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8 drivable destinations the fam can’t complain about

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It’s time to hit the road—and this time the fam is coming with.

Who else better to be your trip advisors than (614) readers who’ve vacationed with the kids without burning up the Family Truckster and their sanity in the process?

Here are your best bets with options ranging near and far:

Chicago

Chicago. The city that I learned can be a prolific builder of “dad-bods.” America’s third-largest city has literally everything that a family on vacation could want. Great food, live entertainment, museums, art. And you can see it all relatively easily thanks to an easy-to-learn public transportation system. However, what I learned fairly quickly was that if you have a child who doesn’t walk well, a lot of that public transportation is NOT stroller friendly. Buses are crowded, subway entries lack a lot of access. I also ran into a few Uber drivers who lied about carrying a car seat and suggested we just take a chance on their safe driving.

So before you take off, hit the gym and get those baby-carrying-biceps in shape to visit these places:

Wrigleyville (in-season). Unparalleled energy, even if you aren’t a sports fan.  
Millennium Park. Like it or not, you go to Chicago, you are going to see that damn metal bean, “Cloud Gate.” 
Museum Row. Every one of them is worth it. Shedd Aquarium is a sure thing for kids.
Maggie Daley Park. Amazingly clean and full of hours of fun for little ones.
Giordano’s deep dish pizza. Order your pizza before you go to the restaurant as it takes about 40 minutes to bake. We sat with an irritated toddler, learn from us!

Nashville

When the path of totality fell just north of Nashville last August, we decided to make the weekend road trip an end-of-summer adventure. Avoiding the typical tourist traps made for memories as unique and enduring as the eclipse itself.

Tweens can be tough to impress, but ours were completely immersed. From a hands-on history lesson at Hatch Show Print creating letterpress postcards to DIY pancakes at The Pfunky Griddle, make sure your vacation includes time for individual expression and is more experience than spectacle.

If the line to squeeze into the Voice-O-Graph recording booth at Third Man Records is too long, stop by The Great Escapeto flip through decades of LPs and stacks of 78s. Their collection of comics and vintage toys closes the gap between nerdy and nostalgic. Everyone gets to be the cool kid here.

Allergies and special diets don’t need to make dining mundane. Five Daughters Bakery offers unexpected paleo and vegan doughnuts like lemon raspberry and coconut cream pie in addition to their already epic menu of breakfast confections. Try the gluten-free hot chicken at Pinewood Social, a restaurant/bar/pool/bowling alley on the emerging edge of downtown—though afternoon hours are probably a better fit for families.

Musicians Corner at Centennial Park is a free summer mainstay with local artists, food trucks, and an interactive “Kidsville” anchored by the legendary live concert series featuring performers ranging from Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley to Son Volt and Langhorne Slim.

Yellow Springs

Every year when it gets warm, my wife and I take our two girls to the grooviest little town in Ohio. Most of the time it’s a day trip, but, if we’re feeling extra adventurous, we camp out at and hike the trails at nearby John Bryan State Park. Downtown Yellow Springs has a totally infectious hippie vibe—full of weird, wild and wonderfully eclectic little shops and boutiques. Like books? (We do.)

Then check out Dark Star Books. You can find about any book you want there, but they seem to celebrate nerd culture most of all. Plus, there’s usually a fat, friendly cat chilling in the corner that loves to be pet. Like wine? (My wife does.) Emporium Wines and Underdog Café is where we stop in to get a great cup of coffee and purchase tasty wines for later consumption.

Like records? (I do.) The Toxic Beauty Records and Gallery has a great selection. Last time I was there I got a Fat Boys record. Don’t be jealous. Like toys? (My kids do.) Mr. Fub’s Party Toys & More has a truly diverse selection, many with an educational spin.

Like beer? (Yes is the answer.) Stop in for one at Ye Olde Trail Tavern. Be sure to ask about its haunted nature. I believe we were told a story about a woman in a blue dress who appears from time to time.

