Artsy or outdoor things to do in Columbus, OH?
June 2, 2021 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I am off to Columbus for a few days this summer without a car, staying in the downtown area - what should I do?

I would love any suggestions on things to see and do in Columbus, Ohio in June. I will be staying in the downtown area. I won't have a car so I probably can't make it to Hocking Hills State Park (unless there is some way to get there...? I have previously joined local hiking groups on hikes when visiting other cities). How is the public transportation in Columbus?

Things that I've found by searching around that seem cool to me - do these sound accessible from the downtown area?:
- Grange Insurance Audubon Center - birdwatching
- Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
- Wexner Center for the Arts - exhibit on climate change
- Indian Run Falls
- It seems like there's some neat public art in Dublin? Is this accessible by public transportation (especially during covid times)?
- Topiary Garden
- Shrum Mound - also interested in other Native history, but not sure how accessible these are - Shrum Mound seemed the most accessible within the city? Is there a museum or exhibit nearby that explains the mound?

I also found this great guide on Reddit to Columbus but I find it a little overwhelming and would appreciate your input, Metafilter!

Things I enjoy: hiking, cemetery tours (especially if they go into the history of the city), art and architecture, cool bridges, furniture/woodwork/other crafts, archaeology, geology, history, sometimes antique and thrift stores, stationery stores, libraries, book stores, bakeries and vegetables

I am not that interested in nightlife, food (unless it is a dish specific to that city or region) or breweries.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Travel & Transportation around Columbus, OH (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really liked 16 bit, the barcade in columbus. I've been there multiple times each visit. It's well put together and a bit of the city. Definitely not what you asked outside of, things to do in Columbus, but I really enjoy it so maybe you will to :)
posted by bbqturtle at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Big answer forthcoming. Got a lot to say, so I'm just gonna start with your ideas first.

Audubon Center - I'm ashamed to say I've never been, but friends have, and they love it. It's right downtown; depending on where you're staying (and the weather, of course, but you're probably not going if the weather is bad), you could probably walk there.

Cartoon Library - Yes, very cool. I don't even really like comics, and it's fascinating. I used to study there in college. I believe they've expanded a bit in terms of exhibits since I was in school, but even if they haven't, it's still worth visiting.

Wexner Center - The Cartoon Library is in the same building, so if you go to one, go to the other. The building is a Peter Eisenman, if you're into architecture. It's right on High Street, which is the one street in the city that has good public transportation. Buses run regularly up and down High Street from downtown up past campus, so you shouldn't have any trouble getting there without a car.

Indian Run Falls - Never been, although I played rec league basketball at Indian Run school once. I know Dublin has done a lot with that part of town since I moved away, so maybe it's more than I remember, but it's... not something I remember people doing. If you're interested in a short hike in the Dublin area (which, in case you're not aware, is not particularly accessible via bus), Hayden Run Falls is probably a better bet, although it's a short "hike". When I used to have a job that involved driving around to various client sites, I'd get some takeout and go to Hayden Run to eat.

Public art in Dublin - I believe you're referring to Cornhenge. I don't know. I personally think it's great, but I could see it being a little underwhelming to other people, especially considering how hard it is to get to from downtown. Even if you have a car, it's like a 20+ minute drive in good conditions, and often it'll be more like 45. And, truthfully, it's just a bunch of cement corncobs. Do you really want to spend two hours for that? But, I would.

Topiary Garden - YES. One of my top five favorite places in Columbus. The tourist draw is the Seurat topiary, and it's cool, but I don't spend that much time there. It's just a really nice, serene little park in the middle of the city. I used to go grab a book and sit on one of the benches reading. Perfect spot for that. It's essentially the backyard of the main public library (checks another box off your list), and you can see the skyscrapers downtown towering above the library building, which I think makes for a cool sight.

Shrum Mound - If you've never seen mounds before, it's cool I guess; if you have, extremely underwhelming. It is almost certainly the most accessible from downtown (although how accessible that is, I don't really know - I'm pretty sure there's a McKinley Ave bus route, but buses in Columbus blow), but it's just in between two overgrown lots hiding a quarry across the street from the backside of a giant crappy apartment complex. I think there's a board onsite explaining it, but museum? No way. You can drive past it without ever realizing it was there. If you do go, though, there's a farmstand a few hundred yards down the street at the corner of Trabue Road that usually has some fresh zucchini and tomatoes.

Stationery - There are two that come to mind. On Paper is the big one, in the Short North, which is a shopping neighborhood just north of downtown. Or it was - I remember seeing on Twitter that it moved, but I think it's still in the Short North. The other is Peabody Papers in Grandview, which I just learned while writing this has closed. So, there's one.

