Columbus, Ohio has recently undergone a drastic renaissance, with an ever-flourishing diverse sense of culture and fun. Be sure to visit the Arena District, a mixed-use, planned urban environment that incorporates a 20,000-seat arena, as well as restaurants, shops, hotels, and offices, many of which are housed in existing old warehouses or new brick buildings that respect the turn-of-the-century industrial architecture of the neighborhood. Columbus is a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Cincinnati (100 miles), 3½ hours from Louisville (200 miles), and 5 hours and 45 minutes from Chicago (355 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Columbus Zoo And Aquarium – Considered by many to be the best zoo in all of America, the Columbus Zoo has risen to great heights thanks to Jungle Jack Hanna–who you may have seen on shows like the Late Night with David Letterman. Hanna helped refurbish the Columbus Zoo’s 588 acres, build its bevy of animals to some 7,000, and expand the grounds to include a theme park, waterpark and golf course. Notable zoo exhibits include Animal Encounters Village, the largest manatee exhibit outside of Florida, a 100,000-gallon coral reef exhibit and an African Forest, featuring rare bonobos, gorillas and apes, including Colo, the first great ape born in captivity, in 1956 and now the oldest living gorilla in captivity anywhere in the world. They also have the largest collection of reptiles of any zoo in the world. A new section called Australia and the Islands was recently added to include kangaroos. Admission is $14.99 for adults, $9.99 for children.
2. Zoombezi Bay Waterpark – Located at the site of the Columbus Zoo And Aquarium, this waterpark features 11 rides across 23 acres. Admission is $32.99 for adults ($28.99 if you purchase tickets online) and $24.99 for children ($21.99 if tickets are bought online).
3. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden – Their Palm House conservatory was originally built in 1895 and is on the National Register of Historical Places, housing over 400 species of plants, in environments that include desert and rainforest habitats. There is also a unique glassblowing pavilion for demos and classes. See over 850 varieties of daylily’s in the Ohio Hybridizers Historic Daylily Garden. Other than wanting to see the Columbus Zoo (which is one of the most-visited zoos in the country), this gives me another reason to head to Columbus. Now through January 5th, you can see their Merry & Bright with poinsettia and evergreen displays and classic traditions like the poinsettia tree, the 7th annual Gingerbread Competition, and the Paul Busse Model Garden Railway. We rank it as one of the 12 best Botanical Gardens In America. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children.
4. Columbus Museum of Art – This impressive collection of work showcases masters like Degas, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Hopper, Demuth and O’Keeffe. They are also noted for its large public collection of woodcarvings by Columbus folk artist Elijah Pierce, and for housing the largest number of paintings and lithographs by Columbus native George Bellows. Children aren’t forgotten here, either-there are programs and exhibits such as Eye Spy, which creates games centered around four parts of the museum. National and internationally touring exhibitions come through here; recent noteworthy shows include Matisse, Monet, and Dodo Jin Ming. Admission is $6 for adults and free for children.
5. Ohio Statehouse – Discover the rich history of this Ohio landmark, as it was completed in 1861by using prison labor for the foundation and ground floor. In a more recent renovation, prisoner graffiti was uncovered, and as was common during those days, masons and laborers would sign their names. Research at the archives at the Historical Society found the man to be Ephram Badger, who had been imprisoned for burglary but was later pardoned, thanks to his “service to the state.” The building was designed by renowned statehouse architect Nathan Kelly and features many fine details, including hand cut marble from Portugal that makes up the floor of the Rotunda and its 29-foot-wide skylight. Free of charge.