Like food? (Trick question – you need it to survive.) Be sure to stop in for a home cooked meal at the Clifton Mill. No lie, it’s a super-cool building and the food is great. There’s a ton more that you just need to experience for yourselves. This little oasis is only about an hour drive from Columbus. If you haven’t been, you seriously need to go. And say hello to Dave Chappelle for me. (Yes, he lives there.)

Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge offers so much for families to do, can be done on a budget and is a manageable 6-hour car ride from Columbus. We took our 4-year old and 6-year old boys and stayed a long weekend (Friday-Monday) in a small rustic cabin in the Smoky Mountains. In addition to being nestled into the woods, the cabin was stocked with board games, featured a small hot tub on the deck, and had a pool table in the basement.

Our daily routine included making breakfast and packing lunches in our day packs after which we’d head out for a late morning-into-afternoon hiking adventure. Our favorite trails included Porter’s Creek, which features a footbridge, and the very popular Cade’s Cove, a shorter hike which included great views of the Smokies and had historic remnants of a church and mill which the kids loved exploring and made for great resting spots. There were plenty of places to stop for a picnic style lunch during these hikes.

Our evenings were usually spent in downtown Pigeon Forge which offers a grand strip of shops and kid friendly activities. During our visit, we stopped into a gem mine and went sluicing for gold, shopped for geodes, rode go-karts and grabbed a BBQ dinner that even little (finicky!) eaters would like. Dollywood theme and water park is also nearby and offers a lot to do.

Cincinnati

As a family, we go to Cincinnati once a year. It’s the perfect weekend getaway when you have two toddlers and a long drive is inconceivable. Aside from the beautiful architecture, there are many reasons that keep us coming back to the Paris of the Midwest. Here is a rundown of the places that are fun for the whole family!

Stay at 21c Museum Hotel, and go for the family package. This includes four tickets to the Newport Aquarium (value of around $100), fresh cookies and milk delivery, teepee tent in the room, and an I-spy guide for the museum. We go for the corner suite—the bedroom is separated by a door from the living room and it’s plenty of space so we all aren’t on top of each other. There is also a two-bedroom suite option if you need a little more space than that.

The hotel has one of the top restaurants in the city, Metropole, so if the kids aren’t up for going out we order room service, the kids adore it and we are able to have five-star dining while watching Wall-E for the 50th time. If you can make it out for some shopping there are a ton of family friendly spots around Over the Rhine, which is just a stroller ride away from the hotel. Make sure to stop by Reunion Clothiers for some great vintage finds for adults and kids.

Piggy back the weekend with a City Flea experience, Reds game or a children’s program at Washington Park. On the way back home, hit up Findlay Market for lunch/groceries and stop by Rhinegeist for a growler.

Indianapolis

Indianapolis is an easy three-hour drive from Cbus, so it’s perfect for families: you’ll likely arrive before anyone asks, “Are we there yet?” Less time in the car means more time for fun at places like the world’s largest Children’s Museum, where your crew could ride on a historic carousel, explore dinosaur habitats, or slide down a chocolate river, depending on your mood.

The Indianapolis Zoo is another highlight, particularly for the botanical displays of its White River Gardens and the hands-on experiences of its Family Nature Center. If you like your nature with a side of art, you can also head over to Newfields, which features both indoor galleries and a gorgeous outdoor campus (think fountains, flowers, even a beer garden).

If the beer garden isn’t open, no worries: Sun King Brewing Co. locations are “all-ages,” so the whole family can head there to unwind (just pack some juice boxes for the kids). When your children inevitably wake you up early (even on vacation) head over to Milktooth, a funky diner-style spot that’s a treat for parents, but still satisfies little ones. Full service brunch (with booze) is served every day, featuring classics with an artisan twist. If there’s a wait, stay put: it’s worth it.