For hiking, there are a couple of smaller places that I don't think many people know about that I liked. The first is Smith Nature Preserve in Upper Arlington, which is probably too small and too inaccessible for you to bother. That's not to say it's completely inaccessible - you just take the 18 bus to Fishinger Road and it's a block away - but just that, like Cornhenge, the experience of a ten minute hike doesn't justify the effort. I like it a lot, though. I used to live nearby and went there often. Decent birdwatching. The other is the Schiermeier Wetlands near OSU. It's OSU land, and a lot of it is fenced off. You can't get near the actual ponds. But there are a couple of trails and an observation tower that's pretty great for birdwatching. Despite its location, it's actually pretty easy to reach. There are a few city buses that run to a nearby shopping center on Olentangy River Road, and OSU campus buses run nearby as well, if you'd like to go after your trip to the Wexner Center. If you're walking or biking, the Olentangy Bike Trail runs along the side. The other side is Union Cemetery, which isn't that interesting as far as cemeteries go, but is good for a wandering.

In general, that Reddit guide seems pretty accurate. Nothing really stood out to me as either a notable omission or a questionable inclusion, with one notable exception. It mentioned the Burger King on West Fifth. This is probably the single worst restaurant I have ever eaten at. Like, Burger King is not very good to begin with; I know that and I eat there anyway. But this one is bad even by Burger King standards. I used to think about getting a job there just so I could go through their training process, which must exist because service that bad doesn't happen by accident. I don't think it's a surprise that a lot of fast food is microwaved, but this BK placed their microwave three feet behind the cash register at eye level, so there is literally no way to not see that they are microwaving your food. I once watched the only two employees on duty paint each other's fingernails before throwing my order in the microwave, some twenty minutes after I'd placed the order. It's spectacular.

More general stuff:

In general, buses are bad enough that you'll probably stick around the downtown area, which means German Village, the Discovery District, the Arena District, and the Short North. All walkable, and good bus service if you don't feel like walking. German Village (kind of close to the Audubon Center) is nice and old. Some good restaurants, including Schmidt's Sausage Haus if you're interested in being eponysterical. In the summer, there's Shakespeare in the Park at Schiller Park, which is generally pretty high quality.

The Arena District, as the name suggests, is centered around Nationwide Arena, which won't matter much to you much because it's not hockey season. It is baseball season, though, and if you have any interest at all in baseball, Huntington Park (across the street from the arena) is generally considered one of the top ballparks in Minor League Baseball. Great view of the skyline. New Crew Stadium won't be open until July. Otherwise, generally avoid the Arena District, as it's a lot of bars. There is the North Market, which is interesting, but I think it's closed for Covid.

But you have to go through the Arena District to get to the Short North, which you should probably do even though I hate it. It's the big non-chain retail district of the city. It also used to be the artsy part of the city, but it's gentrified so much in the past 25 years that I don't really think there's much art left anymore. They like to pretend there is. There's a vestigial Gallery Hop art walk thing the first Saturday of every month, but that's this upcoming Saturday, so it probably won't matter to you. There's also Goodale Park, which is probably my favorite park in the city of Columbus. Good place to just sit and relax, eat a picnic.

The Discovery District is more like the institutional artsy neighborhood. In addition to the main library and the Topiary Garden, there's also the Columbus Museum of Art, which is free admission on Sundays. IMO, you kind of get what you pay for there, but I still went pretty often. You can walk there from both downtown or from the library/Topiary Garden. If you're Catholic, St. Joseph Cathedral is on the way, and it's a nice place to attend Mass. Marginally rougher area than the others, so maybe don't walk alone after dark.

There's also Franklinton, which is across the river from downtown, but with the exception of COSI I don't think it's worth talking about. People have been trying to make fetch happen for 15 years, and... I just don't think it's happening. Also a lot more crime there than any of the other places I've mentioned.

Some nice historical theatres in the downtown area: the Ohio, the Palace, the Southern, and the Lincoln. If there's a show at any of them while you're in town, they're beautiful.

Columbus is super flat, which makes for really easy and enjoyable cycling if you can rent a bike.

If you leave the downtown core, the three most likely places you'll go are campus, Grandview, or Clintonville. Campus is campus; you're either interested in a big campus or you're not. The latter two are cool (I lived in Grandview for 15 years), but they're really just suburbs with a little more cool retail and restaurants than usual, as opposed to destinations themselves. Great places if you're looking for a place to rent, maybe not so much if you're looking for fun things over only a couple of days. The other suburbs are a lot blander. The other neighborhood are a lot less bland, but not in a good way. There's a big Somali population along Cleveland Avenue, which would be interesting, except that the rest of Cleveland Avenue is some of the highest crime in the city and should be avoided.

I've probably written enough at this point. If you have any questions about my novella, or if you'd like more specific recommendations, let me know. As you can see, I can talk about Columbus pretty much all day, and I'm happy to do so.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

The Franklin Park Conservatory is beautiful, and features lots of Dale Chihuly's artwork.

