Most university towns have their fair share of hipsters and Columbus is no different. Columbus has some of Ohio’s best arts & culinary experiences, annual events & festivals and diverse neighborhoods. There’s even an entire area of the capital city where university kids hang out and where it’s easy to discover local events.
If you’re looking for fun places in Columbus, restaurants or just a guide to all the most interesting things to do in Columbus, OH, then this travel guide is for you! For downloadable maps and walking guides for the city, Columbus produces a free app for iOS and Android which features neighborhood guides and art walks. It’s mostly targeted for Columbus citizens, but the maps are a great resource for travelers.
Things to Do & Places to See
As one of Ohio’s largest cities, Columbus offers tourists and locals alike plenty of interesting and unique things to do. There are all kinds of tours available, many catering to business travelers with free time or those that are visiting local friends and family.
- Short North Arts District — The epicenter of hipstery things in C-town. The downtown area is basically a long stretch of shopping with plenty of art galleries, knick-knack shops, restaurants and bars. There’s also a healthy dose of street art and graffiti on the sides of many of the brick buildings, so much so that you can even download a map & audio guide to the Short North’s public art. — shortnorth.org
- German Village — This is probably the second most hipster area of Columbus. An old neighborhood of criss-crossing, cobblestoned streets with restored Victorian homes, the German Village is home to some of the city’s best restaurants (see below) and one of the country’s most interesting book stores, the Book Loft. Many of the homes here have unique and interesting stories
- Columbus Commons — A downtown park, the Commons is in a bit of a commercial wasteland, but it’s near most downtown businesses and commercial shopping. Most importantly, during the summer you can catch free Shakespeare in the Park at the Commons! — columbuscommons.org
- North Market — Great food in here. Go for lunch or pick up some gifts. Try the apple salsa!
- Columbus Zoo — Rated one of the top 10 zoos in America (for reals!) the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (@ColumbusZoo) is pretty spectacular. I visited one year over winter when they do their Christmas lights special, but it’s worth checking out any time of year. — colszoo.org
Art & Culture
Because Columbus is home to one of the nation’s largest universities, the city has a lot to offer for guests interested in art and culture.
- Walk around the Short North district and spot the street art & graffiti
- Wexner Center for the Arts (@wexarts) is an Ohio Statue University museum. It tends to get more interesting exhibits than the Columbus Museum of Art.
- Goodale Park is a nice, little park with plenty of events and public art spaces — goodalepark.org
- If flowers are your thing, the Franklin Park Conservatory is the place for you. The botanical gardens also host regular exhibitions and events about the environment — fpconservatory.org
Columbus has repeatedly been named a hip destination for LGBT travelers. In 2001, they won the designation as Logo’s Best “NewNowNext” city. The Columbus gayborhood is near the Short North where you can find plenty of gay bars and clubs, as well as LGBT-owned shops and restaurants. The Experience Columbus official tourism website has a page dedicated to LGBT tourism in Columbus—worth checking out.
You can also read about my gay weekend in C-town here.
Food & drinks in Columbus
Ohio is surprisingly home to a handful of America’s top chefs and restaurants. Columbus, being the creative capital that it is, has more than its fair share of restaurants to cater to every type of traveler. Here were some of my favorite places to eat in Columbus.
- Barcelona restaurant — tapas and cocktails. Try the calamari!
- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream — ice cream with unusual (and local) flavors. If you like sweet, go for the Froot Loops scoop.
- Katzinger’s Deli — Jewish delicatessen with famous sandwiches. The rueben was a bit plain for me, but
- Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus – I had a Christmas dinner once at this German restaurant. Pretty much what you’d expect for a German restaurant—accordion players, sausage and plenty of beer.
- North Star Café – Vegan and vegetarian-friendly, this cafe serves up some good coffee and makes for a nicer-than-usual fast lunch.
- Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits – one of a slew of restaurants by local restauranteur Liz Lessner, it’s a throw back to the original pin-up girls (classy, not trashy)! And they have great food. @thetravelchica recommends their Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
- Skully’s music diner — Diverse crowd, plenty of musical acts and dancing and your basic (but tasty) pub foods. Check out Magnolia Thunderpussy record store next door.
Nightlife in Columbus
Being a college town, you can expect to find plenty of ways to entertain yourself at night! Columbus also gets most indie music acts passing through. The biggest dance night for college-age hipsters is The Clampdown—a monthly rock & roll dance party that also pops up in Cleveland once a month.
Where to Stay
- Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square Hotel — Conveniently located in the heart of the city, this 4-star hotel makes for an ideal base in Columbus. It provides a day spa, as well as an express check-in and check-out feature, free Wi-Fi and a sauna.
- German Village Guest House — German Village Guest House offers 3-star accommodation in Columbus. It features a spa and a gym.