Don’t make the mistake of over-scheduling: leave some free time to stroll Canal Walk, or have an impromptu public art hunt downtown, where you can discover 30-foot tall murals of Indy literary heroes Kurt Vonnegut and Mari Evans—what could be more ’grammable?

New York City

NYC is one of my favorite places to visit, so the minute my son started to show an affection towards trains and subways, I started plotting to make NYC our family’s Disney World. The length of the car trip is definitely pushing it, but start early, stop often, and end the trip by parking in New Jersey and taking a train the rest of the way. Public transportation is super exciting for my four-year-old so his ideal itinerary would have been subway rides all day, every day. He loved it so much that we made an unplanned but highly enjoyable visit to the New York Transit Museum.

We also fancied the Staten Island Ferry for its cheap, close view of the Statue of Liberty. If your kid is a city kid, NYC itself is a playground. But it’s also full of actual playgrounds. Sprinkle in stops to neighborhood parks for quick play or make a special trip to explore Central Park’s carousel and zoo.

And when the city starts to be too much, an easy subway ride away is Coney Island! With classic amusement rides like the Wonder Wheel and a highly stroll-able boardwalk, it’s a place that feels nostalgic on your very first visit. Back in the city, take any opportunity to enjoy the unique skyline. Some of the best views are from the observation deck of Freedom Tower, but be sure to buy advance tickets to skip the long lines.

Two stops we regrettably didn’t make are the American Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!) and The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum(airplanes!). But this gives us a head start on planning our next visit, which can’t happen soon enough for my tiny transportation buff.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, DC is actually a fantastic city to visit with kids! The hotels can get a little pricey, but if you plan your visit when Congress is out of session you can find great deals in some of the great, walkable neighborhoods of the District. Logan Circle, which is walkable to several metro stops, has a ton of great food nearby and an average UberX cost of $7-9 to the monuments and museums. For family friendly activities you have the amazing and free Smithsonian museums which all hold kid-friendly activities on a regular schedule, the National Botanical Garden (near the Capitol), and Eastern Market, which holds an outdoor market on weekends.

Other favorites of ours include: DC Waterfront: With locations like The Yards, The Wharf DC, and the Georgetown waterfront there are  great hotels and restaurants and shopping, live music venues and splash pads for the kids all connected by water taxi. There is also a free shuttle connecting Wharf DC and other must visit spots around Southwest D.C.. The National Building Museum: Just a few minutes walk from the National Mall, the National Building Museum has the best kids play space I have yet to find anywhere called “Play Work Build”. Be prepared to stay the whole day!

One last thing: When visiting DC with kids do not be tempted to stay at a hotel outside the Beltway and take the metro in every day.  Staying in a neighborhood like Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Southwest or NOMA makes it easy to head back to the hotel if the kids need a rest and you spend more time doing things rather than waiting on a Metro train to show up.

By  / (614) March 2018

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614 Shoutout: 5 unique makers you should be following

Laura Dachenbach

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Most of our Instagram feeds are filled with photos of our aunts on vacation at the Outter Banks, former friends from college letting their hair down somewhere on Park Street, and fitness, fashion, and food influencers. But where are all the artists that make this city so creative?

Here are five local makers to pepper some awe-inspiring work into your feed.

@Rockswithsass

These crystals actually do heal! A portion of Amanda Heslinga’s crystal and jewelry sales go towards the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Heslinga started her work as a therapeutic outlet during a Crohn’s flare-up. Now these colorful, sparkly pieces serve to brighten the day of her customers and followers.

@marsder

Taking the miniature Christmas Village idea a few steps further, the miniature worlds created and photographed by Derrick Lin will make you both wonder and smile.

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@audienceof1_snackbags

Jeff Stelle, a tattoo artist, started drawing on his son’s lunch bags to reduce his anxiety at school. Now these totally creative designs from Yoda to Uncle Sam to the “snackalope” serve as encouragement for more than just elementary-school fans.

