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Affectionately known by locals as CBUS, Columbus, Ohio is a flat plain that lies just southeast of where the Scioto and Olentangy rivers meet. And it's not just a middle-America small town: Columbus is the state capital and the 15th-largest city in the nation. Explore neighborhoods that surround the booming downtown, including German Village, with local shops and eateries. At the Scioto Mile, the city’s most popular riverfront destination, visitors can tackle the country's largest free outdoor climbing wall. The area is also home to the city’s best trails for hiking and biking, as well as a 15,000-square-foot water fountain, an Audubon and dog park.
REASONS TO GO:
They Blinded Me With Science: Whether it's the night sky on view in the planetarium or science camps for kids, the Center of Science and Industry offers fun for visitors of all ages. Ride a high-wire unicycle, catch an educational course or watch beer brewing and distilling demos. COSI Columbus is half a mile west of downtown.
Civil Rights History: The Kelton House Museum and Garden lies less than a mile east of downtown. Fernando Kelton and his wife Sophia were strong supporters of the abolitionist movement and the home was used as a stop along the Underground Railroad. Its tranquil hedge-lined gardens and grand manor design are just some of the highlights of the self-guided audio tour. Guests can book viewings of historical re-enactments or enjoy a Victorian-inspired high tea service complete with scones, pastries and tea sandwiches.
Fire!: The Central Ohio Fire Museum is a must-see for history and vehicle buffs. Here, about a mile from downtown, you'll find antique fire trucks, wagons and other artifacts all housed in a restored firehouse from the early 1900s. Kids can romp in the play area or learn about fire safety from the tour guides, many of whom are former firefighters.
Go Green: Situated three miles east of downtown is the 93-acre Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. You'll revel in its exotic plant collections and the seasonal butterfly exhibition that features thousands of tropical butterflies. Also on tap is the glass artwork by Dale Chihuly—including stained glass windows, gossamer blown-glass hanging art and vibrant glass spheres floating in koi ponds. Giant garden sculptures of insects and modern art pepper the tailored grounds and visitors can book tours of the site and take educational classes.
The Secret Life of James Thurber: James Thurber, writer of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and My World and Welcome to It, was known as a master of American humor. View Thurber's drawings and notes displayed throughout the house as you stroll through his home and workspace. You can visit his house about a mile east of downtown Columbus. Enjoy a guided tour on Sundays or a self-guided tour during the week.
Can I Have a Bite?: If you can't decide on a restaurant, head one mile north of downtown to North Market, an outdoor farmer's market where you can tuck into a polish kielbasa sandwich, fresh sushi or pad thai (fettuccine-like noodles in a spicy peanut sauce). There's food for every taste and craving, including sweets; try Belgian waffles and handcrafted chocolates.
WHEN TO GO: Expect moderate to heavy rain throughout the year and intense cold with snow showers during the winter. Late spring through early fall offers a temperate climate and you can take advantage of the concert and nightlife season during the summer months.
TRAVEL TIP: German Village is a six-minute taxi ride south of downtown. Stroll cobblestone streets by charming brick homes built in the mid-19th century by German settlers. For a perfect dessert, head to Schmidt's Sausage Haus for their huge cream puffs.