. make this a great spot to stretch your legs.
Immediately west of German Village, primarily oriented along High and Front Streets, is the Brewery District. Originally built by the same German settlers, this was an industrial hub of the city’s historic beer scene, and is now full of lively entertainment and dining options like the perennially popular, South American-inspired Arepazo Tapas and Wine, Czech filled pastries at Kolache Republic and local beers and pub fare at the Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. Shadowbox Live!, the country’s largest resident theater company, presents original productions complete with live music nearly every day of the week.
Directly north and west of downtown Columbus lies the Arena District. Starting with the opening of Nationwide Arena in 2000, home to the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets, the Arena District has sprung up into a vibrant neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, condos and offices. Nationwide Arena and Express Live host concerts from some of the nation’s biggest acts (often the only stops these premier acts book in Ohio) while the Columbus Clippers, the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, have hit a home run with their family-friendly Huntington Park. Dining ranges from the unique like Nada with Mexican cuisine, to the familiar beer and pub fare at Gordon Biersch, while hockey fans will find a raucous home at R Bar.
At the northern end of the district, the North Market is home to 35 local vendors that display the best of the local food scene. Shop for spices, produce, meat and kitchenwares, and choose from Vietnamese, Indian, Belgian, Polish, Mexican, vegetarian, fried chicken and more for an outstanding breakfast, lunch or dinner. Treat yourself with a scoop from the original Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams or a craft cocktail from The Barrel and Bottle. Adjacent to the North Market, the clubs and bars on Park Street are a mainstay of Columbus’ nightlife scene.
If you only know one thing about Columbus, we’d wager that it’s The Ohio State University. Just two miles north of downtown and accessible via CoGo Bike Share and COTA buses, the University District includes the massive campus of Ohio State, along with its sports venues, nightlife spots and restaurants.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you’ll want to make a quick stop at Ohio Stadium, known as “The Shoe,” which is home to the famed Ohio State Buckeyes football team. The 18,000-seat Schottenstein Center is host to Ohio State’s hockey and basketball teams, as well as concerts from national touring musicians. Golf fans will find a lot to love at the Jack Nicklaus Museum, dedicated to the hometown hero. Not far away, near the Ohio Expo Center is MAPFRE Stadium, home of Columbus Crew SC.
Dining options range from student-centric to upscale; find a variety of options around High Street and 11th Avenue. The Wexner Center for the Arts showcases rotating modern art exhibitions, and also hosts a huge variety of events, ranging from music, theater and dance performances to film screenings and artist talks. Across the plaza, the free Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum has the largest collection of cartoons and comics in the world, and features rotating exhibitions of historic, classic and modern comics.
Stretching north from Ohio State to Worthington, Clintonville is a large neighborhood with many attractions, from the Park of Roses to the independently owned retail shops and restaurants that line High Street. Standout shops include modern decor purveyor Elm and Iron, fabric mecca Sew to Speak and all-locally made Wholly Craft. During warmer months, people flock to the Clintonville Farmers Market to get fresh produce and to the Olentangy River recreational trail to hike and bike. Arts venues like Wild Goose Creative and Studio 35 provide cultural opportunities year-round. Start your day with a cup of coffee at Cup O’ Joe or Crimson Cup, both on the Columbus Coffee Trail. Dining choices veer toward farm-to-table, with Acre, Harvest Pizzeria, The Crest Gastropub and Angry Bear Kitchen as standouts. Get in line for world-class barbecue at the Ray Ray’s Hog Pit truck, at live music hotspot Ace of Cups. Learn some new skills amid a gorgeous setting at The Seasoned Farmhouse. Grab a delicious Viennese pastry from Mozart’s or a local beer and a hand-pie or two at Lineage Brewing.
Located north of Port Columbus International Airport and approximately 15 minutes east of downtown Columbus, Easton is the premier retail center in Ohio. The center includes scores of shops, including Nordstrom’s, LL Bean, the American Girl Store, Crate & Barrel and Tiffany’s. Locally based retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret test new concepts here, and dining options include local favorites like Jeni’s Ice Creams, Northstar Cafe and Brio Tuscan Grille. Other amenities include a movie theater, the Funny Bone Comedy Club and several hotels, including the AAA four-diamond rated Hilton Columbus Easton. A new Easton Gateway area is home to REI and Field & Stream.
Columbus’ Near East Side is an up-and-coming destination just east of downtown Columbus, beyond the Columbus Museum of Art. This collection of neighborhoods, which includes Olde Towne East, the King-Lincoln District and Franklin Park, is an up-and-coming area full of stately Victorian homes and leafy streets.
Olde Towne East is host to interesting clusters of dining and nightlife along Parsons Avenue and Oak Street. On Parsons, grab a coffee at Upper Cup, enjoy farm-fresh produce at Black Creek Bistro and music and drinks at local favorite Carabar. On Oak Street, try breakfast at vegan-friendly The Angry Baker, lunch at the Olde Towne Tavern and dinner and a huge beer list at Yellow Brick Pizza. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardenslies just east, with an awe-inspiring glass house, lit by night with colorful installation by James Turrell, inside gardens representing many of the world’s biomes, and an outstanding community garden campus that also hosts cooking and horticulture classes throughout the year.
The King-Lincoln District, just north of Olde Towne East, is the epicenter of the city’s African American heritage, and you’ll see that on display in murals along the Long Street Bridge. The King Arts Complex combines African American art and history with community events like free Summer Jazz Series on Thursday evenings in July and August. The Lincoln Theater is lovingly restored in its original Egyptian style, and you’ll find performances of all types gracing its stage. Grab a coffee at Zanzibar Brews.