@Cheeruppress

Alaina Cherup creates wedding invitations and fine stationery like we’ve never seen. Beautiful colors, scripts, and thick, torn-edge papers are features of simply her gorgeous and unique invitations and cards. Cheer Up Press also uses sustainable paper products such as cotton and recycled cardstock whenever possible and supports the Eden tree-planting projects.

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5 ultimate fetch destination for aqua dogs

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We can’t be sure what dogs dream, but we’d imagine it’s a lot of neon yellow tennis balls, frisbees, bones, and playing fetch in ice cold water. Make your pup’s dream come true this summer with these awesome places to take your dog for a dip.

Prairie Oaks Metro Park| 3225 NE Plain City-Georgesville Rd, West Jefferson

Located just 19 minutes from downtown Prairie Oaks Metro Park will instantly be your dogs newest muse. Besides making your good boy/girl the happiest lil doggie in the world, this is also the ultimate destination to wear your dog down. A few leaps off this carpeted launch and Fido will be zonked just minutes after loading up for home.

Life with Metro Parks: Splash around in the lake at Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Be the cool dog mom or dad and take your pup to Prairie Oaks Metro Park. Your dogs would rather be jumping off the dock and splashing around in the lake instead of lounging in the yard. Bring them out to the park! 🐾 💦

Posted by Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Friends of Alum Creek Dog Park | 3993 Hollenback Rd, Lewis Center

People get their own beaches, so why can’t dogs? They can at Friends of Alum Creek Dog Park! Bring your pooch for play dates with their best fur-friends by the waterside.

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Indian Run Falls Park | 700 Shawan Falls Dr, Dublin

At Indian Run Falls Park, there’s a waterfall for humans to gush over and loads of water and fun obstacles to keep the doggos entertained. Talk about the perfect pic for the ‘gram!

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park | 1775 Darby Creek Dr, Galloway

Run your dog in and around Big and Little Darby Creeks and even give them an education in bison…from afar, that is. We’ve never seen a sad dog at Battelle Darby Creek.

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Pups had fun at the dog beach

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Walnut Woods Metro Park | 6716 Lithopolis Rd, Groveport

At this Groveport Metro Park, your pup can have its own pool! Dog cannon balls allowed.

Are your pups ready for some good news? The dog pond is now open for the season !! 🐕🐾📷: Dave Milam

Posted by Walnut Woods Metro Park on Saturday, April 27, 2019
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Columbus Blue Collar Burger Trail: 13 old-fashioned joints

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The history of the burger is fuzzy at best. There are myriad claims to the invention of the hand-held concoction. One thing we do know: It was a simple meal for regular, hard-working people.

But something changed with the lowly burger in recent years. Chefs and cooking shows began to “elevate” the burger to new heights, literally and figuratively.

The ingredient list began to grow, as did its size. Soon, so precariously stacked were the avocado, bacon, pepper andouille, and egg plus 15-pieces-of-locally-made-artisan-cheese skyscrapers, served with endangered-Himalayan-salt-truffled-turnip-and-yam fries with caviar aioli dip, that they had to be served with a steak knife stabbed through the middle.

But now, the patty pendulum is swinging back the other way.

Here are 13 of the best blue collar burgers Columbus has to offer

Preston’s • 765-C N. High St., 668 Grandview Ave.

Tucked away in Eugene’s Canteen in The Short North, and at Woodland’s Backyard, Preston’s is a little burger joint that just wants to make you feel good.

Created by Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, Preston’s is a place where you can get a smashburger or two to fill you up on your lunch break, as the infamous construction workers in the short north do at Eugene’s every day.

Delicious beef, with a few simple classic toppings, and a solid bun are all you need to get you from the lunch whistle to the dinner bell.  – Jeni Ruisch

Club 185 • 185 E Livingston Ave. 

Don’t let the size, or lack of accoutrements shy you away from Club 185’s Daily Double; it’s a near-perfect stack of patties cheese on a golden bun, like a 3x more expensive version of a Mickey D’s double—only 300x times tastier.