Need more travel tips for Columbus?
Local Columbians love their town (as they should), so be sure to check the following for additional travel tips and suggestions.
- Columbus Underground
The best resource for finding things to do every week
- C-bus sights for big city slickers
Yelp Guide to all the coolest and most hip spots in Columbus
- Thrift & vintage in Columbus
Yelp Guide to thrift shops, antique stores and places to pick up vintage goods
- Alternative restaurants in Columbus
The alt.eats.columbus blog spotlights ethnic and unusual restaurants
- The Travel Chica guide to Columbus
Local blogger @thetravelchica writes regularly about being car-free in Columbus (and other things)
- Biking Columbus
A multimodal transit blog with a focus on cycling in Columbus, Ohio
I’ve always had a hard time finding a true hipster scene in most college towns. (Those kids usually just aren’t sophisticated enough yet.) :) But I’ve heard good things about Columbus and I’m planning to go in April. Thanks for the suggestions!
now i know adam! if i ever go…. i’m so using this as my guide. good on you. gabi
I LOVE Columbus! There’s so much going on there – and if you can find the taqueria tour, you’re golden!
What a great roundup – My kids would go crazy for the Fruit Loops ice cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.
I treated my niece to the same ice cream and se loved it!
[…] Ultimate Hipster Guide to Columbus, OH […]
[…] The Hipster Guide to Columbus […]
Ohio is the last place I would think of when I hear the word hip, but Columbus looks pretty groovy. Might have to check it out!
Yeah, I think most people don’t realize all the cool things to do in Columbus…but it’s a big university town and pretty progressive.
I was kind of taken back by the “Ohio is the last place I would think of when I hear the word hip” comment. Also, I’ve been in Columbus most of my life and Its definitely is not a “college town”. Yes, we are home to one of the largest universities, but its located in a metro area (including suburbs) of roughly 2 million people. Columbus is bigger than most people think. Its not all cows and pastures here.
Columbus definitely has its hip side. I’ve lived here for more than a decade and the city is full of culture. Like one of the other commenters said it is a lot more than a college town. The fact that there 2 million people in the city should tip you off to the fact that you could completely miss OSU.
Columbus and the surrounding suburbs have plenty of activity for every age group and every interest!
Glad to see that you agree. Two million people definitely makes for a large and diverse city. Can’t wait to visit again!
Columbus Ohio is a racist hick town that smells of pig shit. No place for minorities.
Thank-you for saying that!! I’m an African-American female that has lived in Columbus for the last 10 years and this city is racist, particularly in the ‘whites only’ hipster scene. Being a non-white person in this ‘scene’ I’ve experienced everything from ‘cool’ white people coming up to me and saying ‘What’s up my n***!’ or ‘Hey my homegirl!’ (I don’t use a lot of slang in my speech) I’ve been completely ignored and overlooked and literally pushed aside while trying to orders drinks at bars and I’ve had people literally come up behind me and put their hands in my hair and exclaim ‘I looooove your hair! Black people have the coolest hair! I wish I was Black!!’ The sad thing about all of this is that these are all fairly common experiences that should I decide to go out, I have to mentally prepare myself to have; otherwise, I get taken by surprise(because racism is something you never get used to no matter how long it has existed) and have a reaction to this ignorance that then warrants the comments that I’m an ‘Angry black girl’ or ‘That black girl has an attitude’ or better yet ‘Why do THOSE people have to come into OUR places and act GHETTO. Screw the Columbus hipster scene.
Hey KC, Wow – thank you for your detailed experience. I didn’t really know how to reply to Mikki’s comment above but I can definitely see where you’re coming from here now. I’ve read a few trend pieces online about hipster scenes and I think this is probably more common than is usually mentioned unfortunately. Thanks again for sharing your experience. Do you have any recommendations for cool places to hang out in Columbus? It can’t all be awful, can it??
Adam….Yes it is….my book explicates it all. I am graduate of THE Ohio State University and it was pretty traumatic.
Columbus is pretty cool, isn’t it?
Don’t forget the surrounding communities that have their own unique attraction. On our east side is Whitehall, which I was told has one of the very first shopping centers in Ohio if not the nation,
You gotta try Thurman’s!!! Best burgers ever. And the first Saturday of every month is Gallery Hop in the Short North. It’s pretty awesome.
Great tips, thank you Halle!
Cbus visitors (and locals!) should check out Harvest Pizzeria and the speakeasy-themed bar Curio. The original location is in German Village, and they just opened a restaurant in Clintonville. Yum!
G Michaels blows all your food choices out of the water. Educate yourself foodie….
Can you edit? C-town is Circleville….south of Columbus by about 20 miles. I’d love to see an authors edit to C-bus! It s always been C-bus! Good read!
I totally agree I am from California and have visited on several occasions because my son attends college there. I saw the racism there on my first visit.