I also love The Book Loft in German Village.
posted by essexjan at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

As a very amateur mound enthusiast whose been to ten or so in Ohio, I'd say Shrum is bigger than the other really close ones and very obviously a mound in the way others aren't. It's a fine excuse for a walk. But, it's not going to make you say, "wow," unless you are really invested in that history. Given a choice, I'd suggest considering the history museum instead, which has a lot more information and some amazing artifacts. (The Wexner is great. The city art museum is also surprisingly interesting. Neither is particularly outdoors.)
posted by eotvos at 5:43 PM on June 2, 2021

I'm not sure if it's your idea of art but I've been planning a trip to Columbus. Otherworld is my main draw. It's an interactive art installation like Meow Wolf in Austin. I have no idea if it's as good as Meow Wolf is suppose to be but it's much closer. The link above has photos you can look through to give you an idea of what it's like.

Because I like weird stuff, The Scioto Deer are also on my list.

The Franklin Park Conservatory is having an Chihuly exhibit now. If you like glass art, it might be worth going.
posted by stray thoughts at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm going to start by jumping off a few things @Kevinbelt put above. Hi Kevin :)

The Billy Ireland cartoon library is no longer housed in the Wexner Center for the Arts, but rather across a courtyard in Sullivant Hall in a brand new facility. It's cool if you're into that, but I would make triply sure they are open, because campus is not 100% open post-COVID yet. We are supposed to be back to 100% capacity this fall, so things should open up as the summer goes on. I do think the Wex has just opened their regular galleries. The Columbus Art Museum has improved a lot in recent years, and is also now returning to regular hours. OSU also has the Urban Arts Space downtown in a former department store that's very cool.

The Audubon center is walkable from downtown -- I'd take the bike path to get there rather than the roadway, though you could duck through German Village technically, which is a cute historic area. There is a homeless camp nearby to the park and some folks have reported being hassled, so just be aware of that. I've never been to the center proper, but the park is very cool with a rock climbing wall, observation tower, etc. There is the CoGo bike share throughout the city as well as all your standard scooter companies.

I'll triple down on his comments about the Short North -- 20 years ago, I lived there and loved it. Now it's like a giant chain mall, and with the exception of some destination restaurants and maybe the North Market, I honestly wouldn't bother to make a special trip there. On Paper was my favorite, but I haven't been there since their recent move/ownership change. Franklinton now is what the Short North was then in terms of galleries and art. Look up the Vanderelli Room, 400 W Rich, etc. for those sorts of things. The Columbus Cultural Arts Center is close by too (technically downtown) and has a good but small gallery.

OSU's campus on High Street is also basically a giant corporate mall now too. Clintonville is probably the best bet for cool little shops, etc. As the Short North and campus have gotten way overpriced, a lot of local shops have moved up there, still on High St. Grandview has become a little bit overrun by college students in the past few years, but probably won't be that way in the summer. The main drag (Grandview Ave) has some cute shops. Not sure what is still there post-COVID though.

I know you said breweries aren't your thing, but the "current/next big thing" in Columbus is absolutely the beer scene. At one point, we were listed as having more breweries per capita than any U.S. city except *maybe* Portland. Not sure if that's still true or not but it has to be close. While Brewdog isn't my favorite, they built their U.S. production brewery in Canal Winchester, just outside Columbus, and it has a really cool beer hotel attached that is a bit of a destination. It's on a bike trail, has good food, a big production brewery/tours etc. If you're not really into it, it's probably not worth it, but I thought I'd mention it.

Otherworld is definitely a cool destination. It's on the east side way out near Reynoldsburg, so I don't think public transport is an option for that. It's worth it though.

As far as the other items you mentioned:
For cemetery tours, you probably want Greenlawn Abbey, which is also Franklinton adjacent.

There's two relatively new really cool bridges between downtown and Franklinton. The Main Street Bridge and the Rich Street Bridge where the Scioto deer mentioned above are.

Furniture/crafts: Clintonville has a lot of vintage/antique shops on High Street and I think at least one furniture builder. There's also a giant consignment and antique shop in Grandview in a former supermarket space.

Vegetables: Clintonville has a farmer's market on Saturday mornings. There's also an urban farm shop.

Bakeries: Pistachia Vera (macarons) in German Village, Pattycake (Vegan) in Clintonville.

History: I'll admit I have never heard of Shrum Mound. Serpent Mound outside Chillicothe is very important, but that's a day trip from Columbus for sure. The Ohio History Center isn't open yet indoors, but the outside Ohio Village is I believe. Not sure I'd prioritize that.

That reddit list overwhelmed me, and I've lived here since the 90s. I would recommend perusing Columbus Underground for timely info, especially as we move into summer.

Normally, there's a festival pretty much every weekend in Columbus during the summer, but lots have been cancelled already due to the pandemic. We have had the highest incidence of COVID in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. Franklin county has been removing mask mandates, but the city of Columbus doesn't meet until 6/7 to remove theirs, so things are still a bit in flux. If you want to memail me when you have dates, I'd be glad to give you the up-to-the moment info.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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