Happy hour, lunch, late-night—the Daily Double is the bar crowd’s best bet. Luckily, you can get something like it at all the aforementioned Corbin-owned spots.

So thanks, Tina and Randy Corbin, for boosting our culture and our cholesterol. — Travis Hoewischer

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Cravings Café • 114 N Front St.

Cravings Café beckons burger lovers from all over Columbus. Run by Matthew and Lindsey Tewanger, Cravings’ Downtown Smashburger ($8.50) takes homestyle taste to soaring heights.

The house made brioche bun is what you notice first. Made fresh daily, buttered and toasted, it is the bun that you didn’t know you were missing until you try it.

The special sauce is also made in-house and is their take on Thousand Island dressing, distinguished by the use of dill pickles and caramelized onions. The beef for the 1/3 pound burger is provided by Butcher & Grocer which locally sources from farms right here in Ohio.

Everything on this burger belongs with none of the nonsense; the meat is perfectly seasoned and cooked with crispy edges, the bun has a soft and flaky interior and is complimented by pickles, American cheese and shaved onion.  – Terrance Farmer 

Culver’s • Multiple locations

My people hail from Wisconsin. So a Culver’s Butterburger is more than just a delicious and fresh (never frozen) meal, it’s a tradition. We would hop on my dad’s motorcycle and head to the original Culver’s habitat in southeastern Wisconsin to enjoy the fruits of America’s dairyland.

Beef, butter and cheese.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the low-cost, yet high-quality diners had started popping up in central Ohio.

Even the name of their menu star rolls off the tongue like a satiated purr. Butter burger.

The menu has many sandwich options, but the good old single burger will be all I need to fuel a road trip should I feel the need to travel back up to the O.C. (Original Culver’s). – Jeni Ruisch

Johnnie’s Tavern • 3503 Trabue Rd.

Started in 1948, this little old place—don’t judge a book by its cover—is loaded with character and a few great bites.

Johnnie’s Tavern, 3503 Trabue Road, is notably “Home of the Super Burger and coldest beer in town.” They hand-make their burger patties and still serve beer in frozen mugs.

For a mere $7.50, stack up your mouth-watering, half-pound burger on a grilled sesame seed bun with whatever fresh toppings you’d like. Pair it with some old-school fried tater tots and you may have enough for two.

Although, I find myself slamming the beefy deliciousness all by myself. – Beth Berkemer

Beechwold Diner • 4408 Indianola Ave.

Working third shift like I do, you become very familiar with the many breakfast places around Columbus.

Don’t get me wrong, breakfast is great! It’s just that after a long night of work one didn’t want to be relegated to only breakfast foods.

This is where my love for the Beechwold burger comes in. I found this gem while attending—ironically enough—an after work breakfast with a friend.

Not in the mood for breakfast, I asked the server if there was any possible way I could get a burger. That’s when she happily informed that the whole menu is always available.

In terms of taste it’s pretty straightforward. Nothing super fancy or off the wall. Thankfully, it’s always fresh, always tasty, always available whatever hours they are open. – Bethany Fenske

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Ritzy’s • 4615 N High St. 

Ritzy’s, the iconic bygone burger chain, whose growing pains lead to its near-extinction in the late ’80s, has reclaimed Columbus territory and resumed flipping patties just like the old days only this time, the second generation has been handed the spatula.

It was important to the newcomers to freshen up the concept but they knew enough to not beef with what wasn’t broken.

Just as you remember, Ritzy’s burgers are juicy, bursting with savory flavor, with just the right amount of crisp on the edges. The bread is baked in-house and the toppings—lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, cheese, bacon, chili—are laid out for guests to see, crave, point at, and request to be on their patty.

Be sure to surround your burger with a perfectly golden halo of shoestring fries that are, you guessed it, just like you remember. – Regina Fox

Village Coney • 418 E Whittier St.

