Ohio's capital has long lingered in the shadow of its better-known sister cities. And although it may lack a geographic focus like Cincinnati's Ohio River and Cleveland's Lake Erie, it has an economic focus that should make those industrial cities green with envy: Its high-tech industry continues to expand.
One of the city's most popular attractions is left over from the 1992 festivities commemorating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. (Columbus is the largest city in the world named after the great explorer.) The Santa Maria, a full-size replica of Columbus' three-masted flagship, is now permanently moored downtown on the Scioto River.
Also worth seeing are the Columbus Zoo (don't miss Discovery Reef—a 100,000-gallon/378,790-liter tank containing artificial coral and more than 1,000 marine species) and the renovated and expanded Franklin Park Conservatory. Inspired by London's Crystal Palace, the conservatory contains tropical gardens and exhibits of four of the Earth's ecosystems. The Ohio Historical Center has a good pre-Columbian cultures exhibit—we rate it a must-see. You can also visit a re-created town from the 1800s, Ohio Village, with costumed interpreters adding to the time-warp illusion.
Children and adults will love COSI, the Center of Science and Industry—four floors of interactive science exhibits. Adults will also like the respected Columbus Museum of Art (relax for a bit in the sculpture garden). Students of less-traditional sculpture will want to see the world's first postimpressionist topiary garden. A local sculptor has turned an abandoned lot at Deaf School Park into a green, three-dimensional version of Georges Seurat's famous painting A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (It's amazing what can be done with bronze rods and yews.) Be sure to walk the perimeter to truly appreciate the work that has gone into keeping distance and proportion true to the painting.
Ohio State University's Wexner Center for the Visual Arts is housed in a castlelike structure that's considered a work of art itself—architect Peter Eisenman juxtaposed a redbrick armory with a modern glass-and-steel building. It houses an excellent art collection, a film and video center and a performance theater. There are guided tours available that will show you the highlights of Ohio State, one of the largest university campuses in the country.
German Village and the Brewery District are pleasant places to spend an afternoon or evening. A privately funded historic district, German Village is made up of restaurants, shops and beer gardens that are housed in buildings from the 1800s. The nearby Brewery District has several old beer-making factories that have been converted into restaurants, microbreweries and specialty shops. Finally, consider driving by the gracefully proportioned Statehouse.
North of Columbus, in Marion, are the home and tomb of former U.S. President Warren G. Harding. The appealing home has been carefully appointed with its original furnishings. And southeast of Columbus, in Cumberland, you can take a drive on the wild side at The Wilds, a conservation center that has roaming herds of rhinos, giraffes and zebras, among other species, all of which can be observed from your automobile.
Among the notable events in Columbus are the Columbus Arts Festival (June), the Ohio State Fair (August), the German Village Oktoberfest (beer, sausage, dancing—September), the All-American Quarter Horse Congress (horse show—October) and the Columbus International Festival (ethnic foods, music and dance—November). 120 mi/195 km southwest of Cleveland.
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