Hi, would like to add just a few comments regarding racial issues. I am caucasian and still get looked up and down and judged when going to these so called hip places. Columbus ohio is a very judgemental city unfortunetely. These places look so cool to visit but its not even worth it!
Columbus racist?! Are you kidding me?! Extremely inaccurate! With the university here, you see every race of people, in certain areas, whites are the minority. I’ve been here for 4 years, I work all over the city, those previous comments on racism have got to be a joke.
I wanted to let you know that Betty’s restaurant in now closed.
For visitors to Columbus who want to explore our surprisingly diverse food scene we run a food tour company that offers 10 different itineraries. Our sister company Columbus Brew Adventures offers a variety of brewery and beer themed tours.
This is an awesome article and true to Columbus. Only one thing- we definitely live in C-bus, not C-town. You could get into a fight over that here…
I’m glad someone said it or I was going to have to!
Hahah thanks for letting me know Alex!
The comment on “racism” are ridiculous. Someone of a different race looks at you funny and all of a sudden it’s racism? People use that word so lightly and on situations where it’s unjust. And there definitely isn’t racism on white people (they take up more than 70% of the city). I’ve lived in Columbus all my life and it’s full of people of many backgrounds. It’s sooo accepting that any “racism” talked about in the comments are a joke.
Anyway, I loved this list and I appreciate it. I’ll definitely look into some of these places. :)
Thanks for adding in your comments Victoria! Glad to hear my Columbus tips are useful even for someone who’s a local like yourself!
I moved here for work from Los Angeles.
The drivers in Ohio are by far the worst I have yet to witness anywhere in the U.S.! They tailgate everywhere all the time. They don’t use their mirrors. They don’t use turn signals. I see more roadside accidents here then I have ever seen on a daily basis. Road rage is the norm here. Oddly, mother with small children have given me the finger more times then I care to mention for not driving over the speed limits like they do. “They have no concept of sharing the road”!
pretty cool list! I’ll be in Columbus for an Indie Book signing this july and I’m looking forward to checking the city out! First time for everything!
If anyone likes reading indie romance, you should check out the event! It’s called the Ever After Author Affair!
Columbus isn’t a place many people think of as hip, but we certainly have our share of cool/fun places – great list!
HI I am African American and I live in rural Ohio . To say the least and make a long story short I outgrew it and I cant stand it .Very very boring place . Heard about Columbus and I will say this if it its a place that everybody is married by 22 and has any reseblence to the rural Ohio I will not like it AT ALL ! Been to SF LA several times the last 4 years and from what ive seen its the SF Bay area is right down my alley ! Looking for a place that is well intergrated and very racially tolerant and definitely diverse and geared towards interracial relationships .I want to give Columbus a try but if its your stereo typical Midwestern city I am probably better of on the West Coast ! If its like SF Oakland Sacramento then I think I will like it !
When I first moved to this city I went to school in German Village, so I can definitely vouge for the Victorian feel and hipster aura. Any Short North arts exhibit is a good time to me as well. I’ve become more of a fan of the waterpark Zombeezi Bay than the Columbus Zoo the older I’ve gotten and the hotter it’s gotten haha.
Great guide! For the last 15 years, I’ve travelled to Columbus every 2 to 3 years to visit family on my wife’s side. This guide will definitely help the hip find their way around the city. On our last trip, out of a bit of boredeom or adventure-seeking, we flew into another nearby city and travelled back roads in to and out of Columbus nearly every day. Each night we’d stay in another city nearby and come back to Columbus via yet another route. There are so many things we saw on our daily travels that you just couldn’t imagine or plan outright. One example was a large school in the center of one town being demolished while an aging population watched nearby. Doesn’t sound very hip, but it was really unique as were each and every one of those drives in and around Columbus.
My name is Dorothy Lenz from OddPunk, which is a clothing line that is currently being developed. I would like to ask you three questions and get your thoughts. Do you have an e-mail where I can send two pictures of clothing and symbols to get your feedback? (If you don’t I can still ask the questions here.)
1.) (a white T-shirt with black “OddPunk” on it) What do you think of the OddPunk T-shirt? (Would you buy it or wear it?)
2.) If there was a clothing line that represented the values of the punk or counter culture, would you be interested in participating in that movement by wearing the clothing? (using the Circle A anarchy schedule, the squatting sign, or a black flag)
3.) Assuming the clothes line had shirts, pants, and other accessory items at a economical and reasonable price point, how often do you think you would purchase something?
Thank you for your time. If you would like, we can send you a discount coupon when the clothing line opens.
Don’t forget COSI, the Columbus Science Museum. So cool. As a kid, I’d love seeing “cool big people ” aka hipsters around COSI. Space ice cream. A place to get lost and spend the day…… <3