About a year ago my daughter and I took on the self-imposed challenge of finding the best burger in Columbus. We had many a patty in the 614 and came to a solid conclusion that our go-to burger was the cheeseburger was at a hot dog shop—Village Coney in German Village.

What we enjoy about this flat-iron burger is how classic and straight-forward it is—great flavor, larger size and good price point.

That with some fries for my daughter, onion rings for myself and a Coke makes for a great weekend lunch. – Pakito Martinez

German Village Coffee Shop • 193 Thurman Ave.

Here’s the thing: The Der, as it’s affectionately known to those of us old enough to remember the wooden “Der Kaffe Haus” sign that used to be affixed to its façade, is, thanks to decades of bacon grease flowing over its well-seasoned surface, home to the best griddle in central Ohio.

Pretty much anything you put on it comes off insanely delicious.

Topped with crispy iceberg, a slice of tomato, a shingle of American cheese, and a bit of white onion (grilled if you’re feeling fancy), this caramelized hunk of ground beef is housed in a straightforward, untoasted white bun.

But when you take your first bite of this seemingly pedestrian burger, something magical happens. Every aspect of it fuses together into a harmonious handful of culinary perfection. No organic anything, aioli bullshit, or egg-washed brioche ridiculousness.

Just a perfect goddamned hamburger on a plate that will make you wonder how you ever lived without it. – Josh Hara

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Hangover Easy • 1646 Neil Ave.

Hangover Easy is one of the few non-chain places left on or around campus where you can get a great meal.

The menu definitely lives up to its name, easing rough mornings with standard breakfast fare and maybe a little hair-of-the-dog, but their burgers are really the standout feature of the menu to me.

Do yourself a favor and get an OG Burger—onions, pickles, and cheese. Classic and simple, cooked how you want with a pile of tater tots. If you need all the extras though, you won’t go wrong with the HOE Burger with bacon, grilled onions, a sunny side egg, and all traditional toppings. – Tom Van Houten

O’Reilly’s Pub • 2822 N High St.

O’Reillys Pub in Clintonville is home to one of the more original and delicious burgers in Columbus.

I grew up in a small rural town, so stuff like Asian fusion turkey burgers don’t interest me at all. Give me something simple, done better than anyone else around, and you’ve got my loyalty.

The Pepper burger at this unassuming little diner, is exactly that, plus some pepper.

A lot of pepper. Cooked any way you like it, this big beef patty is covered in black peppercorn, smothered in Provolone cheese and topped with bacon (and all the veggies you could want). The Pepper burger is legendary in Clintonville. Get yourself there, ASAP. – Levi Ely

Eden Burger • 1437 N High St.

First off, I love burgers but I don’t unfortunately get many opportunities to eat them. Secondly, I am decidedly not a vegetarian.

Put those two things together and a veggie burger better be pretty damn good to get my attention!

I have followed Eden Burger through many pop up events and now to their University District location and they have met the standard for TASTE and TEXTURE.

These people are smart and savvy and they have a product that has substance, juice and flavor that I have never had in a veggie burger before.

In addition—for no extra money—I get such friendly, lighthearted and positive service from the staff that the experience not only does my  body good but feeds my soul. I have a son-in-law who is a vegetarian and lives in Boulder, I will take him to Eden Burger with eagerness and pride.  Boulder got nothing on CMH. – Peter Yockel

Street Thyme • 944 N Fourth St. 

Surprisingly, not many of the seemingly 500 food trucks that line our streets or border outdoor festivals, focus on burgers.

But, the ones that do really bring it. In fact, the only downside of eating an Irish Breakfast burger from Street Thyme, is that I am gonna have to eat it in public.

It’s so decadent in its simplicity—fried egg, cheddar, rasher bacon, and pepper jelly—that I kinda wish I was alone, at home, able to really go at this burger with no one around to witness it.

Is that weird? Probably. I don’t care. Hands-down one of the best burgers in the city. I could eat one every day. – Travis Hoewischer

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