6. Jack Nicklaus Museum – This museum documents the Columbus native’s life as a golfer, golf course designer, businessman and family man. There are interactive exhibits, memorabilia, and the highlights of the collection include a series of exhibits that chronicle his playing career. Nicklaus won over 100 worldwide professional victories and 20 major championships; he participated in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and U.S. Amateur. The museum also boasts one of the top three golf memorabilia collections in America, with a display of the sport’s major championship trophies. The 24,000 square-foot facility located in the heart of the Ohio State University sports complex, features traditional decor, with rich cherry wood and deep green tones, meant to reflect the rich heritage of the game. Actor Sean Connery lends his stately voice to narrate an audio/visual presentation-one of eighteen spread throughout the museum-on the golfer’s life. Admission is $10 for adults and for $5 students.
7. Topiary Garden – This seven-acre downtown park has the only topiary reproduction of a painting: George Seurat‘s famous post-impressionist work, A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Admission is free of charge.
8. The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) – The Center contains 116,000 square feet of exhibit space, with additional space for the Ohio State University Labs in Life and a working television station. Visitors will find more than just the exhibits fascinating, the building itself is a sight to see and very leading considering the facility was built in 1991. It was designed by architect Arata Isozaki. We rank it at #6 on our list of the 10 Best Children’s Museums In America. General admission is $17.50 for adults and $12.95 for children.
9. Kelton House Museum and Garden – This attraction allows a glimpse into life in the last half of the 18th Century. This two story Victorian townhouse has been restored and displays period furnishings and decorative arts. Most of the collection in the Kelton House Museum came from the family of Sophia and Fernando Cortez Kelton. The Kelton House Garden is also maintained in a Victorian style and based on the original design by Grace Kelton. In spring and summer the gardens come to life with a vast array of colors. Admission is $6 for adults and $2 for children.
10. The Santa Maria – The Santa Maria in Columbus is a replica of Christopher Columbus’ historic ship, the Santa Maria. Tours of the ship attempt to recreate life on the boat, showing everything from the type of equipment that would have been used during that time period to the types of social activities the explorers would have engaged in as a 15th century sailor. Displays also explore the historical implications and changes that came with the expeditions on the Santa Maria and the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new world. (It’s set to reopen in Spring 2016) Admission is $4.50 for adults and $3.50 for children.
Pistacia Vera – A favorite among locals and tourists alike, this patisserie is ranked as the number one restaurant in all of Columbus, on TripAdvisor, receiving an average of five star reviews. Try their “Bacon, kale, and Onio Quiche” ($11) for breakfast, a house made puff pastry with double smoked bacon, onion confit, kale and comté cheese. Or chow down on a “Pear Cranberry Frangipan,” ($5) an almond frangipan baked in a shortbread crust with house-made pear cranberry preserves and poached pears. From their classic “Sweet Potato Tart” ($6) to their rum infused cannele ($2), your sure to leave feeling satisfied.
The Lofts Hotel (from $160 a night) – This trendy loft-style hotel was once a warehouse at the time of it’s completion in 1882 and it was then transformed into an architecture studio, and today it has been converted into a 44-room boutique hotel. The Columbus Convention Center is right across the street, and only blocks away are the Capitol Building, Arena Grand Theater. Hotel amenities include, 24-hour front desk, Express Check-out, and valet parking. Guests may also enjoy the indoor pool and fitness center. These sleek guest rooms with loft ceilings are furnished with modern amenities such as, customized armoires, Frette linens and terry cloth robes, high-speed Internet access, and Aveda bath amenities.
Those with kids will especially want to make the two hour and 45 minute drive to Indianapolis to visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which we rank #1 on our list of the 10 Best Children’s Museums In America. This 472,900 square foot world class museum is spread across five floors of exhibits, making it the single largest children’s museum in the country. It is perhaps best known for it’s beloved Dinosphere, which contains a working paleontology lab, hands-on simulated fossil “digs,” several life-size simulated dinosaurs, and one of the largest collections of real fossils and dinosaur art in the country. Take note of the life-sized replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is the third most complete T. rex fossil in the world. Throughout the museum, over 10,000 artifacts are on display, including a 55-ton steam engine, a working 1927 carousel, and the largest waterclock in North America.